A Visit From Jessica

Having someone come visit while you’re traveling is an interesting experience because you get to see the city from fresh eyes again. At least for me, I try to look at things the way they might be seeing them. It’s a little bit stressful sometimes because I end up wondering whether or not they are enjoying what I’m showing them as much as I do. But one of the wonderful things about Jess coming to visit and one of the reasons I had missed her so much, is that usually she finds beauty in the same type of things I do – which is pretty much everything.

The day after she arrived was a Friday, so my roommate, Joanna, and I were excited to give her a taste of that famous Buenos Aires nightlife. We went to my favourite place in the neighbourhood, Temple Bar, which I love for the beautiful fairy lights on all the trees and the fact that in half the bar it’s a little unclear whether you’re inside or outside. It’s also one of the few places I’ve found that brew their own beer, and that’s something I simply cannot resist. Jess loved the place too, and we sat drinking and talking with Joanna for a while. It felt so good to be chilling with someone who already knows me as well as Jess does. It was like sleeping in your own bed for the first time in a long time or smelling something that all of a sudden reminds you of a memory you had tucked into the way back of your brain. Around 3 am they told us it was last call. This seemed strange to me because I remembered being in there until 5 or later on many occasions and it was a Friday! But it wasn’t a big deal; we figured we would try Victoria Brown, another good place close by. When we got there, though, it was closed, at which point I knew something weird was up. This was Buenos Aires on a Friday night! Weren’t most people finishing their pre-drinks and leaving their houses right about now? We started talking to some other lost souls on the street and they informed us that it probably had to do with the fútbol game. That night Buenos Aires’ two rival times, Boca and River, had a huge game which the entire city was watching. But, half way through one of the Boca fans through tear gas at the River players and the game had been canceled. Thanks to this genius, the entire city had fallen into a collective depression therefore closed down. This was equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, and we figured something must be open in Plaza Serrano. Jess’ shoes were hurting her, however, so we decided to stop home so she could change them before heading back out. While there we somehow settled in outside with a bottle of something (probably Fernet) and ended up chatting right there until the sun began to rise. It wasn’t the night we had expected, but it was perfect.

I was really excited to show Jess some of my favourite places in Buenos Aires. It was fun to see the sights all over again. One of the first things we decided on was La Boca, and on a particularly beautiful day I brought her and her friend Matha (who just happened to be passing through Buenos Aires on an unrelated trip) to see the colours.

You can always count on La Boca for good street art.
You can always count on La Boca for good street art.

Since I had already been, it was a little hard for me to get passed the streets full of tourist shops and the constant invitations to sit down and eat at the “best restaurant in La Boca). In order to introduce some authenticity and context to the outing, I bored them with everything I knew about Los Artistas de la Boca, a group of artists I had learned about in my Contemporary Argentinian Art class. They seemed to enjoy it anyway. The colours arefantastic, especially the first time you see them, and we sat in the sun and enjoyed a couple of beers, however overpriced.

I was much more excited to show her el Cemeterio de la Recoleta, which I know she would love as much as I do and I was right. She echoed so many of my own thoughts about the place – the history, the beauty that comes from sadness, and the wonderful mystery of the stairs that spiral down deep into the tombs. She didn’t really care about Evita’s tomb, but I made her look at it anyway. At one point, as we were wandering through the maze, we found a ladder leaning on the side of one of the tombs. I never would have climbed it if she wasn’t around, but being with her makes me a bit more daring. I went first and she followed me up and when we reached the top we were both speechless. The view of the cemetery and the city beyond was amazing and literally added another layer to the beauty for me.

Looking out over the city of the dead.
Looking out over the city of the dead.
A great group of street musicians in San Telmo
A great group of street musicians in San Telmo

 

Since we had limited weekends, we had to choose between going to la Feria de la Recoleta and el Mercado de San Telmo for our market shopping day. In the end, I decided on San Telmo so Jess could see a new neighbourhood and also because I just like it a little better. I would definitely call it a successful shopping. She bought a cool set of magnets with beautiful photos of Buenos Aires, and I bought a new wallet that actually fits into my purse, which is nice. We also saw a great band play on the street. They had a trombone and a saxophone and everything.I always think it’s cool when big bands like that play in the street; the energy is so amazing and it turns walking into dancing.

 

Unfortunately we were in a bit of a hurry because I had bought tickets to see Swan Lake at El Teatro Colón. Jess loved the theatre and was blown away by its beauty even though our seats weren’t quite as good as mine were the last time I went. I was happy to be seeing a ballet. When I went the first time there wasn’t any visual aspect to the concert, and seeing the dancers move inside such a beautiful frame was amazing. I had never seen a proper ballet before, except for The Nutcracker when I was little, I think. I’m going to have to see more. I’m obviously a words person, so the ability to tell a story with no words at all is unbelievable to me. It was all very well done, but Jess and I agreed that the parts that are in the lake were nicer than when they are in the palace.

Jess being there was also a great excuse for me to do things I hadn’t gotten the chance to do yet. For an art lover, I had fallen quite behind in my Buenos Aires museums, so one day we decided to head to the MAMBA (Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires). I have always loved contemporary and modern art, but I often found myself knowing I liked what I was looking at but having absolutely no clue why. Now that I’ve taken my contemporary Argentinian art class, I actually know how to look at the pieces and how to talk about them. The MAMBA has a big collection of work by Marina de Caro which I really liked.

