The Buenos Aires Obelisk

August 24, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

A porteño emblem par excellence

The Obelisk monument on Av 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires

It was once decorated as a pencil (2006), and twice as a Christmas tree (1973 and 2010).  It has served as a target for vandals, prompting its public closure and an imposing fence to be placed around it in 1987.  During the sinister sequestration period of the 1970s, it served as a masthead to hoist terrifying propaganda intended to silence the government’s critics.

In 2005, it was covered in a giant pink condom for World Aids Day.  In 2015, it temporarily “lost” its tip thanks to a grand illusion by the hand of a local artist, making it possible for the first time ever for Argentines to access its towering peak.

A few days after its construction was complete in 1936, an earthquake shook its foundation but couldn’t topple it.  A few years later, in 1939, the Argentine government voted 23-3 to demolish it, but they couldn’t topple it either (thanks, Mayor Goyeneche).   

For the city’s bicentennial celebrations in May 2010, more than 3 million cheering porteños rallied around it as their central symbol of both the city and the nation.  Just a few days before, famed fútbol coach of Argentina’s national team and it’s favorite ex-star player, Diego Maradona, threatened to run around it buck naked if his team should win the World Cup.

So, what is “it”, you ask?

None other than the “silver sword” of porteño pride: el Obelisco de Buenos Aires.

Residing at the intersection of the city’s two most important avenues, Av. 9 de Julio and Av. Corrientes, the Obelisk has been steeped in controversy and intrigue since before it was even erected. For starters, it has been popularly (and wrongly) blamed for the destruction of the historic St. Nicholas Church, which once stood on the same site and first hoisted the baby blue and white Argentine flag over its altars (the 1931 widening of Avenida Corrientes was the actual culprit).

Inscriptions on the side of 'El Obelisco' in Buenos Aires

Early onlookers questioned the appropriateness of the construction, pointing out that its shape had “nothing to do with” the city and what it stood for. It predictably became a target for local feminist groups that didn’t like the perceived machismo attitudes it embodies. And, if the ladies were correct about the message it was intended to send, it was an embarrassment anyway thanks to being less than half as tall as its 555-feet tall North American cousin, the Washington Monument (El Obelisco is just 221.5 feet tall, or 67.5 meters).

Besides that, it wasn’t even made out of “local materials”- the Olsen white stone which comprised its outer cladding was from the province of Córdoba. When that tiling started falling off, it was declared a danger to passersby and termed an “intruder” by an opportunistic Congress that grasped for any reason to level it to the ground and start afresh.

An Argentine monument that Buenos Aires learned to accept

But here we are over 80 years later, and it still occupies its prime real estate on the corner of the Broadway of BA and the Widest Avenue in the World. Love it or hate it, one thing is clear: it’s impossible to ignore it. After all, it has been the site of enough impassioned protests and soccer celebrations to cement its place in the Port City dweller’s hearts forever. More than likeability, the obelisk has familiarity going for it, having served as the centerpiece to many key events in the modern history of Buenos Aires.

In fact, the best way to understand the significance of the structure is perhaps through these stories: the rallies, the raucousness, and (at times) the riots that the monument has borne witness to. If choosing the Obelisk to host an event is synonymous with having an important cultural message to send, let’s see what we can glean about the Argentine people from just the happenings there from the past year (at the time of writing, August 2017)…

Buenos Aires hedge art in front of the Obelisk monument

12 August 2016: Tango Festival and World Cup Kickoff Celebration

What better event to start with for representing Buenos Aires than one related to tango?  Known worldwide as the Festival y Mundial de Tango and locally as simply El Mundial, this important tango competition takes place during the month of August each year in Buenos Aires. Over 400 couples compete each year in national and international preliminaries for a chance to represent their country in the finals at Luna Park at the end of the month in one of two categories: Tango Pista (salon tango), or Tango Escenario (Stage Tango).  In the run-up to that final event, classes, exhibitions, and concerts are offered all for free in an effort to preserve and expand the cultural heritage of the tango.  

