La Vida Carlotense

I spent last weekend at my roommate’s family reunion in La Carlota, a pampas town of some 12,000 people in the south of Córdoba province, about six and a half hours by car from Buenos Aires. It was a welcome reminder that porteños alone do not a country make. Grassy fields stretching past the horizon, small-scale farms where carlotenses still raise crops and cattle, giant but close-knit families, even a gleaming new swimming pool — I couldn’t have asked for a better end to a January I won’t soon forget.

The Isleño Within

The trip to the Paraná Delta starts rough — an hour on your feet, packed into a cramped, jolty, far-too-hot train; another hour gathering up the food and bug spray you can’t leave the mainland without; then the hunt, giant jugs of water in hand, for a little lancha to carry you into the Delta. But here’s just one of the many magical things about a lavishly long summer weekend spent on an island where the Paraná meets the Rio de la Plata: You get off the boat, and none of it ever happened. Because you’re on another planet. One where rivers have taken the place of roads and boats cars, where your nearest neighbor is just beyond shouting distance, where at times it’s hard to hear over the birdsong. Nothing could connect this place to the sweltering megalopolis you’ve finally managed to escape. You’ve got no steps to retrace — and you’ve never entertained a happier thought. Click play above, check out the pictures below. You’ll see what I mean.

Tilt-Shifting in the Sierras of Córdoba

Last week I traveled to Córdoba, Argentina’s second-largest city, for a fantastic conference about memory at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba‘s Centro de Estudios Avanzados. Córdoba’s a fun place to be; a center of learning and commerce when Buenos Aires was still a colonial backwater, it’s home to some of the country’s best-preserved seventeenth- and eighteenth-century architecture, and its five major universities give the city a vibrancy to rival the capital. Even better, it’s situated just a few kilometers from the Central Sierras, a beautiful mountain range somewhere between the Appalachians and the Rockies in height and terrain. After five days in the city, I went south, first to Villa General Belgrano, a little slice of Germany that’s home to six microbreweries and some of the best strudel this side of the Atlantic, and then to La Cumbrecita, a tiny, car-free, Alpine-style town situated alongside one the highest ridges in the Sierras.

I’ll post more about these places soon, but for the moment I’d like to share the results of some early experimentation with tilt-shift photography, taken from the hills of central Córdoba. Tilt-shift (or, to be more accurate, its digital post-processing simulacrum) is one of the coolest things my camera can do; and the height differentials that come with trekking through the mountains practically begged me to give it a try. Below are three image pairs: a standard shot followed by a tilt-shift simulation. The result is an over-saturation of color and something approaching a miniaturization of the subject.

Here’s a bit of Villa General Belgrano from an adjacent mountain:

Now, here’s a similar shot, taken using my camera’s tilt-shift approximation:

Here’s “downtown” Villa General Belgrano:

Finally, a mountain stream just beyond La Cumbrecita:

More from Córdoba coming soon!

Weekend in Tigre

Things have been busy in the last few weeks, and I’ve allowed myself to fall behind on the blog. One of the things I’ve missed posting about is a trip I made to Tigre with Greg, Daniel, and Jonathan, three friends from college who were all able to visit simultaneously. Tigre is an expansive, swampy delta located about an hour north of Buenos Aires, where the massive Paraná meets the even larger Rio de la Plata. A very nice English student of mine had offered us the use of his weekend cabin there, and we were eager to oblige. The trip to the town of Tigre, at the edge of the Paraná Delta, is almost comically easy–an hour and about 25 cents in train fare. We explored the town a bit–it has some wonderful old boat clubs and a wedding cake of an art museum–before hiring a boat to take us out to the house itself:

This was my second visit to the Paraná Delta. It’s a fascinating place, where the old mansions of what used to be the premier summering spot for the porteño elite are joined by upper-middle class weekend cottages and very basic houses for those who make the inner Delta their full-time home. In the Delta itself, rivers replace roads, abundant trees and bushes run the spectrum of jungle color, and it’s difficult to see from one property to the next. It will forever amaze me that this place can exist just 28 kilometers from Buenos Aires. I hope to be back very soon.

Museum Night in La Plata

La Plata skyline

I spent a day and a half this past weekend in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province (separate from the city) and–in the words of a friend–Argentina’s version of Madison, Wisconsin. It was great. The city’s small enough to be tranquil but large and student-filled enough (it’s home to one of the country’s best universities) to be cosmopolitan and fun. It was planned in the late 19th century to be a model city; its streets are arranged in a perfect grid overloaded with parks, plazas, and public monuments. It’s also home to some solid museums, all of which were open late, and free, during this past Saturday’s Noche de los Museos (Museum Night). Here’s a recent post I wrote about it for Juanele’s blog.

