The Supremes – Track 1

2008.Jul.22 Tuesday · 5 comments

in Life

“Although the Assembly of 1813, as a representative body, did not comply with its fundamental objective of sanctioning a constitution, it developed a vast legislative activity pro individual freedom and constituted the opening into new institutional modes. From the point of view of the political organization, it established a Unipersonal Executive Power, creating the position of Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. It instituted May 25 as a patriotic date, established the Coat of Arms and the Anthem and ordered to mint an own coin, actions through which it demonstrated its will to create a sovereign state.”

Official website of Argentina

La Vida de Gervasio Antonio de PosadasBuenos Aires – I started off a week or so ago with a cursory look at the history of the leadership of Argentina. To continue… if I were to want to write about one of the past leaders of the United States, or, for that matter, most countries, and I could read the language, I could probably walk into any good bookstore or library and find a biography, autobiography, memoir, or historical tome that covered their life. You could probably find the same for many other historical persons – revolutionaries, statesmen, even the occasional vice-president. Not so much here in Argentina. Oh, the major figures of history have their volumes – often multiple shelves worth of books. But the lesser known figures stay that way. Out of the seven different people who served as Supreme Director during the early years of Argentina’s post-colonial period, I’ve been able to find works about five of them – and that took visiting several dozen bookshops and libraries, delving into government archives, and online searches. The best guess on the part of various folk I talked to is that one of the remaining probably never had anything published about him, and the other, they’re quite sure must exist, but there seem to be no records of such a book. I decided against purchasing a copy of Gervasio Antonio de Posadas’ memoirs – the $700 and on up price tag was just a bit more than I was up for. I finally found a copy of his biography in the corner of a dusty old bookstore, where I picked it up at significantly less than the $55-100 prices that I found in the few other stores, all online, that had copies on offer. It’s been a fascinating read and look at the man who was the first official leader of this nation.

Now, how does one sum up someone like this in a paragraph or two? He was born June 19, 1757, his father and both his grandfathers being military officers serving under the Spanish Viceroy. At an early age he was educated by the Jesuits, until the time when the Jesuits were expelled from the country, after which he was moved to a Franciscan school. He excelled in Latin, Philosophy, and Theology, and continued on to study law under a series of increasingly powerful members of the Viceroyalty. He was well respected, accomplished, and had quietly gathered a fair amount of wealth for himself. At age 32 he married the daughter of one of the most respectable families in the region which gained him entry into the top social circles as well. They had five children – a boy and four girls.

In the early 1800s, as unrest began to grow in the area, he found himself in a state of limbo of sorts, as various factions began to appear, the viceroyalty collapsed due to the overthrow of the Spanish monarchy, the English invaded in 1806-7 – and one of the commanders took over Posadas’ home and grounds as his personal command center, turning he and his family out into the street. They took refuge in a local convent, where his wife died, and he threw himself into the cause of the colonial rebels – or at least one faction. And this gets back to my previous post about the constant internal change within Argentine. In the course of a few years, he found himself at various times allied with those in power or those out of – but none of them working together – at one point he was exiled from the country, only to be recalled a few weeks later when someone else was in charge of the governing committee. Eventually, he found himself drafted to replace one of the original members of the “Second Triumvirate”, charged with drafting a constitution for the new republic, and being selected as the most stable of its members to govern as the country’s first Supreme Director, a position in which he served for almost a year, primarily focused on issues related to unifying the new republic and completing the work on the constitution, until being replaced by his cousin (not his nephew as many sources have cited, historical research shows they were related through Posadas’ mother’s family), General Carlos María de Alvear, who wanted to see the English monarchy replace the new rule by former colonists. After the Alvear faction fell (we’ll get to that in a future post), he was jailed as a collaborator simply for his familial relationship, and spent six years incarcerated in, at various moments, 22 different prisons. In 1829 he began writing his memoirs, and completed them shortly before he died, July 2, 1833; though they were not published until 1914.

And that, leads us to the modern day, and our little walking tour in Recoleta. Really, it does, because behind all those delving into early historical lives was simply a reason to go out and wander. To the best I’ve been able to determine, there is no monument to Posadas here in the city (there is a city named Posadas up in the north, the capital of Misiones province), and, as well, there does not appear to be either a Posadas or Davíla (his mother’s side) family mausoleum in the Recoleta cemetery – though, many historic figures were buried either in Chacarita or elsewhere, so that isn’t particularly telling. There is, however, an eight-block stretch of street in Recoleta named after him (I’m fairly certain it isn’t named after Juan Posadas, the pseudonym of a somewhat wacko early 20th century Trotskyite leader), and we’re going to walk it…

The Recova

Posadas begins at #1000, off the lower end of Av. 9 de Julio, or at least its service road, Carlos Pellegrini. Given my/our food focus, it should be noted that the endpoint is the well-known restaurant (which I have yet to visit) Juana M. In fact, the whole of the street starts in the midst of food, with the famed Recova, or “under cover” commercial center, taking up both sides of the street and stretching under the 18 lanes of the avenue, and filled with a combination of nearly a dozen very expensive restaurants – mostly steakhouses and Italian food – and an outdoor art gallery, with a constantly changing exhibit of local artists’ work. I have to admit to having avoided dining at any place within the Recova – not because there aren’t probably some very good restaurants, but they’re just so expensive it isn’t worth it for me (the main branch of Piegari, asserted by some to be the best Italian food in the city, is here, but with prices like 60-70 pesos for a bowl of pasta… you know?).

