Archived Posts from this Category

Casa Desiderio on 15 de Noviembre de 1889

Few people venture along the side streets behind Constitución station but there are some pleasant surprises (and I’m not talking about the transvestite prostitutes, though there are indeed plenty of trany hookers – or is the word “transy”?).

If you walk around the area on a bright sunny day you’ll see that it’s not so bad, hardly the red light district that some imagine. There’s actually some interesting architecture in the area and this post continues my series on the city that fades away.

This photo, taken late last year, is of a building facade on a street named 15 de Noviembre de 1889 that starts just behind the train station.

casa desiderio

A Yankee Engineer in Argentina

A hundred years ago one of the most prominent civil engineers in the U.S. was Elmer Corthell. At the beginning of the last century he journeyed to Buenos Aires at the request of the Argentine government to consult on further development of the river and harbor. The history of the port in Buenos Aires is really quite fascinating, particularly the competing battle between Luis Huergo and Eduardo Madero but that’s another story, a post for some other day.

Madero won the first round but Puerto Madero turned out not to be very functional. Corthell was one of the engineers brought in to advise how to fix it and after two years of study suggested a set of jetties. Eventually the entire port would be scrapped in favor of a new one designed by Huergo a little further up the river.

After Corthell returned to the U.S. in 1902 he gave a lecture to the American Geographical Society, which was basically a report about his stay in Argentina. Corthell was very kind in his description of Argentina and never alluded to the political follies that prompted the Argentine government to award the port to Madero (a businessman, not an engineer) in the first place.

In his report Corthell does mention that Puerto Madero was actually designed and constructed by experienced English firms. He absolves everyone of blame by pointing out that the port was designed to accommodate only 2 million tons. But when Puerto Madero opened in 1899 the tonnage of vessels arriving and departing was 3,800,000 tons and in just two years, by 1901, the growth had more than doubled to 8,661,299 tons. (Perhaps long-term planning has never been a strong point for Argentine governments?)

Corthell gives high marks to Argentina. He said, “Argentine engineers and the methods pursued by them are equal to those of any country.”

Corthell’s lecture to the geographic society are filled with tidbits of information that would interest learned men of the day, such as the fact that in 1902 Argentina had over 60 breweries and 182 distilleries. Or, that in 1899 the tax on matches alone was $2,000,000.

As for daily life in Buenos Aires, Corthell said that French, Italian, English, and were “spoken almost everywhere”:

The manner of living is Continental-a cup of coffee with a roll in the early morning; breakfast at 11 to 12.30 (which is a meal in courses), and dinner at 7.30, the principal meal of the day. This is the custom among all classes,high and low. And there is another custom (it is strange how soon you fall into it): tea or coffee or mate (a species of steeped herb-yerba-pressed into a peculiar little gourd used as a bowl and drawn out of it with a hollow silver tube called a mate stick). This 4 o’clock drink is as necessary as any meal.

After he left Argentina Corthell wasn’t through with South America. A few years later he would travel to Brazil to build the port facilities in Rio Grande. And as a librarian I must close with acknowledging that in 1911 Corthell donated more than 6,000 books, drawings, and pamphlets that he had gathered over his 40 year career to establish the engineering library at Brown University.

Those Feminine Anarchists…

When I think of late 19th century anarchists I tend to imagine some slovenly dressed, ratty haired, vaguely Russian looking dude. But there were some women among those hell raisers and they even had a newspaper, La Voz de la Mujer.

So I learned from reading “No God, No Boss, No Husband: Anarchist Feminism in Nineteenth-Century Argentina” by Maxine Molyneux. (Latin American Perspectives, Vol 13, No. 1 (Winter 1986) 119 – 145).

The anarchist movement in the Buenos Aires of the 1890s stemmed from sectors of the city’s European immigrant communities. Molyneux describes La Voz de la Mujer as being “one of the first expressions of what was to be Argentina’s Anarchist heyday“. Indeed, the fact that there was such a large anarchist movement indicates that Buenos Aires was never really just the city of elegance that my blog’s title so wistfully evokes.

