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Posts Tagged ‘argentina’

Shrine in Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

I love cemeteries. This shrine in Recoleta Cemetery is perfect in it’s haunting simplicity.

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A strange medley of market stalls run along the outer wall of the famous jesuit ruins of San Ignacio Mini in Argentina. They are strung together by the cheap and cheerful wares they display and the desperate glint in the eyes of the vendors. Strolling by, each hawker greets you, entices you to touch their merchandise (as they know touch to be a forerunner to desire), desperate that you will pause with them before you realise that each table is lined with identical mass-produced tourist rubbish, the same colourful trash that tourists must inevitably carry home with them to gift to disappointed relatives or hide in forgotten drawers. If you fail to show sufficient interest they either glower at you (they may as well spit on your feet for the way it makes you feel) or apply the tireless nag-factor technique that children the world over have honed in the aisles of supermarkets and toy stores.

By the end of the consumer gauntlet you feel weary and spent, already dreading the return journey. You may consider walking off into the wild but are braced by the realisation that, no matter how far or in which direction you walk on this continent, you will surely have to run the gauntlet again before too long.

Plaza de Armas, San Ignacio Mini

I warily pay the 10 peso entrada and try not to notice the incredulous glares from the merchants at this definitive proof of wealth. It is here that the fence line, ashen and overgrown, leaps skyward before continuing its dance about the perimeter. Upon entering the grounds the sense of exit is overwhelming. The world of haggling and sweat, sustenance and toil, copulation and excretion stands glowering behind the wall, invisible from the inside; it seems possible that it never existed now that you have entered this eternal dream state. Time is an illusion. This is real. Even the smattering of tourists disappear into their own dimensions and I am left alone in mine. Here I am in a world of substance; there is a sense that nothing has really existed before, except this place. This is the only place that has ever existed and I am the only woman.

Walking across the grassy plazas my shoes melt away and the grass caresses my bare feet. I feel every blade. I am every blade. I am every brick. I am the breeze in the trees and the sun on my skin. I am the moss that slithers up the side of the fallen cathedral, the clouds floating across its gaping ceiling. I see the outline of the houses, only a handful of bricks high. They grow up from their skeletons and reach their former heights. Straw grows over them, forming rooves. I see people come and go, smiling at one another, working, embracing. I see an entire civilization laid before me. I smell the casserole bubbling away on the fire, the juicy steam curling out of a doorway and down the lane. My mouth is watering. I hear the cajoling crowd at a public meeting. I don’t know what they are saying but the trees are alive with cheers and jeers. Touching my fingers to the dank brickwork in a hidden corner, they come away bloody. I lick the salty juice of the ages and lay down on the grass to gaze into the eye of the Universe.

It’s all pretend, of course. I don’t see a thing. I only feel it, yearn for it, dream it into being. How can you know a thing about this place and these people if you haven’t lived with them, loved them, or paid for a tour? And who can afford to pay for a tour?

Ancient worlds spring up from the ruins of San Ignacio Mini in Argentina

I content myself with imagining their world and delight at the thought that one day, four hundred years ago, a young Jesuit priest had sat in this very spot and imagined our own world. Had he seen the tread marks of our rubber-soled shoes trampled through his village paths? Had he smelled the artificial orange fizz that I guzzled with my lunch? Had he hid his eyes from the mass-produced vendors selling “handicrafts” made by faceless strangers in a distant factory? Had he felt my breath on his neck, my hair on his chest, and fancied himself in love? At this thought I lose all interest in his world. Steeling myself to face my jurors, I pass once more through the festival of fabric and retire to my rooms.

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Bottles for sale in a market stall in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

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The walls speak to you as you pass by in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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I was in Buenos Aires in 2006. It was 30 years on from the military coup that changed the collective Argentinean consciousness forever and, being a part of it, I felt my own consciousness (and, indeed, conscience) shifting. Looking back this experience was a huge turning point for me, being there has led me to be me.

Never Again: Prohibited books

I was in Buenos Aires for the massive concerts and protest marches that marked the 30 year anniversary of the military coup on March 24, 1976. That coup marked the beginning of 7 years of military dictatorship in which around 30,000 Argentinians were murdered or forcibly disappeared by the Junta for holding dissenting political beliefs. The Dirty War (as it became known) cut deep into the body of Argentina, and the wound is still raw. These demonstrations were Argentina’s way to never forget, to stay passionate, and to inspire the new generation of advocates for freedom.

