Valentín Alsina: the Other Side of Buenos Aires

When I tell people I live in Valentín Alsina, they either nod or look at me quizzically.  Porteños look at me like, “I’m sorry.”  Foreigners have never heard of it.  But from those who also live on my side of the greater metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, I get smiles.

Puente Alsina, as seen from the capital

Puente Alsina, gateway to my neighborhood.  Puente Alsina crosses the Matanza River, commonly known as el Riachuelo, separating the city of Buenos Aires from the province of Buenos Aires.  The Riachuelo is dreadfully polluted.  The most contaminated river in Argentina, so they say.  Makes me want to cry.

Once a thriving part of the great metropolis, Valentín Alsina has seen better days.

Puente Alsina seen from Valentín Alsina

downtown Valentin Alsina

Valentín Alsina is a street artist’s paradise.  Images and opinions get right in your face.

This one says it all.  No client = no business.

Ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is still a favorite in this working class district.

Young family with a couple of fuzzy friends.

Do you believe in creating your own reality?  Don’t we all?  There’s a Coliseum on the this side of Rome.

Create your own reality now, before someone else creates it for you.  If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!

Version 2

Need a little help with the remodel?

“Wabi means that which fails to satisfy, wholly refuses to submit to one’s aims, and goes against what was wished.  Take to heart that wabi is not considering one’s incapacities, nor even embracing the thought that being ill-provided for is in any way out of the order of things.” the Zencharoku, 1828

Bandoneon and bajo… the wabi and sabi of Tango.

Tango is the beating heart of Buenos Aires.

They call this el Muro Sur (the southern wall).  You drive right past it after crossing Puente Alsina.

murosurazul

Abandoned factory…

meets lonely playground.

Pretty flowers and bright happy calacas remind me of Califas.

I like to imagine that some talented neighborhood kids did this fabulous copy of Picasso’s Guernica.  I spotted it a few months ago, walking around looking for the Alsina cultural center.

German aviation forces bombed the Basque town of Guernica on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.  “Guernica had no military or strategic importance, and thus provoked a popular reaction against the absurd sacrifice of innocents.” [culturagenial.com]

This is my neighborhood.  I think it’s pretty nice.  I’m a fan of all things wabi-sabi.

The wabi-sabi ruin below is just a block away.  Definitely a scene stealer.  I hope somebody remodels soon.  Perfect set for an action sequence in a nitty-gritty urban thriller… am I right?

Wabi originally meant ‘sadness of poverty.’  But gradually it came to mean an attitude toward life, with which one tried to resign himself to straitened living and to find peace and serenity of mind even under such circumstances.”  Diane Durston, Wabi Sabi.

When it rains in Valentín Alsina, it pours.  Last year my neighborhood flooded.

Too close to the river, I guess.  Below, a block from Santos’ house:

That green stuff in the foreground is the grass between the street and the sidewalk.  Flooding gives me the creeps.  Whoever’s in charge of water management infrastructure hereabouts (levees, spillways, floodwater diversion systems) has been sleeping on the job for the last fifty years… and stashing those big checks in some offshore account.  Panamá, Caymans, New Orleans?

What’s all this  talk about diverting cash flows?  When you lose buying power to massive inflation, or get charged 40-70% interest on your home loan cause you missed one payment… you must be in Argentina.  Argentines pay taxes and get NOTHING in return.  Broken dirty streets and sidewalks, broken sewage systems, inefficient wastewater treatment plants, ancient power grids… kind of like Venezuela, I guess.

Retirement pensions were cut 15% in 2018, and the government of Macri is considering another cut in 2019. That’s money people earned and saved… what kind of idiot thinks he has the right?  Macri is such an imbécil, like his fellow Emperor Has No Clothes Trump.  Hmmm… maybe that’s why there was a fiery picket line blocking Puente Alsina when I was heading home yesterday.

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Picket Line on Puente Alsina

This Monday and Tuesday there were paros (work stoppages).  Subways and collectivos (buses) were grounded both days.  People survive by ridesharing with others who have cars.  But no vehicle was going to cross Puente Alsina this afternoon;  picketers lit fires at both ends.

Flashback from a New York Times reporter: “Back this month for the first time in 16 years, I saw a country stuck in what has now become its natural state: crisis.  As if living a déja vu, I flipped on the TV to once again hear Argentine newscasters fretting about bailouts, the peso in freefall, and fears of default.  Many stores advertised going-out-of-business sales.  Still more storefronts were shuttered and empty, with For Rent or For Sale signs.”

