Argentina's Role in the History of Fingerprinting

Cool Mint Fingerprint by Jack Spades, on FlickrAs part of the complicated process to obtain permanent residency in Argentina, I must submit a criminal background check from the FBI to Argentine immigration officials. In order to request this document, I had to be fingerprinted at the local police station, a task I conveniently took care of while back visiting the U.S. in August. With ink-stained fingers the order of the day, the fingerprinting process proved a rather messy affair to be sure, although not a terribly complicated one.

Fingerprinting methods – both traditional "ink and roll" and digital – now form part of standard procedures at government and law enforcement agencies around the world. While DNA testing has revolutionized the field of forensics, fingerprint analysis remains one of the most reliable crime-fighting and personal identification tools available to the police. In fact, the use of fingerprints to nab criminals dates back over a century.

But did you know that Argentina – and even more unlikely, my adopted home of Necochea – played a pivotal role in the history of fingerprinting? It all boils down to a good, old-fashioned murder mystery, but first, here's some background.

Juan Vucetich [photo used under Creative Commons license]One of the pioneers of fingerprinting, Juan Vucetich, a Croatian-born police investigator and official who immigrated to Argentina, made a significant contribution to the development of fingerprint science. In 1891, based on work by Sir Francis Galton, Vucetich developed a fingerprint classification and filing system for both criminal justice and civil applications, including an immigrant tracking system. Vucetich's system proved highly useful, when just months following its creation, an Argentine detective employed the new method to solve the very first criminal case in the world using fingerprint evidence, right here in Necochea.

Here's an excerpt of "South Atlantic Crossings: Fingerprints, Science, and the State in Turn-of-the-Century Argentina" from the American Historical Review, an excellent article about Argentina's contributions to the science of fingerprinting, which explains the details of this history-making case:

"In the course of one of the most infamous murder cases in late nineteenth-century Argentina, prosecutors obtained in 1892 the world's first criminal conviction based on fingerprint evidence. Immersed in the ghoulish facts of the case, in which two small children were stabbed to death in their beds, the coastal villagers of Necochea in Buenos Aires Province hardly noted this high-water mark of transatlantic science. But it was from here that the first practical applications of fingerprinting burst forth, a vital eddy in the currents of people, ideas, and technologies surging across the Atlantic at the turn of the century.

The case had been initially vexing: no one had seen the crime, and interrogations had yielded contradictory evidence. Amid the gore, however, was a single bloody fingerprint left on a doorjamb. How, short of finding blood on the suspect, could a match be proved?

Several days into the investigation, the detective in charge, Eduardo M. Alvarez, shocked observers with a novel brand of evidence, a method of linking finger marks to police records of known or suspected criminals. He demonstrated a match between the bloody mark and the prints of the children's mother, Francesca Rojas, who promptly confessed to the crime."

Vucetich went on to publish a book outlining his methods entitled Dactiloscopía Comparada (Comparative Dactyloscopy), and his fingerprinting classification system eventually gained acceptance throughout Latin America and Europe. The Vucetich system is still in use today, primarily in South America.

If you're interested in learning more about the history of fingerprinting, click here for information from Interpol.

Random side note: "Tocar el piano/pianito" is a slang way of saying "to be fingerprinted" in Spanish (literally "to play the [little] piano," as the action of being fingerprinted bears resemblance to tickling the ivories.)

[Photo credit: Jack Spades, Wikipedia Creative Commons]

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Engagement Photos in Costa Bonita

As I mentioned in my first post of the new year, Daniel and I are tying the knot in March. My friend Elizabeth Lovelace, who will be our photographer for the big day, offered to take a few engagement photos during a recent visit.

Late in the afternoon, we headed out to the rocky, pebble-strewn beaches of Costa Bonita, just a few miles up the road from Necochea, for our mini-session with Liz. Although Daniel tends to get self-conscious in front of the lens, he was a good sport about the whole thing, and I'm very pleased with how the photos turned out. Thank you, Liz!

