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La Poesía – A Great Place to Read, Drink and Relax

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Classic: Read some Borges at La Poesía

With its shelves stacked with books, soda bottles and photographs from years past, La Poesía is a bar beautiful enough to truly deserve its name.

La Poesia

The café was originally opened in 1982, to celebrate the end of the military dictatorship and provide a place for Buenos Aires’ intellectuals, authors and poets to congregate and discuss their renascent democracy. It was immediately popular, especially known for its sessions of Poesía Lunfarda, but the bar was closed after just six years. In 2008, the same couple who own Bar Federal restored the Poseía to life and helped reestablish it as a staple of the San Telmo scene.

I was in the place all the time, usually with a book. It has an atmosphere conducive to reading, with tango music playing softly in the background and a good selection of drinks. Unfortunately, the wait staff isn’t always the friendliest. One girl in particular always greeted my arrival with a frown and an attitude; I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I’d done to her. And once, a waitress directed me to a table with a power outlet, watched me set up my computer, provided me with the Wifi code, then took my order. The internet didn’t work and when I pointed that out, she was like, “Yeah. It’s been out all day”. But, couldn’t you tell I wanted to use it? I even asked you for the access key! “Yeah. Well, you never asked me if the internet worked“.

Regardless of the occasionally brusque service, there’s plenty to enjoy at La Poesía. Leave your computer at home, and take a book. A book of poetry, if you must.

La Poesía
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Location on our Buenos Aires Map
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May 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm Comments (2)

The Eternauta

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His grim visage is all over Buenos Aires. The Eternauta is the hero of one of the most influential science fiction comics ever published, and certainly the most important comic in Argentina’s history. He’s also the most often employed graffiti motif in the city.

Eternauto Comic

I bought The Eternauta soon after we arrived in Buenos Aires. Originally published between 1957 and 1959 as a serial in the magazine Hora Cero Semanal, The Eternauta is a gripping 350-page account of humanity’s hopeless struggle against a superior invading alien force. Packed with action, drama, and rich in metaphor, it’s nearly impossible to put down. I read the whole thing in a matter of days.

The action unfolds in Buenos Aires as a strange snowfall suddenly descends upon the city. Juan Salvo, along with his friends and family, doesn’t need long to realize that something is horribly amiss. The snow flakes kill on contact, and the protagonists watch through the window in horror as the world dies: humans, animals, plants. Everything that comes in contact with even the smallest wisp of snow perishes.

Eternauta Cover

It’s the opening attack of an unstoppable alien invasion. Once Juan and his friends develop hermetically-sealed suits that protect them from the snow and give them the appearance of astronauts, the story builds into an ever-crescendoing spiral of danger and despair, until finally reaching its incredible conclusion. Throughout it all, against an omnipotent opponent and impossible odds, Juan and his fellows never lose their courage or determination. Better to die like a man, fighting to the bitter end.

That powerful message was co-opted by former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, when he implored his countrymen to “be like the Eternauta” in the face of their struggles. Before long, graffiti of Kirchner’s face in the Eternauta’s suit began appearing on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Eternauta Manos

The Eternauta is a work rich in subtext and metaphore. The “Manos” are part of the invading force, who literally have their hands on the controls, tele-directing murderous robots. Their weakness is a deadly reaction to fear; when frightened, a gland bursts in their brains. But though they’re at work subjugating humanity, they’re only doing it because they’re afraid of their masters, the real villians of the book. The “Ellos” (“them”) stay hidden throughout the story, manipulating others into doing their dastardly bidding.

The political metaphors in these characters are rather pronounced. The “Ellos” were clearly the unseen military junta and the “Manos” were those in government and media who provided political cover, out of fear. Indeed, the meaning wasn’t lost on the real-life “Ellos” who ran Argentina in the 1970s. The author of The Eternauta, Héctor Germán Oesterheld, was among the many artists disappeared and murdered during the Dirty War.

The history is compelling, the plot is engaging, and the drawings by Francisco Solano López are gorgeous. Among the many reasons to pick up the Eternauta, the best is that it’s simply a fantastic comic.

Buy the Eternauta here

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May 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm Comments (3)

The Plaza de Mayo

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The History of Argentina

With the Casa Rosada to the west and the city hall to the east, the Plaza de Mayo is undoubtedly the political nexus of Argentina. From famous speeches to white-hooded mothers united in a call for justice, the plaza has long been the focal point of the country’s most compelling dramas.

Buenos Aires

One of the more famous scenes was the massive October 17th, 1945 demonstration of the descamisados, organized by Evita and the CGT Workers’ Union to demand the release of Juan Peron from prison. After decades of misrule by military juntas, the people finally demanded to be heard. And they were.

Ten years later, the plaza became the blood-soaked scene of the most devastating attack ever to occur on Argentine soil. Juan Peron was still in office, empowering workers, and the country’s military leaders didn’t like that… not one little bit. As the opening salvo in an attempted coup d’etat, the country’s army and air force flew over the Plaza de Mayo and bombed a rally being held to support Peron. 355 died, and damage from the shrapnel is still visible today.

But the plaza’s most enduring image is that of the weekly Thursday vigils of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. During the Dirty War (1976-1983), the conservative government kidnapped, murdered and disappeared the remains of tens of thousands of young, liberal Argentinian men and women. Families were given no information as to the fate of their children, and in the face of government indifference, a group of mothers banded together in a call for justice. They donned white shawls and marched every Thursday around the Plaza de Mayo, silently pressing the government for answers.

