opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Travel Highlights 14: Buenos Aires Day 2

December 6th, 2007

We wake early and head over to the corner “Cafe Brittanico”, another neighborhood joint with plenty of character. After a very light breakfast of tostados (little cuts of French bread) with dulce de leche, excellent peach jam, butter and cream cheese, we buy a couple of pastries at the confiterie (bakery) beside our hotel. I am not helping myself to eradicate heartburn, but damn it, I’m in another country half way around the world. I’ll have my pastry and eat it too! The confiterie is an elegant store of burgundy flower flecked wallpaper, wooden racks that boast rough, yeasty smelling bread and smooth glass showcases filled with delicate, gem-like treats. I order a sweet, flaky little bun filled with the dulce de leche. Delicious! Fresh, buttery, creamy, rich and sweet all at once.

We saunter through Parque Lezama, kitty corner to our hotel. Winding walkways converge on each other through gardens of palms and conifers. We pass several dog walkers who attempt to guide ten or eleven dogs through the pathways and past the myriad of statues that sprout up everywhere, like the pop-up constructions in a pop-up book. We are on our way to the famous street of Camanito, and so we pass through one of BsAs most quintessential neighborhoods; La Boca.

We pass by the famous La Boca stadium where thousands of soccer fans meet to enthusiastically cheer on their neighborhood team and afterwards grapple with the competitor’s fans. This morning, it is quiet, however. As we walk, the winter sun teases us with its slanted warmth; the rays mellow the cool bite of the air, but it is still too cold to take our coats off. The neighborhood of La Boca is blue collared quirky. Iron corrugated homes sit next to old, ornate and solid houses which lie next to more modern, blank abodes. There are produce shoppes and butchers stores on every block, which interweave among the residences. The sidewalks are crumbled and uneven, but there are plenty of adults and children going about their daily business. The neighborhood of La Boca looks to me like a South American version of Sesame Street. It pleases the eye, and the heart.

We arrive in Camanito and are taken back by its gaudy tackiness. The surrounding neighborhood of La Boca is so so dirt-earth-and-bones-authentic that this area feels like Walt Disney’s cartoon version. Tourists are everywhere, and the snap of cameras is a sound like teeth upon teeth . The buildings themselves, in a plethora of vivid hues, are charming, but the area is hollowed out for the sake of tourism. No one actually lives here anymore. It’s devoid of that basic aspect which made La Boca so attractive – the daily humdrum of human activity and life. That isn’t to say there aren’t people around. There are plenty of tourists and a plethora of Argentines selling souvenirs.

We head into La Boca’s Museum of Fine Arts, which is mostly dedicated to works by Benito Horacio Quinquela. I’ve never heard of Quinquela, like most North Americans, which is a shame. His work is fabulous. Mostly focusing on dockyard life, ships and the sea, Quinquela’s art is idiosyncratic, full of movement and colour and thoroughly enticing. One portion of the museum is devoted to the artist’s paintings of shipwrecks, and here are some of his most compelling works. In one painting, a throttled ship looks like a gigantic set of blakened jaws that gapes open to show rotting, jagged teeth. Another painting is tranquil – a weeping tree bends its bowing leaves over a broken ship as light strands of soft grass grow upwards through the ship’s hull.

There is also an art exhibition outside, high up on the museum’s roof. The museum has built half walls along the edges of the roof and painted them brilliant coral, shrimp and agate. Delightfully and unexpectedly, sculptures of busts and heads sit in windows along these walls, their background the dockyards, sea, and steel bridges themselves. I imagine that a hurricane would topple these pieces of art, sending them crashing into the neighborhood below, splinters of heads, throats and chest sprayed over the sidewalks and alleys. Somehow this image pleases me; nature allowed to directly interact and toy with art. Sometimes I get a little sick of the sterile, scientifically balanced gallery air and atmosphere. Isn’t art about life? Then why do so few galleries encourage this sense? Here, heads balanced on the edges of window sills, open to brilliant blue sky and the neighborhood’s industrial body, I feel the danger, the heart beat of art, which is life itself.

In the evening, we walk to a music store/restaurant that advertises a jazz concert. We seat ourselves and order a bottle of Malbec. The band, a jazz quartet, arrives with instruments soon after ten. They are a shy, self efffacing group led by a sweet female pianist with a round face and dark owl eyes. We watch and listen as the musicians play off each other, like a game of tag. The night improvises away as we drink our Malbec (heartburn be damned, once again) and tap our feet and fingers in time. After two hours of playing, the musicians thank the small audience and begin to look for their guitar and bass cases. The audience lustily repeats “An autre! an autre!” and the band relents and plays one last song.

We hear a familiar string of vocal bumps to our left – english! We introduce ourselves to a couple from Scotland and a couple from Wisconsin. It is exciting to speak in english and all of us, made giddy from delicious Argentine wine, rattle on and on. We are asked to leave, and I brag to everyone that we really are the example of wild nightlife – to shut down an Argentine restaurant is quite a feat! Outside, the Scottish couple, Kenny and Lisa, invite us out for another drink. Drunk with wine and with communication, we agree and walk to the nearby “Million”, a posh, beautiful bar in an old stone mansion. We sit around a table in the garden courtyard, ivy on the stone walls around us, a square patch of black sky above us, and talk, and talk, and talk. I am heartened to share stories and we laugh at each other’s travel foibles. Finally, as the bartender wipes down his granite counter, we are asked to leave this bar too. Two hours have passed, and it is now almost 3:30am. We hail a taxi, and watch Buenos Aires whizz by us, too happy to speak.

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