Argentina, Arty

Fernando Peña

Wednesday, July 1, 2009  

Formerly just another gay flight attendant, he endeared much of Argentina. Fernando Peña passed away suddenly on June 17. Even though there remains a lot of machismo and homophobia in this country, Argentines of all walks of life were fascinated by Fernando Peña and mourned his death.

I don’t know the story so well as I have only been becoming acquainted with him and his personalities, yes his personalities, but I’ll try my best. I say flight attendant because he became a celebrity at 30,000 feet. Fernando worked for American Airlines, Aerolineas Argentina, and others and his humor on the planes became known. I imagine he was a bit better than the typical one-liners  you hear on Southwest Airlines. He knew English pretty well, because he lived in Miami and New York for a period of time.

The legend is that more than ten years ago he became known to a frequent passenger who worked in radio brought him to a morning radio program on a rock station. He became a sensation for how he would create complex scenarios with up to a dozen distinct characters interacting simultaneously, while he was the only one at the mic. Sometimes the personalities can be scarily convincing but in moments become completely ridiculous. I think that some of those personalities were born from his shtick on the airlines. In one newspaper I read, not only was there an obituary for Fernando but also for several of his personalities, who are almost as well known as he is. A Cuban woman, Milagritos López, was the best known and since she was only known from radio. Her character was so convincing that a few guest who arrived at the radio studio were shocked to discover that the señora from Cuba was really this tall thick-built guy.

Fernando Peña had a weekly TV show a few years back when I first got to know him (its name “Isla Flotante” comes from the most over-the-top dessert you can imagine), but on the radio is his mainstay and I regret only having the presence of mind to tune in a few times. My Spanish is very good now for conversing, reading, etc, but for acting when people speak rapidly with lots of colloquialisms, I am very challenged. Plus there are still cultural references that I still don’t get. The parts I understood were usually hilarious. I have also heard him talk and read interviews, and when he is himself I understand him a lot better. He was a complex person with his dark sides, very provocative, and philosophical. He hid nothing about what he believed or who he was, even video-taping his cancer treatment at the very end.

Fernando always did theatrical performances too. Shows based around various characters he created. Last year I went to a re-do of his first ever show, “Gracias por Volar Conmigo” (Thank you for Flying with Me), about flight attendants, performing a monologue each of a stereotype of a certain type of flight attendant. I had a hard time understanding a lot of it because all the characters were so hysterical and talked so fast, and at moments felt out of place amongst an audience of everyone cracking up except for me. But I still was pretty amazed, and I did understand a couple characters and when Fernando sat facing the audience to talk from himself. Also, he would serve himself a cocktail from the drink cart and fixed a few for members the audience. He also appeared to inhale a line of coke, which I found unbelievable, but Guille (my boyfriend) assured me it was for real and part of who he is. It has been my goal in to improve my Spanish enough to return to a show of his and understand it all. Well, unfortunately I’ll have to look for some recordings now.

Infected with HIV, and I believe at  one point Fernando was near death with AIDS. He did not appear unhealthy, a big masculine type with various tattoos and piercings and painted finger nails. His appearance was always to me very masculine and very feminine at the same time, punctuated at T.V. interviews by the accompaniment of his poodle. The cause of his death was not related to that but to a very aggressive cancer that was only discovered recently. Guille and I had no idea he was even sick when we saw the news.

Fernando Peña, Milagros López, Diputado Porelorti, Cristina Patricia Megahertz, and others will be deeply missed.

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