November 2005


Early morning Buenos Aires

Lately I’ve been staying awake all night, writing and reading. Around 5 am I hear a rooster crowing, which is really rather odd living within walking distance of downtown Buenos Aires. Often I decide to take my daily walk around sunrise. As any photographer knows, the morning sun provides remarkable light for viewing buildings.



One of my favorite routes is walking from San Telmo to Plaza San Martin and back, roughly fifty blocks. Being from Tennessee, I walk relatively slow so it takes me about two hours to do that circuit, not counting stoping in a cafe or at the park.

At this time of the day San Telmo is littered with remains of the garbage dissected by the cartoneros. Everything recyclable has been carried off during the night, even the plastic garbage bags, leaving only traces of the previous day’s dinner strewn along the street and sidewalks.

In the early mornings I see buildings in totally different ways. Details come out that are not noticeable in the bright midday sun. South and east facing sculptures high up on the towers of Basilica de San Francisco that are normally hidden in shadows are revealed in the direct light. The statue on top of the La Prensa buiding shines a brilliant gold. At 6:30am Plaza de Mayo is completely empty and peaceful. Calle Florida also is almost deserted. None of the stores are open as only a few employees stand outside waiting to go to work. The street is absent of all those aggressive touts. Into Retiro a few early morning walkers circle around Plaza San Martin. The rising sun shines from behind the Kavanagh building, as shown in the photo.

Past seven and the streets start coming alive. Porters are out polishing the little brass that remains on the posh buildings in Barrio Norte, while others are washing off the sidewalks. By the time I make it back to our apartment in San Telmo the city is bustling.

Everyone knows that Buenos Aires is a great city to experience at night but it’s worth getting up early on some days to wander around at dawn. Or, if you’re already been up till sunrise enjoying the nightlife, or just reading like me, then take a walk before climbing into the bed. You’ll see Buenos Aires differently.

Templo de Santa Lucía

I have a fondness for old churches. One of the prettiest churches that I’ve recently seen in Buenos Aires is Templo de Santa Lucía in Barracas at Av Montes de Oca 850. From the exterior the church doesn’t seem that large or impressive since it’s now nestled between two more modern buildings, so we were quite surprised when we saw the magnificent interior. Like a lot of old churches, parts of the inside wall are flaking. Oddly, though, some of the flaking is coming not from plaster but from beige paint. Looking beneath the flakes we saw that the wall was actually marble. Not sure who had the bright idea of painting over marble but it didn’t work very well. Fortunately, in other parts of the interior the marble is exposed.

Several wonderful glass coverd domes, I think there are three of them, extend along the nave of the church. Each of the domes are surrounded by intricately drawn paintings.

I’ve heard that Santa Lucia is the patron saint of Barracas and a chapel has been on this site since 1783. The current church was constructed in 1887. Supposedly, on every December 13, the feast day of Santa Lucia, there is a procession down Montes de Oca. That’s coming up in a few weeks, so I’m going to try and remember to go down there then.

Confidencias

Across from a train viaduct in a southern barrio of Buenos Aires is the mural of a street scene with various additions from other artists: visible through the window of a club are couples dancing, a man stands outside the doors looking in on the crowd, from the man’s mouth has been added a word balloon: \”Ibarra mata en Cromañon” ”¦ Ibarra kills in Cromañon. In front of the mural stands a lone sign with the word confidencias.

A political storm over the 194 deaths in the fire at the Cromañon club on December 30 has been developing all year. I’ve written before about Cromañon. Yesterday the city legislature voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Anibal Ibarra, the city’s mayor, for negligence.

Suspended as mayor pending the outcome of the impeachment trial, Ibarra vowed not to resign and claimed that his political rivals are using the incident as a way of targeting him. Politics are certainly playing a large role in this crisis. Unfortunately, the machinations that are so evident in Argentine politics threaten to obscure the institutional and societal issues that underlie the tragedy.

Families of the victims are experiencing understandable pain and suffering. The tragic loss of a loved one, particularly a young life, is one of the most unbearable aspects of human existence. The collective anguish expressed by so many families results in the normal reaction to such a loss: that someone is responsible, that someone must pay.

The legislator casting the deciding vote for the impeachment to move forward stated that \”Ibarra has political responsibility but is not guilty of what happened”. The tragedy happened under his command and part of leadership is taking responsibility.

While inspections of clubs, restaurants, and other gathering spots were launched in January after the fire, it’s not apparent that the city government has really focused on eliminating the systemic problems within the city’s institutional structure that allowed such flagrant code violations as at Cromañon. But I’m not convinced that Ibarra’s political opponents would be anymore progressive on this front either. Both political sides need to remember that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a government is to ensure the safety of its citizens.

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