South America Day 7 – Uruguay, Montevideo: On The Town
Argentina is separated from Uruguay by the River Plate, which from the shore looks like a sea. On the Argentina side it is muddy brown. On the Uruguay side, a bit bluer. It takes around two hours to cross by boat. Valeria, Damian and I boarded from the modern passenger terminal in Buenos Aires, built only two years ago, complete with a wall of falling water.
I spent much of the journey doing my Spanish lessons on Duolinguo. Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol. Funnily enough, I got to use that phrase on Uruguayan television later in the day.
The journey is a flat expanse of calm river, punctuated with the odd vessel but otherwise without features. Eventually the Uruguayan mainland looms into view, and then Montevideo, a largely low-rise city. On disembarking we passed pretty much the whole of the country’s navy in port, grey hulks labelled 1 to 24 under huge yellow cranes.
We were picked up by a colleague of Damian’s from TV station Estudio 9. She drove us along the coastal road, the Ramblas, a crescent promenade bordering the river-sea. We went first to Channel 10 where Damian did an interview on a daytime show. He was preceeded by Chico Novarro, a famous Argentine romantic singer of boleros, and his leather-trousered son, a well-known actor. The two presenters and crew were really welcoming and friendly, especially the older host who couldn’t have been warmer.
Everyone in the crew, cameramen, sound, the works, were on their phones the whole time they were shooting. I watched a voice-over artist at the side of the set do the sponsor presentation live, delivering each bit perfectly and on time then returning to his magazine the second the mike went off.
The set was a comfortable house with living room, kitchen and (fake) garden beyond the French doors. Damian chatted in the kitchen with the younger host (with whom he made the multiplatform show Conectados a couple of years ago) and efficiently got across his activities with Mediamorfosis.
We left the beautiful shade-dappled side street where Channel 10’s studio is located for a hotel in the city centre, not far away, it’s a bijou city. After dumping our stuff, the three of us walked ten blocks to the old city centred on Independence Square (this is Uruguay independence from Argentina). It is defined by the old theatre Solis, a strange masonic tower and a stone arch – very atmospheric and typically hispanic.
We had a late lunch outdoors (a lovely fresh white sea fish steamed with carrots and onions). Then I dragged them in to a beautiful late 19C book shop with high shelves, a book-lined balcony, a stained glass window half-way up the stairs and a café up above. If I lived in Montevideo, this would be my HQ.
Also at my request we popped into the Torres Garcia museum next door in a tall old townhouse, five or six narrow floors high. Joaquin Torres Garcia is Uruguay’s most famous Modernist artist. The early work on display (like Adam & Eve) shows the influence of Cezanne, Picasso and Gauguin. He lived in Paris, Barcelona and New York. Other roots seem to be Klee (searching for a symbolic universal picture language) and native South American Indian art (flat hieroglyphic planes). He was clearly both a restless experimenter and a relentless theorist. Note to self: pick up a book about him on my return.
We then headed off to El Observador newspaper in a quiet, more industrial quarter, beautifully designed offices in black and white, stylish. I had a look around the newsroom, then got roped into an interview despite my Duolinguo Spanish. That’s when I got to say “Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol” on air. We talked about the future of TV and media with a similarly stylish young journalist with blue glasses (Dame Edna Everage-style but dialed down and cool).
Off for a siesta listening to Kind of Blue (= perfect siesta length, finishing on flamenco vibe) then over to Estudio 9 where Damian and I were doing a two-hander evangelising transmedia. The venue was a black-curtained studio, subtly lit in the beautifully lit and decorated former dance hall. We had fun doing it, it seemed to go down very well.
From the studio we headed out for a suitably late a l’Espagnol supper in a former market with various folk from the British Council Uruguay office. In the corner of the open-to-the-air market (a bit like Spitalfields market) was an enclosed space with windows housing a tango school. Tonight was tango night so I got a chance to watch some regular couples at work. I liked their ambition. When I eventually got back to my 8th floor room I realised what I was looking down on was the corrugated iron roof of the mercado. So I fell asleep in Montevideo listening to the sounds of tango from below.