Standing tens of thousands strong in the Plaza de Mayo amid awed silence broken by valiant cries of “nunca más” (never again) we stood at revered attention as we bore witness to the suffering of a whole generation by watching a half hour documentary on the recent political history of Argentina, jostled periodically in the waves of emotion as the crowd reacted to their story. After the documentary finished to pained applause a frail looking old woman in a white headscarf approached the microphone. What followed was the most rousing and impassioned speech I have ever had the honour to witness. Here she was, one of the “Mothers of the Disappeared”, a group of women who protested weekly during the dictatorship and were integral in the eventual swing back to democracy. The catch cry of her speech, and the protests, “nunca más” resounded not only throughout the night but also appeared on innumerable walls around the city. The city, the country, was so political, the people so impassioned by their beliefs willing to speak out and to act on them. It was profoundly inspiring.

Nunca Mas! (Never Again!)

From Buenos Aires I wrote home to friends:
“I have been in a really introspective space of late, a space that travelling seems to inevitably create. I really feel, already, like my experiences, conversations, and encounters here have changed my world view, and I anticipate that change becoming more and more profound as the months pass. I have always been a very idealistic person, outspokenly so; and yet I have never made the hard calls, never really followed though on my beliefs. I see that now. I was lazy, scared maybe. Being here, in a place that is so abuzz with politics, I realise that I need to take action.

“For now I am trying to learn to experience people more fully, to open my heart more, and to feed my hunger for knowledge with big ideas from profound thinkers (be they famous or hidden, living or passed). I am reading a lot. I am watching a lot: how people interact, how people respond to their circumstances, what people do in (real) hardship, and contemplating the way I have responded in times that I thought were hard. I have been writing a lot, getting inside myself, trying to be truly honest on the page (which is harder than I could have imagined) and in my encounters with people. I have been thinking, theorising, and also feeling. Sometimes I get sad. Like 2 days ago when I met a young boy begging on the street (by pretending to play the accordion), he was so hard for his age, his life had been so hard.

The Accordion Player: a young boy begs on a Buenos Aires street with a musical prop her cannot master

“It can be really hard to take, you know? There are so many people here who cannot look beyond the next meal. Their future and the futures of their children are totally bleak, and they know it. The most disconcerting thing about it is that many of these people were middle class citizens just 5 or 6 years ago. It makes you realise how powerless we really are in the face of the machine of economy, and how fragile our little lives are in the hands of greedy and (oftentimes) ignorant politicians. We choose to live in a way that totally disempowers us, we choose ignorance and dependance. It’s frightening.

I know all that sounds depressing, and sometimes it is, but the truth is that my eyes are opening, and I am grateful for it.”

My eyes continued to open as the months and years of travel wore on, with every new friend I made, with every child I saw begging in the streets. This world is imbalanced, but it doesn’t have to be. I like to think I am much more active in my life these days, I have moved my life to be more in harmony with my values, and I continue to do so. This was a life changing moment for me, one of many.

I would love to hear about your own life changing memories, if you are willing to share.

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South America’s epic Iguazu Falls roar down the Devil’s throat and deep into the heart of the earth, kissed on three sides by the proud nations of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

From the ubiquitous travel guide photographs and its firm foothold on the gringo trail (in spite being a 20-hour bus drive from both Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro with little of popular interest inbetween) I knew the site would be impressive. I had heard from fellow travellers about just how gigantic and breathtaking the falls were. But, you know, honestly, we’re talking about waterfalls, people. How impressive can they be?

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Nonetheless, finding myself in Puerto Iguazú (Argentina’s border town) with a few days to kill en route to Rio’s infamous Carnival celebrations, I thought “what the heck, I may as well check it out while I’m here.” (I know, I know, even I can’t believe I was so cavalier!) I’m glad I did because, to this day, Iguazu Falls remains one of the most magical, impressive, and totally powerful places I have ever visited.

The park itself was aswarm with thousands of buzzing tourists. Mighty distracting. Luckily, there were a few delicious moments where my gaze was uninterrupted by the hoards of people (like myself) snatching instants of beauty with their cameras and hoarding them for later. There were a few exquisite moments when I could hear nothing but the roar of the water crashing upon itself. In those moments I felt an energy so strong it pulsed up through me from my feet.

Iguazu holds a dizzying kind of power. That is the part that simply can’t be captured in any of the thousands of photos you may have seen, and that is the part that makes the park so memorable, the part that captures your heart and refuses to let go, even years later.

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