I have always inhabited urban spaces. In the course of my travels I have come to appreciate the intricacies of city planning: the architecture used, the influences of modern and traditional structures, the different apartments that are hidden behind the mess of concrete, brick, mortar, and wood, the graffiti, markets, ports, street lamps, intersections, the lay out of streets, transportation systems, and most importantly the cultures that are born out of these spaces. Buenos Aires has provided an adequate urban playground just as much as any other city, but two facts continue to bother me.
For one, portenos do not have a history of building conversation. I gawk at this every time I am reminded of it. This cultural error is hard to go unnoticed; sure, there are some buildings dating back from the 1800's but any well heeled porteno would tell you that they should tear the building down in order to make space for newer, more modern architecture. "El titular de Basta de Demoler asegura a Efe que el problema “más grave” es la desaparición de edificaciones que identifican a los 48 barrios de la capital y que en su mayoría datan de entre 1880 y 1930" (Bicentario Argentina) (The leader of "Stop Demolition" confided that the biggest problem is the dissapearance of buildings that have come to identify the 48 neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and for the most part date from 1880 to 1930) An example of this is the building pictured above "La Confiteria del Molino", an old bakery, restaurant, bar, and shop that has continues to decay and remains abandoned. Building preservation was not something I ever thought would bother me. It doesn't keep me up at night, but I am continually wondering what architectural riches were here before. This question gives birth to many other questions: what does it mean when a culture doesn't have a tradition of conserving its buildings? What is lost? What is gained? Does this irreverance for their history hint at an underlying current of shame? Does it lend itself to the generational phenomenon of many Argentine somethings general disdain for their government, history, their past, present and future?
The other thing that has gotten under my skin, is that Buenos Aires is THE most important port city in Argentina, and maybe in all of South America, but yet the city faces its back to its port. Picture cities like Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Turkey, or Egypt among others. They face the water, sometimes it may be the ocean or the sea. Their traditions, values, and everyday life give priority to the water. It defines their cultural practices. And to me, Buenos Aires should be like that! But, its not. Not at all. Not only is its back faced to the port, the Rio Plata is one of the most polluted rivers. Most call it the "red river" or the "brown river". I sometimes cringe at what environmental activists would think if they took one look at it.
For my first month here, I was genuinely confused at a culture that couldn't appreciate their buildings or their ports. I stumbled upon this amazing compilation of articles, stories, essays, and documents called the "Argentine Reader" edited by Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo. Their introduction is an amazing work of ethnographical research and their aim is "to present to the American public a broader and more complex overview of the country's social, political, and cultural traditions that challenges the almost schizophrenic view of Argentina that still prevails today." The editors many to create a dialogue between the texts to begin to explain the heterogenuity of Buenos Aires, in addition they manage to provide some answers to my questions. I am beginning to understand that because of the constant evolution and changing demographics of cultural makeup of the city of Buenos Aires that there is a constant look abroad for cultural influence. Buenos Aires strives to replica a European city. Thus, any relic of what they deem as inferior influences of the 3rd world is covered by their careful study of Occidental progress. They have been able to create national symbols that make them Argentine, like tango and the gaucho, but their "Argentineness" is not present in the facades of their buildings. Their pride comes for the ability to replicate and copy, not create and improve. This constant construction of identity is found in the absense of conservation and presence of demolition and reconstruction.
I am still looking for a sufficient answer to my port question. I have yet to find an adequate explanation.