Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
Passed a poster on the street of the president of Uruguay – he looks like a friendly granddad. Seemingly he lives in a modest house in the country, drives a VW Beetle and has a dog with three legs. After a harsh Mandela-like imprisonment for years, he came to power and leads what I understand is a benign, liberal regime. Certainly the city has a good vibe, a bit slower than Buenos Aires, sunny disposition.
Another thing I saw on the street was ‘mate’. People young and old were walking along with a small, rounded glass in one hand holding a silver spoony thing with perforations and in the other a thermos of hot water. Nothing like a nice hot cuppa sitting in a car park with a blanket on your lap. This is the world of trendy students and enamoured young couples and they’re all sucking at their infusion of dried leaves of yerba mate.
Talking of leaves, we took ours of Uruguay before noon, back on the boat. Luckily there’s still some proper old-school bureaucracy in Argentina/Uruguay so I’ve managed to amass a decent set of stamps in my new passport. The immigration officer I just encountered had a slightly daunting look with Amy Winehouse type tattoos on her upper chest and knuckles – turned out to be as charming as can be.
As we pulled out of Montevideo we got to see the ‘monte’ in question, a green hill overlooking the city, now surrounded by favelas. I didn’t see much poverty on my visit but that’s tourist life for you – I often heard references in MV and BA to areas being safe or not. A bunch of Mexicans were playing a raucous game of cards on the boat back, adding a bit of analogue to the digital life of cameras and phones around them.
Took my leave of Damian back at the Hotel Plaza. Saw a sepia image of it with the Graf Zeppelin flying above this morning. I’ll catch up with Damian again in London when he comes over for Power to the Pixel and Mipcom in a couple of weeks. Also said by to Vale, who may be over in London in a while. Great trip, fine travel companions.
For my last half-day in South America for now I headed over to Palermo Hollywood, the chi-chi quarter of cafes and design/clothes shops. Had a late lunch which turned out to be the best meal I ate in Argentina – coated chicken in orange and tequila sauce. Combined with some cool jazz, a bit of birdsong and a great people-watching crossroads at Borges and El Salvador everything aligned for a beautiful meal. Wandered the tree-lined streets after taking a few pics and looking for a couple of gifts for the Mrs and the Enfants Terribles.
Headed back to the Plaza for a quiet evening and a not too late night. Very comfy beds by the way if you’re into sleeping equipment.
South America Day 9 – BA-LHR: Adios Amigos
So here I sit at Puerto 9 awaiting the plane home. Nothing much to report – pack, breakfast, taxi, airport. It’s a grey day in Buenos Aires so ideal for leaving.
What do I take away with me?
This is a (surprisingly) friendly country. Everyone I met here and in Uruguay was invariably warm and polite. They do this one cheek kiss all the time which beats a handshake. All friendly except a single grumpy taxi driver who can kiss my Irish arse 😉
There’s a terrific enthusiasm for learning and competing, developing and pushing the boundaries in digital media and beyond. Whatever the economic pressures, it seems a well organised country which should have everything it needs to thrive, not least a terrific younger generation.
Bottom line, a fabulous trip sweetened by lovely people.
And then the sun came out…
And then I got three empty seats in a row on the plane…
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.
Started the day by putting in an application for tickets for the Rugby World Cup in England & Wales next year. Have seen occasional signs of Argentine rugby during my stay – a pitch here, a newspaper report there.
Made a bright and early tourist start across the sleepy Sunday morning city in the direction of the gallery of 20th Century Latin-American art, Malba. The BA at the end stands for Buenos Aires (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires).
It was a 45 minute walk, back to the area where TV Publica lives. As I went past the law courts, motorcyclists of all shapes and sizes were gathering. About an hour later I saw them parading down Avenue Presidente Figueroa Alcorta making as much noise as possible, even the little Vespa at the back.
I checked out the embassy quarter as the gallery didn’t open til noon, too enthusiastic for my own good, need to get myself on Latino time. The embassy area could easily have been in Paris, tranquil streets with 19th Century European style residencies. Some lovely trees, some interesting architecture (including a modernist building with metal oval door and oval windows), no-one around in the light drizzle.
Once I got into Malba I made a bee-line for the permanent collection of 20th Century art, the collecting of Argentine businessman Eduardo Constantini, offered to the city as a permanent and public home for his significant collection. The city’s artist community backed him to the hilt, persuading the municipal authorities to grant him land on which to construct a purpose-built home for the artworks.