A lovely, nightmarish Marina de Caro
One reason I hate the 'look but don't touch' rule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She uses a huge range of textures in her art, many of her pieces being knit, and they’re all bright colours. The combination creates a sort of infantile look, but the pieces are still somehow quite off-putting. They seem like creatures or objects out of a child’s nightmare. One of the pieces on display was a video of a human-like creature carrying its own head around on a string like a balloon. It genuinely disturbed Jess. I really liked all her stuff, but not as much as both Jess and I loved León Ferrari. Recently, after seeing his work at MAMBA, I learned that he is one of the most controversial artists in Argentinian history. He created a sculpture of Jesus nailed to an US bomber plane to comment on the hypocrisy of the violence of many religious countries, and in very Catholic Buenos Aires he was heavily protested. That turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to his career since the protesting groups basically went around advertising his shows. I can see how some of his work shown at the MAMBA could be quite shocking for certain people, but his pieces were very diverse.

Jess plays in Ferrari's 'Colgante'
Jess plays in Ferrari’s ‘Colgante’
'Urbano' by Leon Ferrari
‘Hombre’ by Leon Ferrari

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of his sculptures, to me, looked like pencil line drawings had been lifted off the page and made into 3D. They were so delicate but so strong at the same time and they seemed like perfect little symbols of human creation. We also loved ‘Colgante’, an interactive piece you can go inside. Little metal rods hang down from the ceiling, and as you go inside they make a wonderfully loud sound that reminded me of a rainstick. If you pay attention you realize that they’re vibrating on your skin. The child in me couldn’t get enough of that one.

We had absolutely perfect weather while Jess was here, so we tried to do as many outside activities as we could. We visited the Japanese botanical garden because my guide-book had said it was the biggest one outside of Japan. When we arrived we realize that must be a lie because we could have sworn Montreal’s was bigger. It was still a beautiful stroll however, and we found a spot to sit and run our hands under a tiny little waterfall and let the sun spill down on us.

Water under the bridge
Water under the bridge
Jess enjoys some sunshine
Jess enjoys some sunshine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also spent en evening in the nature reserve, which I highly regret not having spent more time in during my stay here. As soon as we entered the reserve we could actually feel the air change. Even still being in the city, the space gave us real room to breathe and kept much of the smog and bus exhaust at bay. It would have wonderful if we had had some bikes because the reserve was big and we would have been able to see more of it, but we made it to the edge of the water. Before I go I want to make sure I go for a nice long bike ride in there. We walked back as the sun went down, and laughed nervously as we passed signs warning us of crocodiles. Are there really crocodiles in Buenos Aires?

The sun sets behind Buenos Aires from the nature reserve
The sun sets behind Puerto Madero from the nature reserve

Originally, we had planned on taking a trip to Mendoza, but that turned out to be impossible. We still wanted to get out of the city a bit though, so we took the train to Tigre which is just outside Buenos Aires with my roommate Joanna and friend Fran. The train itself was an experience. Since it was a beautiful Sunday it seemed like half of Buenos Aires had had the same idea as us. The pushing and shoving to get onto the train was worse than getting onto the Subte (subway) at 8:00 am. We did manage to get two seats, though, so we sat on each other’s laps and tried our best not to sweat too much all over each other. It was all worth it, however, because walking out of the train station and seeing all the water was spectacular. Tigre is sometimes called the Venice of Argentina because of the huge network of canals that winds its way through it. I had had the genius idea of packing a picnic, so we spread out a blanket and ate a long lunch right on the water. Afterwards, we had scheduled a boat ride to take us through the canals. There were big boats that fit over fifty people available, but Joanna had found someone to take us in his own little motorboat just the four of us.

We didn't go into the Museo Tigre, but it certainly was a great view from the water
We didn’t go into the Museo Tigre, but it certainly was a great view from the water
Joanna enjoys the sun
Joanna enjoys the sun

It was a million times better because we were in the open air, able to feel the wind in our hair and drag our fingers in the water. On the canal I felt like I was in an entirely different part of the world, though I can’t really put my finger on which. The houses along the water were so quaint and colourful, and it felt like life had slowed down and that the years had layered on top of each other to create a quite timeless space. I leaned back and spread my legs out in the sun and was tempted to close my eyes but everything around me was too beautiful. When the boat stopped I was horribly disappointed, but it turned out that we were just taking a break the four of us could go explore along the smaller waterways on foot. We wandered around crossing bridges just for fun and breathing in the damp smell of healthy leaves until we found a lovely place to stop for a beer.

Strolls along the waterways
Strolls along the waterways
On the water
On the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t even really a restaurant, just a house with a man who fed people out of his kitchen. The yard where we sat was enclosed by hedges and bushes covered in beautiful flowers and we felt so safe, happy, and secluded. Everything about it was a breath of fresh air. After a couple of hours we went back to the boat and as we sped back to the centre of town the sun began to go down.

Back in Buenos Aires, Jess did a lot of exploring on her own while I was in class (yes, sometimes I go to class). It was a very small thing, but one of the memories of her visit that will stick most in my mind is the day she brought me to Parque 9 de Julio to show me the tree. She had found the most enormous tree I had ever seen. The branches were so wide that some of them even had dents that could cradle you. We climbed and swung like kids or monkeys, but also just sat and enjoyed being up there with each other.

Jess naps in the branches
 
All smiles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having Jess here has really made me miss Montreal. I am still loving my time here so much and I have made some amazing friends, but home is where your people are. I felt more at home here while she was around and now that she’s gone I really miss her. It’s nice, though, because now I know that when it’s time to go back, I’ll be ready.