“Anything can happen on Avenue Corrientes,” the man said as he sipped his cappuccino.
I was sitting in Café Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo when I overheard that line. “What a great way to begin a story,” I thought.
Of course, he was referring to Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires, the street that never sleeps. Not only the main artery of the theater district, Corrientes is also the scene of many of the city’s labor strikes, demonstrations and marches - with theater and politics mixed on one street, there's bound to be a lot of drama!
Large and elegant, intellectual and sensual, Buenos Aires is a city of many voices. It takes a while to hold this town in your mind, but once grasped, it lingers. It is a literary city; a dancer’s city. A city of public outcry; and a city of tarnished hopes. I was here to soak it in without much of an agenda or need to do anything but look.
I finished my cappuccino and grabbed a cab. The cabbies here are superstitious. Each one has some sort of talisman hanging from their rear view mirror. Red ribbons, crosses, rosary beads and such. I wondered if the style of driving in BA had anything to do with it – lanes were definitely optional. On this day, my cabbie had a crocheted owl jauntily bouncing from his mirror. I wanted to ask about it but couldn’t find the words.
I headed to the northern barrios of Palermo and Recoleta, where many of the city’s museums and parks can be found. I wanted to see some art.
First stop, Floralis Generica, a giant steel and aluminum flower in the Plaza Naciones Unidos. Designed by architect Eduardo Catalano and built by Lockheed, this iconic flower opens and closes its petals with the rise and fall of the sun. It reminded me of some mechanical flytrap or perhaps a docking station for alien spacecraft. The vast sky reflects in its metallic surfaces as its cavernous maw waits for something to finally enter.
The bookend to this sculpture is Fernando Botero's, Male Torso. A mammoth and muscled chest of bronze arises from the ground, headless and armless. It stops the viewer by its surprising awkwardness and deformity.
A strange pair I thought!
Next I was off to Malba, the gorgeous Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. A four-tiered building, beautifully lit by an entire wall of steel and glass, this museum features the Costantini collection of 19th and 20th century Latin American art. A must see.
I fell in love with the surrealist landscapes of Mexican artist, Miguel Covarrubias, and became reacquainted with Argentine painter, Guillermo Kuitca (they pronounce the double L as J). I enjoyed the work by Ernesto Deira AND Antonio Berni. I found that Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptual Art look much the same in South America. I checked out the beautiful bookstore on the ground floor and gazed at the people in the sunken cafe.
I walked over to the Centro Cultural Recoleta, where I saw Antoni Muntadas’ Stadium XIII, a large and consuming installation of video and photography. I then went next door to the famous Cementerio de la Recoleta and wandered the tiled streets of crypts and mausoleums. I'm not a big fan of funerary architecture but understand the Recoleta cemetary ranks among the top 3 along with the Staglieno in Genoa and Pere-Lachaise in Paris. Among the angels and flowers and cats - lots of them, live ones, skulking about - I found Eva Peron and kept thinking of Pompeii.
Dying for lunch (cheap shot), I left the Recoleta park and walked down Avenida Alvear in search of some place to land. Alvear is all elegance. Designer stores, grand hotels, dog walkers for the small pooch, and the larger breeds. The marble tiles in the sidewalk clicked and clacked as I stepped on loose ones here and there. I liked the sound.
I came upon Galeria Rubbers and went in. They were showing the late works of Mario Grinbaum, a Buenos Aires painter who had recently died. Stark, urban landscapes, Grinbaum overlays everything with a grid-like mesh. I thought of the tiled sidewalks just outside. Although elegant and sumptuous, what faced me was a world that has been ruptured and torn, a world of landslides, fissures, and gaping sink holes. A bit apocalyptic.
Finished for the day, I went across the street to Celetta, a perfectly gorgeous Italian cafe, and dawdled over Caesar salad, agua minerale con gaz and a much needed cappuccino. Watching the well-heeled residents of Recoleta walk by (click, clack), I could have been in Milan or Florence or Paris or New York. The world is so big but so small.