In 2016, the festival theme was bringing the tango “back to the barrios” (neighborhoods), and the events were hosted over 42 different venues in the city to include as many enthusiasts as possible (they almost reached a full offering of 48 venues… the official number of barrios in the city, but a valiant effort all the same).  The kickoff celebration at the Obelisco was actually a press conference, but featured some of the musicians and dancers representing Buenos Aires.

Watch last year’s champions Cristian Palomo and Melisa Sacchi in the salon category, and Hugo Mastrolorenzo and Agustina Vignau in the stage category.  This year (2017), the festival takes place from the 10th to the 23rd of August.

9 October 2016: The First Annual National Asado Championships

A close second in cultural importance to tango in Argentina (and some would argue for its place in the top spot) is their asado tradition of grilling up the tastiest cuts of meat in the world.  Last October, the city crystallized their efforts to communicate their gastronomic superiority in the carne category by holding a meat mega-festival, with the Obelisk serving as ground zero.  Judges were brought in from some of the best parrillas in the city: Don Julio, La Cabrera, La Carnicería, El Mirasol, Cabaña Las Lilas, Siga la Vaca, Nuestro Secreto and La Cabaña.  

The festival’s champion asadores hailed from Mendoza, a Western province of Argentina, and proudly declared after their win that the “secret is patience” in this “ceremony” of Argentine culture.  The event coincided with Argentine Cultural Diversity Day, and featured several booths showing off the cuisines and dances of nearby nations – fitting for a country that celebrates their strong immigrant population.

19 October 2016: The National Women’s Strike

Taking a somber turn in our roster of notable gatherings is the mass march that took place last October to protest the brutal femicide of 16 year old Lucía Pérez in Mar Del Plata, a coastal resort town in the province of Buenos Aires.  As part of the Ni Una Menos movement (“not one less”, meaning no more women killed from gender violence), the strike took place on “Miércoles Negro,” or “Black Wednesday,” and made headlines all over the world.  

Thousands of women stopped all activities for an hour and marched from the Obelisk to Plaza de Mayo, where organizers recited speeches about the persistent machista (male-dominated) attitudes that exist here and threaten the women of Argentina, not only in the form of violence but also cultural suppression (over 10% of women are unemployed, with a gender pay gap of 30-40% and 20% of salaried women being employed as low-paid domestic workers).  It is a sad reality, but misogyny and gender-related violence continues to be one of the greatest challenges this country faces.

14-18 November 2016: Artisanal Ice Cream Week

With over 6000 artisanal ice cream shops sprinkled over the city, it is clear that meat is not the only defining delicacy on the porteño menu.  Each year in late November, the city bows to its Italian immigrant traditions and turns the Obelisk into a giant gelato stand, with flavors being made fresh and all the proceeds benefiting local children’s hospitals.  In 2016, its 32nd year, the festival drew a crowd of over 4000, with the favorite flavors being (in order): dulce de leche, chocolate, and strawberry (frutilla).  

Far from enjoying their creamy treat from a waffle cone, the preferred delivery method in Buenos Aires is in that styrofoam container known simply as un cuarto – a quarter kilogram of the sweet stuff, because *real* artisanal ice cream is always sold by weight, never volume.  Our advice: don’t get into an argument with an Argentine about who sells the best ice cream in the city, because they all have a personal favorite… and they’re all right!

A quarter kilo of dulce de leche & chocolate ice cream

29 November 2016: A Tribute To The Chapecoense Football Team

Football is serious business in Argentina.  90% of the populace here claims allegiance to a club, and a woman cheering against her boyfriend’s team is automatic grounds for a breakup.  When the national team wins the entire city stops to celebrate, and Diego Maradona (their coach and ex-star player) is still every bit as much of a god as he was in the early 80’s.  But on the tragic night of November 29th, 2016, Argentina showed that their true allegiance is to the sport itself rather than any national rivalry.  That was the night that 71 people perished on a Medellín, Colombia mountainside from a chartered flight carrying the players and staff of the rising star team from Chapecoense, Brazil.  

The scrappy underdogs had beaten incredible odds to make it to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, but their lives were lost at the hands of a careless pilot who failed to make a refuel stop.  Football fans the world over went into mourning, and Argentina lit up the Obelisk in bright green – the team’s jersey color – in solidarity.  It was a moment that no porteño will soon forget.