First appearing on January 8, 1896 La Voz de la Mujer was published 9 times over the course of 1896 with more than 1,000 copies printed for each issue. Each issue was four pages printed on 26cm x 36cm paper. The newspaper was short-lived, ceasing publication just after one year.

A few years ago a facsimile edition of the paper was published by the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes. Molyneux says very little about the publishers of La Voz de la Mujer, alluding that since the focus was anarchism then the originators were rather publicity shy. A beautiful actress was rumored to be one of the editors.

Many of the articles were signed though most likely all were pseudonyms. And what were some of the values promoted through La Voz de la Mujer?

  • Abolition of marriage
  • An end to unequal and restricted opportunities for women
  • Ending discrimination against women in the workplace
  • Eradicating domestic slavery
  • Equal access to education

Vice & Free Love in Buenos Aires

At the time Buenos Aires was already on its way to becoming the vice capital of Latin America (a list on which it probably still ranks fairly high). As a feminist voice it’s not surprising that La Voz de la Mujer was sympathetic towards the plight of prostitutes: “The editors held that prostitution was forced on women through poverty, men’s rapacity, and the lack of realistic alternatives for earning their living.”

Free love was one concept promoted by La Voz de la Mujer, though that didn’t equate to sexual abandon. And not all anarchists were of the same mind. There’s the story of one male anarchist who shot his lover five times as she attempted to leave him. Fortunately for her, he was a bad shot (perhaps not having read his anarchist training manual too closely) and she survived.

Molyneaux tells us that the editors of La Voz de la Mujer felt that “‘Degenerate’ sex, including masturbation, was associated with the enemy, especially priests and the bourgeoisie, who were berated as homosexuals and pederasts.” Obviously there were limits to the open-mindedness of even feminist anarchists in 1896, but they did like attacking the Church.

Here’s a rather interesting story appearing in La Voz de la Mujer that a “Luisa Violeta” claimed to be autobiographical. The setting is a confessional, a priest, and Luisa:

The priest rebukes her for not attending mass. She explains that her mother has been
ill and she has had to care for her, but the priest will have none of it: “Disgraceful
girl, don’t you know that it is the soul first and then the body . . . ?” In the course of the confession Luisa asks forgiveness for masturbating, a subject that provokes a keen interest on the other side of the grille. The priest wants to know exactly what parts of her body she touches and whether she performs these acts alone; then he asks her whether she was taught to do this by someone else. She retorts that it was none other than the priest himself. At this point, he invites her into his cubicle and tries to rape her.

Voices Replaced

While it’s a colorful bit of the city’s history La Voz de la Mujer had little impact on the Buenos Aires of its day. Over the years more women would come along but they would be socialists rather than anarchists. And more than a hundred years later women are still found in the social militancy of Buenos Aires.

women social militants

William Henry Hudson

A new blog about William Henry Hudson points to a nice article in The Christian Science Monitor: William Henry Hudson, “A Revival of Argentina’s Thoreau”.

Confusion about Hudson’s nationality is understandable. He was himself confused. Argentine born, the child of Anglophile immigrants from Massachusetts, Hudson thought he was destined to be an Englishman. He would be that, and much more. Through his writings and civic efforts to create laws to protect birds and other animals, he fiercely rejected the biblically sanctioned notion that the natural world was man’s to conquer and dispose of at will. His was a voice in the wilderness which, like that of Henry David Thoreau, was actually heard. Were he to be writing today, he’d surely find an audience in the green movement.

Hudson artifacts are displayed in the three-room house: his watch; a sketch for the William Rothenstein portrait of Hudson that hangs in London’s National Portrait Gallery; and rustic touches that recall his naturalist activities: ostrich eggs, a puma skull, the skeleton of an armadillo, the clay nest of the peculiar oven bird.

A painting of a bird, donated by the Japanese city of Yokohama, recalls Hudson’s link to Japan, established by the marriage of his grandniece, Laura Denholm Hudson, to Yoshi Shinya, the first Japanese immigrant to Buenos Aires. Their child, Violeta Shinya, became the first director of the museum, in 1964. Hudson’s books reached Japan late in the 19th century, and were included in the curriculum when the study of English was instituted in the schools.