My visit centred on the stand-out exhibit, Frida Kahlo’s Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) (1942) of which more here. Worth the price of admission and the 6,900 mile trip alone. Other highlights included Antonio Berni’s Manifestacion (1934), a great example of politically committed painting from Argentina and The Dressmaker (1935) by Amelia Pelaez of Cuba, really original drawing.
I walked back to Plaza San Martin a different way, enjoying the Sunday afternoon calm. The streets were mainly populated by young people and young couples.
After a bit of writing and feet resting in the comfortable, old-school hotel room, I taxied across to Palermo Soho, a bar and shop district on the other side of town, for the day’s meal. Highlight of that: tortilla. I wonder whether this Soho is named after New York’s SoHo, London’s or neither? A coffee and read to round off, then back to base ready for an early start on the journey to Uruguay. It’s not every day you get to visit a country beginning with U. Right up there with the day we walked across the bridge from Zimbabwe to Zambia, a double Z bonanza.
Headed out of Rosario early and flew back to Buenos Aires where Damian, Valeria and I went to visit TV Publica aka Channel 7, the main publicly owned channel, designed to counter-balance the power of the privately owned networks which have for a long time wielded immense influence, amplified by cross-media ownership. It is housed in studios built for the 1978 World Cup, state of the art at the time, massive by normal standards (in the way BT’s set-up out at the London 2012 IBC on the Olympic Park is) – the only station in BA in purpose-built facilities. Victor Taricco kindly showed us around the Newsroom, Studios, Control Rooms and other facilities (including a complete set-building workshop). There’s a groovy air of the 70s about the place e.g. the studio auditorium chairs have a white leather 70s thing going on.
Victor showed me how the channel archives all its output onto YouTube; went through their social media activity; and played me some of the content that works best online, notably a very funny old-school satirist who seems to have adopted the web aesthetic very happily. I particularly liked a show where he plays a vegetarian who gets increasingly irritated and violent due to excess of salad.
Had a brief siesta listening to Miles before heading out to Puerto Madero down by the old docks. Indulged in a long, slow Saturday lunch with steak in red wine sauce with added red wine in a large glass beside (and no excess of salad), watching sailing boats slide by in front of me, just the masts visible above the concrete dockside. Drifted in a Malbec cloud over to the Costanera Sur ecological reserve where I hung out with the varied bird life of the city, from ones with little quiffs to ones with pointy beaks, and a few green parrots to boot. There really is great variety and a constant accompaniment of birdsong as you wander around the city. I found myself a fine spot overlooking the River Plate, a constant rhythm of waves lapping at the shore below.
Enjoyed watching a turntable bridge in action as I left the port area – second bit of heavy duty engineering I watched this particular day. Had marvelled over a German air-bridge at the airport – crudely tough yet precise. On the subject of engineering and crudeness, I made my first ever Skype call home this evening. Enfant Terrible No. 2 was at the other end (along with his mum but that didn’t seem to cramp his style) and his main question was whether the Argentine women were hot. He’s 14. I told him that, thanks to a rich mix of genes including Italian, in general they are, which seemed to please him. He met a Mexican girl this summer at a drama course in the East End and seems to have taken quite a shine to Latinas, the little monkey.
More on Latinas and little monkeys here
It’s been a good while since I’ve been on a plane with propellors. This one was quite magical. It flew low (i.e. in clear sight of the ground) out over the River Plate / Rio de la Plata, a rich muddy brown colour, as extensive as a sea, Uruguay visible only as a thin strip in the distance on the other side; along the muddy water (which of course is silvery or argentine in the sunlight) into the enormous delta region; and on over water-level land bisected by the meanders of the river (Rio Parana) and divided by myriad channels, very little sign of habitation or human presence.
We landed in Rosario, Argentina’s second city, 50 minutes north-west of Buenos Aires. It’s largely a human scale, two-storey urban sprawl, all in square city blocks, with very varied architecture (very little sign of any planning control or heritage building restoration). Some very elegant buildings among the hideous blocks. My companions Damian, Valeria and Robert and I landed in one of the class ones – the El Cairo cafe, once the cultural and literary hub of Rosario thanks to the writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, El Negro, a son of the city who hung out every afternoon with his compadres to talk culture, politics, football and all the stuff of life. Damian once optioned some of his short stories but found them impossible to realise in practice due to their fantastical nature – Mars is not an easy location.
