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Radio La Colifata

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A radio station with an unusual and highly laudable purpose, Radio La Colifata was established in 1991 as the world’s first station run by the inmates of a mental hospital. Twenty years later, the project is still going strong. We decided to check out one of the transmissions.

Radio Colifata

Dr. Alfredo Olivera was still a psychology student when he dreamed up the idea for Radio Colifata. By putting inmates in charge of a radio station and letting them tell their stories, many benefits could be realized at once. The inmates would gain a sense of autonomy, allowed to talk about whatever they wanted with the assurance that people around Buenos Aires would be listening. Those who hear their stories on the radio might come to the realization that not all asylum patients are dangerous lunatics, bolstering the reputation of mental health. And by giving the patients a voice, Radio La Colifata would help restore sense of community which is lost by being locked away.

Attending the broadcast of La Colifata turned out to be an adventure. Upon arriving at the Dr. José T. Borda Neuropsychiatric Hospital in the southern barrio of Barracas, we were a little confused. I don’t know what we expected to find, but this was just an abandoned building. A woman at the corner bar verified it was the correct place, so we ventured inside. Everything inside the hospital was rundown. Stray dogs roamed the hallways along with feral cats. Jürgen hesitated, so I went further indoors on my own. Turning a corner, I almost collided with a man who clearly wasn’t playing with all his marbles. And who had recently peed himself. Confirmation, at the very least, that we were in the right spot, and the only time I’ve ever felt relieved to run into a piss-drenched crazy man.

The hospital was huge, and as we explored, we realized it wasn’t completely desolate. A few staff members and patients wandered the halls, in addition to the animals. Eventually, we found a way into the back courtyard, where the unmistakable sounds of a radio broadcast could be heard. About 30 people were sitting in a semicircle around a desk, and we grabbed a spot toward the back. The doctor acting as the show’s emcee walked around the group, occasionally handing the mic to one of the inmates. The first speaker, a rather young kid with a huge bush of curly hair, complained about the state of the hospital. Another man talked about the negative perception of locos, arguing that, after all, everyone is crazy in some way.

We didn’t stay for a long time, fearful of the microphone being thrust into our hands, but came away with an appreciation for the program. And we learned that the reason for the hospital’s pitiable state, is that Argentina has ordered the closing of all mental hospitals. Their functions will be moved into general hospitals. Just a few weeks ago, the gas in Dr. José T. Borda was shut off.

The first time I’d heard of La Colifata was in Spain. One of the more famous Spanish rock bands, El Canto del Loco, recorded an entire album with members of the station. Check out Quiero Aprender de Ti, one of the band’s best songs, which was taped at La Colifata.

Colifata, by the way, is lunfardo for “amiable crazy person”.

La Colifata’s Website
Location of the Broadcasts

Sad Place
Dr Borda Buenos Aires
Mental Hospital
La Colifata
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May 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm Comments (7)

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

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
Old Timer
Old Car
Mental Hospital
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
Iglesia Barracas
Buenos Aires
1970 Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires Blog
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March 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm Comment (1)
Radio La Colifata
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