7 February 2017: The ‘Tetazo’ Topless March

What started as 3 women being threatened with arrest (*link NSFW) for bathing topless on a popular beach on the outskirts of the city on January 28th turned into a massive protest (*link NSFW) in the Plaza de la Republica – the small park surrounding the Obelisk – a little over a week later.  That incident renewed a longstanding national debate about the inequalities that still exist between men and women in Argentine society, where women’s scantily-clad bodies are routinely used to sell products in advertising alongside being portrayed as lewd for acts such as breastfeeding.  

It was hard to ignore that the protesters had a valid point when a large number of men showed up merely to ogle the bared-chests, with some climbing flagpoles to get a better look and one man exposing his genitals, sparking outrage among the crowd. While legislators continue to debate the legality of topless sunbathing for women, one thing is clear: machismo, at least for now, is here to stay in Buenos Aires.

25 March 2017: Earth Hour Shuts Down The Obelisk

Buenos Aires has come a long way in the last year in their environmental conservation efforts. Instituting a ban on plastic bags in grocery stores at the beginning of 2017, installing dedicated bus lines to cut air and noise pollution, conducting a city-wide trash collection overhaul, and replacing streetlights with energy efficient LED bulbs are just a few of the improvements the city has undergone.  Though they still have a long way to go, it is clear from the notable lack of protests at the hands of a people that aren’t afraid to take to the streets that the majority of Argentines consider themselves in favor of measures that protect the environment.  

Since 2015, the city has been participating in Earth Hour: a yearly event taking place in over 170 countries that flicks the switch on the lights that power major monuments around the world.  This year saw not just the Obelisco, but also the Monumento a San Martín, the Monumento a los Españoles, and the Floralis Genérica go dark for an hour.  Now if they could only innovate a new, biodegradable material to replace that standard styrofoam ice cream container.

El Obelisco de Buenos Aires

Tango, grilled meats, fútbol, and women’s rights: just a few of the defining cultural facets of Argentina’s modern times.  Clearly, if you want to get a bird’s eye view of the social landscape, a very good place to start is the steps of that sky-scraping symbol of porteño pride – El Obelisco.

View of the Obelisk seen from Av Diagonal Norte

Estancia Day Trip to San Antonio de Areco

October 11, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Step into a world of riding boots and leather chaps

San Antonio de Areco

San Antonio de Areco is a historic town that gives visitors a taste of the life of an Argentine Gaucho, or cowboy. Located about an hour and a half northwest of Buenos Aires, San Antonio de Areco also offers a peek into a unique facet of Argentina’s immigration history.

Despite being in a country of mostly Spanish and Italian immigrants, San Antonio de Areco has a strong Irish heritage. At the center of the town’s beautiful square is a statue dedicated to Hipólito Vieytes, who was born in San Antonio de Areco and played a prominent role in the May Revolution of 1810 and the first independent government of Argentina. Below the statue is a plaque commemorating the visit of then Irish president Mary Robinson in 1995 and inside Areco’s main church, next to the square, there is a long list of O’Reillys, Malleys and Maguires who helped build the church and the town’s identity.

San Antonio de Areco

Pull up a stool and drink with the locals in Argentina’s oldest pulperia

Surrounded by flat wetlands that constitute some of the country’s richest soil, San Antonio boasts a picturesque town center, where modern life mingles with Argentine traditions. A few blocks from the town square, the oldest gaucho bar in Argentina stands as a historical monument and a community’s commitment to its past. When the bar’s foundation, originally made of clay, was deemed hazardous, the citizens of Areco cobbled together the money for a new, concrete foundation that would support the building and not alter its facade or interior. They succeeded.

San Antonio de Areco

Guillermo Guereño provides a short tour of San Antonio de Areco. A longtime citizen of Areco, Guillermo knows the historical roots of the town, as well as the little quirks. The town’s first library was founded by women, who held the power to choose which literature everyone could read. In addition to knowing the people at each stop on tour, many passers-by greet Guillermo warmly. After the hour long tour of Areco, Guillermo escorts his guests to an elegant estancia, or ranch.

