Of pirate radio, building nodes, squatting and matéPosted: April 22, 2011
Oh, my dearest of readers. This, dare I say it, was a productive week. Much of which I spent in ‘the field,’ as it were. My fields this week, as foretold in the previous post, consisted of the Once Libre rooftop and a house in one of the city’s villas. That house, as it turns out, doubles as a pirate radio station. What you see in the image above is Vampi trying to fix a computer rescued from the garbage heap by the pirate station. That very lovely lady in the background is one of the station’s co-founders. They’re planning on building a node in the autonomous network, the previously mentioned Buenos Aires Libre, along with some stronger antennas to broadcast the station beyond its current radius. At this point they’ve only got coverage for about a ten blocks.
It took a good hour to get to the house. A train out to the Liniers station, then two collectivos (buses, that is) to the neighborhood. A gloriously sunny day meant there were tons of stray dogs napping in the streets, kids playing on the sidewalks, folks milling about and greeting their passing neighbors with kisses on the cheek.
The house, like all those in the villa, is ramshackle–put together with found materials. Corrugated metal roofs serve as general protection but the elements easily pass through. Brick walls are cobbled together (and in this particular house, are covered with radical graffiti). Tarps and blankets separate space. Infrastructure exists, though it is not provided in any regular way by the city. The ceiling was hung with a mesh of plugs and wires, pulling power from some invisible source somewhere down the block. They get water, but I don’t know from where. It isn’t ‘running’ certainly. The house may be on the small side, and the modest side, but its residents were extremely welcoming.
Our hosts prepared a big feast for us–rice with vegetables and tuna, garbanzo beans, a salad, bread. We drank juice out of glasses made by cutting the tops off of beer bottles. The couple’s three kids ran in and out and were not particularly phased by our presence. Even mine–the obvious American with the weird accent.
We were given a tour of the station, which they built on the roof of the house–a kind of second-floor shack. The vast majority of their equipment is found, donated, or homemade. They built their transmitters, for example, themselves.
Needless to say I was very pleased with this little adventure.
Later in the week I helped the BAL folks post the antenna for the node at Once Libre. Pictures of that space will follow. I also learned that those running the place are essentially squatting. The collective occupies the third-floor of a city-owned property that had been vacant for some time prior to the Once Libre takeover. At any moment, though, this sweet subcultural meeting place could be found and destroyed by the municipality. Here’s to hoping that the notoriously slow bureaucracy in this city continues in its typical manner, ignoring, avoiding, or just not bothering with such spaces.
Both of these days of field work were closed by the standard afternoon maté ritual. I learned a few things. One: you can say ‘thank you’ when the maté cup is handed to you, but if you say it when you finish sipping and hand it back to whoever is refilling the hot water, you won’t get any more. Second: you have to make sure each person in the circle gets their maté in order. If you cut in line (colarse is the verb for this unholy act, and porteños really believe in lining up for things), you’re committing a grave offense.
Why, you ask, have I paired all these little field experiments in a single post? Well, if you’ll permit the radical in me to be a little cheesy, I’ll tell you. All of it–the pirate radio station, Once Libre’s squat space, the node-building and computer-recycling, even the maté–is about linking-in to the community around you and equitably sharing whatever it is you have. I know the cynics among you are rolling your eyes. Heck, I’m even rolling mine. I have lost a considerable amount of faith in the human race in recent epochs of my life. But still, it’s nice to know some people haven’t. Some people really do use their time, their skills, their general goodwill, to help whom they can. So, for a second, I’m just gonna settle in and like the idea. Maybe even believe in it.
The great thing about the true radical is that she doesn’t separate herself from others to be a leader or a solitary genius or a star. She just throws together whatever it is she has and offers that thing, or herself, or her maté, to her family, her friends, her lovers, her neighbors. And, best of all, she offers what she has to complete strangers. Even to tall, American strangers with funny accents.