Renewing, or at least trying to renew the ID card.
The national identity card (DNI) is a component of Argentine DNA from cradle to grave in a similar way that a Brit feels to sailing the seven seas or strolling to the pub at opening time. In fact babies are issued with a DNI almost at the moment of birth and I've even heard allegorical stories of infants having their feet and hand prints taken on the ward. That may be a hangover from the military dictatorship when babies were routinely stolen of course, however allegorical it is.
For my part, I've had a DNI for about ten years and as a Welshman it feels like an uncomfortable imposition since we don't have such a document or card where I came from. To me, it's simply a battered little booklet with the word FOREIGNER emblazoned upon it, to which I attach an insignificant amount of importance.
Now, those little booklets are being replaced in July with plastic cards full of biometric information, rendering the booklet obsolete, so I reluctantly decided that maybe I should put finger to keyboard and investigate, foreigner that I am. The government website is nothing if not helpful and even I could find my way round it, delighted as I was to find the lines 'Foreigners and Argentine citizens can apply for the new card right here'!
But why did I get the nagging suspicion that all would not play out as smoothly as the picture was being painted?
So I clicked away, filled in all the required boxes, the beautifully simple captcha and hit send thinking, just maybe, this is a done deal and waited...till the pop up told me that this action is only valid for Argentine citizens, which I am not of course; I'm a foreigner. This quickly sent me into a trance of utter ennui which was quickly shaken loose by the awful realisation that I would have to physically propel myself to the dark and forbidding third world office of an Argentine Persons Registry, a division of the pinnacle of bureaucracy, the Ministry of Interior (Immigration). I've been there before hoping I'd never have to return, having left that portal with myriad Orwellian images flashing through my mind. It was grim then and I didn't expect it to be any less grim this time round. I wasn't disappointed.
By some happy chance, said office is also a marriage registry office, so when I arrived I was greeted by a small crowd of happy shiny people, smiling and laughing, taking happy pictures of the happy couple on a happy Friday. On entering the grubby doorway, I left the happiness to be greeted by the hangdog, downtrodden expressions of citizen taxpayers waiting at the gates of hell. As human debris shuffled from one desk to another, confronted by officious and hard faced government operatives, I knew the show had begun.
Since there were no signs or anything helpful to guide the unsuspecting and confused person, I approached a queue of others at what seemed to be a mock up of a customer service desk and I use that term as loosely as hemorrhoids. There were five people in front of me and I listened intently to the hatchet face operative as she gave her replies to the cowering individuals in the hope that it may give me some pointers. It did. In each case she told them that without an internet appointment, they would not be seen, never, ever until the end of time. I think it's entirely appropriate to say that at that moment I said to myself 'You're fucked!.'
But I stayed in line and waited my turn, knowing that I had a secret weapon, the screenshots, compliments of Snagit and that would show them, yes sir!. I greeted the operative politely, especially as the proceedings were being watched by the beady eyes of a well armed and overweight policeman.
She in turn gave me the impression that she'd just swallowed a wasp and I so explained what had had happened when I tried to get my appointment online. Without even blinking or showing any visible change in her pulse rate, she delivered her well practised line, no online appointment, no deal. Of course, I remonstrated and reiterated, even tried to show her my secret weapon, at which she simply cast her terrifying gaze over my shoulder and shouted 'Next!'
I had become a non-person, less significant even than a mote of dust in that shabby little hell hole, so I took my leave in a simmering rage, taking care not to lash out at my fellow sufferers on the way back to the glorious sunshine beyond.
Once back in the safety of my shop I bashed again at the keyboard, visiting every single Argentine immigration portal that has ever been constructed, only to be greeted with the same response 'Foreigners cannot get an appointment online and need to present themselves physically at their local registry office'. Couldn't be much clearer could it?
So I took some more screenshots, gave Snagit a hopeful kiss and hurled myself and the bike back in the general direction of hell before it closed its gates. The wedding party was still merrily snapping away, the bride looked glorious and I strode purposefully back through the government issue doors in no mood for frivolity.
On this occasion, different and younger faces were milling about behind the enquiries desk and I lunged towards it in the churlish hope that someone would listen. Indeed, it was a forlorn hope and no sooner had a I delivered my plea and received the expected response, the more-than-my-job's-worth person of the female gender simply turned on her heels and strode away as if she had been proposed to inappropriately.
But I don't give up that easily and next I managed to catch the eye of a scruffy looking clerk, pleaded my case again, at which I received the nonchalant and awe inspiring advice to go and find an internet cafe because that's where we always send people like you who don't know how to use a PC.
I almost wet myself at that little nugget and as I was about to gouge his eyes out with a handy Bic lying on the counter, hatchet face returned from her coffee break, trying her level best not to recognise me.
My well prepared preamble was stillborn and the rest of the encounter went something like this..
-Can't you read? Look over there on that wall and you'll see the website you need to go to. Next!
I looked over to the wall and saw a grubby A4 piece of paper stuck on with Scotch Tape, showing some web addresses and links hitherto not mentioned anywhere else. It was hopeless asking any further questions, so I scribbled down what I could, tried my best to smile at hatchet face, but only succeeded in delivering a look that, had I been on the receiving end of, would have reduced me to a quivering jelly.
With steam hissing from eyes and ears, I made it back out into the sunny street, fired up the bike, parted the wedding party like the Red Sea and finally hit the keyboard again back at the shop.
Five days later, having gained access to the secret portal, the creaking machinery of government lumbered into action and spat out an appointment date for two weeks hence, with no other alternative dates given whether I liked it or not. So beggars not being choosers, I took it.
You know that feeling you get when you suspect you might be coming down with Bubonic Plague or St Vitus' Dance and you manage to get an appointment with the Doc for a diagnosis and you gird your loins knowing that it's going to be a bumpy ride?
Later that week...
The day of reckoning arrived, as did I at the dreaded portal, half an hour early, because well, you never know.
No wedding party this time,which was a shame, in fact it was almost deserted, which always bodes badly for a govt department and so their systems have been down for 15 days and they have no idea when they will be working again and yes,we will all have to go through the same old shit we've already been through to return to the start line.
But hey, at least we are not as yet being castigated like our brothers and sisters in Venezuela. Not yet anyway.