Silver Lining

2005.Jul.27 Wednesday · 5 comments

in Life

La Plata – Welcome to the capitol of Buenos Aires! What? I thought Buenos Aires was the capitol you say? Time for a short geography/political lesson. Buenos Aires is the name of one of Argentina’s 23 provinces. La Plata (let’s make that “Silver City”) is the provincial capitol. The “autonomous city of Buenos Aires” was officially “federalized” in the 19th century into a separate federal district (and enlarged to include the two neighboring cities of Belgrano and Flores). I believe it is technically named something like “the federal capitol in Buenos Aires”. I’m not sure if the federal capitol was ever located anywhere else, but by common use, the city is and has been pretty much always called Buenos Aires.

My travel to La Plata began in pretty much standard tradition yesterday – too many people with too many opinions. First off, I was advised universally not to take the train as it is apparently “filled with thieves,” “dirty,” and “all the windows are broken.” Constitution bus stationSo it was off to the local bus station (Once) which is listed in my Guia T as the origin of the 129 bus to La Plata. The ticket seller at the main window informed me that I was in the wrong station and had to take a local bus over to the Constitution station to pick up the bus. A short ride and I found the stop for the 129 at Constitution (the setup is half a dozen lanes of several dozen bus-stops each – you have to sort of wander around looking for a sign with your bus number). Turns out there are three different 129 buses, luckily there were three separate signs in the stop to line up at (the picture below is actually at the La Plata end, which is a fairly standard bus terminal setup rather than lanes in the street). Bought my ticket (3.5 pesos for an hour and a half bus ride) and asked how long until the next bus. The reply? “Oh, a few minutes, you’ll have to wait for it to get here from where it starts at Once Station… Turns out that the tickets aren’t sold at the main window in Once, but at a little stand outside. You just have to know that…

La Plata micro-busThe bus ride was uneventful, it’s a sort of mini-bus (most of the time… during peak hours they use a regular bus) that was comfortable and quick. La Plata is, as I said, about an hour and a half south of Buenos Aires. The scenery is pretty bland overall – open fields, a couple of small shantytowns, a couple of small suburbs, and then you find yourself in a new city. La Plata is not particularly big, maybe a couple of miles on a side. It’s a large square laid out in a grid (streets and avenues numbered from 1 to roughly 130 and 75, respectively), with a half dozen diagonals crossing them. La Plata catedralThere’s not a lot to see in the city, it’s a pretty simple government dominated town with lots of government type buildings.

It is, however, famous for two things. First, La Catedral, which is touted as “the twentieth century’s largest neo-gothic cathedral.” I’ll leave you to sort the implications of that. It is nonetheless a pretty imposing building, dominating the center of the city. In fact, the plaza in front of the cathedral has a marker that is the exact geographical center of the official city limits. Photos weren’t allowed inside, which is actually unusual for churches in Argentina, but it was pretty impressive, with large columns towering several stories and beautiful stained glass and statues. La Plata municipal buildingFacing it across the plaza is also a very attractive municipal building. We arrived just at sunset, and I’m a big fan of photos at that time of day, so I got some nice shots!

The other thing the city is famous for is the Museo de Ciencias Naturales (“Natural Science Museum”), usually just referred to as “El Museo.” Not that there aren’t other museums in Argentina, there are many, but this one is “known” as the largest and most important science museum in Latin America. La Plata museoIt is located in a beautiful park called the Paseo del Bosque (“Forest Walk”), which is also home to a large lagoon, the national zoo, the national planetarium, and La Plata University, which is a school dedicated to science, engineering, and architecture. The museum itself was quite interesting, with a focus on the geological, biological and anthropological phenomena of South and Central America. By the standards of something that I’m used to like the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, it’s a pretty small collection, but given it’s focus, it’s quite comprehensive.La Plata paseo del bosque

Now, why did I hop on a bus and travel to La Plata in the first place? It really wasn’t the museum or the cathedral, though they were interesting enough. This week is the celebration of Peruvian Independence (officially July 28), and La Plata is home to a large number of expat Peruvians in Argentina. Henry had invited me to come down for one of the nights of the celebration. He has a particular passion for folkloric dance (he both studied and taught Peruvian dance as well as other Andean dance), and Tuesday night was the espectáculo, or major show, for the week. It was held in a relatively non-descript building, the Teatro Coliseo Podestá. On the inside, however, this was clearly at one time a glorious theater, with three levels of balconies, and gorgeous murals on the domed ceiling. It is in a state of some disrepair, but it’s easy to tell how beautiful it once was.

Peruvian Independence showThe show itself was a strange affair. The individual dances and musical presentations were all quite fascinating. It was a whirling display of color and song from local dance troupes of Peruvian, Bolivian, Paraguayan, and Argentinian origin, all there to celebrate Peru’s independence. There’s a lot of use of handkerchiefs of various hues waving and twirling in the air, it’s apparently quite traditional in the dances of the Andes. The troupes ranged from amateur to professional, and with performers from small children to the elderly. The audience was as passionate as the performers, clapping along to music, bellowing out cheers of Viva Peru! repeatedly, and singing along with well known songs.Peruvian Independence show

On the flip side, the show was one of the most disorganized affairs that I’ve ever been to (and Henry and his friends agreed, based on past experiences with the show in previous years). The person running the recorded music for the dancers didn’t once put the correct music on, and it became a running gag for the dancers as they waited for their cues only to be confronted by some musical piece they were unprepared for. The lighting person had lights going every which way, with strange color combinations and timing. Peruvian Independence showThe emcees seemed to think that speechifying was the order of the day, and much of what they had to say apparently had little to do with the show or Peruvian independence, it seemed often to be mere advertisements for local business who had sponsored the show. One “roadie” was trying to handle all the microphones, and his procedure seemed to be that in between acts, he carefully put away each microphone that wasn’t in use, detached and rolled up its cord. This meant that when needed, he had to individually unpack and re-setup each microphone that was now needed again. Timing between acts ranged from a minute or two if no new microphones or music was needed to as long as ten minutes of setup time.

Despite three attempts during the first hour on the part of the emcees to get people to stop smoking and stop standing in the doorways in the aisles, they were unsuccessful… resulting in the fire department turning on the lights, stopping the show, and escorting offenders out of the building and/or forcibly seating them. A fifteen minute safety speech on the part of the fire captain was met with repeated cheers at his earnestness, and repeated jeers at the folk who weren’t cooperating. The show, interestingly, was scheduled for four hours, and took nearly to the minute that long. However, it only contained about 2 hours worth of material. I guess they’d practiced the incompetence…

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