Larry Daley: Sorry. Last time I checked, I thought we lived in a free country, so…
Brandon: No, we don’t.
Larry Daley: No?
Brandon: It’s the United States of “Don’t Touch That Thing Right in Front of You.”
– from Night at the Museum 2
[Warning: Creepy photos below]
Each year Buenos Aires hosts an event call La Noche en los Museos, a cultural extravaganza that opens up the city’s museums to the public for the night, gratis. I last attended four years ago, but didn’t get to see much of anything as Henry wasn’t feeling well, so I came back home early – I hadn’t gone since as the three intervening years we’ve had dinners scheduled. Back then, in 2006, 76 museums around the city participated, and the open hours ran from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. This year, this last Saturday (the event is no longer the first Saturday in October), the hours shifted one later, from 8-3, but most notably, 170 museums threw open their doors to the public, ranging from the big boys, to little galleries. And buses connecting different museum-centric areas were free for the evening if you flashed the little badge you could pick up at any of the open venues.
I tried to get a group of friends together to head out into the night, but no one was biting – for various other social obligation reasons, to simple anti-social feelings for the eve. So, I soloed it once again. After looking over the map of locations, I decided there was enough of interest close to home, and at 8 p.m. I was on my way not far up our street to the medical complex of the University of Buenos Aires, where, it turns out, there are 8 different science museums (only 4 of which actually opened for the night due to some sort of building problem, so the other 4 just set up exhibits in the lobby outside the main medical school museum).
I started in the main Medical School Museum – which consists mostly of displays of equipment used to train doctors over the years. I had no idea that UBA’s medical school has been open for more than 200 years! This is an artificial respiration machine, essentially a foot powered artificial lung, from more than 100 years ago.
The two most popular, and probably most creepy, were the anatomy and pathology museums, the first just down the hall from the medical school one, the latter in a building across the street. The anatomy museum contains a massive number of shelves simply setup with various preserved organs, muscles, skeletons, cross-sections, and pretty much anything you might think of, organized by type, and with minimal description. I’d guess that the majority of the collection was intended simply as a reference for medical students.
The Pathology Museum is where it gets seriously creepy. A collection of specimens again, minimally labeled other than organized within particular diseases. Here, for example, row after row of syphilis babies from the 1800s. I did warn you above….
In the mood for something completely different, I headed first to the nearby Bicentennial musuem, but the lines were ridiculous, so I headed on to my next stop, the AMIA building (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina), the cultural center for the conserva-dox jewish community here, and site of a 1994 bombing believed to have been orchestrated by the Iranian government, and one of the major factors behind the intense security to get into any Jewish cultural or religious buildings here in BA, and a legal battle between the Argentine and Iranian governments that has been going on for years as Iran has refused Argentina the right to extradite the perpetrators. In a very pretty central courtyard an interesting and colorful sculpture that changes design as you walk around it. Of more interest, in the main gallery, a display of photos of holocaust survivors who currently live here and who were photographed and interviewed for this project by a local photo-journalist.
I decided to skip over the Xul Solar museum – though one of my favorites in the city, I’ve also visited it half a dozen times, and figured it was likely there would be a huge number of people wanting to see it. And, just now checking to link to that on my blog, realized I’ve never written up any of my visits there, so that will be coming up soon. Instead, I headed back into Recoleta and to the Borges Museum. This was the least interesting of the night – first, it was packed with people in a very small space, second, they hadn’t opened the neighboring house that was Borges’ home, instead just opening up the lobby of the museum which consists of little more than display cases filled with copies of his books in a variety of languages. The “guided tour” was a young lady who was pretty much pointing at books and telling people what each was about and when they were written. Yawn.
I have to admit, the little Roca Museum of Historical Investigation here in my neighborhood has always intrigued me. I’ve never seen it open, they don’t have posted hours. I’d never looked at the website for the museum linked above, and just assumed that it was a general historical museum of some sort related to General Julio Argentino Roca, likely something military or related to his presidency and that era. Not. As it turns out, the museum is an institute dedicated to the investigation of spiritualism, both here in Argentina and worldwide. What that has to do with Roca, I don’t know, and in fact it may not have anything to do with him but simply be a building named after him. It was actually a pretty fascinating museum with a large amount of material about various supernatural occurrences in the country and elsewhere. Who knew?
I had been thinking to end up after this museum with a visit to the basilica outside the Recoleta cemetery and a chance to visit the catacombs underneath, but again, long lines were already in place, and by this point it was going on midnight, so I decided to call it a night, get some sleep, and get ready to prep Sunday brunch.