While the Argentine middle-class is hitting the pots on the streets against the politics of the government, the elite spends the time somewhere else. The polo in Argentina is much more than sport: it is a lifestyle and social status.
Based on its territory, Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world. It is part of the G20, so is one of the wealthiest countries. Despite of the fact that the country has all the conditions to become a stable state, its economy is wobbling constantly. Though it started to increase after the 2001 state bankrupcy, in 2012 we can hear about bankrupcy-like situation again. The population feels the public dept redemption through increasing inflation and mothly expenses, the restriction to dollar, and the import limitations.
Let's get the pans!
After a new restrictions the Argentine people post a note on the nearby bus stop inviting neighbors to the manifestation the next day. Those interested should come and cordon the avenue. An experienced local already calculates around 30 minutes in the travel time, because one can never know where is the next manifestation in Buenos Aires.
One of the biggest from last year's manifestation was the N8, which took place on 8th November 2012. Many hundred thousands of people went to the streets beating the pans - like in 2001 - protesting agains the corruption and the politics of the government.
|Tired of corruption|
I could not miss this event. Even though I was not in the center of the manifestation, in the downtown, people were beating pans in every neighborhood, and the noise was luring me down to the street. Locals closed one of the crossroads in the late afternoon, and were singing peacefully, beating pans till late at night. The drivers were solidar and patience, and the pans and horns were singing the same rythm.
A solid nodding to the neighbor
While the middle-class and the poor spend their evenings on the streets manifesting, the upper 10,000 meet at other time at a different place. As if they did not even live in this world, but would be watching the happenings from above. They are the polo society of Argentina, who use the tournaments to show themselves for the audience. Since it symbolizes careless life, polo gets high publicity. Of course, nothing can surpass football, but the sport has a small portion here.
Almost exactly two weeks after the N8 national demonstrations started the Argentine Polo Open Championship tournament, which I also visited. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon. I managed to find some accessories from the latest fashion taking care not to be over- or underdressed. That day had two matches scheduled, so I had time to learn the rules. I was seated at the right corner of the bleacher. Not much later a young couple sat besides me. Small nodding from both sides, and I almost heard the gears in the head: who can I be, where do I belong to?
|The Alegría and Dolfina players are chasing the ball entertaining the audience|
The match kicked off, and the 4-4 players of Alegría and Dolfina fighted against each other. The earth was lumbring under the heels, lumps were flying, rockets were smacking. Because of the quickly changing happenings, I enjoyed how the players and horses worked together in harmony.
Contrary to football, in polo not the players are changed during the match, but the horses. A player can have around ten horses, of course the best and most expensive ones. The animals have a whole group of staff, who is responsible to warm them up and help with the quick change.
When a horse is injured, it generates bigger emotions than if it had happened to an average player: whose stomach would not be clutched with the image of a falling, slipping horse, or worse, if a rocket hits them? The audience screams of pain, and the horse-doctor arrives to the field to take away the limping animal. I must admit, I also got frightened when one of the horses somersaulted, but luckily neither the horse, nor the player got injured seriously.
|The match is paused while the injured "player" is taken off the field|
During the break the players are resting in the tents on the two contrary sides of the field. In the halftime the audience attacks the tents to see their favorites, and if the lucky ones can even touch them or go home with a photo with their loved players. Before the main match would have kicked off, I was already a Adolfo Cambiaso fan, without even knowing him. He is considered to be the best in the world. At the moment there are only ten players in the world with the highest ranking, and of course, all of them is Argentine. That is why Argentina is often called as the paradise of polo. Finally, out of a helmet and a white polo shirt I did not see more from Cambiasso, but of course I also gave him a good hand when he scored a goal. My neighbours also supported Cambiasso's team, and we we shocked together when an opponent player caught the ball from him unfairly.
The Argentine dream
After the game I was thinking what the secret could be behind the huge popularity and media turnout of the polo. I even thought that it was maybe the horses and the sport itself. I try to be benevolent, but following a little ball on a field of 274 x 182 meters (300 x 160 yards) is quite difficult particularly if the direction of attacks changes all the time. However, the applause and the shouting on the bleachers showed that some managed to follow the little ball.
|This small ball has to be followed during the match|
The key to the success is that the polo players embody the luxury lifestyle: everyone would like to get close to them, be a little like them. The society is curious about them and about all the events around them. As locals say, there are two types of people: the Argentine and the Argentine, who is inside the polo circle. The polo tournaments are social events, where the cream of the cream gathers together to show themselves posing with the horses instead of the red carpet. Once I heard this snappy saying: the horse does not stand the smell of poverty.
Since the players are rarely injured and stay on the field the whole time, therefore they are like riding Gods. There is a big cult around them, they are the celebrities of our everyday life, who are sporty, successful, wealthy, handsome, has hell expensive horses, and they forgivingly let us adore them.
|After the match the celebration continues under the bleachers in Chandon Bar|
The polo is a lifestyle and social status: it has its own fashion, newspaper, VIP events, and of course, luxury is all around. In the emblematic fashion shop of the polo, the La Martina, suntanned Argentine boys offer clothing. In fashion the absolute crucial accessories are the Argentine leather bags, the moccasins, the cowboy hat and cashmere scarf, but the luxury global brands are also permitted.
The polo embodies the Argentine dream. Until the country is getting stronger, and the economy is weltering, the society will need these everyday Gods to give hope and let them forget about the difficulties. If the country finally recovers, hopefully the audience will also pay attention to the ball, the horses and the sport itself.
What connects Argentine people
After all there is something common in the manifesting middle-class and the polo society. This is the Falkland Islands, or Las Malvinas: after mentioning this name, the eyebrow of both groups starts to move. Losing this territory is a painful momentum for all Argentines, regardless of the social level. I also had to learn that here I should call the island Las Malvinas, and I should better not start a conversation about the United Kingdom.
The original in Hungarian is published here.
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