Monday, November 20, 2006

Deconstructing Monologues

Fuelled by my scrumptious apricot tart, Sunday tea this past weekend was a particularly lively reunion.

We weren't talking about the non-existent energy crisis because nobody in an accountable position in the country has admitted to one yet.

However, existing public infrastructures have been stretched to the seams by the property development boom in Buenos Aires, especially in areas such as Palermo, Nuñez, Caballito, etc. Last week, the Buenos Aires government announced a 90-day suspension in both commencement of construction and processing of applications for new builds over a certain height in these areas so as to buy time to think about the next steps.

I, the newbie to this chaotic form of governing, was shocked on two accounts; firstly, that there was no trace of any forward-thinking plan regarding developmental growth in relation to infrastructural needs and secondly, the authority obviously had not given any due consideration to this inevitable problem as they granted permits for new developments and presently, they still haven't got a clue what to do.

My concern is that whatever they can think of doing in the next 90 days, if they can think, would not solve the problem of this city in the immediate term. It is transparent that these areas where infrastructures were built to support low-density housing are not equipped to handle the sudden multi-fold increase in population that high-rise developments would bring.

Not even divine intervention can give the city additional infrastructure for electricity, gas, water and sewage in 90 days, especially when Buenos Aires has just rejected an expansionist budget, partly aimed at addressing these problems, based on the somewhat simplistic reasoning that nobody wants a deficit budget.

This recent announcement of a 90-day suspension was the preface to a three way monologue I witnessed yesterday...

It all started with my father-in-law who, until the announcement last week, was developing a plot of land in Palermo Hollywood asking our tio, a lawyer, whether he should sue the government for financial damages caused by the suspension and any potentially harmful decision they make against new developments.

The conversation soon turned into two monologues whereby our tio voiced his disenchantment about the lack of preservation of historical architecture in residential areas such as Belgrano R where he lives; beautiful old houses are being torn down to make way for characterless modern apartments, etc.

Meanwhile, my father-in-law was preoccupied with the building code and how the code had allowed development of these areas which are now affected by the suspension. When he opined that Argentina simply cannot afford to let preservation get in the way of economic progress through construction, Guillermo and I started paying a lot more attention to what he was saying.

Both of us are of the mindset that we all, as in the human race, have responsibilities in preserving historical architecture, not limiting to Argentina. So Guillermo fought for air time thereby making it a three-way monologue because his father was still going on about the code while his tio was complaining about owners of old houses selling out to make a quick buck and my husband started talking about setting up a regulatory body like the National Trust in the UK and other countries to evaluate and preserve matters of historical value while accomodating modern needs.

We'd probably revisit this topic in 90 days. Meanwhile, I am baking a pistachio and lemon cake. I have liberally made changes to the butter-based blueprint in the River Cafe Easy cookbook. Lemon and pistachio pair well and orange also works beautifully but I would then reduce the sugar to 1/3 cup.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup ground almond
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 cup of whole milk plain unsweetened yogurt
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon or orange
1/3 cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line a medium loaf tin.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar till fluffy and pale. Add the grated zest, lime juice and nuts and stir in.

Sift in the flour, baking powder and baking soda and stir till incorporated. Last of all add the oil and yoghurt and mix well.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bakefor 45min or till the cake tests done. Remove from the pan after 10 minutes and let cool completely on a wire rack.

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