“Consider the recent Group of 20 summit that drew global leaders to Buenos Aires, including President Trump.  The Argentines erected a glamorous media center for an army of press.  They filled it with avant-garde art and offered unlimited wine on tap, craft beers, fresh pastas and rare cuts of Argentine beef.  They staged edgy performances – a sort of tango show, as if produced by Andy Warhol. – …  Yet for the vast majority of the summit, the wifi – the most fundamental necessity for working journalists – was offline. Broken. Didn’t work.”  – Anthony Faiola, New York Times, 27 Dec. 2018. 

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Welcome to Argentina.  Sounds like Burning Man.  No desert playground here, but we have our own Burning Man.

Who’s your Daddy?

Sorry, no avant-garde art or craft beers out here in the stix… but Don Tito cooks up the best asado in Valentín Alsina.  Sit back and enjoy an adult beverage while I relate my Cliff’s Notes style version of local history:

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General José Maria Paz

Lanús, the bigger city next door to Valentín Alsina, essentially a suburb, was established as Villa General Paz in 1888, named after numerous battles captained and won by General José María Paz in the Argentine civil wars of the mid-19th century.

Villa General Paz was officially renamed Lanús in 1955, in honor of Hipólito Anacarsis Lanús (1820-1888), a settler of Basque origin, who helped found the city.

Hipólito Anacarsis Lanús

Lanús dedicated himself to importing goods from Europe, and made a fortune supplying the war effort against Paraguay in the latter part of the 1860s.  Paraguayan troops had occupied the city of Corrientes in 1865, thus persuading Argentina to enter the war as an ally of Brazil and Uruguay, who were already fighting the Paraguayans. [La Defensa, Diario Digital, 24 Dec. 2016]

Lanús was one of a group of wealthy men who helped Bartolomé Mitre start up the newspaper La Nación in 1870 It’s still one of the most widely read papers in Argentina, although perhaps not the most respected.  Lanús later became a provincial Senator, and vastly enriched his fortunes provisioning the armies who obliterated the indigenous peoples in the south of the province.  He’s no hero in my book.  Bad karma.

karma

What goes around, comes around.

The geography of what is now Valentín Alsina and Lanús, with a navigable river flowing into the Río de la Plata and hence to the Atlantic, precipitated the intense growth and commercial development of Lanús.  Those in a position to profit could see that it would not be long before the huddled masses of the second half of the nineteenth century would be arriving: people from other latitudes and hemispheres, with other experiences and knowledge, other cultures and languages.  All of them looking for a place to put down roots.  The soil was generous, the sun smiled upon the land, and the river linked the new city to the sea, assuring the progress of some …  but not all.  Sound familiar?

Lanús wasn’t always as rundown as it is today.  In the 1940s, Lanús was still mostly fields, creeks and trees.  Lots more people arrived when the meatpackers opened: Frigoríficos Wilson and La Negra. 

The canneries employed so many people there were 3 shifts a day.  Frigorífico Wilson built a ballroom in Valentín Alsina, where workers danced on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons.

A downtown was built; streetcars were assembled and rolled onto new rails.  Cars were still scarce in those days, while horse-drawn wagons were everywhere. 

Practically every enterprising business made deliveries by wagon.  Horse-drawn carts are now prohibited by law, but I still see a few around Valentín Alsina.  Fueled by necessity, post-industrial creativity flourishes.

Who are the cartoneros?  Mostly skinny men and an occasional woman, pulling a jury-rigged metal-framed cart, collecting used cardboard to sell to recyclers for a few pennies.  I’ve never seen a well-fed cartonero.  Recently I saw a cartonero loading a beat-up pickup.  Civilization and Progress. 

a local dairy from back in the day

Someone once asked Gandhi what he thought of Western civilization. “It would be a good idea,” he replied.

Now a major industrial center, Lanús is served by freight and passenger railway lines.  The city has chemical, armaments, textiles, paper, leather and rubber goods, wire, apparel, oils and lubricants industries, as well as tanneries, vegetable and fruit canneries.  Primary and secondary schools, as well as several technical schools, are located in the city, as well as the Hospital Eva Perón, one of the largest in the Greater Buenos Aires area.  Lanús has a football club, Club Atlético Lanús, currently playing in the Argentina Primera Liga.

mundial de 78

Argentina won the World Cup in 1978.  Argentines like to fight so much at soccer games that only one side of the stadium will let fans out after a match.  The other side has to wait at least an hour before they are allowed to leave; and all the bars and liquor stores within a mile are shut down.  I know; been there, done that.  Last November a couple of Boca players received eye injuries from broken glass when some River fans threw rocks at their bus, as they pulled up outside the River stadium.  The match had to be rescheduled, and finally took place in the Santiago Barnabéu stadium in Madrid.  Argentines are passionate about their sports… and they’ve produced some of the best players in the world.

Messi, Argentine God of soccer

Another Argentine passion is Tango.  You knew we’d be getting to that, right?  Following is a compilation of Santos’ favorite tango singers from Valentín Alsina.