I’ve been to the small town of Hudson but, somehow, missed the house where he was born that is now a museum. Again, here’s the link to the new blog about the place: Parque Ecológico Provincial Guillermo Enrique Hudson.

I definitely must go to Hudson again….field trip!

An account of cholera in Buenos Aires

The delightfully well-written and stimulating blog Cocktail Party Physics provides a history lesson about cholera epidemics and, along the way, highlights the account of an 1868 cholera epidemic in Buenos Aires as described by one Charles Darbyshire.

Darbyshire’s fears proved well-founded when an epidemic broke out in the summer of 1868, brought about (he believed) by Brazilian ships tossing the bodies of those who had died from cholera into the River Parana, thereby contaminating the water supply. People in the cities fled to the countryside, bringing the disease with them, and Darbyshire soon found himself in the position of a public health leader, advising his neighbors on removing themselves from unsanitary conditions, not drinking water unless it was boiled, burying all refuse, keeping floors and patios clean. The 12 people in his own household did not contract the disease, which probably lent credence to his his advice. Despite all the deaths, there was one positive outcome: the Argentine government overhauled the city’s drainage system and installed a proper water supply.

Read the full post at Cocktail Party Physics.

Son of an Irishman in Buenos Aires

I’ve not checked into the Irish Migration Studies in Latin American site in quite a while, but thanks to a link on Archivalia I see that there is some interesting new stuff.

Besides the archives of their fascinating publication featuring dozens of articles about the Irish in Latin America, the Society for Irish Latin American has now released the digitized diary of Roberto Murphy, which is about life on a sheep estancia in the Buenos Aires province during the years 1887 – 1934.

The diary also includes a number of images of press clippings, old peso notes, and even a stamp such as this one from 1928.

Argentina stamp

From the Irish Migration Studies site:

Roberto Murphy (1855-1934) was born in Lobos, province of Buenos Aires, the youngest child of Michael Murphy (1807-1864) of County Offaly, and his wife, Elizabeth, née Scully (b.c.1830). Michael Murphy arrived in Argentina in 1829 and worked in sheep-farming in north-west Buenos Aires. In Lobos he owned two estancias (ranches) and 20,000 sheep. During the cholera outbreak of 1868, Roberto Murphy survived his brothers Eduardo (1844-1868) and Patricio (1854-1868), and his sister Isabel Tallon (née Murphy) (1851-1868); all of them died in February of that frightful year in the countryside of Buenos Aires. Roberto Murphy worked in the family estancias, and became a well-known public figure in the area. In 1887 he was appointed justice of the peace in Lobos district, and in 1896 was elected to the provincial parliament for the National Party (though his candidature was later withdrawn as a result of election manoeuvring). In 1895 he married Annie Morgan (1857-1898), daughter of George Morgan and Anne Gaynor, of San Andrés de Giles. They had two children. In 1902 he married Luisa Cunningham (1856-1926), daughter of Joseph Cunningham and Mary Murphy. Roberto Murphy died on 14 July 1934 in Cambaceres, near Ensenada, and was buried in the Recoleta cemetery of Buenos Aires.

For forty-eight years – from 28 February 1887 up to a few days before his death in 1934 – Roberto Murphy maintained a diary. Typically, daily entries include five to ten hand-written lines recording ranch business, family news, visits, local affairs, travel reports and remarks about the weather, market prices, movements of neighbours or political upheavals. Cash accounts close every year, and miscellaneous materials like press clippings or notes are occasionally inserted with some entries. Entries are organised in forty-eight volumes, using the Lett’s Diary N° 45, hard covers, 21 x 13 cm, with daily entries presented on weeks in facing pages. The volumes are in the private collection of the Murphy family of Buenos Aires.

Take a look and be sure to browse through the back issues of Irish Migration Studies in Latin America for some good reads.

Searching for Galeano in the bookstores of Buenos Aires

It has been a while since my last post but it’s time to get back to posting more frequently.

A few posts back I talked about a series of remarkable books by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano: Memoria del Fuego

I already had a copy of the second volume of this work in English but I wanted to get all three volumes in Spanish. I had assumed, initially, that finding these three books by Galeano would be rather simple in Buenos Aires. After all, Buenos Aires has a lot of bookstores, people read a lot in this city, the books are definitely not obscure and Galeano is a well-known writer in this area.

