Monday, September 25, 2006

Wisteria Lane in Buenos Aires

Since I've been spending a lot more time at home lately, usually in reclined position, I have had more than my normal dosage of television.

While I've not warmed to the Desperate Housewives, I do watch it if there isn't anything interesting on. So when the local network advertised the Argentine version starring local actresses, I was keen to find out how well the Latin scriptwriters would adapt the North American culture of white picket fences to the Barrio Cerradas (gated communities with their own clubs, imagine Stepford) dotted all over the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires.

The first episode of the Argentine version was a laughable attempt. It was lifted straight from the North American series without regard to cultural differences. The scene of the wake after a neighbour's funeral when the domestic goddess character came in with baskets of baked goods was a classical black comedy moment in the original version. However, there is no tradition of a wake in the Argentine culture. It was a classic case of lost in translation.

I remember Guillermo used to look confused whenever he saw such scenes in movies; he always asked, in disbelief, if there was a party whenever someone died. You see, my husband was puzzled; where was the required melodramatic anguish reserved for such occasions? Cake and champagne after a funeral? That ain't Latino at all!

Last week, I came across this Argentine programme again while I was zapping (surfing channels); it is still running in the same unrealistic mode. Few people living in suburban North America could afford maids but that is not the case here. Buenos Aires is full of very affordable dog walkers and mucamas (domestic helpers). Almost everyone has someone to help out at home, at least a couple of hours a week if not everyday.

The scriptwriters seriously need to do some field work in the country clubs to make their programme realistic. Suburban desperate housewives in the Argentine context are more similar to the Footballers' Wives (an OTT trashy yet hilarious, if vulgarity makes you laugh, programme in the UK); those housewives are also desperate, but for very different reasons.

Unlike their counterparts on Wisteria Lane, most middle class porteñas have no time for house work; they are too busy keeping their hair just that shade of fake blonde, their alligator skin just toasted enough and their body trimmed through exercise or other means.

When these already insecure ladies move into the burbs, they go into overdrive; the pressure is on for them to fit the Stepford ideal more than ever. And then, they need to be just a little more blonde or more tanned than their neighbours to stand out from the other identikits. It is a serious competition, they need to stay focused. Now you understand their full and busy lives, how could they possibly not delegate housework and the kids to their maids?

No, I'm not turning blonde but I'm busy too...so I'll leave you a few quintessentially Australian recipes, courtesy of an authentic blond, Bill Granger.

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