Sunday, March 29, 2009

Alert . . . offline

Just a note to say I'll be offline until April 15. We're leaving Buenos Aires in a few hours for that once-in-a-lifetime cruise around the horn and will land in Valparaiso, Chile, sometime around April 14. No computer access, and I'm not paying 40 cents a minute. But, I'll be busy trying to write a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month, and the challenge from NaPoWriMo. So, go ahead. Join in. Write a poem.

Can you identify this lovely mystery flower, all spikey and about the size of my hand? I offer a prize . . . Click on the image to see this flower (found in Puerto Iguazu) a little larger. Be well. Enjoy spring wherever you are!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tango . . .

Midnight. A darkened café bar. A man crouched over a piano plays an offbeat tune. Bass and accordion add a thumping unforgettable beat. A violin slices through the music with an aching riff. It’s 1920. The height of tango in Buenos Aires. The people of Argentina have swarmed to the city, but without jobs, the young men formed gangs, and the young women became prostitutes. They met in bars like these to dance out their passion.

And so the music begins, a pulsing, hypnotic beat, replayed again and again. Tango. The men swirl and pose, pesos tucked in pockets, natty hats pulled low, their frustrations barely concealed. The women, elegant, yet barely dressed, entice, yet seem unapproachable. They fall in love, they gamble, they dance, and they fight. The tango reflects it all.

So we sit in the basement theater of Tortoni Café, famous since 1858. Now a small troup of young people perform for us -- the tango and a dance from the country, two young men twirl bolos in complicated patterns, their feet matching a rhythm only desperate men would create, for the bolo is a weapon that can maim and kill. I have admired these small balls attached to each other by cords in the windows of San Telmo antique shops. I later learned this dance is called the malambo, is danced only by males, and what I'm calling "bolos" are actually boleadores.

We walk through the café upstairs where Borges once sipped coffee at one of the small marble tables, perhaps beside one of the large columns. Now paintings, drawings, and sculptures everywhere celebrate the past, yet the waiters pass us with small cups of coffee on silver trays. We stand on the sidewalk outside this famous café, the night of Buenos Aires around us, the music of the tango reverberating still in our hearts, and we are reluctant to go home.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

La musica in Puerto Iguazu . . .

Yesterday we stopped at La Aripuca, a relatively new eco-tourism spot developed to preserve and showcase Guarani culture and crafts and to draw attention to the unique Aripuca tree, a giant that can live more than 1,000 years. At one time, the Guarani used a small collapsing wooden trap to catch birds. At this park, a very large "trap" has been constructed entirely out of logs from 40 different trees. We wandered through, climbed up the massive logs to the top, admired the different types of wood, and then came to the reception room to hear Nimia Cabrera play her harp.

Nimia Cabrera.MOV

This very skilled musician has traveled all over the world. I will never forget how she illustrated Argentinian folk dancing for us by placing a rather large vase of bright yellow flowers on her head, and then, singing and fanning her skirt back and forth, she moved her feet in intricate steps, delicately, not spilling a drop.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On the road in Palermo . . .

Today was fairly hot and humid, in the low 90s. We walked through a lovely Japanese Garden in Palermo (and ate sushi that melted with freshness), saw the largest carp I have ever seen, strolled through Palermo’s large Rose Garden in the Parque 3 de Febrero.

We saw birds everywhere, surprising in their diversity – squawking green parrots who chipped nests high under the fronds of palm trees and three red-crested cardinals hopping in the shaded grasses near the stream.

Along the stream, we surprised coots with two babies swimming in circles around their mothers, their tiny bristly bodies not quite birdlike, their red faces seeming newly born.

And spied these Patagonian hares by peeking through the bars of the zoo (a future trip). Only the internet helped us identify these strange deer-like, rabbity faces.

We also visited the National Museum of Decorative Arts and found a dazzling exhibit of silk quilts by Silke illustrating a Tarot of the Los Arcanos Mayores (the major arcana), dividing life stages into three – the evolution of the ego (from birth to age 28), reflection to discover the inner self (age 29 to 56), and preparation for death (over 56).