Katie and Daniel on the Beach in Quequén, Argentina by Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli]

Katie and Daniel Silhouette by Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli] Katie and Daniel Black and White by Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli]

Katie and Daniel on Old Pier, Quequén, Argentina by Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli]

Katie and Daniel by Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli] Kiss Me, Baby by Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli]

In Love by Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli]

Read more about Liz and her work here. All photographs copyright Elizabeth Lovelace [FotosEli].

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A Long Weekend in Buenos Aires

I played tourist while roaming the city solo, gawking at the Obelisk, perusing the Feria de San Telmo, and wandering in and out of the shops of Once.

The Obelisk | El Obelisco, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo, Monserrat, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz on Flickr

I admired the tattered elegance of San Telmo, the neighborhood where I stayed during my visit.

Pasaje de la Defensa, San Telmo, Buenos Aires by katiemetz, on Flickr

Old Balcony in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

I strolled with my friend Beatrice through Parque Lezama, and we smiled and suppressed a few giggles at the sight of some old folks doing tai chi. The twisting branches of the tipa trees overhead offered protection from the blazing sun that even those of the canine persuasion seemed to appreciate.

Tipa Trees in Parque Lezama, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Dogs in Parque Lezama, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Drinking Mate in Parque Lezama, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

I ate traditional Argentine favorites done right at Bar El Federal; a slice of fugazza (onion pizza without cheese) at Güerrín while standing at the bar chatting with strangers; a soggy, disappointing margherita pizza at Siamo Nel Forno; tasty and creative crepes at Lo de Carlitos; and flavorful papas a la huancaina and ceviche at the Peruvian restaurant Mamani.

I discussed the merits of tongue marinated in vinegar with a butcher at the Mercado de San Telmo and sized up the offerings at a Saturday morning market that springs up near the corner of Chile and Balcarce each week.

Butcher Selling Offal, Mercado de San Telmo, Buenos Aires by katiemetz, on Flickr

Butcher at Mercado de San Telmo, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Fruit and Veg Stall in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Egg Seller, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Mini Dietética, San Telmo, Buenos Aires by katiemetz, on Flickr

I sweated (did I mention the stifling heat and humidity in Buenos Aires last week?), necessitating at least two showers per day to remove the layers of perspiration, sunscreen and grime of the city from my skin.

Self-Portrait at Pasaje de la Defensa, San Telmo, Buenos Aires by katiemetz, on Flickr

In a city with nearly 40,000 taxis, I managed to hop into the cab of a nutty, wild-eyed driver I first encountered over a year and a half ago, who delivered one of the strangest monologues I'd ever heard, which compared men to different brands of alfajores (Argentine sandwich cookies). I instantly remembered him when he launched into his well-worn, practiced shtick once again.

The Ladies by katiemetz, on FlickrI enjoyed the company of friends. Over the course of my four-day stay in Buenos Aires, I broke bread with Angela from San Telmo Loft, Deby from TangoSpam, and Fred from SilverStar Transport.

Cherie of Tangocherie invited me to a fantastic asado that she and her partner Rubén hosted at their home. I got to meet Tina from Tina Tangos and Sally from Sallycat's Adventures – two lovely ladies I've known "virtually" for some time but had never had the pleasure of meeting. Cherie wrote up a great post with photos about our get-together.

I even danced tango (badly) for the very first time after a 15-minute lesson from Rubén.

Hey, you only live once, right?

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The Most Popular Baby Names in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Triplées by Raphael Goetter, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

I've always found the topic of names to be an interesting one, and although there's no bundle of joy on the way just yet, I still get a kick out of reading over the latest crop of names that has become fashionable for the little ones here in Argentina.

According to the Civil Registry of the City of Buenos Aires, porteño parents chose the following names more than any others in the year 2010. 

  Girls   Boys
  1. Sofía   1. Thiago
  2. Mía   2. Santiago
  3. Valentina   3. Benjamín
  4. Martina   4. Lautaro
  5. Camila   5. Joaquín
  6. Morena   6. Santino
  7. Catalina   7. Valentino
  8. Julieta   8. Matías
  9. Victoria   9. Bautista
10. Delfina 10. Mateo

Sofía has been the top name for nenas in the Argentine capital since 2005, while Thiago overtook Santiago this year as the most popular name for varones.

