BA is considered by many to be the “Paris of South America” and it has a decidedly European, rather than South American, feel. It is a large, lively, slightly neurotic and theatrical city — sort of San Francisco-Paris-Madrid on a cheap Malbec hangover.
FERIA SAN TELMO
Our hosts, Genevieve (Mexican-born, lived in South Africa, educated in Switzerland) and Marcelo (Argentine of Italian descent) have both worked in theater all over the world and have an extraordinary home full of objects d’art from their work and travels. With theatre paraphenalia and African sculptures everywhere, eclectic collections of every kind, eight hysterical cats (including Malcolm X, the magnificent king of the pride; Mozart, who has a heavy streak of Golden Retriever in his personality; Moliere, a black beauty; Mustafa and Morticia, cautiously friendly), a mix of international music playing at any given moment, and a fun, funny, fascinating family, we began our vacation on a perfect note in the perfect place.
Their home is in barrio San Telmo. A colorful, slightly funky, quickly gentrifying neighborhood full of antique shops, art galleries and tango schools, it is famous for its Sunday crafts fair which sprawls for no less than 20 blocks. As luck would have it, this particular Sunday was also a once-yearly celebration which we quickly discovered was no ordinary tzchotchkies-for-tourists affair. Oh no nos amigos — this was something else altogether. Alan describes it as “Cabrillo Arts Show Meets ComicCon.” I would only add “and Fellini Directs.”
In addition to the usual bad crafts and robomimes of Feria San Telmo, there were people in elaborate costumes and fully staged booths. Among them: Samuri warrior; very old Rapunzel (complete with old prince drinking a cup of coffee); guys in gorilla suits; Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks; Eco-woman in a trash can; Edith Piaf impersonator; and Alan’s favorites, septegenarian Batman, Robin and the Joker. They weren’t selling anything. They just wanted to dress up and have their pictures taken — for ego, not for money.
I met the Julia Child of Argentina. Evidently, she had the first popular television show and best-selling cookbook — several decades ago. So the aged pair — “Julia” brought along her sister — had a large booth oufitted with a crumbling copy of the now antique book and signature mixer. They stood for hours, with a petrifying crepe to one side, beating together an egg and some farina. It was about 90 degrees outside so “baking” demonstration took on extra meaning for us all.
OFF (and on) THE WALL ART
The city is full of colorful murals at every turn and we took many as we explored the different barrios. We also strolled through MALBA, the modern art museum which we enjoyed more for its design than contents because the best of the collection was closed off. However, just a few blocks away, we were able to view Floralis Generica, a gigantic metal sculpture that opens and closes using some sort of solar control.
Late one afternoon, we stumbled into multiple art show openings at Galeria Borges. The Art of Advertising show was a knock-out. At some point, we were asked by an Italian photographer if we would pose for a photo that might someday appear who-knows-where. (Look for us next time you’re in Italy at a swanky art opening.) Our favorite painting depicts 13 women at a long table, talking among themselves and cooing over a plastic bowl. See if you can guess the title.
We also happened upon The International Photojournalism Exhibition & Awards show. From sports to social justice to AIDS, every piece was striking.
And, of course, there was wine flowing everywhere. It may have been the Argentine version of Two Buck Chuck, but it was damn good.
POLITICS (not) AS USUAL
First a few thoughts on the eve of our departure from the U.S….
Tomorrow, for the first time in eight years, Alan and I will land in a foreign county without feeling the need to adopt Canadian accents or identify ourselves as “Californians-who-hate-Bush.” We won’t have to struggle to explain the idiocy and greed that has ruled this land. (We were in India for the 2000 election/robbery and people asked us why Americans weren’t rioting in the streets. I have to confess, I didn’t have a good answer and wondered why myself.)
No, tonight I am truly proud of being an American. I am overwhelmed by the profundity of what has transpired and what can be. For the first time in many, many years I am truly, gratefully hopeful; and I am truly grateful that together we have been able to share this extraordinary moment in history.
And now from Argentina…
As we had hoped and expected, everyone here is thrilled when we introduce ourselves as “Americans celebrating Obama’s election.” Other travelers, taxi drivers, hostel managers, shop clerks, EVERYONE. At the fabulous French restaurant, after a long talk with the owner, Pasqual, we were teated to champagne. On a more somber note, I (Harriet) talked with one of the “desaparesidos” in Plaza de Mayo who said that because of Obama’s election, she felt hopeful for the entire world
For those of you who may not know or be too young to remember, in 1976 a military coup led by Gen Jorge Videla began the 7-year “Dirty War” when an estimated 30,000 supposed “dissidents” were abducted, raped, tortured, murdered — “disappeared.”
A year after Videla’s brutal reign began, a group of mothers of the desaparesidos marched in Plaza de Mayo to demand information about their missing children. The march has continued weekly for 30 years, but very few madres remain and the demands for retribution and information have given way to a small vigil of sorts. A new faction of the original group also marches each week, but their focus is more political than personal and they seek social justice for current, as well as past issues.
That a mother–who lost her newly married 21-year old son and his wife, both students, 30 years ago–can feel hopeful, is both inspiring and, hopefully, prophetic.
In addition to witnessing the madres (www.madres.org), we stumbled upon a few other colorful, and evidently common, political rallies.
Next up: IT TAKES TWO