Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blognos Aires

I haven't been writing much lately for two reasons. The first is that I've been a bit under the weather. I got some sort of stomach flu, which is always fun. I'm mostly better now, probably around 80-90%. Anyway, the other reason is that I haven't had a whole lot to write about. The truth is that, although I've certainly enjoyed Buenos Aires so far, it hasn't grabbed me in quite the same way that Montevideo did. I was talking with my parents last night, and trying to figure out why that was, and I think there are a few reasons.

First off, I haven't yet encountered the things about Buenos Aires that make it uniquely Buenos Aires.  Right now, most of what I've seen is more big city culture than anything else.  Obviously I love big city culture, having lived in New York for a while, but it's not as exciting a thing for me to visit.  Another thing is that I happen to be exactly halfway through a four month journey, so I've been needing a bit of a breather.  It's obviously impossible to go full-bore for that long, so I just haven't been as active here as I was in other places.  The third reason is that I think I just haven't seen the best of this town yet.  I've seen a lot of staples--Recoleta, the Casa Rosada, Puerto Madero--but I haven't yet found whatever it is about Buenos Aires that is unique, the way that Murga was in uruguay or Ometepe was in Nicaragua.  I still haven't been to La Boca, which is touristy but apparently pretty incredible, so that may well change things.  And I have some other good stuff planned for the next week, so I certainly remain optimistic.

I should add that I don't consider this a criticism of Buenos Aires.  Among other things, it strikes me as a wonderful place to live.  It's extremely cosmopolitan, and full of great food and culture.  I think the circumstances are just such that right now it's not grabbing me.  What's funny about it is that it might just be that it feels a bit too much like a South American version of home.  I've been stopped on the street for directions more times than I can count.  In part that's because, unlike in Nicaragua, there are actually locals here who look like me.  But I think in part it's because I feel pretty at home walking down a city street.  So I think that keeps me from looking like a tourist, even if I am in flip flops and carrying a backpack.

At any rate, I managed to get an excellent big city cultural experience today, when I went over to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.  It was smaller than your Met or your Louvre, for sure, but still very impressive.  In particular, there was a Goya room, which featured some of his works that I've never seen before.  Goya is best known for his Black Paintings, which feature extremely dark subject matter.  One of my particular favorites is his painting of Saturn.  Anyway, it turns out that at the end of the 18th century, he did a series of prints called "Caprichos" ("Caprices"), which were almost like editorial cartoons, satirizing the lightheartedness of Spanish society.  The museum had a few prints--you can look through them here--and they were pretty captivating.  In addition to an excellent impressionist collection--Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, and Gaughuin are all on hand--there's an excellent little satirical drawing of Picasso's, entitled "Sueño y Mentira de Franco" ("Dream and Lie of Franco").  I like these all less specifically because they're satirical cartoons, and more because they're so far outside the normal realm of what we're accustomed to from these artists.  Additionally, I always find well-done political protest art to be incredibly potent.

The museum, it happens, is just across the street from Recoleta Cemetary, where I went last weekend.  This gave me another opportunity to stroll through the little market that pops up there on weekends.  The thing that I'm most struck by about the market is the range of goods.  Not in terms of just that things are different, that's not what I mean.  I mean there is a serious range, to my mind, of likelihood of someone wanting to buy a certain thing.  On the one hand, one can find beautiful handmade jewelery, lush handknit scarves, and really interesting paintings.  On the other, one can choose instead to buy miniature sculptures of mate gourds that say "Argentina" on them--the Buenos Aires equivalent of the Empire State Building pencil sharpener.  Another option is chintzy pewter dragons for high schoolers going through a goth phase.  There are also people who sell individual dreadlock extensions.  I'm not kidding.  And the thing is, the handmade goods are sold by the people who actually make them.  And they are all there at the same market.  And I sometimes wonder whether the guy who's done all of these incredible watercolors might be setting up on a Saturday morning.  And maybe the mass-produced mini-mate guy shows up a half-hour later (tell me I'm wrong) and sets up next to him.  I wonder if, at that moment, the watercolor artist just thinks, "#$&%@ you."

Anyway, given my ongoing state of illness, I'm going to head to bed.  I'm off to Iguazu National Park on Monday, at which I'm expecting a total mindblowing.  So I'll talk to you all soon.



Buenos Aires


  1. When I was in India, the street hawkers sold some of the most useless stuff you could imagine--fake beards, whips, and toy drums. Glenn Hurowitz bough a fake drum on the second day of the trip and had to schlep it to the next six cities. He left it in the Mumbai airport before we returned to the States.

  2. Seth, I spent five weeks in Montevideo and am beginning my fifth in Buenos Aires. I go to La Boca (your next post) twice a week...not to the areas you visited but to a soup kitchen so my experience is a little different (but definitely not as scary as outsiders would have you believe). I am having a great time in BA, but it is almost too easy. Montevideo, while more 'tranquilo' was very different. Just yesterday I was remembering people crossing traffic in flip flops, their beach chairs under one arm, their thermos and mate under the other. Definitely more of a pueblo than a city. I'll have to go read others of your postings.

  3. Hi Seth!
    You should visit all the BA neighborhoods because the city has lots of places to go.
    When I travelled there I rent apartments Buenos Aires with two other friends and we had a great time.
    Hope you´re enjoying the city!


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