A couple of doors down is the El Cairo cinema, a beautiful 40s art deco picture palace decorated with palm trees and orientalist details, redolent of Casablanca, Rick’s, the Blue Parrot, all those usual suspects. It has a huge screen and a rich crimson womb-like vibe. The boss of the cinema, the charming Arielo Vicente, took us down to the old railway station by the river. In the British-built, red brick railway terminal, which was specially opened for us, is now a fabulous children’s project, a space for children and their parents to come at no cost to hang out together and do arts activities from making clothes to welding scrap-metal sculptures, from manufacturing paper to reflecting on memories.
Adding to yesterday’s list of things that have cemented themselves in my head about this place and its people:
- Argentines think a lot about what’s public
- The advent of democracy in the mid-80s is a major watershed in their consciousness
- They are very good at crafting attractive environments
- They seem remarkably friendly and warm to each other too (I watched an emblematic scene in the airport today of a man and woman returning the mobile phone of an old fella who hadn’t realised he’d lost it – lots of goodwill and smiles).
There were lovely details in the old railway building – a glass wall at the tracks end creating a compelling view along the still extant tracks, the old ticket windows, some well worn wooden stairs up to the first floor (where there’s an animation workshop with a refreshingly analogue, hands-on focus).
We had a drink at the riverside (Rio Parana) before returning to the Cairo where I followed Damian giving a talk to an audience largely of students and young Rosarians about what’s exciting about ‘transmedia’. The queue for the event was out the door and down the block. Really enjoyed chatting to the young folk afterwards and joining them in their selfies.
As the red neon El Cairo sign illuminated (a distant relative of the Phoenix sign in East Finchley) Arielo took us back to the river, beside some massive, beautifully painted grain silos (now a modern art museum) to a fantastic modern restaurant where I ate paku, a river fish that really tastes of river, a fascinating muddy aspect to the taste which I enjoyed more than the natives (not to be confused with pako, the cheapest, nastiest derivative of cocaine, which was the subject of my attempt at Spanish wordplay, feeble but given how little Spanish I know not altogether unworthy. I started learning Spanish today in the footsteps of 20.2M other Duolinguo users. I’ll try it out on my Argentine amigos on Monday.) Washed it down with a beer, the right drink at the right time, although no native cerveza to be had.
Though no beer was really needed, we all felt buzzed by the positive response to the El Cairo event and the youthful energy in the air.
Wow, where did that come from? One minute I’m walking along with three charming lunch companions, the next minute the rain and hail is so intense I can’t even see across the street to the Audio-Visual District HQ in an old market building, open to the air. As previously reported, it’s Spring here and seemingly that means extreme shifts of weather. This time yesterday I was sunbathing on a stone seat – now I’ve ducked into a cosy but lively café, the Decata, with thunder and lightening punctuating the background music in here.
Lunch was very enjoyable in a German-owned place which gave me the chance to switch from my Spantaliano to Deutschpagnol. My three companions were a young TV presenter-producer who fronts a show in Venuezuela, a fella from Colombia who loves punk (Pistols Tshirt yesterday, Clash today) and a translator-scriptwriter. They filled me in on the harsh realities of the closed economy here (pretty much the opposite of London and what makes it tick – advantage of being an island, where trading is second nature) and I felt their frustration at how it hemmed in their creativity, natural entrepreneurialism and energy.
This morning I went back to Mediamorfosis to listen to a session on multiplatform history by Alvaro Liuzzi. His project on the Malvinas conflict 30 years on was particularly interesting. Veterans joined in the Twitter narration by publishing extracts from their long-forgotten war diaries. A journalist found an undeveloped Kodak disposible on the islands and used the project to help track down the soldiers who showed up in the developed photos.
Next up was Robert Pratten of Conducttr, an East Ham man who talked through the very interesting and well integrated Twitter game he developed for Canal Plus in Spain for Game of Thrones. He had some keen observations on patterns around transmedia which were great food for thought. He, like me, places great emphasis on the centrality of the audience.
Damian Kirzner who organised Mediamorfosis is the long lost twin of my friend Jim Dwyer in Dublin. I’m going to make a point of engineering an opportunity for them to meet face to face. Damian pressed his two teenage sons into service as well as his good lady wife making the whole thing a delightful family affair, lovingly crafted. The two boys couldn’t have been more solicitous in taking care of dad’s Brit mate.
The storm has somewhat bollocksed my planned flaneur activities for the afternoon so I’ll sit here Hemingway-like on the trusty Air (in my head a portable Halda) and rethink…
The solution was meat.
