Monday, July 18, 2005

The Dirty River

A strange truth of Buenos Aires is this: every day, thousands upon thousands of propagandas - tiny leaflet advertisements - are distributed by hand on every street.

Collectively they are horrifying.

Gathered together, they would occupy a mountain of space. They must. They do.
It is a holocaust of paper.

Everyday, armies of people take to the middle of the mad metropolis to hand you flyers.

Everyday armies. They are paid to do this. The more leaflets you hand out the more your worth as a human being. There is even desperation in the action. "Take my pamphlet pero hijo de puta tomálo!"

But who is keeping tabs? How does the strip-club owner, or the parrilla-man, or the massage-parlour madam or the university dean or the internet-cafe pimp know that the everyday armies don't just dump the whole lot of the pamphlets into the Riachuelo, the most contaminated river in South America?

Anyway, the paper would probably just dissolve like so many disappeared corpses.

Recently I read this headline in LA NACION, Argentina's oldest newspaper:

"El Riachuelo, sucio desde 1811."

That was the year that humankind began to put everything into this one river.
Everything.

Animal carcasses and blood and all of the shitty shit from the soon-to-follow industrialization. Real shit too. And Piss. Loads of it. Daily. From a dozen colonies along the "sweet water" banks.

Secrets oozed into the water. Politicians would walk up to the banks and dump in their dirty deeds. The pope would come to pour in the world's sins. The moon's reflection drowned in the hideous thick scum. Do you remember the moon's reflection? I know where it went.

Boats enter the soupy water from the Rio de la Plata and simply evaporate. Some evaporate up to 300 miles from the coast, where the river cuts its wound through the Atlantic, like tar on lungs.

No one is quite sure what to do. But the inhabitants of La Boca say a Chinese company practiced in the modernized medieval art of "River cleaning" is supposed to come and fix the situation.

Can anyone tell me what this would involve?
Shiny, plastic white hardhats I am sure.
But enormous filters? Electric rays?
The introduction of a foreign "scrubbing" species?

On the subway there are posters that say: "protect our environment" with glossy pictures of garbage cans and "recycle" logos. Contact your local agency to learn more.
Contact my local agency?

The effort screams "Look, we too subscribe to the luxury of environmentalism."

And it is dismaying to return to the understanding that, just perhaps, my environmentalism is the byproduct of my super-industrialized society. My aim as an environmentalist, it may turn out, is to prevent you from ever achieving the luxury of becoming an environmentalist.

It's sad because I still mean it. I still want you to want self sufficiency and sustainability, even though you want sneakers and knickknacks and everything that comes with it. Hell, you think of it as your "right."

Do as I say, not as I earn my living. . .

But how do we eat, then?
Eat paper.

I don't know how to estimate the weight of the tiny slips of paper handed out on a daily basis. Evan has begun to accept every single slip pushed in front of him. "A project," he says. Easily he ends up with a pound of paper every two days. A pound a day if we're walking a lot. And really at some point he has to stop accepting the leaflets because he's too weighted down; out of space.

I think if we wanted to we could collect 20 or 30 pounds of paper each, daily, without making the slightest dent in the volume distributed. We could build houses of papers; a more than literal house of leaves.

Four hundred and fifty-seven thousand six hundred and twenty-two pounds of paper every day. That's my guess.

It could be more.

~ roger

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