August 2005

Victoria Ocampo’s house in Palermo

On Friday we were walking through Palermo Chico and around the embassies when we came across Victoria Ocampo’s house in Palermo. It’s not as well known as Villa Ocampo, her home in San Isidro, but has its own interesting history. The house is now the Casa de la Cultura del Fondo Nacinal de las Artes and can be visited by the public. Located at Rufino de Elizalde 2831, the house is right next to the Spanish Embassy and across from Plaza Chile.

The most striking aspect of the house is its modernist style, especially considering the typical architecture of Buenos Aires.

The house looks more like Miami Beach than Buenos Aires. The juxtaposition of the house next to the Spanish Embassy and the other palatial residences is a strong architectural statement that befits a woman like Victoria Ocampo, 39 years old when she built the house.

The architectural appearance of the house is even more astonishing when you realize that it was built in 1929. Victoria Ocampo herself designed the house, though she hired the famed Argentine architect Alejandro Bustillo to build it. The story is that Bustillo so disliked the house that he refused to put his name on it. A more typical Bustillo design, just down the street, is the Belgian Embassy, which was built a year after the Ocampo house.

Modern sculpture is now positioned around the exterior of the house and the inside provides space for exhibitions and presentations. A very good small exhibition of large works by the artist Carlos Alonso is now on display till 23 September 2005. (I’ll have to write more about Carlos Alonso in a later post). Carlos Alonso’s work is wonderful, so this is a good time to visit the Ocampo house.

Considering that Victoria Ocampo lived in this house for 12 years, the house itself also played an important role in the development of literary culture in Buenos Aires. The house was the location for the party that launched Ocampo’s literary journal Sur in 1931.

In Williamson’s biography of Borges (Borges: A Life), the photo from that party at the Ocampo house is described as follows:

Borges appears not to have relished the occasion. In a group photograph taken at the party, we find Oliverio Girondo at the center of the front row, relaxing with a big cigar, but Borges is standing on the left-hand corner at the back, and he is plainly ill at ease, looking askance at the camera, with eyes narrowed against the smoke of a scruffy cigarette stuck in his mouth.

Borges apparent foul mood isn’t over the house or his host Ocampo but directed at Girondo and their ongoing battle over the affection of Norah Lange. See my earlier post on that topic.

Writers of Buenos Aires: Online audio & video

Sunday’s Clarín ran an article about the Audiovideoteca de Escritores de Buenos Aires, a project that is developing an online collection of audio and video featuring Argentine writers.

As a librarian who focused on developing exactly this type of digital initiative (see the Caribbean Writers’ Video Archive), I’m very glad to see this kind of project underway here. The city government of Buenos Aires seems to have an active program to document the city’s cultural heritage.

For now, only a short segment of the interview with each writer is available online. I hope that they will put the full 3-hour interviews with each writer online in the future.

One of the great benefits of this resource is that it offers the opportunity to introduce a new set of Argentine writers to the world. While Eloy Martínez is becoming more popular, educated readers are familiar with Borges and Cortázar, and the very well read know about Bioy Casares and Sabato, Audiovideoteca de Escritores de Buenos Aires enables a new audience to discover these contemporary Argentine writers. Unfortunately, of the writers presented online, very little of their works are available in English translation. I do know that some works by Juan Jose Saer and Luisa Valenzuela have been translated. Perhaps others have been of which I’m not aware.

This is potentially a great resource for scholars and students of Argentine literature and history. It should be very interesting to watch this resource grow and develop.

NOTE: the Web address listed in the Clarín is wrong. The correct URL is

Early-twentieth-century intellectual magazines in Buenos Aires

One of my favorite characteristics of Buenos Aires are the many kiosks selling newspapers and magazines. Unlike North America you cannot buy magazines in the bookstores. I’m sure some expats miss the leisurely free reading of magazines while lounging in the coffeshop of a Barnes &Noble but I always was one for buying my magazines and taking them home, anyway. Of course, there’s not a lot of high-quality magazines to buy but that’s always been true of magazine publishing anywhere.

Buenos Aires is well-known for its vibrant intellectual life and magazines played an important role in the early-twentieth-century development of the city’s culture. A large number of literary magazines appeared during this time, though most lasted only briefly and some only one or two issues. (Literary magazines obviously are not known for being profitable endeavors). Some of the titles include Nosotros, Revista de America, El Mercurio de America, Ideas, El Grabado, Iniciales, Proa, Martín Fierro, and Sur, along with many others.

Nosotros was the most important of the early literary journals. Nosotros first appeared 98 years ago, having its first issue on August 1, 1907. Its full title was Nosotros: Revista mesual de letras, arte, historia, filosofia y ciencias sociales. So, like most literary magazines, Nosotros wasn’t just about literature but covered a range of intellectual thought. The editors of Nosotros were Alfredo Bianchi and Roberto Giusti, both in their early twenties when they founded the publication. In typical Porteño fashion Bianchi and Giusti conceived the idea for Nosotros at a cafe on Corrientes.

While Bianchi and Giusti had socialist leanings, Nosotros was not considered a radical publication. Indeed, Nosotros utlimately became the voice of the cultural establishment in Buenos Aires during the first quarter of the century. Throughout its 393 issues Nosotros would publish the leading writers in Argentina including Alberto Gerchunoff, Roberto Payro, Manuel Galvez, Ricardo Rojas, among others. One of the lesser known writers to be published in Nosotros was Jorge Guillermo Borges, father of a boy who would eventually become a world famous writer.

In the 1920s Nosotros, as the representative of culture in Buenos Aires, came under attack from the new generation of writers. Nosotros ceased publication in 1943 after the death of Bianchi.

In later posts I’ll be examining some of the other magazines that came after Nosotros in more detail, particularly Martín Fierro and Sur. Taking its name from the José Hernándes poem, Martín Fierro was the major cultural magazine of the 1920s Buenos Aires whereas Sur would become the most important Argentine journal of the 20th century.


Last Friday night we went with our friend Adriana to see FUERZABRUTA. We had been intending to go since the show started in May but just now got around to it. The show is currently scheduled to last only a short time longer in Buenos Aires; the latest date I saw was through August 28 but I’m not sure if that’s correct. So, if anyone who is in town this month and hasn’t yet seen it, then I highly recommend that you go.

FUERZABRUTA was created by one of the founders of de la Guarda, so if you’ve seen Villa Villa then you will have some idea of what to expect. Indeed, if you’ve not seen de la Guarda then I highly suggest that you get over to Centro Cultural Recoleta for that one, too. Ceci and I saw de la Guarda in New York back in February 2002, when NYC was a cheap vacation post-9/11. I hope that FUERZABRUTA has the same international success as de la Guarda.

Like all good shows it’s best if you don’t know too much about what to expect before you see FUERZABRUTA so I’m not going to say much more. It’s a very innovative show that makes for a fun night out.

Be sure to take a look at the excellent web sites for both FUERZABRUTA and de la Guarda.

Learning Chinese

An entry over at Going Global about students in the U.S. learning Chinese as a second language reminded me of an article in the Miami Herald that I read last month about the increase in Latin Americans learning Chinese as a second language.