Monday, 20 October 2014

Argentina Overview

I had an exciting and stimulating time in Argentina first attending a pain conference in Buenos Aires and then travelling around the North West and up into the Andes. I loved the country outside Buenos Aires, I was amazed at its vastness, one flies over the pampas for hours. The Andes are the driest mountains I”ve been in, all the rain falls on the Chilean side. Driving up to Aconcagua base camp (Oct 13) was an experience in traversing different rock formations. Aconcagua is also bleak. I also went up to Purmamarca (Oct 16) where rock of seven different colours looms over the village. Higher up I experienced the harshest landscape I’ve been been inn- the San Antonio salt flats at 3500 m harsh, blindingly white, hot and lifeless. Here I posed for my photo of the year 2014, leaping above the salt flats.

I enjoyed the architecture of Buenos Aires, the French fin de si├Ęcle style but also the new modern developments down by the dockside. In Cordoba I enjoyed the cathedral and the evidence of the Jesuits whose schools have now changed into universities and the sociology students can walk around cloisters. (Oct10) I enjoyed the Spanish colonial town architecture in Salta, here the plazas became lively after sunset. Many of the town houses have now been turned into museums and one can appreciate the older style of living with a central courtyard with other courtyards leading off the central one.

Argentina is rich in museums. The Latin American museum of modern art in BA has a very enjoyable Latin American collection and also the trendiest coffee shop I’ve been in. In Cordoba (Oct 11) a 19 century house had been converted into a fine art gallery with the central stairs being an essential part of the gallery. Across the road was a modern art gallery. Salta(Oct 16) has one of the most unusual museums, The Museum of High Altitude archaeology where one can see the mummies of the Inca children who were sacrificed in a ritual that had multiple aspects, social bonding and being part of the Inca way of life, intercession for good luck and linking the living with ancestors. I suspect that the families felt that it was an honour to be part of this. I also enjoyed the museum of Andes anthropology, which comprised an female academic’s lifetime collection of Andean artefacts. The last time I was in the Andes was in Peru (2006) but I recognised the textiles, dances and rituals as being part of the same ethnic group. The most memorable museum was the Museum of Memory in Cordoba, set up by a group of mothers searching for their children; they have converted the torture centre into a museum where art and memory work together. In one room the possessions of the disappeared youngsters are displayed: LPs of 60s rock musicians and fashionable clothes, a motorbike, the names of the disappeared are on the wall in a poetic flowing piece, like a flock of vanished birds. I gazed at the cells, one is glassed off and I could imagine the torture going on there, It was immensely moving and the curators had used art beautifully to capture the different aspects of disappearing.

I enjoyed Argentinian wine at two very different vineyards, one very traditional with a small cellar and techniques similar to the 18th century. A Dutch investor had developed the other Salentien, and created a 21st century winery with state of the art temperature control, steel vats and the barrels for aging set in a modern surrounding. There was also an art gallery and sculpture outside. We enjoyed a gourmet meal in a modern Scandinavian style dining room.

My historical and political guide for the trip was superb Argentina Reader. History, Culture, Politics. Ed Gabriela Nouzeilled & Graciela Montaldo Duke Univ press 2002. This book combines history, social comment, speeches and stories from each of the main periods in Argentina’s history. From this I learnt what a violent past the country has and how human rights have always been a low priority. I also understand how important Peron was because he took on the cause of the workers and the Shirtless. He established state provision in Argentina and the health and education systems remain.

There are still interesting parts of Argentina to explore, the huge glaciers in the South and the sea life. Next time I would learn some Spanish before I went to improve communicating with people.

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