Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Buenos Aires... a little sooner than expected.

This is the "Pink" Presidential Palace in Buenos Aries.
I didn't' expect to see it until Friday, but I'll get to that in a minute.
First lets talk about this seat of Presidential power.
If you look closely you can see the famous balcony in front of the three windows on the second floor.
No?That's a little easier.
From this balcony, Diego Maradona , General Galtieri, Evita and Peron have enjoyed worship of the masses at various stages in Argentinian history. Evita was first to use the vantage point as she was determined to suffer the elements along with the common man.
Although there's no recorded instance of her actually braving driving rain whilst conducting a regal wave the myth lives on.
There are various stories why the building is pink. The official line insists it was a compromise between the two major political factions at the time (their colours were red and white).
Another explanation (which I'm assured is true) is that the original stone being very soft was preserved with a solution containing cow's blood.
When diluted, the mixture came out pink.
The political compromise explanation is on government web sites.
The "Cow's blood truth" is given by English speaking tour guides but that may be just a bit of "colour" for their spiel..
I ended up in Argentina 4 days earlier than expected because upon arrival in Rio I discovered that Canadians need a VISA to visit Brazil.
This must be a recent development as I'd been there in April and my documents were stamped (both in and out) without a second glance.
I found myself cooling my heels in the transit lounge after a 19 hr journey staring at the prospect of being put on a Delta flight back to the US .
Pissed off would not begin to describe my state of mind.
The Canadian Embassy?
As useless as tits on a bull.
Not interested in even discussing my situation "until after lunch".
The Federal Police?
No one could speak English and dismissed the April stamps in my passport as "not important".
Enter a fellow named Vassco (he's my Regional Sales manager in Brazil).
I'd sent him a half hearted email from my B-berry at 8 am and he got to work on the phones.
He was VERY persistent.
As it happens, he was VERY effective.
Brazilian water torture.
Hence forth invisible, the Delta rep appeared.
Then a young guy from the Federal Police.
Soon I was walking to the desk of Argentinian airlines in the main terminal (my passport in hand) having bypassed passport control AND customs.
I was GIVEN a ticket to Buenos Aires.
First class no less.
The Argentinians like Canadians it seems.
So here I am.
Am I liking Buenos Aires?
You bet.
I've had a fair bit of time to look around between trips to the Brazilian consulate for my transit VISA back to the US on Sunday.

Opposite the Pink Palace is "May 25th Square". It's here in 1810 that the good people of Argentina decided they'd had enough of Spanish rule.
The square is still a place of protest the most poignant of which is the weekly appearance of the "Mothers of the Disappeared". During the military dictatorship (1976-83), thousands of Argentinians vanished into the meat grinder of the ruling Junta's security apparatus. The mothers of these poor souls gathered every Thursday to protest and demand their release. They still assemble though now in remembrance rather than in any hope of definitively learning the fate of loved ones. Their enduring courage is acknowledged by the " mother's kerchiefs" painted in a circle around the independence monument.
Protests continue today. When I was there some sort of squabble was in full swing important enough to warrant TV crews and water cannon.

Tourists outnumbered protesters and riot control stayed dismounted and dry.
I was a little disappointed as the only time I'd seen a water cannon in action was on TV, pinning English football hooligans to the sidewalks of small french towns.
A permanent fixture on the square is the "sit/sleep in" by veterans of the Malvinas/Falklands war . The protest has little to do with the war itself but is more concerned with the treatment of Argentinian veterans, a sizable number of whom are homeless and traumatised.
Just off the square I came upon this little scene.
What or who are they guarding?
I have no idea, but the uniforms were shiny and warranted a picture.
Buenos Aires feels like Madrid.
There's very little of the chaos and din of other places in Latin America I've visited.
It looks and feels like Spain except there aren't any immigrants visible.
The population appears uniformly white.
I'm unsure why this is.
The first Spanish expedition to the region was led by Pedro de Mendoza in 1541 and arrived with 2000 soldiers in search of silver. There were very few indigenous people with which to trade and his men ended up starving and resorting to cannibalism. Mendoza's contribution to the city's founding seems to be the park in which his men gnawed one anothers shins. A later expedition under Juan du Garay arrived with cattle and farmers and a thriving port was soon established.
That's one version anyway.
Another story has it that the Spanish came and slaughtered all in their path (by way of arms and syphilis) thereby clearing the land of indigenous squatters.
The truth as ever is elusive.
The financial crisis in Argentina may explain the few recent immigrants.
The legion of professional dog walkers exercising very expensive pure bred mutts, seems to suggest the crisis may not bite so deep.
Professional dog walkers aren't usually found in a society teetering on financial collapse.
Nor are pristine streets and well tended public parks.
I may be wrong but something feels strange.
There's a fair number of hippies and general layabouts.
Their doppelgangers can be found in all the major cities in Europe and North America.
Except here they don't beg.
Argentinian reggae.
The icing on the cake.
Much of the area around the old port is paved with cobblestones.
These aren't from local stone, but were derived from the ballast in Spanish trading ships. After the long trip from Europe, they emptied their hulls to load up on leather, silver and grain leaving behind a mountain of seemingly useless rocks.
It didn't take long for some bright spark to realise a solution to the muddy quagmire..
The streets don't just look European, they are paved with Iberian cast offs.
The most colourful neighbourhood in the city is La Boca. Maradona played for the famed Boca Juniors and his image is everywhere ( the young handsome version).
The area is poor and so dangerous its a no go area at night.
Originally settled by Italian immigrants the locals built homes of corrugated iron, wood and whatever else they could liberate from the local dockyards. Likewise they painted their houses a patchwork of colours . The result then was much as it is today: streets of multi coloured ramshackle dwellings pleasing to the eye if not comfortable to live in. The most famous street (and the only place sensible tourists venture) is "Calle Caminito" and features restaurants, street performers and "Tango for the Tourists".
Kitch but good fun.
The Recoleta Cemetery was founded in 1822 and is one of the most impressive cities of the dead I've ever seen.
It kicks the pants off anything in New Orleans.
Easily one of the strangest places I've ever been.
The caskets are on display through glass doors/windows in the crypts.
On a bright winter's day no.
At midnight?....maybe.
Recoleta's most famous resident is Eva Peron.
She took a rather circuitous route to get here however.
She died on July 26th 1952 and was laid to rest in the Presidential crypt.
Anti-Peronists stole her body in 1955 and somehow spirited it (pun intended) away to Italy where it remained hidden until 1971.
Most of the accounts gloss over this part of the story.
How exactly did they manage this?
Break into the presidential Crypt.
Ship the body to Italy.
Hide it for almost 20 years.
Think about it for a minute.
In 1974, the remains were returned to Argentina ( back to the Presidential Crypt) but 2 years later relocated to the Duarte family crypt.
As the fourth Mrs Peron was still living (in fact is still kicking today) it was deemed unseemly for Evita to be laid to rest beside a husband with a living wife.
Evita's body is sealed 8 ft down under several protective layers of steel and concrete to prevent any further musical caskets.
As I went on July 27th ( the day after the anniversary of her death) tributes were very much in evidence and the scent of fresh flowers permeated the narrow passage in front of her resting place.
That's it for today.
Malbec and red meat will be very much a feature of my life over the next few days.
I hope all is well wherever you may be.
Love to all


RS said...

What an interesting, vibrant, colourful, incredible-looking city! Thanks for an amazing post!

LadyHutch13 said...

Very interesting post!

Kjell Tjensvoll said...

Another great presentation Terry. Love the pics - my favorite is the two tango dancers in bw.