Indeed, just before starting my search I did happen to see volume 3, El Siglo del Viento, at the Musimundo on Florida. But I figured then that I could easily find it elsewhere and didn’t want to give my book money to a place like Musimundo.

A few days later I went off to El Ateneo on Av Santa Fe. It’s such a gorgeous bookstore but, honestly, I seldom find the books I’m looking for in El Ateneo especially when it comes to literature.

Of course, one of the difficulties with locating Memoria del Fuego (or most books by Galeano) is defining the genre. Is it history? Is it literature? Or a little of both? Generally, all the Galeano books (and he’s quite prolific) are shelved together but the easiest is to ask the store clerk.

Then I wandered over to Av Corrientes. I’m very familiar with the selections in the used bookstores on Corrientes and knew that I’ve not seen Memoria del Fuego before but I tried again. I also tried Libreria Hernandez, which I often feel has a very good literature selection.

(As a side note, I do think that Libreria Hernandez definitely has the best English literature in Spanish translation). But no Memoria del Fuego at Hernandez.

Then I thought Gandhi, that’s a really good bookstore. They’re sure to have….but nope. The sales clerk at Gandhi was quite helpful and suggested trying Parque Rivadavia….more on that later, but I wasn’t yet ready to give up the search in a regular bookstore. Heck, I even checked the Musimundo on Corrientes but they didn’t have it and neither did Zival’s.

I was getting concerned by this time and was wondering what was up with this book. After all, the Washington Post called this book “an epic work of literary creation”. So, why is it so difficult to find in Buenos Aires, the city that prides itself on its bookstores?

I headed down Callao to check out the little bookstore at the back of Clásica y Moderna. They have a quality selection. But the woman there said that they didn’t work with that publisher. Hmmmm.

Then there’s another small bookstore on Callao just down from Clásica y Moderna. They didn’t have it either. But the clerk said that he believed the book was going to be reprinted later this year. Fine and good, if true, but I wanted the books now and not months later.

So, I finally decided to head back to Musimundo on calle Florida and buy the volume 3 that I had seen there earlier. But, of course, once I finally make it back to the store I find that the book is no longer there.

Okay, the hunt wasn’t over. I went down the street to try the El Ateneo on Florida. The clerk looked baffled and said that they hadn’t had those books in a long time. But he said that they did have El fútbol a sol y sombra by Galeano. No! I didn’t want just any book by Galeano and I certainly didn’t want one on soccer!

Then I went across the street to the Cúspide. They didn’t have the book but their in-store computer reported that the books were available at both the Cúspide branches on Santa Fe and in Village Recoleta. Yeah!!!

So, I hiked up Av Santa Fe from Florida to the Cúspide store just past Callao. I think that whoever manages that store is a frustrated librarian. The store is organized by very specific subject matter. Anyway, they didn’t have the book either. Sigh. Okay, so I went over to Village Recoleta, again where the computer states all the volumes are in stock.

Like most Cúspide stores the Village Recoleta branch is arranged in a matter so that it’s almost impossible to find a specific book without asking for it. And why was I not surprised when the clerk said that they didn’t have the book in stock? But what about the computerized inventory stating that the books are in that store? The clerk says that the inventory is wrong.

Memo to Cúspide: Spend some money and fix your computerized database! Otherwise, what’s the point of having it?

Oh, amusingly, the young guy working at Cúspide quickly pulls a slim green volume from the Galeano shelf and says that they do have El fútbol a sol y sombra.

Memo to guys working in bookstores: I know this will sound weird but not every guy in the world is a fútbol fan.

Parque Rivadavia

So, trying to find Memoria del Fuego turned out to be a long, frustrating process and it was finally time to try the used book stalls in Parque Rivadavia. At least, it was a good excuse to take the A line on the subte.

The booksellers at Parque Rivadavia are similar to the used bookstores on Av Corrientes. For the most part, both have about the same selection. At Parque Rivadavia you have to go around to each book stall. Each seller has a very good idea of his offerings so it’s easiest just to ask.