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Palacio Municipal

After nearly a year and a half spent in Argentina, I finally made the 12-peso bus trip to La Plata this past weekend. This small city of half a million is no Buenos Aires; however, its status as capital of the country’s most populous province endows it with a cultural punch well above its weight class — something particularly evident during this past Saturday’s Noche de los Museos. A friend living in La Plata told me about this event late last week. Its promise of five hours to roam the city’s museums and cultural sites free of charge piqued my interest enough to draw me down from Buenos Aires.

My friend and I began our night with a visit to La Plata’s most famous museum, the Museo de La Plata. This natural science museum opened its doors in 1888, and the whole place is one ornate monument to 19th century science — while some galleries have been redone, you

get the sense that many others haven’t changed much these past 120 years. Gigantic whale skeletons hang from the ceiling in one room. In another, armies of tiny taxidermied mammals in wooden cases greet visitors with some fantastically twisted facial expressions. A few darkened galleries had been transformed into interactive scavenger hunts for this past Saturday’s event, and while screechy kid-voices and errant flashlight beams may not have facilitated careful study, they did bring me back, Tim Burton-like, to some childhood museum trips of my own.

Just across the park at number 320 on Calle 53, the Le Corbusier-designed Casa Curutchet beckoned. Along with Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, it’s one of two Corbusier constructions in the Americas. The house was designed in 1948 to house both the family and medical practice of one Dr. Curutchet. Today, it’s owned by the Buenos Aires provincial society of architects. While the lack of period furnishings hamper the experience a bit (the rooms are nearly empty), the building’s horizontal orientation and “wow-look-at-how-I-can-support-this-whole-giant-concrete-house-on-just-a-few-tiny-columns” central courtyard justify a visit.

Next we were off to the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes “Emilio Pettoruti” in La Plata’s downtown. A small space, it currently hosts two half-gallery exhibitions (one of art from La Boca and another of work by artists from metropolitan Buenos Aires), plus a small textile installation by Rosarito Salgado. While much of the work on display is forgettable, I enjoyed Santiago Garcia Pilotto’s paint and photo-collage contributions.

A few blocks away, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Latinoamericano (MACLA) features five generously sized galleries straddling both sides of the entrance to the gorgeous Pasaje Dardo Rocha cultural center. (From what I can tell, the building — also home to the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes, some art and theater schools, and public conference rooms — is on the sharp edge of La Plata cool.)

Though it’s small, MACLA seems to mount ambitious but visitor-friendly modern and contemporary shows, like the museum’s current exhibition of posters, research, and artwork from Lirolay, Buenos Aires’ leading gallery for young, contemporary art in the 1960s. Emilio Renart’s giant “Bicosmic Integralism No. 3,” known elsewhere by more vulgar names, is a highlight of the exhibit.

La Plata’s just an hour away — go ahead, make the trip!

Pa’l norte, part one: Salta capital

Salta's very pink cathedral

I had two weeks off this past January. I used them to take what was both the cheapest and the most exciting trip I’ve undertaken yet, to the northern Argentine provinces of Salta, Jujuy, and Tucumán. I started by meeting up with my friend Andrew in Salta’s eponymous capital city, where Andrew had been spending the year teaching English with a Fulbright grant. Fulbright teachers aren’t sent to Argentina’s biggest cities, and given the list of possible assignments, I’d say Andrew hit the jackpot.

Beautiful convent doors.

Salta’s a lovely colonial city, anchoring one of South America’s most beautiful highland regions. After a bit of time in Salta, I went north to Jujuy for five days in the Quebrada de Humahuaca–quite probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been–before heading back to Salta to join Andrew and his salteña girlfriend Suzy on a trip southward through Salta province into Tucumán.

A church tower near Andrew's place

I started my trip by catching Argentina’s equivalent of the Chinatown bus: one of the daily coaches operated by “toruism companies” that make the 20-hour trip at half the standard bus fare. I didn’t realize we’d only be stopping once between our 5pm departure and our arrival the next afternoon, or that it’d be at 7:30am the next morning. Needless to say, the roadside restaurant where I’d hoped to buy a cheese sandwich never appeared, so I wound up pulling the ham from my pre-packaged miga sandwhiches and eating miga with mayonnaise for dinner. But we made excellent time, I slept well, and I arrived in Salta excited to explore the city.

Salta capital is a delightful place to spend a few days wandering around; it’s full of old churches and colonial buildings and it has some nice parks, a great anthropology museum, and exceptional views from a nearby mountain overlook well worth the 1000-stair climb. I spent most of my time stumbling upon architectural gems, taking in the view from an eminently hikeable nearby hill, and hanging out with Andrew and his wonderful French housemates. I’ll spare you from further narration right now; when I post about the next part of my trip, which took me to the amazing Quebrada de Humahuaca, I’ll have much more to say. In the meantime, here are a few more Salta photos.

Andrew in front of yet another church

A bank in a great colonial building

The hills surrounding Salta on all sides, green only during the comparatively wet summer months

The view over the city from one of these hills