As we studied these 22 quilts, roughly 4 by 7 feet, each illustrating one symbolic phase of life, we were so entranced by the artist’s creative vision, we didn’t notice the massive room, open to two floors. This mansion was once owned by wealthy Argentinians, a true mansion, with towering ceilings, Chinese art, nesuke, Ming Dynasty, a regal ballroom in the style of Versailles, sculptures from Rodin, paintings and sculptures collected in the early 19th Century from a range of French artists, including Boudin, Rodin, etc. A dining room to rival William Randall Hurst's San Simeon. I wish my words could capture how beautiful these quilts were and these rooms. To walk through each one seemed rather like walking in another era and trying to understand what it meant to live far removed from what most of us experience.

This morning we're rushing out the door to catch a plane back to the falls of Iguassu. Our hotel reportedly has internet. We'll see.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sunday in San Telmo . . .

It's Sunday afternoon and all of Buenos Aires can be found in these few blocks, strolling down cobblestoned streets, past street performers and musicians, open plazas crowded now with tents making a grand flea market with antique laces, clocks, china-head dolls, silverware with crests, porcelain Blue Willow plates, embroidered napkins, weather-worn license plates proclaim Argentina!

We stepped around hawkers crowding the sidewalk with bird whistles and finger puppets. One threw fake tomatoes on the ground which magically resumed their shapes. Clowns danced; one sat by a building, long legs stretched out one story high. Fantastic drawings decorate store fronts; above, iron grillwork festoons the fronts of Baroque buildings.

We saw classical guitarists, orchestra tango, funky street tango, mime tango (they dance when you put pesos in the traditional black hat), and three little kids on accordian. People gather and drift along, appreciating the slow pace of the day. San Telmo. San Telmo. Everyone is smiling.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

About Buenos Bears . . .

Yesterday was a walking tour to see the bears. These unique, hand-painted, fully life-sized bears, a project to benefit UNICEF, represent the cultures of some 140 countries. The bears are visiting Buenos Aires for only March and April. San Martin Plaza was crowded with people who simply came to see the bears, vibrant and sun-splashed.

Buenos Aires Bears

What a link to this week's Sunday Scribblings' prompt that asked us to write about what is important. What is more important than peace?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Raining in Buenos . . .

This morning it's raining in Buenos Aires. We feel more at home every day. The last three days we've spent exploring our neighborhood here in Recoleta, twice to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Their online site is excellent, allowing users to search by theme or artist.

Here we discovered Argentinian artists. Their regional and modern paintings dazzled us with vivid colors and fresh visions of South America. We both selected Nicolas Garcia Uriburu, painting, a lovely garish red rendition of the "Three Graces" with floating cats, as best of show.

One small room at the museum had been set aside for a few very select artifacts from Pre-Columbian culture -- absolutely beautiful, including textiles, just tiny traceries of threads in complex patterns over a thousand years old, their color and texture protected by dry desert. Yet one stood out very different from the rest, a Chancay textile sculpture of a tree of life said to be from central Peru, acquired in 1989, but no date given. I'm assuming this three-dimensional sculpture is modern.

My efforts to find more information online so far have been unsuccessful for this very unique sculpture, though in Santiago last May, about 350 dancers celebrated La Fiesta de la Chakana. The Chakana is widely known as the Incan cross, and also referred to as a symbol for the tree of life. The chakana is a multi-dimensional icon of ancient Peruvian cultures, ssymbolizing their world view, the shaman's journey to other dimensions, and our relationship to the cosmos. The symbol shows up everywhere, on ancient religious artifacts, on contemporary jewelry, and can be seen in the very architecture of temple ruins. When I first saw this symbol, I immediately thought of the stepped pyramid tablo/tablera of Aztec fame. The best site I've found for explaining this (and with lovely images) is thru the HUB's article on the Incan Cross.

Another delight has been identifying some of the birds and trees we've encountered. Somehow Buenos Aires seemed stranger when I could see these lovely birds around me and not be able to name them, as if naming them created a certain familiarity -- Rufous-bellied thrush, chalk-browed Mockingbird, and a Rufous Ovenbird. This Atlas Ambiental de Buenos Aires is a wonderful local resource with pictures of birds, trees (their flowers, fruits, leaves), and much more.

The Floss Silk Tree (see below) has such magnificant flowers, now in bloom. Sycamores (also known as the London Plane tree) have been planted everywhere along the streets, giving a small town feel to our neighborhood. We stroll past shops offering the freshest fruits, cheeses, olives, fish, wines, and, our favorite, breads of every imagination. Yesterday our lunch featured tiny squash stuffed with tender beef and covered with bechamel, with a side pure of sweet potato. Ah, art, culture, delicious food, and even rain.