Porteños and the Heart of the City

The Plaza de Mayo is the heart of the city both physically and psychically – all downtown streets radiate off this central square. On the square is the Casa Rosada (“rose palace”, the country’s parliament).  From its balcony,  Peron addressed the crowds and Evita spoke, delivering her news that she would not run for Vice-President, where the country learned of Evita’s death, where the people wept.

Also on this square is the Metropolitan Cathedral, which houses the crypt of San Martin, the greatest soldier and along with Simon Bolivar, liberator of Latin America from colonialism.

      

This square is where the Madres march, where all Portenos gather whenever depth of feeling requires it.  There have been protests, demonstrations, and bombings at May Square.  An attempted coup against Juan Peron happened here.  In the 2001 economic crisis, this is where the protests occurred.

We were at the square on Thursday at 3:00 p.m to see the Madres march, but could only see them from afar as the plaza was being prepared for the 25 de Mayo celebrations.

To the south off the square along Defensa is San Telmo, an area that seems most like a typical middle class area of any large Canadian city, a mix of high-rise apartments, condos, with transit busses and all the shops one would need for ordinary life.

Sundays in San Telmo, the city’s largest market stretches on for blocks and blocks of  antiques, purses, scarves, ponchos, clothes, coats, leather hats, candy shops, paintings, photography, lingerie, plug adaptors, toys, and throngs of people.  As many locals attend as tourists, something like the Moss Street Market on a grand scale.  We spent several hours there talking to artisans and trying to resist so many beautifully-made items. We bought a lot, but left much more behind simply by virtue of the limitations of our luggage. After a second trip to an ATM, handmade leather shoes by the young woman who made them – she showed us all the little scars on her hands which proved it.

 

Beyond the area of San Telmo lies La Boca – the oldest part of the city and the original port on the river.   This is where the term for Buenos Aires residents began – “Porteno.”  The mainly immigrant population in the early 20th century were so poor they got leftover paint from the ships docked here to paint their houses and the colourful streets remain. It seems natural that the smoky, sultry,  simmering Tango emerged here.

Asado witing for you in La Boca

Portenos are depicted in the famous Berni 1934 painting, Manifestacion, which we were lucky enough to see at the MALBA (BA’s answer to New York’s MOMA).  The deep lines in the faces of the subjects speak to a harsh life in the early days in La Boca.

Home to the beloved football club, the Boca Juniors, the Boca football stadium is at the heart of the neighbourhood, and La Boca’s restaurants prove the Portenos’ love of its football club.

Leaving the touristic area of La Boca, one sees what may be a more realistic view:

La Boca has its own memorial to the disappeared:

We took a taxi back to the hotel today and, sitting shotgun, it was a bit of an adventure.  Here they have lines painted on the pavement indicating the lanes, but little actual attention is paid to them.  They have a honking system similar to Egypt, letting everyone know where you are.   At one point as a bus attempted to squeeze over while we had a stopped bus in front of us, I attempted to stifle a scream and it came out as a piglet’s squeal, and I said I would hold onto the “holy shit” handle – the taxi driver burst out laughing –  I guess I spoke a universal language.  Next taxi trip I indicated to my friends that there was no holy s— handle and again this delighted the driver!  Both very nice fellows and we arrived alive.

Best,

Jan

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