A taste of the high life at the grand estancia El Ombu

El Ombu Estancia

Located about 10 minutes from the town of San Antonio de Areco, El Ombu de Areco is a magnificent, family-owned estancia. Originally built in 1880, the mansion is the centerpiece of the property, serving as a Bed & Breakfast that’s maintained its gaucho character. Enrique Boelcke purchased El Ombu in 1931, and his granddaughter, Eva, is the estancia owner and manager today. In 1993, she expanded the property’s services to include a B&B.

The brick architecture is laced with ivy and dotted with a variety of flowers. After driving down a dirt road for a few kilometers, the tree-lined entrance prefaces the rustic yet well-manicured property.

El Ombu Estancia

Upon arrival, visitors walk onto a beautiful lawn with wooden tables and benches under a large oak tree. The classic setting is further enhanced when wine and beverages are brought out to start your estancia experience. After the welcome drink, the gauchos invite their patrons on a horse ride around the estancia. With very tame horses, the ride is enjoyable and leisurely. The gauchos have exceptional command of the horses and also know enough English to offer riders instructions on how to guide the horse. El Ombu’s expansive beauty becomes clear to visitors on the horse ride.

Argentine Asado

El Ombu Estancia

Once back at the mansion, the asado, or Argentine BBQ, begins. Served with several delicious side dishes – salad, tomatoes and onions in a vinaigrette dressing and rice with vegetables – the asado at El Ombu offers the best cuts of meat, from cattle raised either on El Ombu’s property, or the adjacent farm. The asado includes chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), bife de chorizo (sirloin steak), costillas (ribs) and lomo (tenderloin).

El Ombu Estancia

Horses roam freely to the sound of strumming guitars

The gauchos not only serve the asado, they also provide the entertainment, displaying first their guitar skills, and then their intimate bond with their horses.

El Ombu Estancia

The gauchos put on a unique display of tricks with the horses, ranging from slowly kneeling the horse down, to doing a handstand on the horse (above) to putting the horses rear foot up against the gaucho’s chest – a daring tactic that garners much applause. Another impressive gaucho feat performed on some occasions is when one gaucho, leading a horse with a cowbell around it’s neck, has about a dozen horses in unison following him. The horses come right up to everyone’s table and “mingle” with patrons. It’s a fascinating sight. A dozen horses – completely free – roaming peacefully around a group of people.

El Ombu Estancia

Camino Pampa Tours and El Ombu

Click here to book a private estancia day trip with Camino Pampa Tours

Guillermo, who runs Camino Pampa tours, or one of his expert bilingual guides accompanies his clients from their accommodation in Buenos Aires to San Antonio de Areco and El Ombu de Areco. Guillermo’s driver, who speaks English well, brings all clients back to their accommodation in the city. Tour pick up is at 9am and return time is approximately 6pm.

Rock Music in Argentina

April 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Argentinian Rock: a national passion

Rock nacional (literally national rock) is the term used to refer to rock-and-roll music produced by Argentine bands and singers.  Rock is not only popular, but also important to the cultural psyche of the people.  Beloved across generations, the genre incorporates many musical styles, and any Argentine will tell you that theirs was the first rock sung in a language other than English to gain commercial success.

From Elvis to Sandro: Argentina’s early twists with Rock-n-roll

Argentina rock Sandro mural

Like in many countries around the world, rock was born when Elvis began shaking his hips!  The music hit Argentina at time of political instability: president Juan Peron had been overthrown, civilian governments were fragile and ever changing, and a military coup overtook the country in 1962.  The Argentine students listening to rock were in the streets, protesting, with rock the soundtrack to youthful defiance.

Rock-n-roll gained popularity and Rock Nacional was really born with Sandro (pictured above). Considered the Argentine Elvis, Sandro grew up playing his family’s traditional Romani music, and emerged into the spotlight with his band Sandro y Los Del Fuego! Though originally considered rock, Sandro became a (cheesy/awesome) romantic pop and ballad singer.

