Tuesday, July 28, 2009
My Last Weekend as a Tourist in Buenos Aires
The weekend of June 27th/28th was my last as a tourist in Buenos Aires. Although most of the people I knew in Argentina had already left to return home to the United States at this point, I was determined not to let it stop me from enjoying my last days in the city. My first stop on Saturday morning was the Botanic Gardens in Palermo. The gardens are free and open to the public, but they are honestly nothing too special unless you are just looking for a quiet escape from busy city life. One interesting thing of note is that there is a section of the park that includes cacti (see picture above). Who knew cacti could grow in a climate that is so cold in the winter and that gets substantial rainfall throughout the year? In addition to the plants, there were plenty of people in the gardens as well just relaxing on the benches reading books, writing in journals, or making love, but the most interesting thing to me was the numerous statutes throughout the park. Some are traditional and depict Greek and Roman gods or famous figures from Argentine history. Others, like the one pictured here at left, are, well, not so traditional...
My next stop was the US embassy. As I was walking down the street in the area where I knew the embassy to be, I saw a large, beautiful, grandiose building and knew that it had to be the US embassy. Except it wasn't. In fact, the US embassy was the gray structure a few buildings down the street with a huge gated fence around the entire perimeter (pictured at right). To tell you the truth, I was more than a little disappointed--especially considering the prideful letter I got from the embassy that I mentioned in my last post. In any event, I approached the guard house and proudly told the guard that I was a US citizen and wanted to visit my embassy...in English (after all, this was the US embassy). Apparently, he did not speak English though, and he went to get another employee who did. Obviously I could have spoken to him in Spanish, but I just assumed that I wouldn't have to at the US EMBASSY of all places! Oh well. "No" is the same word in both English and Spanish, and that is the response I got when I asked if I could enter. The embassy is only open during weekday business hours.
So on I proceeded to the Evita Perón museum. Evita was the husband of Juan Perón, former president of Argentina, yet she is remembered more fondly than he is today. Among her many accomplishments are the following: gaining the right to vote for women, establishing social welfare programs, improving education throughout the country, establishing orphanages and schools for abandoned and unwanted children, creating programs to help the elderly afford the shelter and medication they need, serving food as food pantries HERSELF, inspiring PRIDE in average Argentinians, and much, much more. It would not be an exaggeration to say that as of now, Evita is the most important figure in Argentina's history and is the equivalent of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln in the United States. The museum certainly emphasized all the positive aspects of Evita's life and career, and didn't really acknowledge the criticism of her that is expressed in the musical "Evita" that she may have been seeking publicity and didn't genuinely care about her work. Still, I am inclined to believe that these accusations are false, and there was something truly endearing about the way the museum presented her life and legacy. The musical "Evita," has in fact NEVER been shown in the country of Argentina--a testament to the people's love for their national hero. The most impressive part of the museum, to me, was a statute in the final room of the exhibit that everybody around me seemed to overlook. It is pictured at left. I learned, after talking with a guard at the museum (because this is not stated in the exhibit) that this is a statue that stood in an orphanage (which was later converted to the current museum) that Evita had established during her lifetime. Then, during the days of the military dictatorship (when everything associated with Perónism was expelled from the country), a groundskeeper at the orphanage took the statute and hid it away, risking potential jailing and even death should it be discovered. The statute and the memory of Evita meant that much to him! Then, when the military rule ended, he brought the statute back out, and it now rests in its original home--the orphange. The man had risked his life for a staute, but really it was a symbol of something far more important than metal and paint.
The final visit of the day, for me, was to the Japanese Gardens. Much like with the Botanical Gardens, there was not much to do here except take in the sights and sounds. Unlike the Botanical Gardens though, there were a LOT more people here, and with all the kids running around, there was not much peace or quiet.
Then, on Sunday, some friends of mine from Duke came down to visit from Santiago, Chile. They were there (and still are today) working on a Duke Engage project, but they decided to fly out to Buenos Aires for a long weekend, and I showed them around a little bit on Sunday. I took the A line subway (pictured immediately below) to get to their hostel, and that was an experience in and of itself! The cars were made of wood and the doors did not even open automatically. You actually had to physically pry them open yourself, and it was even possible to open the doors while the cars were in motion. Furthermore, the train had no speakers so when the doors were about to close, the driver of the train would actually have to blow a whistle to announce that the doors were about to close! It was a fun experience taking the train this one time on a peaceful Sunday morning, but I would hate to have to take it every day to work!
Then, after I met up with the group, the first site we visited was the National Congress pictured at the bottom of this post. There was not too much to see because we could not get in. There were, however, some political propoganda (pictured immediately below) in preparation for the national elections which were being held that day.
Then, we continued on to the San Telmo street market, which I had visited during my first weekend in Buenos Aires, so I ended my stay the same way as I started it. Read my brief first post about the market and checkout a picture of the market here: http://argentina-chris.blogspot.com/2009/05/white-has-nothing-on-pink.html. This time, though, I took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a number of souveniers and gifts that I had passed on the first time, and I'm pretty sure that my friends and family are now glad that I did!
After that weekend, I had one final week of work and classes in Buenos Aires before I was off on my trip to Mendoza and Chile! Please keep reading (and commenting) as I update my blog with posts concerning my trip and then a few final concluding posts about life in South America, more broadly...