Two and a half days in Argentina and no red meat. I had to do something about it. I headed across town with Robert and a taxi load of super-friendly Argentine women from Mediamorfosis to the Teatro Picadero where, beside a newly and beautifully restored theatre, warmly lit throughout, was steak. Not the stake of stakeholders and other arts jargon from subsidised theatre. Steak as in the two truckloads of cows I spotted on Day 1 coming in from the airport. We had dinner hosted by Marina Marchesotti, boss of the Picadero, along with people from the British Council, the Picadero and Direct TV from LA. Red wine flowed. A pile of meat duly arrived. The evening flowed happily.
A couple of things that have cemented themselves in my head today:
- Argentines do a single kiss – consistently (no European double, even men do it much of the time on other men)
- Argentines commonly have Italian names
- Apart from the grumpy taxi driver on Day 2, everyone here is genuinely friendly and warmly welcoming.
The sun has put his hat on. The tree-filled Plaza San Martin looked the business as I taxied across town past the main station and through much more impressive neighbourhoods, greenery, space and Euro-elegance.
I spent the morning at Mediamorfosis, a progressive transmedia conference lovingly arranged by my friend Damian Kirzner, a producer and passionate advocate of multiplatform story-telling. We first met at the International Emmys in Cannes a couple of years ago, both nominees. We tried to hatch an ambitious Anglo-Argentine multiplatform environmental project focused on the South Atlantic but it floundered on the rocks of British realpolitik. Shame because the sea-life there is seriously under threat.
At Damian’s invitation I did a turn trying to get across what’s exciting about transmedia and where the opportunities lie. It seemed to go down well so hopefully it may inspire a Latin or two to come up with a multiplatform creation which works this side of the water.
Took a long hike across the city with a Columbian student along tree-lined streets of two-storey European-style buildings through the extensive area known as Palermo. Reminded me of similar streets in Toronto, Tel Aviv and Paris. We talked drums, jazz, politics – thoroughly enjoyable wander. One highlight was a beautiful bookshop of high wooden shelves with a tranquil cafe secreted at the back – where I would definitely hang out if I lived here. The only book in English I saw was by Jamie Oliver.
Which brings me to Shakespeare. I’m still in the garden near his bust as mentioned on Day 1. I’ve had a fine siesta in the sun. Read some more ludicrous stuff about Nazis in Lisbon. And am about to head off on the hour walk back to have cocktails in the media district.
I’ve never set foot in South America. The nearest I’ve been is Tijuana in 1980, the day John Lennon died. So on landing after 13 hours of flying it felt very far from home, that well-off-my-manor feeling I get in South London.
On the way in to Buenos Aires in the taxi I spoke to the driver in a mix of my little Italian, my even less Spanish, and a bit of extrapolation from French – it just about worked. We passed two trucks full of live cows.
Most of the journey in was heavy traffic on big boulevards. I could see the European thing everyone talks about but mainly in areas punctuated with boxy modern architecture. It was only on Day 2 I saw the real charming McCoy.
I’m writing this on Day 2 in El Rosedal, a beautiful sun-dappled formal garden with a bust of Shakespeare a few yards away (a gift from the British community in 1964 to mark Shakey’s 400th birthday, which seems to have survived the little unpleasantness around the Malvinas unscathed). There are fountains gushing, a couple of pretty girls drawing, pink gravel paths and fresh verdant grass – what more could one want?
On arrival at the Plaza Hotel, pulling up into a classic arcade worthy of the classic name, I had the thousand yard stare of overnight travel and was therefore relieved to find the room ready at 10:30 in the morning. I did some typical modern free overtime for work before heading out for a bite to eat with my full tourist kit – small shoulder bag, camera, trashy novel and a free map of the city.
Put a toe in the water of the ciudad, enough to find a homely Italian cafe where I sat reading a book about Nazis over a plate of papas (I’m not sure if that is a quaint nickname for potatoes or their official designation – or is it the pope? [who is of course Argentine]). After a much craved for coffee I went to visit the British Council offices opposite the hotel on Plaza San Martin. Beautifully decked out in wood and curves I got to meet all the staff from Receptionist to Director and hear about the work of the greatest diplomatic institution in Britain alongside the BBC World Service.
A bit more flaneur-type wandering with camera (I rarely use it these says due to phone handiness), then coffee and cake at the Florida Garden, an old school cafe where I sat at the mirrored bar under the solicitous eye of a smartly liveried waiter. The weather was London drizzle – while London enjoyed the tail-end of its Indian summer. Today is officially the first day of Autumn in GB. Here in BA it’s Spring.
I hit the luxurious sack early to reduce the stare by 998 yards. It worked.