Rock Nacional’s foundations: emergence of an Argentine sound

In Buenos Aires, underground bands played in a bohemian basement bar called La Cueva. After a long, porteño night of rocking, musicians would have breakfast in the nearby cafe La Perla del Once.  One famous rock story is that musicians Tanguito and Lito Nebbia composed the first true Argentine rock song, La balsa, in the men’s room of La Perla!  If you’re in the Once neighborhood, La Perla still stands, and is worth visiting.

Groups like Almendra (lead by Luis Alberto Spinetta, one of Argentina’s most important rockers), Los Gatos, and Manal experimented with sixties rock, and are considered the trilogy of Rock’s forefathers. These founders created a uniquely Argentine sound: an international rock sound, in Spanish, with Argentine musical influences.  The genre branched from this base, and heavy rock bands like Pescado Rabioso (formed by Spinetta after Almendra broke up) and Pappo’s Blues (Pappo of Los Gatos) emerged.  Pappo would later become Argentina’s most important blues musician; he played with BB King in New York, and in true Rock n’ Roll fashion, died in a motorcycle crash in 2005.

While these heavy groups were rocking out, acoustic bands like Sui Generis (an Argentine Simon and Garfunkel?) blended Argentine folk with dreamy lyrics. This hippie band was rock great Charly Garcia’s first group, and became hugely popular.

Argentina’s military dictatorship: suppression of rock

Progressive rock made in-ways as acoustic phased out, and the rock scene was just becoming mainstream when the country’s democratic government was toppled by a military junta in 1976.  This dictatorship would become infamous for its violence and repression,  known as the Dirty War.  Rock musicians were considered subversive; facing increasing censorship and repression, rock returned underground.  Groups like Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota played clandestine shows. Los Redondos wrote songs whose lyrics, while critical and dark, are vague and often rely on metaphor (making them a favorite of Argentine literature teachers).

By the early 1980’s, the conflict between the Argentine junta and the UK over the Malvinas /Falklands Islands was heating up, and the government banned all foreign music from the radio waves.  This left a big void in airtime, and was an opportunity for bands like Los Redondos to explode onto the Argentine consciousness.  Soda Stereo, led by rock great Gustavo Cerati, emerged.  As opposed to the Redondos’s left-wing, working class lyrics, Soda Stereo played a new wave pop and sung happy and ironic songs. The first band to reach an audience across Latin America, Soda Stereo became beloved across the continent, inspiring an explosion of rock en español (rock in Spanish). Their hit De Musica Ligera still plays in bars from Mexico to Buenos Aires.

In the early 1980’s, Italian-born Luca Prodan moved to Argentina to escape the heroin addiction he’d acquired as a youth in the rock scene in England. He brought with him a post-punk, reggae sound literally unheard of in Argentina, and formed the band Sumo. For an introduction to Argentine rock, this might be the best place to start, not only because the lyrics are mostly in English, but also because their popularity increased after Luca’s death in 1987, and have a substantial influence on current rock. After Luca passed, the bland split into two: Divididos and Las Pelotas.  Below is a photo of Sumo musicians Ricardo Mollo (who would later lead Divididos) and Luca Prodan.

Sumo Divididos Argentine rock

[Photo credit: cris.cros’s photostream / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Argentine Democracy: Rock music explodes!

In 1983, the dictatorship was finally over, and with the emergence of democracy came the true explosion of Rock Nacional. Songs which had been repressed were now freely played, and on cassette tapes!  The iconic Argentine band Los Fabulosos Cadillac formed in 1983, and won over Latin American audiences until 2001.  Lead singer Vicentico launched a solo career after the band broke up, and his distinctive vocals still grace the radio waves.

Across the continent, Argentine rock’s popularity took off.  At home, Rock became synonymous with the freedom and celebration of democracy.  Now playing in an open society, rock musicians were free to sing about things beyond repression, like beautiful women, parties, and other rock-n-roll stuff.

This environment lead to a grand proliferation in rock genres.  The 1990’s meant grunge rock, heavy metal, stoner rock, reggae-rock and a whole new “Rollinga” style all gained separate audiences.  (Though the Rolling Stones are beloved in Argentina, Rollingas are a distinct phenomenon.  Rollinga fans dance like Jagger, have bangs like Ronnie Wood, and that’s about where the Stones comparison ends; the music is 100% Argentine.)