Catalina (#7) gave me a bit of a chuckle, as it's the name I was given in Spanish class back in 8th grade! Given the difficulty people have pronouncing my name here, maybe I should revert back to Catalina. Please also note that Chicha is nowhere to be found on the list of names for girls.

I'm not in love with any of the girl names, but I do rather like Joaquín (#5) and Matías (#8) for boys. Which names do you fancy?

[Source: La Nación, hat tip to Holly of Tango in Her Eyes]
[Photo credit: Raphael Goetter]

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Photo Essay: Life's a Beach

A day at the beach in Necochea, in photos.

Downtown Beaches of Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr[Necochea's downtown beaches]

Umbrella and Chairs at the Beach Club, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Katie & Mery by katiemetz, on Flickr[Mery (Daniel's cousin) and me]

Shopping on the Beach in Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr[Need a new beach bag, necklace or pareo? Buy it right here at the water's edge!]

Hot Water | Agua Caliente on the Beach in Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr[Click here to read about why they're selling hot water on the beach.]

Human Inflatable Beach Ball by katiemetz, on Flickr[The Human Inflatable Beach Ball]

Hotdogs on the Beach in Necochea by katiemetz, on Flickr[Fulfill your pancho craving courtesy of the hot dog cart on the beach!]

Elena with Mate by katiemetz, on Flickr[Daniel's Aunt Elena drinking mate]

Cabanas and Chairs on the Beach in Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Sail Away, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Want more photos at the beach? Click here.

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Día de los Tres Reyes Magos in Argentina

Journey of the Magi (1902) by James Tissot [used under Creative Commons license]

The celebration of the Epiphany, known as El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos in Spanish-speaking countries, takes place on January 6. This feast day commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus to the Three Wise Men or Magi, who traveled from afar to worship him and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gift-giving now forms a central part of the festivities on El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos.

The Argentine celebration of Reyes, as most here refer to the holiday, is tied to traditions that originated in Spain. Argentine children write letters to the Three Kings—just as kids in the United States write to Santa—asking them for gifts and describing their exemplary behavior throughout the year.

On the night of January 5, the little ones place their shoes in the window of their bedroom or by the door to the house. They also leave water and grass nearby for the Wise Men's camels.

Waiting for the Three Wise Men | Esperando a Los Reyes Magos by katiemetz, on Flickr

The next morning, the children awaken to find that the Reyes Magos have left them a gift on top of their shoes. While Argentine kids usually receive a gift or two from Papá Noel (Santa Claus) on Christmas, Daniel recalls that the Wise Men always brought him the best presents.

Reyes also marks the end of the holiday season, and most families take down the Christmas tree and other decorations on this day.

The food most traditionally associated with this special day is the rosca de reyes, which begins to crop up in neighborhood bakeries just after New Year's. A sweetened yeast bread formed into the shape of a ring, the rosca de reyes symbolizes both the crowns of the Three Kings and God's unending love. In Spain and Mexico, bakers slip a bean or a small figure of the baby Jesus into the rosca de reyes (also called roscón de reyes in Spain); however, this custom is not observed in Argentina. The Argentine version of the rosca is usually topped with pastry cream, candied cherries (and/or other candied fruits) and pearl sugar, and it’s usually smaller than the Mexican and Spanish roscas.

Rosca de Reyes from Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Check out my recipe for an Argentine-style rosca de reyes on Hispanic Kitchen.

¡Feliz Día de Reyes!

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Happy New Year!

Fountain of Color by sunsurfr, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]A new year. A fresh start. Another 365 days came and went, and now we've wiped the slate clean to begin the New Year full of renewed hope, energy, and promise. Thankfully, I can report that 2010 turned out to be an excellent year, and I have nothing but great expectations for 2011.

Although there are lots of plans in the works for this year, both personally and professionally, I'm most excited of all to announce that Daniel and I will be getting married! The ceremony will take place here in Necochea in the month of March, which should be a lovely time of year to get hitched. Stay tuned for wedding updates.

Happy New Year from Argentina! Here's wishing you all love, health, happiness and prosperity in 2011.

[Photo credit: sunsurfr]

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