Thursday, March 21, 2013

Buenos Aires II: Our only Princess excursion (a bus tour)

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

La Boca, as it turns out, is a very special place. I began talking about it in the first essay, but it deserves more space. There are two things that make La Boca stand out, and we passed close to the first, in getting to the second.

The first is the soccer stadium. "A man," Teresa said, "will give up his home, his family, and even his marriage, but he will never give up his devotion to soccer." These are dedicated, committed, zealous, even fervent soccer fans.

At this soccer stadium, a unique marquee meets the visitor’s eye. A visitor might not even notice it if it is not pointed out. It is the only stadium in the world where the sponsor’s logo (which is wrapped around the top of the stadium for all to see), is in black-and-white, not in red-and-white as you usually see the coca-cola logo. Why would that be? It is because the opposing team’s colors are red and white!

The second feature of La Boca that stands out are the homes. La Boca may be a very poor part of town, but the houses there are painted in bright colors. We’re not just talking about yellow, green, orange, or blue colors of different homes, we’re talking about all these colors—at times—on a single home! These are not subtle, subdued shades of these colors, these are as stark as possible—and made even more striking by the sun on the day we visited.

As we entered the pedestrian walkways into La Boca, we had to walk around a group of three older men moving one step at a time to the beat of their own three drums. That was when, too, we came upon the many artists’ displays of their paintings—quite good ones I thought.

La Boca, as stated in the previous essay, is a place that thrives on the tango. Here, I want to quote from "The Tango" web site :

"Nevertheless [despite the speculation that Cuba was the place where the tango was danced for the first time], most experts [agree] that Buenos Aires, during the decade of 1880 marked the starting point of the music and the dance. In those years there was a proliferation of brothels in Buenos Aires, mostly sustained by immigrant women from Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Poland, whose clientele were also immigrants that had left their families and wives in search of new opportunities." "Initially, the tango was played in brothels with a violin, a flute and a guitar, and if a guitar was not available, it was replaced with a comb turned into a wind instrument alongside a cigarette paper and an expert blower that marked the rhythm. The mythical instrument, the bandoneon, was not a part of the tango until a couple of decades later, around 1900 approximately, and little by little it started to replace the flute."

The reason this quotation is so important is because if provides a preface for a story that our tour guide, Teresa, told us about the tango. She admitted up front that there is a great deal of speculation regarding the beginning of the tango. Teresa said that the tango was perceived as a sinful dance born in the brothels and bordellos and, thus, unaccepted by the church and mainstream citizens. So, a couple of tango dancers went to Rome to get the Pope’s blessing for the dance. Instead of doing the tango, however, the couple did the waltz. The Pope saw it, gave it his blessing, and the tango suddenly was accepted, and with the Pope’s blessing, became the most popular dance of the country.

As an aside, soon after it received the Pope’s blessing, in 1917, a porteno (citizen of Buenos Aires), by the name of Carlos Gardel, recorded a tango called "Mi Noche Triste" ("My Sad Night"). The song became a hit, he became a superstar, and the song introduced the rest of the world to the tango.

Our final "must see" destination was La Casa Rosada (The Pink House, or Government House) built in the late 1800s. It sits at the eastern end of the Plaza de Mayo, the large square which since the 1580 foundation of Buenos Aires has been surrounded by many of the most important political institutions of the city and of Argentina.

It is hard to imagine when you see La Casa Rosada (because of its distance away on a hill from the main thorofare and from the river) that when it was originally constructed, it was at the shoreline of the Rio de la Plata (the River of Silver).

Now, you might wonder as I did, why would they paint this enormous building pink? First, it was considered a drab building to begin with, and Domingo Sarmiento beautified it with patios, gardens, and wrought-iron grillwork. Second, however, the reason is all about politics. The colors of the opposing political parties were red and white, and color pink (a combination of the two colors) was selected to defuse political tensions.

As an aside, an alternative explanation for the pink color suggests that the original paint contained cow’s blood designed to prevent damage from the effects of humidity. The information we received onboard said that the pink color was derived by mixing beef fat, blood, and lime!

La Casa Rosada, however, has far more significance for tourists than for local residents. It turns out that Madonna was one of a very limited number of people actually allowed to visit the balcony where Eva Peron made her final farewell address to the Argentine people before she died. In fact, the Argentine government even allowed the filming of the famous "Don’t cry for me Argentina" scene from her 1996 movie, "Evita," to take place on the actual balcony. "Evita," as you will recall, was the film adaptation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the same name based on the life of Eva PerĂ³n.

The northern side of the Plaza de Mayo is dominated by the Municipal Cathedral, which is the tome of the Orden del Liberator (the highest decoration that is awarded in Argentina), General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850)—one of the most important historical figures in South America. He freed Argentina, Chile, and Peru, from the crown of Spain.

From the Pink House, we drove to Florida Street, where we left 2 people from our tour to shop. It is one of the city’s leading tourist attractions because of its variety of retail stores, shopping arcades, and restaurants. It bustles with shoppers, vendors, and office workers, too, because it is close to the financial district. By evening, Florida Street relaxes as street performers flock to the area, including tango singers and dancers, living statues, and comedy acts.

Although our excursion lasted exactly 3½ hours, we feel we achieved a real feel for the city. We saw the essential "must see" sights, and by stopping at the port terminal, we found our own essential "must buy" items—a tee shirt for me and a shot glass for one of our granddaughters. We boarded our ship, had a very late lunch, and I settled in at Skywalker’s Nightclub to write-up my excursion notes. This is one place I would highly recommend some kind of excursion or tour.

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Wikipedia has the most complete information regarding the history and culture of Buenos Aires.

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Copyright March, 2013, bt And Then Some Publishing LLC

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