The Four Seasons

But luxury is what this end of Posadas, well, most of this area of Recoleta is about, and immediately on emerging from underneath the overpass, we find ourselves confronted by the impressive bulk of The Four Seasons hotel, one of the most expensive in the city (likewise its high end restaurant, La Mistral). This is a place where I regularly hear from visitors that they’ve booked, and don’t understand why people say Buenos Aires is so inexpensive in comparison to other world capitals. Of course, they’re probably eating in the Recova and dining at Casa SaltShaker as well, so there you have it. The next block or so include a series of large, but not particularly interesting apartment and professional office buildings, until we arrive into the 1200 block, with the towering Caesar Park hotel on the left at 1232 (with an excellent cocktail bar, and what I hear are two quite good, if expensive, restaurants, Agráz, and the new Japanese themed Midori).

Patio Bullrich

Of more interest, across the street is the Patio Bullrich shopping mall, an imposing building originally designed as the city center’s cattle auction hall in 1921, and refurbished as a shopping center in 1988 after a period of disuse. “The Patio” as locals call it, is designed around international luxury brands – mostly clothing. There’s also a small food court, with nothing of great note, though the upper floor of the center is home to the Recoleta branch of Valenti, a gourmet provider of cheeses, cured meats, and similar sorts of things. There’s also a cinema inside, with a half dozen small rooms, on different levels of the mall, showing everything from popular to “art” films, and is often the site for touring film festival showings.

El Sanjuanino and Fervor

On the next block is, for me, the most important food stop of this short trek – El Sanjuanino, which over the last couple of years has become my favorite spot to take visitors for good “regional” cuisine. Next door is the newly opened Fervor, a seafood restaurant I have yet to try, but which stands out for their unique, bizarre, and utterly useless attempt to accommodate the vast number of international visitors to the city – instead of translating the local fish names on the menu into one or another foreign language, they’ve listed the fish by their Latin genus and species, as if that will somehow clue the average person in to what they are ordering. I’m not even sure I can give them points for trying; still, it’s a pretty room, and for the ‘hood, their prices aren’t bad, so one of these days. Next door, the Melia Recoleta Plaza hotel, with its mediocre restaurant and attached jazz club. This block, by the way, is, while not famed for it, the original home (#1547) of the young radio actress, Eva Duarte, who lived on the fourth floor, and met her husband to be, Colonel Juan Perón, when he moved into the apartment next door (not at some party as the movies love to depict). In fact, they lived for their first year together on this street, and Evita gave her propaganda speeches from the then state radio station housed in the building where we will end this tour, the Palais de Glace.

Rear entrance of the Palacio Duhau

The following block stands out, in slightly bizarre fashion, for the rear entrances of the three buildings that take up most of the entire lefthand side – the Vatican embassy, the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt, and the other half of the original Duhau estate, now a private home. The 1600 “block” splits in two on the left, with a small side street separating that side in two. Continuing past this…

Russian Embassy

On the right, at 1641 are the offices of the Treasury Proxy (don’t ask, I don’t know), at 1659 the Argentine Electrotechnical Association, and, at 1663, the Russian embassy (picture above); on the left at the end of the block, an apartment building at 1648 where Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, two of Argentina’s most famous 20th century writers, lived – originally lovers and later married. The former is most famous for his fantasy book La invención de Morel, the English translation of which has been asserted to be the inspiration behind the hit television show Lost; the latter well-known for her poetry and children’s stories.

1700 block of Posadas

Palais de Glace

And finally, the 1700 block, with a small park that is filled with massive rubber trees (more about which on the next neighborhood walk) on the left, and on the right mostly nondescript residential buildings, and finally at 1725, the Palais de Glace, built in 1880, and at various times home to an ice skating rink, the Belgrano radio station where Evita used to give speeches glamorizing the Perón policies, television channel 7, and now the slightly rundown National Hall for the Plastic Arts – with a specialization in political photography, cartoons, and other artwork. The building, last renovated in 1931, sits in the small Plaza Julio de Caro, named after a famed tango artist of the 1920s and 1930s.

Monument to Juan Carlos de Alvear

Our little tour of Posadas history ends in front of the Palais de Glace with the massive bronze statue, by French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (who also re-designed the Palais), of General Carlos María de Alvear, Posadas’ cousin as noted above, who will be the subject of a near future wander. Across from the end of this street is the Plaza Francia and the whole Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires Design Center complex.

Laucavio July 22, 2008 at 18:46

The “Treasury Proxy” must be the “Procuración del Tesoro de la Nación” which in English should be something like the “Office of the National Attorney General”. The “Procurador” is a federal governmental officer and, in essence, is the lead or most senior counsel of the President. Its office is charged with overseeing, coordinating and directing the activities of all internal legal services of the federal offices and it represents the Argentine Republic before local or foreign courts. My $0,02.



dan July 23, 2008 at 00:53

That would indeed be it, thanks for the details!

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