Day 5: Argentina

And then like that it was the last day in Argentina and our trip. But I wasn’t going to take it lightly. My plan was to go to the Teatro Colon, Fortabat Art Collection, tour the Palacio Barolo and possibly go to Café Tortoni. Well, I did them all but in a slightly different order.

I wanted to start my day by doing a tour of the Teatro Colon. It’s the opera house of Buenos Aires. It’s on the July 9th Avenue but it seems backwards. The part facing the avenue seems rather plain, more like the backside of it. And it is. When the opera house was built, the avenue didn’t exist so the front part is facing the square. It’s a beautiful building and I was keen to get a tour of it. However, the theater itself is sometimes dark for rehearsals etc so I was keen to go when it wasn’t dark. I got there and found out that theater was going to be dark that morning but I could try after 1. So I bought a ticket for the afternoon.

And then I decided to walk to the Fortabat Art Collection in Puerto Madero by way of Café Tortoni. The café is this beautiful art deco café that was frequented by famous authors, artists, and even politicians, both Argentine and international. Jorge Luis Borges, Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and Carlos Gardel frequented the place. I sat down, had a tea and tried their legendary churros, a fried sugar covered dough stick. Sadly, I was not a fan. But it was nice to sit there, read a newspaper I found lying on the table, and writing. It feels like a Parisian café. There is art everywhere in the forms of paintings, stained glass, and more. When I left, I peeked into a backroom that is a stage where it is claimed tango was danced for the first time. And there is another little backroom filled with letters, photos of the café’s history.

Cafe Tortoni
Cafe Tortoni

Then I walked up to Puerto Madero to go to this relatively new museum. On my way, I went into bookstores to ask if they sold Eloisa Cartonera. It’s that cardboard publishing house I’ve previously written about. They buy cardboard from cartoneros, who collect cardboard from the garbage, and bind their books in it. Each book cover is hand painted. Most stores didn’t know what I was talking about but one did. They didn’t sell them but they said a kiosk at Corrientes and Uruguay did. So I was going to have to head there after my tours.

Puerto Madero
Puerto Madero

I walked to Puerto Madero to go to the museum. It opened in 2009 I believe. It’s the private collection of Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat. It’s actually pretty good. It has a fair amount of Argentine painters stretching the centuries and some really nice international works. It was interesting to see how Argentine artists interpreted the artistic movements coming out of Europe at the time. Many had studied in France. Two of my favorite paintings were by Emilio Pettoruti of harlequin/clown figures in a cubist style. Now, Picasso did several of these and they are my favorites of his work. I liked these because it reminded me of the bandleon which is the instrument I most associate with Argentine music. The paintings though are called “Indecision” and “Resistance.” She also had several works by Xul Solar whose works I really grew to like. His works have a mystical but abstract quality to them. They are bright bold, and very detailed at points.

There were some true great international paintings in her collection. In the first room of the permanent collection, there is a room for the family. There are paintings of the Fortabat family including an Andy Warhol of Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat. Now, I’m not an Andy Warhol fan as a rule but I liked this large painting of her face. The other real gem was Jan Brueghel (though it’s not showing up on the website) of a little town where everyone is doing their own thing. It’s a detailed look at daily life during the 17th century. People are trying to ice skate, make money, throw snowballs, etc. Cheery wonderful painting.

There were two special exhibitions that I really liked. The first was a series of painting of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Lookingglass by Pat Andrea. There are dozens of paintings retelling the story. But it’s a surreal land with sexual tension/predation front and center. I really liked it. I’m an Alice in Wonderland junkie and love any artistic take on it. It was interesting to see this sexual aspect to the works. For instance, one of the flamingo croquet clubs is depicted looking up her skirt. Various animals have erections. It’s very charged but there is the menace in it. Well worth checking out.

And there was a photography exhibition called “Cities of America” by Facundo de Zuviria. It included photos from Rio, New York, Buenos Aires, Cartagena de Indias and Montevideo. Some were city shots, other were details of small-contained scenes. I really liked them.

Then it was time to go back to the Teatro Colon. The tour was in Spanish, though there are English tours. Inside it is a marvel. The Argentines built it to rival the one in Paris. Argentina used to be one of the top ten economies of the world at the turn of the 20th century so they wanted to show it. They did a magnificent job. The staircase leading to the theater itself uses three kinds of marble in varying shades of pink and yellow. There are magnificent stained glass ceilings.

Teatro Colon 1

Apparently, only the best seats get to use the front door to get into the theater. Everyone else had to take the side doors. Opera and other events were really about the social aspect. It was all about getting seen. Intermission could last two hours so people could chat. There is this hallway covered in gold decorations and chandeliers. It’s absolutely stunning. It was inspirited by Versailles!

Golden Hallway, Teatro Colon
Golden Hallway, Teatro Colon

Then it was time to go in the theater itself. Well, bad news first. It was dark. Boo. But the good news was that they were rehearsing the opera that was due to open the following Tuesday. So we were going to get a sneak peek of the world premier of an opera based on William Faulkers’ Requiem of a Nun! We got to sit in the best box seat of the house and watch as the performers worked out a scene. The setting was a house in the present day (or modern-day). There was a full orchestra. The voices were incredible. It was really neat to see them working the opera out. They would start and stop, start over completely, etc. It was neat to see this part of the creative process.

Then it was time to go to the Palacio Barolo. On my way, I went to the intersection of Corrientes and Uruguay (I think it was) and found the kiosks selling only Eloisa Cartonera! It was a dream. The vendor was impressed that I’d heard of them. I don’t think it’s well known though it really should be. It was so exciting to see so many!

Eloisa Cartonera kiosk!
Eloisa Cartonera kiosk!

Then I continued on to Palacio Barolo. My friend recommended this building to me since the building was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. All the details have the artwork in mind. So I went there to take a tour. It was built by Mario Palanti. The ground floor is definitely the inferno. It’s made of dark marble with incredible demon lanterns. There are also 9 arches to represent the 9 levels of hell. On the ceiling there were Latin proverbs. The building is 100 meters high, referring to the 100 cantos of the poem. Floors 1-14 are Purgatorio and Paradiso is 15-22. There are 22 stanzas in each verse. At the very top is a lighthouse where you get an amazing view of the city. It is said it can be seen from Montevideo on the other side of wide Rio Plate. The lighthouse represents Dante’s reunion with Beatrice. Very beautiful though a little terrifying if you are afraid of heights like I can be!

Demon lantern at Palacio Barolo
Demon lantern at Palacio Barolo

There was also a story that Dante’s remains may have been moved to a special sculpture in the building during the early 20th century. I think it is more fiction than anything. Fascinating stuff.

So that’s all for now!

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