Sunday, 9 November 2008

First impressions of San Telmo

I went to San Telmo on my first Saturday in Buenos Aires, with the intention of visiting the government-sponsored museum of modern art, and getting off the noisy, busy, dirty streets and into a space where I could actually relax. I liked San Telmo so much that I stayed there all afternoon: it was a different world to the Buenos Aires I'd seen and not particularly enjoyed over my first couple of days in town. It was the complete opposite, in fact: quiet, calm, and clean. San Telmo is the artistic quarter of the city, so maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised by this.

I liked San Telmo as soon as I entered the zone, walking along Defensa: there were antique shops and boutiques, I had space to breathe, and a sense of creativity lingered in the air. Excited, I headed straight to the Museo de Arte Moderna, which … which was closed... The building, although quite nice, looked like it hadn't been a museum for a while, in fact! I wandered further up Defensa to see what else was on offer, and soon found a building owned by an arts and crafts co-operative.

Museo de Arte Moderna

The guy inside the exhibition room was busy painting, so I decided not to disturb him, and to look at the paintings instead. They were nice enough: large figures and bright colours galore. The cubist-y paintings of Liliana Fernández were by far the most interesting on display. I gazed at them for a bit, then headed further up the road, where I came across a mini arcade. A record shop grabbed my attention: it was the first of its kind I'd seen (I'm talking, of course, about vinyl, and not just music - this was strictly vinyl). However, excited though I was, I chose not to enter, because the records were all from way back and probably not to my liking and, besides, knowing what I'm like in record shops, I would probably have picked something up inside anyway…

I went further inside the arcade, and a nice painting towards the end of one of the corridors caught my eye. This was the "Branco" Espacio de Arte, and the owner / curator, Julián Pino was happy to talk to me (he too thought I was French when I started talking…). I asked if the museum of modern art was in fact closed, and he confirmed that, yes, although there are no signs up, it's been closed for renovation for a few years (actually, I did see a sign on one of the walls, but it said that the renovations would be finished in 2007…). He told me that it might open again next year, but the tone in his voice said: "Hey, this is Argentina…"

Julián gave me some information booklets about the art galleries both in San Telmo and across the city and, after asking what type of art I like the most (conceptual stuff), proceeded to highlight those galleries that I might find the most appealing.

The work on display in Branco was by young, up and coming artists (he said "up and coming" in English, suggesting that they use the English term), and I enjoyed a lot of what was on display. Admittedly, a lot of it looked familiar and perhaps not hugely original, but some pieces were very enjoyable. If I end up staying in Buenos Aires for a while, then I may well go back there and visit again sometime.

Galería de la Defensa

I thanked Julián for giving me information and for letting me see the paintings, and continued my trip around San Telmo. I stopped off at the Galería de la Defensa, a lovely little place with open courtyards, second-hand shops and stores full of hand-made goods. There were some nice benches in the courtyard, and the area was quiet, so I sat down for a good while there. It was such a welcome change from the City Centre: I could have sat there for days.

Of course, I didn't sit there for days: I wrote what you've just read above, and continued my stroll around San Telmo. In my hurry to get to the Museo de Arte Moderna, I hadn't paid much attention to the area, and now I walked back the way I had come and gave everything the attention it deserved. My guidebook said that there were lots of pretty buildings in the area, and it wasn't lying. There was also a very lively square - Plaza Dorrego - where people were selling (you guessed it) bric-a-brac and handmade goods, which had tables and beer for people who wanted to relax in the glorious sunshine (it was by now a wonderfully hot day).

Plaza Dorrego

The last place I stopped off at was the Mercado San Telmo, which was full of interesting things. A gramophone shop! I stood and stared and stared and stared some more. Shops full of old toys. Records! I saw the 12" of "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred - this surprised me, but actually, given the gay population of Buenos Aires, it maybe makes sense. Food! Books! Oh my! Books! I browsed through old books for a while and got those tell-tale dirty fingers. I saw a couple that I might one day pick up. "When you've got the time to sit down and read," I told myself. For the time being, with so many new things on offer, the mission is to just write. I'll be back in San Telmo on a regular basis, that much is clear…

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