Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two views of la Boca

After visiting la Bombonera in la Boca on Sat, I walked south toward el Caminito and the port, which are the other two heavily visited sites in the area.

The Boca is one of my fave districts of Bs As, pretty much the polar opposite of the fancy Recoleta where I'm staying. It's a working-class port district, right on the scuzziest part of the Riachuelo (hence its name--it's at the mouth (boca) of the river). But like many working-class districts, it has a real charm and sense of spirit, no better seen than in its many buildings painted in bright colors.

My Porteno friends, well-meaning all, warned me that la Boca can be dangerous, but enough of it is carved out for tourists that it's hard to find too much danger if you take the tourist bus to la Bombonera and then to the Caminito. The latter is a pedestrian walkway that swerves at a diagonal between main streets and down to the port itself, and is populated with artists' stalls vending works of variant quality, and is lined with classic Bocense variegated buildings.

El Caminito is also horrifically touristy, and it's hard to find any authenticity in the area, sort of like Hollywood Blvd in LA. That said, the street and the port are essential places to visit, just to see, while keeping in mind that they're not the real working-class Boca itself, which exists only blocks away but is almost entirely unvisited by tourists.

Then, at the bottom of El C where it meets the unutterably scuzzy Riachuelo are two outstanding museums, and this comes from a guy who does not like museums all that much. One is Proa (referring to the prow of a boat) and has rotating exhibits of modern art (as well as a truly terrifying statue of a titanic spider outside).

The other is the Museo Benito Quinquela Martin, and is devoted to 20th c art inspired by the Boca, and is just about the best museum I've ever seen. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifThe collection is modestly sized, but hits all the right notes. There's some really excellent art from the late 1800s and early 1900s inspired by the port culture of la Boca; an awesome collection of effigies from the prows of old ships (there must be a word for these--they're often half-human, half-animal); and a great series of work by a modern Argentine painter named Julio Racioppi, whose art depicts and really captures the tenor of life in the city, as for example, with scenes of hulking grey apt buildings sitting in the afternoon sun.

So consider these two videos. First, I walked from la Bombonera to el Caminito, which took me ever so briefly through a part of the Boca that is not (or at least not that) touristy. I stopped to get a "choripan" (sausage in bread) from a guy on the street, and for at least that moment had a sense that I'd escaped the tourist hordes at least for a moment, which you can see here:

This seems like a pretty good indication of la Boca--it's a little run down, but homey, and you can see la Bombonera in the background, as well as a brightly painted buildings. Also, love the guys waving. I showed them the video afterward, and told them I was going to post it on my blog, which is very famous in the US. They were all like, "You, famous? Liar." Fair enough.

Then I strolled on down to the Caminito and eventually to the Museo Martin, and you can see my sojourn along the former here:

This about captures it--camera-toting tourist hordes, but colorful and interesting nevertheless. Right after I finished the video, a bunch of guys--some clearly drunk at like 3pm in the afternoon--crowded around to look at the iPad. At first I thought they were going to rob me, but really they just wanted to check it out, and they were all like "Miracle! Amazing!" which is really a pretty understandable reaction to the iPad.

After all this, it was late afternoon and I hopped on the local 53 back up to the Recoleta. It was the first time I really felt like I had a grasp of the city and its geography and could get around with ease and instinctive knowledge. As I was waiting for the 53, the cheesy open-topped "Buenos Aires Tour Bus" rolled by and I shook my head in contempt. Damned tourists.