Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina

You knew it was inevitable. I had to start singing Evita at some point, being in Argentina. I’ve been walking around humming since yesterday. Occasionally I actually break into song before I realize it, but people look at me strangely when I do.

But there’s a particular reason why I’m singing it now – I spent yesterday wandering around the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Recoleta, where the rich and famous live, love, laugh and are buried. María Eva Duarte de Perón is one of those; she is, of course, more commonly known (to North Americans at least) as Evita. She died very young in 1952 (aged only 33) and is still beloved by Argentinos – her grave is easy to find, as it’s the one covered in flowers and surrounded by people with cameras.

The cementary in Recoleta is fascinating, even apart from the famous Evita; it’s like a miniature city with pathways, a plaza and mausoleums that look like churches or temples or scaled-down mansions. Apparently even after death, Buenos Aires’ elite want to reside in style. Some of the mausoleums had ‘basements’, so perhaps that’s where the black sheep of the family are relegated. The resident cats in the graveyard have little reverence for the famous dead and lounge around in the sunshine, or stroll around making friends with the tourists.
Recoleta neighbourhood, Buenos Aires

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Recoleta, and I understand better now why the “Paris of the South” image of Buenos Aires exists. Some of the buildings did look like they belonged on the other side of the Atlantic – take a look here:

There’s an intriguing fountain in the neighbourhood, donated by an Argentine artist to the city of Buenos Aires. It’s a massive steel flower called “Floralis Genérica”, and its enormous petals open in the morning and close at night as if it were really alive. And there´s a lovely art museum filled with the likes of Picasso, Rodin, Monet, Rothko, Henry Moore and a lot of apparently famous South American artists of whom I´ve never heard (my art history education was very Euro-centric, it seems). 

But perhaps my favourite part of the neighbourhood was the bookstore El Ateneo, housed in a converted movie theatre – one of those grand old theatres with elaborate decorations and balconies, and filled to the rafters with enough literature to keep a bookworm happy for years (well, a Spanish-speaking bookworm, anyway).

The day before, I’d met up with a friend from Toronto and headed to the little town of Tigre by train. Sharon is now retired (and it obviously agrees with her!) but she and I worked together when I first started my job at Education; she had the equivalent job for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities that I had for Education.

Tigre is just over an hour outside Buenos Aires, and it’s an interesting blend of grand Venetian canals, Muskoka cottage country and Louisiana bayou. In its heyday in the 1930’s, it was the playground for Buenos Aires’ beautiful people, and you can still see elements of its faded glory in the magnificent former social club (now converted to an art museum). We took a boat ride around the canals for an hour or so, and there are innumerable little side canals and streams leading away from the main waterways; I’d love to go back some day and spend some time kayaking to explore all those lost little channels.

It was refreshing to spend some time with someone from home; while you can meet lots of interesting people on the road, you do tend to have the same conversation over and over: “So where are you from? How long are you travelling for? Where did you come from/where are you going next?” It can get lonely, at times, with fleeting and superficial friendships for only a day or two while you’re both in the same town. So it was a very nice change to talk to someone I already knew! I was very happy too to see that she’s doing well – and, of course, very jealous that she (unlike me) doesn’t have to go back to work eventually, but I’m trying my best to forget that at some point I’ll have to start earning a living again.

Well, I’m off to Iguazú Falls tonight on another night bus, and have the day to wander around BA so I think I’ll sign off and get back out there. By noon tomorrow, I’ll be in the tropics! I’ll come back to BA again after Iguazú, as there’s no other really logical way to get to Montevideo or over to Mendoza other than to come back through BA anyway. So I’ll spend a bit longer next time and learn a little more about the city – but I like what I’ve seen so far.

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