Above, Tango singer Mercedes Simone, 1904-1990.  Following, one of Santos’ favorite singers, Hector Varela, a local from the Lanús area.

Hector Varela (1914-1987) was a bandoneon player and composer of tangos who joined the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo as first bandoneón in 1934.  Legend has it that Tita Merello and Libertad Lamarque, Argentine singers and actresses, asked Varela to accompany them.  Varela’s parents wanted him to become an accountant.  He graduated with an accounting degree, but never worked a day as a numbers cruncher.  In 1935 he joined the orchestra of Enrique Santos Discépolo, where he met Aníbal Troilo, another almighty god of Tango.

Cuando Troilo toca, Dios habla.  When Troilo plays, God speaks.

An image of Troilo on the screen at Milonga Marabú

In 1939 Varela briefly formed his own orchestra, but then returned to the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo, “el Rey del Compás,” and stayed there for 10 years.  He formed his own group again in 1951, and over the years recorded 383 tangos with singers Armando Laborde and Argentino Ledesma, among others.

Another superstar from Valentín Alsina was Sandro, a singer and songwriter. (1945 – 2010)  Sandro sang rock, pop, and ballads.  Not just any ol’ musician, Sandro went on to become a well-known actor, producer, and director.  He recorded 52 albums, selling more than 8 million, and starred in 16 movies.

Sandro on the far right, at a birthday party

Sandro won a Grammy in 2005.  He was the first Argentine pop singer to perform at Madison Square Garden, and is dearly beloved to this day.  Sandro’s star status enabled him to buy a mansion in Banfield, near Lanús, where he installed a recording studio, and lived there until he passed away in 2010.  A statue of Sandro inhabits a nearby park here in Valentín Alsina.

Sandro

Edmundo Rivero, (1911-1986) singer, guitarist and composer, was born in Valentín Alsina.  Rivero trained in classical music at the National Conservatory in Belgrano.  A friend said he was “…a character straight out of the Quixote, born in the Pampas.”  Edmundo Rivero had a deep, gravelly voice, and an unmistakable style.  In 1935 Rivero joined the orchestra of Julio de Caro.  In the 1940s he sang with Canaro.  Later he sang with other orchestras, including Horacio Salgán and Aníbal Troilo.

Edmundo Rivero

    «Mire, Rivero, mejor bájese del palco, porque me parece que esto viene de         “cargada”».

     «¿Le parece?».

     «¿Y no ve que le tiran cosas?».

     «Ah, pero a mí en los bailes siempre me aplauden así».

     «¿Está seguro, Rivero?».

     [translation follows]

     “Look, Rivero, you better get off the stage, they’re starting to throw things.”        

     “You think so?”

     “Can’t you see they’re throwing stuff at us?”

     “Yeah, that’s how they always applaud me.”

     “Are you sure, Rivero?”

Alberto Morán (1922-1997)

Born in Italy, Morán emigrated to Buenos Aires with his family when he was 3 years old.  Morán made his singing debut in 1940 in the famous café El Nacional, known as la Cathedral of Tango (not to be confused with la Nacional, on Adolfo Alsina, or la Catedral in Almagro, or la Catedral in Mataderos).  Morán really made star status when he joined the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese, in 1944.  Some of his most famous songs include “Pasional,” “San José de Flores,” and “El abrojito,”​ which is a kind of thorn that pierces your heart.

Tito Reyes  (1928-2007)

Tito Reyes con Troilo

Tito Reyes was born Tito Cosme Sconza in the Puente Alsina neighborhood.  He and his six brothers were raised by Italian immigrant parents in a house his father built; wooden with a metal roof, the typical immgrant house of the period.  The Sconza family home was elevated 1-1/2 meters above the ground, because the barrio of Valentín Alsina floods frequently due to storms.

No kidding

Tito grew up listening to the radio.  He taught himself to sing, listening to Carlos Gardel on Radio Colonia.  Tito apprenticed as a shoemaker, and later worked in construction and as a welder.  Tito never quit working; he didn’t think that singing in cafés was a real job.  Eventually, though, he must have wrapped his mind around the idea of becoming a professional singer,  because in the early 1950s he began to use Tito Reyes as his artistic name.

The rains always end, sooner or later. The sky clears, the sun comes out, and lovely clouds come riding in on the sunset like a live fire-breathing dragon.

from my balcony

Seriously, how can you worry when you have a dragon like Smaug hanging around?

Saints need sinners.  Otherwise, they’d be out of a job.

Jus’ having a little fun.  Hope you’all are too.  Over and out from Buenos Aires.

3 thoughts on “Valentín Alsina: the Other Side of Buenos Aires

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