15.05.2008 20 °C
Having had a good night´s sleep, and the opportunity to get my bearings, yesterday I made a tentative but simple step into the world of my project, albeit not massively successful. With a lass in tow who´s also staying in the hostel, who fancied doing something a little unusual, we set off to the water museum, run by AySA. I hoped that there would be something, anything about water privatisation, and that it would be at least a vaguely informative but effort-lite first step.
Anyway, we had a bash at the tube, a deeply confusing experience, thus far I have gone to the wrong platform more times than the right one, had to have a sympathetic security guard to help us after pùlling the daft tourist card, paid 4 times for one journey by accident and generally had all manner of mishaps. I´ll get there.. at some point! The water museum is in Barrio Norte, near the University faculties of engineering, economics and medicine (a far more intimidating building than the worsely, which is just laughable really..), and housed in the most astonishing building I´ve seen thus far...
Unfortunately, the water museum (or the Palacio des aguas corrientes) wasn´t particularly illuminating, unless you have an above-average interest in pipes and toilets. It recounted the early history of water and sanitation in Bs As, and then mentioned the formation of the water company, ignoring the 13 years of Aguas Argentinas. If you´re aware of it, however, you can notice little bits of AASA everywhere - old signs warning residents not to waste water in restaurant bathrooms, or AASA drain covers.
In the afternoon, we went on a tour of San Telmo and La Boca. The latter has some infamy attached to it as a dodgy area, and although many such stories are unfounded in La Boca it´s pretty true - it's one of the poorest areas in Buenos Aires- so going with a guide is pretty advisable. Anyway, our guide (a nice guy about my age) told us lots of interesting little things about bits of San Telmo, and about the football team - Boca Juniors - who havee a cultish following in Bs As. La Boca's houses, (which you can see on my photos) are boldly painted in bright colours although this is really for the benefit of tourists, the houses are traditionally painted green. This is the birthplace of tango - a dance born from sailors and local ladies of ill-repute in the late 19th century - and still tango is performed in the street, although again for tourism more than anything else. Still, it's nice to have a coffee (always strong here, hurrah!) and watch what seems to be a highly complex dance.
That night, we attempted to go to a TangoJazz gig, but one of the band were ill, so we headed back to San Telmo and sat in a bar off Plaza Dorrego (the main square of San Telmo, my neighbourhood and one of the oldest in Buenos Aires) and watched a Jazz band with a glass of chopp Quilmes (draft Quilmes, the local lager) - a pleasant way to end the day I feel.
The next day, I made a foray into project world, heading to Avenida de Mayo to the offices of an NGO who have writtene a very good report on water privatisation and access in Buenos Aires. I had e-mailed them a week or two previously, with little success (I get the feeling that the e-mail organisational thing hasn't really taken off here!) So I put on a shirt and went to their office in person. The office block is something of a throwback to the 1950s, wiith its imposing wooden doors and wrought iron mechanical lift which I wished I had photographed.. I'll have to do that next time I'm there! A lady from the organisation had a chat about the project with me, adn gave me a few names (although helpfully when I e-mailed them the server was down, causing something of a delay!).
After that, it was only a few blocks walk to congreso , which is something of an improsing building on a large square, facing onto which on one side is the bookshop/cafe/office of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. I had a little pootle around their bookshop, which is proudly left wing with shelves upon shelves of books dedicated to Leninism, Marxism, Che Guevara, Anarchism, Sociology, Political Theory, Philosophy, and of course books by and about the Madres themselves. A leftist's dreambookshop, in essence! I spent quite some time there, marvelling at so many lefty books all in one place.
I went back to Guerrin for lunch - so yummy and cheap - and this time managed to have a slab of faina (a kind of chickpea polenta, very tasty) as well as my fugazzetta (stuffed crust cheese and onion pizza slice). Yum. After that a few of us went to see the Madres' weekly protest in the Plaza de Mayo, although it looked more like a stall than a protest (they're all really quite old now I suppose), so after a short while a few of us saw a film in Puerto Madero (a super-developed part of town) then finally went home. I swear all this walking my be doing me good because my calves are aching constantly!
That night, we went out to eat and missed most of a tango lesson in the hostal, but arrived back in just enough time to join everyone at a Milonga (a tango dance-hall) and see the real thing in action. Unlike salsa, tango is pretty intimidating so I didn't get very involved this time, but enjoyed the atmosphere and a bottle or two of Quilmes, thereby undoing the beneficial effects of all the exercise no doubt!
The next day, pretty exhausted, was a chill-out day, with a bit of work and mooching about at the hostal. Nothing very exciting to report there!
Saturday I met with a friend of a friend who was lovely, and I tried my firsst Milanesa (breaded veal served with cheese and sauce on top, rather odd but strangely compelling), and my first BsAs ice cream.... mmmmmmmmm. That evening I went with another hostal-made friend to a series of gigs, the first on Avenida de Mayo, which had been closed for the last of 4 weekends of outdoor cultural activities in the street. We saw a sort of celtic band playing outside the Bar Iberia, where I had my first empanadas a few days previously. You can't really beat the high french-style buildings and wide avenue of Av. de Mayo for a setting for an outdoor concert, never mind a concert which turned out to be very enjoyable. After that we walked back to plaza Dorrego, sat outside in the square where there was a flamenco band complete with a pair of dancers who were quite astonishing, especially as I'd never seen any flamenco before - I don't know how people physically do it without falling over with exhaustion, I really don't. The last round of gig was a not very impressive 'rock-blues' band, but by then we were exhausted again and were ready for bed.
Sunday became another work day, but I did head back to Dorrego to check out the antiques market. And really, when I say that everything is sold, I really mean everything, from old newspapers to cornets to old-style telephones (you know the ones in old movies with a separate mouthpiece and earpiece? Was SO tempted!) to ancient cameras and whole sets of cutlery and crockery. In fact, you can barely move for old stuff, so I'm going to have to stock up on novelty items before I return home.
Yesterday, another work day, ended in us (myself and another girl in the hostal, also a leeds graduate) joining a group of very friendly and fun Brazilians to dinner after another tango lesson (for the first time ever at such an event, an equal male:female ratio), which was nice too, but nicer still was the arrival of some rain, after 6 very sweaty days!
So anyway, I've been busy, is the long and short of it! I'll try to be more regular with the messages - then I don't have so much to write at a time and you guys don't have so much to read! I'll keep you posted with the project progress, tomorrow I'm going to head to another organisation which is actually based in San Telmo, which is nice and easy at least!
All the best