Monday, February 9, 2009

Buenos Aires: Palermo, ICANA, La Boca, meat, cathedrals, and singalongs

January 30, 2009

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all a bit of a blur for me (for reasons that will become clear). Tuesday morning saw us climbing aboard the Subte once more, this time heading for the Recoleta district-- home of the richest citizens, ritziest shops, and most famous dead people. One of Recoleta's most popular attractions is its cemetery, where many bygone military dictators, scientists, poets, and various members of old upstanding families lie entombed. You have to have either tons of money or very good connections (usually both) to take your final rest in La Cemeteria de Recoleta. I hesitate to say "buried," because there are no actual graves and no dirt or grass. It's simply row upon winding row of tall marble tombs, sculpted figures, and smooth, wide paving stones underfoot. The most celebrated crypt is that of Eva Peron, a.k.a. Evita, the wife of past Argentinian president and major historical figure Juan Peron. Evita is a history-maker in her own right, having championed the causes of women and the working class while her husband was in office. Her tomb alone among the dusty, cobwebbed monuments, was covered with fresh flowers and polished to a glistening sheen.

The early evening was largely taken by a rehearsal and concert at the Iglesia Dinamarquesa, or Danish Church. It was covered with posters of Kirkegaard, Hans Christian Anderson, maps of Denmark, Danish flags, Danish inscriptions, and even paper cutouts of Vikings. The masterpiece, in my opinion, was a breathtakingly detailed model of a four-masted Viking ship, about four or five feet long and perfectly proportioned. It was hanging from the ceiling of the sanctuary (I kid you not).

The church was very small, but it was full to bursting for that night's concert. They filled side rooms, packed the pews, and still there were people hanging out the doors. Our (very long) program was met by enthusiastic applause and shouts of "Bravo!" . . . they demanded an encore and proceeded to give flowers to all the soloists. It was a very gratifying performance, and the beaming faces of the audience made the stifling, airless heat almost bearable.

However, for me the concert marked the start of an unfortunate episode in which I battled very hard with my stomach and lost badly. It suddenly tied itself in knots and I could barely stand, let alone walk. I made it only a few minutes into dinner before trying to walk the three blocks back to the hostel; I made it only two before having to throw up in a trash can. I spent the evening in the hostel's bathroom while the rest of the group went out to Plaza Serrano, a square bordered by bars and clubs.

The next day (Wednesday) I felt a little better, so I went with the group to Palermo, a district famous for its beautiful parks. I bought a picnic lunch of fruit and yogurt (all my stomach could handle) and we ate by a lake in a lovely green park. After lunch, most of the group headed to MALBA, BA's famous modern art museum. Some of the art was quite odd, but interesting nonetheless.

The evening was taken by a rehearsal at ICANA, a "North American Cultural Center" not far from our hostel-- or, as one friend described, a "United States love-fest." The building was full of U.S. paraphernalia: portraits of presidents, books about America, and even easy "learn English" kits. We were slightly less pleased, however, when shown the room in which we were supposed to sing; it could barely hold the choir, let alone an audience. Nonetheless, we made do and were able to rehearse one last time for the concert the next day.

Dinner was very . . . Argentine. We went to a fairly nice restaurant, and most of the group had a traditional parilla or grill dinner. In other words: meat. Lots of meat. Lots of very different, very cultural meat, including intestines, kidneys, and blood sausage. We vegetarians smugly munched our delicious ravioli, and acceded graciously when the meat-eaters asked for our leftovers.

Unfortunately, my stomach of steel was apparently weakened by its earlier upheavals and the sight of all those delicious organs and entrails made me nauseous once more. I was extraordinarily glad to be out of the restaurant and into another helado shop. After a healthy dose of ice cream we all stumbled back to the hostel and collapsed; long days full of walking really do wonders for being able to sleep soundly.

Thursday dawned bright with the promise of a glorious breakfast that did not include croissants or watery juice! Unfortunately, Thursday went on its merry way without me as I slept on, oblivious. Tragically, I missed out on "good breakfast" day. Around noon, we performed at the Dedication Mass of the Catedral Metropolitan, BA's main cathedral. The cathedral was beautiful, but the loft we performed in was hot and stuffy (and slightly awkward, since after the short concert we did after the mass there was no way to exit gracefully and the audience didn't know we were done. oops). We did end up going down into the main part of the cathedral to perform one last song. We had also developed quite a following from the Iglesia Dinamarquesa, who skipped their lunch breaks to hear us sing at the cathedral and also planned to attend our concert at ICANA that night.

Our afternoon included a trip to La Boca, the working-class district of BA. It's named for its location at the mouth, or la boca, of the river. It was extremely gaudy and touristy, but simultaneously bright and inviting. We walked down los Caminitos, a row of brightly painted houses, trying to choose an inexpensive and fast place to eat lunch. This turned out to be an impossibility, as every restaurant was geared towards tourists, complete with a tangoing couple in front of an invariably garish facade. We settled for a place close to the canal, which turned out to be pricey and slow-- but also delicious, one of the better meals I've had here. The downside was that it left us little time to actually see La Boca. So all we really had time to do was wander up and down the expensive outdoor stalls. We missed out on the Museo de la Pasion Boquense, a soccer museum, and the famed La Bombanera (literally "the Chocolate Box), a soccer stadium. We boarded the bus just as it started to rain heavily.

The rain continued for a few hours (the first significant precipitation we had seen) but cleared before it was time to head to our concert at ICANA. Once more, the house was packed with smiling faces, and the performance was very well received. It was slightly nostalgic for me, as it was my last performance withe the Glee Club until next fall.

The concert was followed by a mediocre dinner a few blocks from the hostel: great company, but terrible food. However, Richard surprised us with an announcement that the hostel was holding a small gathering with beer, snacks, and a local folk group. Turns out that the "local folk group" was one guy who worked at the hostel and his guitar.

The hostel had filled up a bit over the course of the time we'd been there; there was a group of college kids from Israel, an older couple (perhaps 60s or 70s), and a few Argentinians and Brazilians in addition to the hostel's normal staff. I hadn't seen much of them, other than exchanging awkward glances on the way to the shower. But as I walked into the atrium, I was surprised to see that it was packed to the gills with people, all listening intently to some of the most beautiful classical guitar playing I have ever heard. I recognized the player as one of the guys who worked the midnight to eight shift; he couldn't have been much older than I was, but his playing was technically exquisite and breathtakingly musical. I couldn't tear my ears or eyes away.

After he had finished, he passed his guitar on to another hostel worker, who played traditional Argentine music for us and even sang along in a rough but pleasant voice. He also soon proved his mettle as an accomplished classical guitarist. The guitar was then passed to Victor, and then to me, and soon it was a full-on singalong/karaoke session. All we needed was a campfire for the scene to be complete.

We sang until the wee hours of the morning, despite our scheduled early departure the next day. I slept feeling overwhelmingly content and happy, ready to take on the Pampas the next day.

The tomb of Eva Peron, under her maiden name Duarte


Park in Palermo where we ate lunch

mmmm . . . intestines

Me, playing and singing at the hostel

1 comment:

Carla said...
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