I felt really lucky when halfway through the stands we found one seller with the first two volumes. Hurray!

But what about the third? Found it at the very last book stall in Parque Rivadavia. Success!!

Of course, none of these sellers seemed to have multiple copies so if you go searching now for Memoria del Fuego in Buenos Aires then you probably will just be out of luck until the books are reprinted.

Memory of Fire

Oddly, the last time I was in Walrus Books, the best English language bookstore in Buenos Aires, I did see all 3 volumes of Memory of Fire by Galeano in its English translation. So, in this case, it’s easier to find the English translation of a book by a noted South American writer than it is to find the original Spanish. Something is wrong about that.

Of course, it’s likely the publisher’s fault for not printing enough copies rather than the fault of the booksellers. But the booksellers could be a lot more helpful. I recall being surprised by the staff at Border’s in Aventura, Florida when I inquired about a book that was not in the store. Rather than offering to order the book for me, the person at Border’s immediately got on the phone and called the Barnes & Noble down the street, which had the book. I went to B&N and brought the book that day but became a regular visitor to the Borders in Aventura just because they were so helpful.

Well, at least, I finally found Galeano in Buenos Aires.


Passenger List of Italian Immigrants in 1961

Continuing my ongoing theme of Italian immigration to Argentina I’ve come across a posting at the Olive Tree Genealogy blog about an individual who has posted the passenger list of the ship Federico that sailed from Genova, Italy to Buenos Aires in March 1961.

Other posts related to the topic of Italian immigration to Argentina

I’ll be interested in hearing personal accounts of anyone who immigrated by ship from Italy to Buenos Aires. There must be a lot of interesting stories among those who made the journey.

Galeano on the Tenements of Buenos Aires (1890)

In another post I have to describe my long, almost futile, search among Buenos Aires bookstores for Eduardo Galeano’s remarkable, three volume Memoria del Fuego (the Spanish version). But since I’m short on time now, I want to pass on what Galeano wrote about housing for the poor in Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century.

First, the English translation by Cedric Belfrage:

In the south are huddled the beaten-down of the earth. In abandoned three-patioed colonial mansions, or in specially built tenements, the workers newly arrived from Naples or Vigo or Bessarabia sleep by turns. Never cold are the scarce beds in the nonspace invaded by braziers and washbasins and chests which serve as cradles. Fights are frequent in the long queues at the door to the only latrine, and silence is an impossible luxury. But sometimes, on party nights, the accordion or mandolin or bagpipes bring back lost voices to these washerwomen and dressmakers, servants of rich bosses and husbands, and ease the loneliness of these men who from sun to sun tan hides, pack meat, saw wood, sweep streets, tote loads, raise and paint walls, roll cigaretttes, grind wheat, and bake bread while their children shine shoes and call out the crime of the day.

Now, the actual Spanish words of Galeano:

Al sur, se apretujan los golpeados de la tierra. En las abandonadas casonas coloniales de tres patios, o en conventillos especialmente contruidos, duermen, por turnos, los trabajadores venidos de Nápoles o Vigo o la Besarabia. Jamás se enfrían las camas, escasas en el ningún espacio invalidido de braseros y palanganas y cajones que hacen de cunas. No faltan peleas en las largas colas a la puerta de la única letrina, y el silencio es un lujo imposible. Pero a veces, en las noches de fiesta, el acordeón o la mandolina o la gaita traen perdidas voces a estas mujeres lavanderas y costureras, sirvientas de patrones y maridos, y alivian la soledad de estos hombres que de sol a sol curten cueros, envasan carne, serruchan madera, barren calles, cargan bultos, alzan y pintan paredes, arman cigarrillos, muelen trigo y hornean pan mientras sus hijos lustran botines y vocean el crimen del día.

Lives of Immigrants

In our everyday wanderings around Buenos Aires, it’s easy to forget how the city (as every city) is always evolving. Things to ponder: are the lives of immigrants in present-day Buenos Aires all that different from those of a hundred years ago? The Italian, Spanish, and Russian immigrants of 1890 all have successfully immigrated into Buenos Aires society and added their own contributions to the city’s identity; over the next decades, how successfully will today’s Bolivian and Peruvian immigrants assimilate into Buenos Aires society and re-mix the city’s identity? In 2090, who will be the dominant immigrant groups in Buenos Aires?

