Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 10: 6/14/11...Expensive Gum

      Today was the day. The day to visit the much feared Boca barrio. They build it up to be this dystopian forbidden zone - with one small island of tourist safety - that descends into demonic anarchy at the moment the sun sets. The young-woman-whose-name-I-keep-forgetting backed all that up. "Promise me you will only walk down this street and no other ones. Don't take your camera. Don't wear a backpack. Take a taxi - and only this type of taxi - there and back." All of that made me genuinely concerned, but there were two museums, dammit!

      Of all days, this was the one where I needed more cash. I always take out the maximum amount because every time I use the ATM's they charge over 4 dollars! So here I am with a wad of cash going into Gotham City. So I disperse the cash into several pockets in case one gets picked, and I came up with a genius plan: I stuck 200 pesos in a gum wrapper in my box o' gum! Now I just need to remember not to throw it out or offer anyone a piece.

      The first museum was the Quinquella Martin museum. He was an artist who painted these very dramatic scenes of the Boca ship yards around the turn of the last century. I liked his stuff quite a bit. It was also a museum about him, not just his art, and the building was his actual house. So you could see where he pooped after he painted. There were some sculptures on the roof which were strangely unattended to - with cobwebs and bird poop - and some not even named with titles or artists. It would have been creepy except they were out in the sun rather than underlit in a basement.

      There were other local artists on display. One was pretty good; he somehow made very drab concrete buildings look interesting and almost beautiful. What sucked though is the ultimate bane of museums - school groups. Pearls before swine. Very LOUD swine. When will there be virtual reality so brats can go on cyber field trips instead of shattering the windows with their piercing squeals in the booming cavernous halls of museums across the world?

       Next was the PROA museum a few doors down. It was featuring Louise Bourgeois. She does way more than this, but her most visible piece is the enormous spider sculpture that they always put outside the museum she's in. I know I've been under this spider in Toronto, but there may have been another city also. Possibly London? Seattle?

      Her stuff is really interesting and disturbing. A lot of it is about this set of issues with her mother. So lots of boobies! Seriously, though - it's all very Freudian, at least at first glance. She works in all kinds of media from yarn to bronze to pencil. Very cool.

       Between museums I tried to visit this one street that's famous for the buildings painted in bright ship's paint in very saturated primary colors, along with cobblestone streets. But man, this was like evil Disneyland - the most ferocious tourist trap I've ever seen. I was only there for about 5 minutes and had 3 different people offer to take pictures with me. There were stereotypical tango couples on every corner - like almost overlapping. The stores were all full of tourist souvenirs et cetera et cetera et cetera. I got the hell out of there very quickly. I hardly even saw the colorful buildings.

      All this was even weirder because after you bought any tourist crap, if you walked a block away in any direction, someone was probably waiting to throw you to the ground and take it back along with your change and camera full of tango photos. The souvenirs are probably on this constant cycle of being sold, then stolen, then sold back to the stores to be bought again by the next chump. Funk dat.

      Then time to flag a taxi - a "radio taxi" and not the rogue predatory ones I was warned about. Everything was closing and my anxiety started seeing unfriendly people closing in like starving wolves. I escaped before being devoured and went to my next stop - the Borges Cultural Center.

      Borges is a writer who is near and dear to the Argentine heart. I recently became a fan of his after being introduced by an mp3 lecture about fantasy/sci-fi literature. He doesn't really fit those genres at all, but his stuff is really weird. Oh yeah, I just realized I talked about him along with his buddy Xul. Well, I like him enough to mention him twice.

      So I was excited to visit this place named after him with the word "cultural" in the name. When I got there, though, I didn't know what to think. It was next to - or maybe included - a mall. There was a non-mall part but also a mall part. Before really getting into the former, I went to the latter to get some grub. They had a food court, and I got something which seemed Argentinian. I had plenty of American fast food options - Burger King, McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks, but I've made a point of not having anything American while here.

       One thing about the mall: the music. They were playing a Wilco song, which I thought was very odd. Most Americans don't even know who Wilco is, and here I am hearing it over the PA in a Buenos Aires mall. In fact, I've heard much much more American music down here than anything else. A lot from the 80's. This and the fast food is slightly depressing - the mall might as well have been in Little Rock Arkansas except for some different names on the stores.

       Nobody spoke English in the non-mall part, so I had no idea what was going on. I just sort of wandered around through galleries with not-so-good art with nobody else there including guards. I walked around while a bunch of people were hurriedly setting up a new exhibition (at almost 9pm) and nobody seemed to mind - including guards. At one point I went up some stairs and walked in on a bunch of ballet dancers getting ready for something. I went right back down in case I saw someone getting dressed which would probably result in me going to a secret jail.

      The so-so art galleries were on the top level of the mall. There were four sections connected by a middle section. So between them you could see people shopping at iPhone kiosks or buying intimate apparel. Very surreal and not what I was hoping for.

       After that, since it was directly out the door, I walked down "Florida Street" which was basically a street that had been closed off to become an open-air souvenir mall. The stuff for sale was EXACTLY the same stuff I saw on Tango Street. Overall, this was definitely the rich part of town. So much different than no-man's-land Boca. I'm pretty sure I witnessed the furthest extremes of Buenos Aires this day. Well, that IS what I was looking for - a decent representation of a cross section of the city.

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