Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Just a Couple of Landmarks

23 February 2016

I went to my tango class on Monday, and there were about thirteen or fifteen students in class.  Three of us were beginners, with only one or two sessions.  All the others were dancing at an advanced level, and were really good!  Plus I was the only English speaker; everyone else understood Spanish (although I understood about a third of what was explained in Spanish); and five people spoke Russian.  What a group!

We reviewed what I had learned the previous week, then did some advanced steps.  I also had the chance to dance with several different partners, including one young woman who is in training to be a tango instructor.  So she helped me improve some of my steps and movements.  By the time I had to do the end-of-class performance with the instructor, I was doing pretty well - I can manage a few minutes of the routine and swish and swing and kick just fine.  Much more than that and I lose my balance, or kick myself, or stumble, and then I have to start over.  But at least I can do a few minutes!  (Plus the woman who was there for the first time told me that if I could learn all of that in two classes, she felt very encouraged!  So I guess I looked like I knew what I was doing.)

Today, Richard and I had lunch next door to my dance academy, at Café Tortoni.  I did some research, because I was a little confused.  This Café Tortoni was established in 1858.  There's a painting by Edouard Manet, titled "Chez Tortoni," painted in 1878 or so.  I was curious whether Manet travelled to Buenos Aires, or what.  Turns out that there was a café in Paris named Café Tortoni, and when the Frenchman Monsieur Touan came to Buenos Aires, he opened a café and named it "Café Tortoni" after the place in Paris.  (Side note - the Manet painting was at the Gardner Museum in Boston, and was part of a group of paintings stolen in 1990.  Current location unknown.  And yes, I've included a copy of "Chez Tortoni" in here, just to set the tone.)

So, the Argentinian Café Tortoni is lovely in an Old World sort of way - beautifully carved woodwork along the sides, Corinthian pillars through the center, mirrors all around, paintings covering the walls, and leaded glass ceilings and room dividers.  Little marble-topped café tables.  Specialty coffee drinks, exotic cakes and tortes, fancy sandwiches, and afternoon tea are all on the menu.  One of those places where elegance and manners are still in vogue, where meals and life are savored and enjoyed.  It was delightful!  (Their website:  http://www.cafetortoni.com.ar/en/)

I decided to head over to Casa Rosada after lunch.  I was distracted by all the beautiful buildings along the way as I walked down Avenida de Mayo.  La Prensa, I think maybe the major building of the newspaper?, was exceptionally gorgeous, with all kinds of ornamentation, wrought iron, and a statue of justice on the top.  

The Plaza de Mayo is at the end of Avenida de Mayo, and Casa Rosada is just beyond the plaza.  Casa Rosada is the Presidential Palace, meaning it is both the executive office and the home of the nation's president.  

Plaza de Mayo was created in 1580, and in some ways is considered the heart of the oldest part of Buenos Aires.  Since it's right in front of the Argentinian equivalent of the White House, it's a popular location for political protests.

There currently is some kind of ongoing protest, either on the part of veterans of wars, or perhaps people protesting against wars.  I'm not sure exactly what these signs say.  Something about the veterans of foreign wars, numbers of dead, no justice, no health care, free certain political prisoners.  There was also a tent that seemed to say it was the camp for veterans of a certain war.

I think this is some kind of "Occupy Plaza de Mayo" movement, trying to get justice for military veterans.  I didn't think I should ask any of the many military guards standing around.  I wasn't sure how I could get more information.  So I tried to read the signs, and understand what was going on.  

The most telling sign was a circle of figures painted on the ground, the Keith Haring style figures like the outlined bodies of dead victims on the street.  With names painted in, and splashes of red paint looking like wounds.  I think the entire protest was against wars, and the way veterans are treated.  The lack of services, especially health care.  The morass of red tape.  Homeless vets.  PTSD.  Sound familiar?  The same things we talk about and protest against in the US.

There's another protest march planned tomorrow, and we think it will continue down Avenida de Mayo, just down the block from our hotel.  We'll ask what this demonstration is about, and see if we can get more information.

But I came to see Casa Rosada, and there it was, behind the signs about "Liberty and Justice."  The Pink House.

The original part of the building dates back to 1713, but embellishments and additions have been added and the building renovated through the late 1800s.  The current building is described as Italianate, though it isn't exactly in the style of Italian architecture either.

The big question is why pink?  One story says the president took the colors of the two opposing parties at the time, red and white, and mixed them to demonstrate unification.  The less poetic story (and more gory explantion) is that the building was painted in cow's blood to combat damage from the humidity.  (Yuck!)

But yes, this is where the Perons lived during his presidency.  Where Eva Peron stood on the balcony to address the people of the nation who adored her.  And where she died, much too young.  Also where Juan Peron served as president, was overthrown in a coup d'etat, and was later re-elected and served as president until his death.  

So this building, which looks so pretty and cheerful in its crazy pinkness, has a long and sad history. 

I did ask two guards about the flags on the light posts - they alternated between Argentinian flags and French flags.  The guards explained that some official from France is coming tomorrow.  (Which might have something to do with the planned demonstration.)  And that later in March, when President Obama is here, they will fly the flag of the US.  ("La bandera de los Estados Unidos")  This conversation was all in Spanish, which is why I'm not exactly sure who is coming from France.

I should add that this is the third or fourth time one of the Obamas will be in the same place where we are - first in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; then in Cambodia; now in Argentina; and we both vaguely remember some other place but we're not positive.  Anyway, we seem to be hitting important political locations without knowing it.  Doing our own low-key diplomatic relations.  

Too bad we can't get paid by the government for doing this, right?

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