It’s difficult to overestimate the bravery of these women. They congregated in full view of their children’s assassins, comfortably seated in the Casa Rosada, tacitly daring them to either arrest or murder a group of peaceful women. And in fact, their gamble wasn’t without consequence. Government operatives would occasionally sneak into the group, and a few mothers were disappeared themselves.

Every visitor to Buenos Aires is going to find themselves in the Plaza de Mayo at some point. On a sunny day, and especially at dusk when the setting sun illuminates the Casa Rosada, it can be beautiful. The country’s turbulent history may darken that beauty, but also makes it richer.

Plaza de Mayo on our Buenos Aires Map
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Plaza Mayo Buenos Aires
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March 23, 2011 at 8:31 pm Comments (4)

A Tour through Barracas

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Great Hostel in Buenos Aires

In the 19th century, the wealthiest corner of Buenos Aires wasn’t Retiro or Recoleta, but Barracas. Over the decades, this southern neighborhood lost its former glamor but recently has been showing signs of a resurgence in popularity.

Lsa Palmas
Yellow Fever

In 1871, a yellow fever epidemic devastated Buenos Aires. Eight percent of the city’s population fell to the disease, and the southern end of the city was particularly hard-hit. The upper-classes abandoned Barracas in droves, resettling in the north of the city and leaving the neighborhood to the European immigrants, still arriving from Italy and Spain by the boatload. The wealthy families generally held onto their properties as landlords, and slowly allowed them to fall into decay.

Las Palmas
Lsa Palmas

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we set out to uncover the best the barrio has to offer. We stepped out of the bus at the strangely quiet Parque España, and made a beeline for Pizzería Las Palmas. Pizza was our first mission of the day, as it nearly always is. Las Palmas is a very cool, unpretentious restaurant with cheap prices and delicious food. With its neon lights and casual vibe, it felt like a place right out of 1950s Midwest America. I turned around every time I heard the door open, to check if the Fonz had just come in.

Calle Lanín
Calle Lanin

Full on cheese and grease, we headed south along Calle Brandsen, past a creepy neuropsychiatric hospital and onto Calle Lanín, a street which has been turned into an amazing open-air art gallery; kind of an answer to Boca’s Caminito. Every house on Lanín is covered with colored tiles, in swirling, mesmerizing patterns. The project, by local artist Marino Santa María, debuted over 10 years ago and has lost none of its brightness or vitality. And the amazing thing is, on a Sunday afternoon when thousands of tourists are crammed into El Caminito, Calle Lanín was absolutely desolate.

The Israeli Temple & Society of Light
Sociedad Luz

In fact, everything was so eerily quiet that we were becoming convinced that nobody actually lived in Barracas. But that changed upon crossing Avenida Montes de Oca, where the neighborhood burst noisily into life with shops, restaurants, dog poop, galleries, buses and traffic, and cleaning ladies dumping buckets of water out onto the sidewalk. As we wandered around Barracas’ eastern side, we came across some incredible buildings. A gorgeous Arabesque building on Calle Brandsen turned out, strangely, to be the Israeli Temple. According a group of older Jewish Argentinians standing outside, it has an amazing interior patio (the temple was unfortunately closed when we arrived). Nearby, we found the neoclassical Sociedad Luz building, a stronghold of 19th-century socialists who founded the university to promote scientific learning among the working classes. Today, the building continues its educative purpose as a public library.

Iglesia de Santa Felicitas
Angel

But Barracas’ most impressive building is the Iglesia de Santa Felicitas. This massive religious complex was inaugurated in 1876, and named in honor of Felicitas Guerrero, who enjoyed fame as the most beautiful noblewoman in Buenos Aires. As a teenager, she had been married off to a rich and much-older landowner, who died soon after the union, leaving his young widow incredibly rich. Felicitas had youth, wealth and beauty… it’s no surprise that she became the desire of numerous suitors, among them Enrique Ocampo, who had been obsessed with her for years. When he learned that she’d fallen for a rival, Ocampo lost it. Following her onto her estate in Barracas, he confronted her with a pistol. “You’ll marry me, or you’ll marry no one!” When she tried to escape, he shot her in the back then committed suicide. (Or was shot by Felicitas’ father, who had quickly arrived on the scene; it’s never been satisfactorily resolved). Both the widow and her assassin were buried in Recoleta Cemetery on the same day.

Barracas was once the scene of the noble class’s exploits, but has spent the last century as a forgotten corner left to poor workers. The richness of its history is evident in every corner, and it’s a fascinating neighborhood in which to spend a day. Warned off by overly cautious guidebooks and well-meaning locals, tourists generally avoid the area, and that’s a shame. Barracas has a lot to offer… but get there quick if you want to be ahead of the curve, because the neighborhood is already at work shaking off its rough image. Check out the rest of our images, of this incredible and still relatively unknown section of the city.

Calle Lanín on our Buenos Aires Map
Short Term Stay in Buenos Aires

Best Pizza
Sleep Driver
Dog
Old Timer
Old Car
Mental Hospital
Barracas
Marino-Santa-Maria
Fake Porteño
Tiles Buenos Aires
Architecture Buenos Aires
Argentina Colors
Volkswagen Buenos Aires
Salvation Army Buenos Aires
Shopping Buenos Aires
Barracas Buenos Aires
Jewish Culture Buenos Aires
Jewish Temple Buenos Aires
Temple Barracas
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Iglesia Barracas
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March 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm Comment (1)
La Poesa - A Great Place to Read, Drink and Relax
For 91 Days