The Battle of Caseros

Lately I’ve blogged about my street, Av Caseros, so I figured it’s a good time to talk about the place behind the name. Caseros, in addition to being a street in the southern part of the city of Buenos Aires is also the name of a town to the north of the city. The street is named for that location, which is known for a major battle of the mid-19th century.

Here’s a question for the Argentine guys among my readers: Do boys here grow up reading about the great battles and wars of Argentine history?

In the attic

As a lad I remembered being engrossed in the details of the American Revolutionary War and Civil War. Particularly as a boy from an old Southern family in Tennessee, I learned about the exploits of the Confederacy in fighting the Yankees. And I’ve been to my share of battlefields, those state and national parks that conserve the land on which those conflicts were fought. (Are there any battlefield parks in Argentina?) While I’ve not been to any Civil War re-enactments (even when I lived in Virginia), my family does have a few Confederates in the Attic.

So, I’m wondering if this phenomenal obsession with the military heroics of the past is something that you grow up with in Argentina? Or, does the horrors of military dictatorships color the perceptions of an Argentine boy about the country’s military history? I’m just curious. Of course, I suspect boys growing up in military families have a very different perspective but I’m wondering about the “typical” perspective (whatever that is).

The defeat of Rosas

Avenida Caseros takes its name from the Battle of Caseros, a turning point in Argentine history that occurred on February 3, 1852. For much of the first half of the 19th century Buenos Aires was ruled by Juan Manuel de Rosas. While Rosas had the support of the urban poor, his decades long rule was marked by state terrorism and ruthless vigilante squads that sought out his opponents with bloody reprisals.

(To make a very long story short, I’m omitting a lot about the political context of early 19th century Argentina).

Justo José de Urquiza, who controlled the Entre Rios province north of Buenos Aires, rebelled and started building his own army to challenge that of Rosas. Urquiza built a large army with soldiers not just from the northern provinces of Entre Rios and Corrientes but also with soldiers from Brazil and what is now Uruguay. Urquiza’s army of more than 25,000 men advanced on Buenos Aires and met Rosas army of nearly equal size at Caseros, which at the time was a rural area located just north of the city of Buenos Aires.

It was one of the largest battles to be fought in the Americas up to that time. But the fighting was slow. The men were armed with smoothbore flintlock muskets that required fourteen steps to load, firing approximately one shot per minute.

Many in the cavalry fought with crude lances, often nothing more than bamboo poles with a knife blade or sheep shearing clippers tied to the end with strips of rawhide. Rosas also enlisted Indian squads as irregular cavalry.

The battle began just after eight in the morning. At ten Urquiza advanced one division of his cavalry in a maneuver to outflank Rosas infantry. The resulting cavalry charge was so fast and furious that the dust rising from the charge caused the cavalry to completely miss the enemy, riding right pass them. Nevertheless, Urquiza himself led another cavalry charge that was successful.

Several battalions under Rosas command mutinied and killed their own commanders. Seeing that defeat was inevitable, Rosas quietly made his way away from the battle zone, hiding out in Buenos Aires for a day before boarding a British vessel for exile in England where he lived until his death twenty-five years later.

By three in the afternoon Urquiza had rode into Buenos Aires and established headquarters at Rosas house in Palermo and commenced a bloody purge that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Rosas supporters. (Rosas’ estancia was located on the land that is now Parque 3 de Febrero, ironically named after the date of the Battle of Caseros).

The fall of Rosas in 1852 started a new phase in Argentine history, the era that would eventually bring the development of modern Argentina.

Urquiza, however, wouldn’t enjoy for long his role in bringing down Rosas as politicians clad with swords and their own armies would wrestle over control of Buenos Aires throughout the remainder of the decade.

Eventually returning to his home province of Entre Rios Urquiza solaced himself by building the largest house in Argentina at that time (Palacio San Jose). Urquiza was killed in his own home by his political enemies in 1870.

« Previous PageNext Page »