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  • Day19

    La Boca

    March 6, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Another day, another neighborhood . . .

    Today we went to La Boca, which is the neighborhood near the old port. As is often the case in the housing closest to the port, the neighborhood was settled by immigrants who arrived by boat. Many of these immigrants were lured by promises of free land. But, after they arrived the President rescinded the offer and these immigrants were penniless. They quickly moved into old mansions that had dozens of people in each room, or they threw up new structures called “conventillos.” The name referred to the fact that the individual rooms, which were often occupied by people who slept in shifts, were the size of the cells that monks or nuns lived in at a convent! To protect the shacks from the rain and elements, men who worked on the docks brought home nearly empty cans of paint and used whatever was left in the bottom to paint a portion of the wall. This resulted in buildings whose walls were brightly colored patchworks. (The traditions continues today, although the coloration is undoubtedly brighter and more uniform than in early years.). Despite the splashes of color on the walls, these conventillos were true slums, filled with tremendous poverty and disease.

    In the squalor of these slums, the music and dance of tango grew. We were told that the dance was originally done by men, as a way to show off for the prostitutes and battle for their favor. The steps where the leg of one dancer winds around that of another dancer was a way for one man to trip the other, showing off his prowess. The music to which the tango was danced was also a product of La Boca. The music was created through an amalgam of musical instruments that the immigrants brought with them. The primary instrument was a German accordion called a “bandoneon” which is at the heart of all tango music. Today, the bandoneon is no longer played or manufactured in Germany, but is frequently used in Argentina. We had the pleasure of listening to an old fellow play the bandoneon. (I’m going to try and upload the video . . . .)

    As we continued to walk through La Boca, we got to see some tango dancers on a small stage near a restaurant. Although the dance was obviously being done for the tourists, it was fascinating to watch — very stylized, and elegant, all at the same time. As we watched, we learned about the history of tango, learned the names of a few famous dancers, and generally enjoyed the neighborhood.

    Our next few stops were a series of murals. One set showed the local firefighters, who are a volunteer battalion. A second set showed the “mothers” who are still searching for the disappeared, and the last set was all about the Republic of La Boca. It seems that in the 1930s, there was a clash between the stringent policies laid down by the current fascist government, and the more progressive people living in La Boca. So, the neighborhood rebelled, and claimed to be a separate republic, creating a new flag and government. The Republic of La Boca lasted for all of three days, before the rebellion was put down. But, there is still a fondness for the history, and the neighborhood still has a strong identity.

    The last stop was the “Bombonera” which is the stadium in which La Boca Juniors play — the futbol team that is beloved by the working class in BA. (The more affluent residents tend to root for the rival team, River Plate.). The team is owned by the people, and there is an elected president who runs the team. The current President of the country of Argentina got his start in politics as the president of La Boca Juniors! The fans are maniacs and the construction of stadium is such that the fans are super close to the pitch and when they yell and stomp the whole stadium shakes. We did not have a chance to go to a game, but I understand that it is quite an experience. (Honestly, it sounded a bit frightening, but I suppose that if you are sports fan it is quite thrilling.)

    At the end of the tour, we stopped for a quick bite to eat and decided to come visit again, the next day. Just a charming neighborhood.
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