More contemporary Argentine Rock recommendations

No better way to get a feel for the contemporary rock scene in Argentina than listening to the flowing bands:

  • Bersuit Vergarabat: chameleons of Argentine music, we mention them here because they seem to mesh rock with even the most unlikely genres: from cumbia, to music in Portuguese, and so on.
  • Babasonicos: This iconic 1990’s band created a style of music which would be dubbed sonic rock in their honor.  Big success across Latin America.
  • Fito Paez: One of the most important solo artists, Rosarino Fito plays piano and sings.
  • For punk fans, check out Attaque 77 here.
  • There is a whole slew of reggae rock in Argentina.  From chill Los Cafres, to upbeat Dancing Mood, the love-crooner Dread Mar I, and the more hardcore/ska band Todos tus Muertos, Argentina covers the reggae bases.
  • Argentine rock history features a couple of great musicians, who changed bands throughout the years. Mentioned above, Charly Garcia, Spinetta, and Cerati and three of these powerhouses.
  • I’m sure some of you are wondering WHERE ARE THE WOMEN OF ARGENTINE ROCK? Well, so are we.  Let us know if you hear anyone good!

To show what rock fans are like, we’ll leave you with this clip by Argentine comedian Peter Capusotto whose character Pomelo (meaning grapefruit) is an Argentine rock star.  The video is in Spanish, but really all he says is “rrrrock nena” or “rock baby!”

For more information, check out this post on Argentina’s best rock singers on the Expanish blog, which highlights the most important rock figures.  On this Expose Argentina page, you can listen to some of the most famous bands. The author has done a great job identifying important bands from different genres.

Buenos Aires: 6th Hottest Cultural Center

January 12, 2007 by · 8 Comments 

Sizzling Buenos Aires

Floralis Generica, Buenos Aires

Stan Stalnaker’s website Hub Culture has come up with a ‘2007 Zeitgeist Ranking’ for world cities, and our own Buenos Aires put in a respectable performance, sliding in at number 6.

The website states that Buenos Aires is…

“So hot! The Argentinian financial crisis has faded, but the incredible value of Argentina as a destination remains. This is fueling a buying boom in urban real estate as Europeans and North Americans establish summer homes and secondary residences here. Business remains slow, but BA is the hot spot of Latin America. Panama and Sao Paolo have heat, but BA sizzles. It’s the hottest “second city” in the world.”

The idea that a lot of rich North Americans and Europeans are buying property in BA because it is cheap to do so is not exactly something that makes for a cultural center, but the ranking speaks for itself. It is more likely that the slightly less well off natives and skint expats are using their creativity to make Buenos Aires a ‘hot cultural center’. Etiher way, getting this kind of ‘award’ has to be good PR for Buenos Aires, and is therefore not to be sniffed at.

Center of the Cultural Universe?

To get a little more idea about why Buenos Aires placed where it did, it is worth it to listen Stalnaker, the man behind the list:

“The idea behind the hub ranking is that at certain times in certain places, there is a veritable ‘center of the universe’ – a place where innovation, change and vibe combine to create the place of the moment. “The rankings are not about overt power or coolness, but that certain something that makes a place hot, on the verge, and really the place to be right now. It’s the place that later, everyone wishes they were at“.

That sounds a little better.

For a more concrete idea of why Buenos Aires is seen as hot right now, this Newsweek article provides an interesting picture of BA: The Capital of Cool.

And readers, what do you think makes Buenos Aires such a ‘hot cultural destination’? Please feel free to comment below…

[Top photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/4007754192/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Buenos Aires > Local Life, History and Culture > CultureBuenos Aires: 6th Hottest Cultural Center

Choose your currency:

Close
Converted prices are for reference only - all orders are charged in $ US Dollars ($) USD.
  • USDUS Dollars ($)
  • EUREuros (€)
  • GBPPounds Sterling (£)
  • AUDAustralian Dollars ($)
  • BRLBrazilian Real (R$)
  • CADCanadian Dollars ($)
  • HKDHong Kong Dollar ($)
  • NZDNew Zealand Dollar ($)
  • CHFSwiss Franc
  • ZARSouth African Rand