Friday, April 3, 2015

First Word: Pamela Yorston: Trip


Tríptico is the name of the document you need to take your car from Buenos Aires to Uruguay on the Ferry.  I don’t know what the word means. Does it have something to do with the word trip?
            Argentina is the land of the trámite – the red tape transaction.  Life in Chile involves a fair bit of red tape, but in matters of bureaucracy, the Argentines make the Chileans look like amateurs.  In Argentina, trámites are the means by which sour-faced, chip-on-the shoulder public employees exercise power over the masses.
            One of my earliest memories is queuing outside the passport office with my mother.  The line, six people wide, stretched all the way round the block. Knee-high to the crowd, I stare up at the adults that hem me in.  In my memory that day lasts a week. This was in the days before computers and centralized records, when every detail about you had to be taken down and laboriously entered by hand into a ledger, then all your fingers were smudged with black ink for finger prints, and there was nowhere to wash it off.
            One time, (when I was older) I took my father’s car to Uruguay with the tríptico document.  You drive on to the ferry in the port of Buenos Aires and four hours later you roll off in Colonia. During the trip you can drink in the bar or simply go up on deck and observe the silt-smelling waters of the river stretching out in every direction like a brown sea. 
            I had no trouble until the return journey when apparently I didn’t have the right
tríptico and  the man at customs told me I couldn’t bring the car back in. 
            “But what can I dooo?” I wailed.
            The thing about the officious official is that he knows there is nothing you can do  everything is down to him - the man at the gate. Fortunately, after making me squirm for a while, he shrugged and let me through.  I was 25 years old and quite pretty in those days.
            A friend of mine recently rented a car and drove over to Mendoza.  On her way back across the border, the Argentine authorities stopped her and seized her car, refusing to let her bring it back.  That was three months ago and the rental company is charging by the day.  Unfortunately, she’s a little older than 25.
            Our friend Charmaine has been complaining recently about the fact that South Africa has stripped her of her citizenship after she took her husband’s French nationality.  If only you could lose your Argentine citizenship!  But you can’t. It will follow you all the way to the grave and say you have the wrong document for dying.

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