Political cartoons & polo

Transcribed from travel journal We kicked off our Saturday morning with a visit to the studio of Alfredo Sabat, the best known and most revered illustrator and political cartoonist in South America. Our trusty white vans dropped us off outside of Sabat’s studio, where he works and teaches. The room was an artist’s atelier straight from a Puccini set – a giant window at one end shedding light on worn wooden floor boards, students sketching on miniature easels on their desks.

The man himself was unbelievably warm and gentlemanly, taking the time to go around the room and shake hands with each of us, often commenting on his own experiences with someone’s home town or newspaper. Now a spry 72, he published his first political cartoon at the tender age of 15. It was evident as he spoke to us about his career that he chose his words carefully and he walked us through a giant cartoon on the wall, character by character, detailing Argentina’s tumultuous political history.

We were, for the most part, in pretty good shape that morning, although some had stayed out at the milonga until the wee hours. General consensus seemed to be that it was more VFW than chic nightclub, but Fara got out there and tangoed with a local, putting to good use the fellows’ pre-trip tango lessons. I also heard that Sally, Drew and Gail courted death with a particularly wild taxi ride home from the club. Did I mention the driving here is insane? After we left Sabat’s studio, we were let loose in Palermo, a wonderful and colorful area with a small Saturday artisan market underway. Fara, Chuck, Lisa, Chris and I planted ourselves at an outdoor café and ate pizza, enjoying the most gorgeous weather. We’re getting to be pros at ordering our agua mineral sin gas or con gas. (Not surprisingly, I’m a fan of the latter.)

After, Lisa was let off her leash to go manic shoe shopping while Chris and I walked around the stalls and then the streets surrounding the market. I picked up a few trinkets for Christmas gifts and, of course, for myself and wished we had more time before we had to meet the gang back at the bus. But a polo game was awaiting us, so we showed up for duty in good time.

Yes, I said a polo match. Why? Because we’re just that sort of folk – when we’re not tooling around on our private yachts in our crisp linens, we’re cheering on the home team on the, uh, field. Or whatever you call it. On the way into the city, we saw some of the most decrepit slums of Buenos Aires and it’s fair to say that our day at the polo match showed us the exact opposite, a glimpse at the life of the very elite. The place was lousy with beautiful Argentinian men and women, with their jaunty Euro-polo look, tanned skin, sweater tossed across the shoulders, as if waiting for their Vanity Fair profile.

It was all class, including a sighting of John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted, decked out in a sparkling white linen suit that screamed, “Hey, I’m an American. Do I fit in yet?” Gotta love it! Until the polo match, I had managed to keep my own insecurities at bay but I’ve never felt so fat and unattractive as I did when I hit the loo at the match. It was short, dumpy me surrounded by coltish Argentine beauties, long dark hair with caramel highlights, tiny cotton tops and couture jeans, a fresh flower tucked effortlessly behind the ear.

Seriously, are these women born knowing how to do that? I’m certain they spend far more time than I can even imagine worrying about their looks. I’m certain their priorities are completely out of whack and that most of them haven’t actually digested a meal in years. But that’s a little hard to remember when you’re carrying more extra fat on your ass than the ten women around you combined. I got straight out of there – and had some ice cream.

The polo was great fun to watch – for about twenty minutes. Of course, that’s about as long as I last with any sport other than basketball or tennis. Like anything involving ponies, it’s a glorious sight to see them canter across the field and marvel at the union between them and their riders. But after a while, I went off to wander around the booths and people watch until the end of the game. It was an important match and some team with horses won. (La Dolfina, FYI.)

That night, our good friend Luis Vinker and his saint of a wife, Claudia, hosted us for dinner in their home. Poor Claudia had prepared the whole thing and it was so kind of them. We got a great chance to get to know their 18-year-old son Gabriel – nicknamed, much to his chagrin, Guapito – and hear him play the piano. He’s quite the afficianado and I always think it’s a real privilege to witness someone with such a strong connection to the music he performs.

Even cuter was his insistence that he didn't need to know how to fold his own shirts because "a girl or woman" would do it for him. Oh, those Argentina men and their adorable chauvenism!