South America 2012-2013: Córdoba, Argentina Redux

Well, I'm back in Cordoba, but not for too long. With my friends heading out of town for the upcoming weekend, and their recovering from a typical Argentine wedding on this one, I'll probably just manage to see them a couple times - while otherwise trying to walk off the accumulation of Saltan empanadas and mushed corn specials in the form of tamales and humitas that appear none too enthused to let go of their hold on the shape of my waistline. A homemade pizza dinner at J's parents' house doesn't exactly help that plan, no, but it sure tastes good and is a welcome back to the big city.

Outside of such socializing, though, it's REALLY all about the walkabouts. Fortunately, recent past experience tells me that Córdoba has no shortage of interesting buildings to accidentally run into, almost all of colonial inspiration, granted, but that's fine with me. Grandeur, albeit even faded, still has eye appeal. So, too, does grafiti. So a-walking I go, admiring architecture while bemoaning the poor cement workmanship of MODERN DAY sidewalks and walls. Examples of THAT abound to an insane extent, por desgracia, in all of Latin America. I go back and forth between the reason being simple economics, or just a slack eye toward detail. The bottom line is that the pours are too thin and the bases found underneath are not properly compacted. Since the tiles probably cost more than the cement, and they likely will be breaking soon as a result of the poor pours, I'm guessing it's just sloppy work by and large.

Yes - and here I pull out a soapbox which will likely collapse beneath me - let it be known that the system of requiring every individual to create/maintain the sidewalk in front of their house DOESN'T WORK. Corners will be cut, and the tiled pieces will soon crack and sink. Where the pieces go from there is a great enduring mystery, of course, but the fact that rarely does one see the sidewalks ever repaired is not. So watch your step and save your ankle, I say. (For what it's worth, and it's not much, the last two pics above are actually from Salta to keep things fair - just to show that this situation is pervasive and EVERYWHERE. The trash basket thing displayed above is less annoying, even if sometimes it is only effected as a mere hook on a telephone pole to hang the bags. The important thing is that it keeps said refuse above the level of the dogs - who are also everywhere (ANOTHER digression), and ALWAYS ready to tear into last night's asado leftovers. I digress, indeed I do, indeed I do.... I also repeat myself a bit, indeed I do.

So here's further digression of no import, a shot from when a couple from Philadelphia and I realize a Jenga game (locally faked as Yenga, and using compressed sawdust wood to boot). We got stacking up to the 36th level a few minutes after this shot, equaling (I believe) the best Jenga game my Jenga-crazy family has pulled off:

Not bad for our one and only whack at it, especially considering the fact that we thought the blocks were tougher to work with since half the sides exhibited plenty of friction.

For another digression, one where I scope out the competition in front of the local cabildo, here's a girl with an angelic voice. She invariably stares off into space in something of a weird trance as she alters between opera and even (I shit thee not) yodeling:

Yes, digressions are a sign that I'm catching up on my writing and posting while back in pleasant Córdoba town. And pleasant it really is now, having dropped about 5C and a goodly chunk of humidity. Outside of walking about in circles, I try over a few days to figure out how I'm going to "attack" the wine regions and national parks near San Juan and La Rioja, or even possibly San Luis. At least the strolls expose me unwittingly to interesting architecture, grafiti, and whatnot at many a turn:

It's nice to be in town where so much visual appeal is on tap in so many directions. It's also nice that it feels so safe to walk about late at night. I wander the pedestrian zones around midnight, sometimes seeing an impromptu street barber with a waiting line of clients. Or buskers working the late hours. Kids are still walked about with their parents, too, as taxis might run into surprise roadblocks for the transit police to check papers. Córdoba is appealing alive: It's not for nothing that I'm considering spending some time here working, so impressed am I with the quality of life here.

Speaking to ANOTHER side of life in Córdoba at one time (and Argentina in general), I finally visit the Museo de la Memoria. Housed in what had been a handsome colonial residence around the corner from the very heart of town, San Martin Plaza, it was one of about 30 detention centers in the city during the bad days of the dictatorship. Unspeakable tortures in horrific confinements occurred right among these walls I walk through solemnly. It's beyond sobering to think about as I take in the modest number of displays that can only barely speak to this nasty slice of history.

What I really feel is repulsion, and it's not confined to the Argentine flavor of what happened. This story has been told countless times and is being acted out today still in an unbelievable number of places. With a lugubrious silence I take in the wall of photos, then the screen filled by the video aparatus that spits out pictures of victims machine-gun style to pause on one every once and awhile. The numbers are overwhelming and sickening, a contrast with how the still photos are so often full of hope. Other piles of photos show the victims with numbers placed above their heads, the last moments before their descent into hell.

It's disgusting, seeing so many young lives cut down on the worst pretenses ("communist leanings" is the most typical reason for incarceration and extermination). Again I spy the large photo of men near the museum's entrance, the local group sentenced for some of the crimes. I remember reading in one room of their individual acts of a despicable nature, each mentioning their far-too-numerous-for-being-deplorably-short sentences, and wonder. How can someone do such things and sleep at night? The human beast is a frighteningly complex thing.

Otherwise I begin to wrap up odds and ends. Tired of buses and the time lost in negotiating where to stay and what to see, I finally bail on the grubbier side of tourism. In practical terms, this means that I will be skipping San Luis, San Juan, and La Rioja in favor of another overnight bus to Mendoza. So much for those national parks which I'm pretty sure will be both beautiful AND awfully like some counterparts of theirs found in Utah and Arizona that I'm well familiar with. Instead I'll wallow in the comforts of Mendoza for a short recovery spell of 2-3 days - before moving on to Chile and, more importantly, the beach town of La Serena. The "touristic" agenda there will be to study my navel while munching on fish and perhaps downing and drowning a pisco sour or two.

With my time in Argentina now suddenly very limited, I now feverishly (such as it is...) start working at buying Spanish-language books. This sees me traipsing all over the downtown area with a list in hand... and in vain. Hmm - maybe in Mendoza, I hope. I have better luck finding tango sheet music, however, but this only after going through the 100-200 tangos on my laptop to determine which ones might reasonably play on a trumpet. At 14-17 pesos a pop, I pick up "Yira...Yira...", "Victoria", and "Milonga Triste" as a 3-pack starting kit. I vow to myself that the books and tangos project will be revisited in Mendoza one last time for this trip, plus I'll grab a (plastic!) bottle of chimichurri for the road while I'm at it. I curse myself for having forgotten to buy coca tea (smooth, delicious, recommended for babies to seniors!) while up in Salta (it's only modestly available in the northwest of the country)... while reminding myself that maybe I'll yet find that Argentine cycling jersey in M-ville ahead.

In the meantime I play the night streets of Córdoba a couple of times (an artistic success, perhaps, but unquestionably a financial flop), have a final drinks-n-dinner with Jóse and Mariana, and enjoy the modest drop in temperature in C-town for all my carefree-if-determined walking. By my final full day, a Friday, it's built up again, perhaps a proper prelude to a couple hours of Wagner with the local symphony to celebrate 200 years since his birth. More importantly, THAT gives me the necessary excuse to gain access to check out the brilliant Teatro San Martin, C-town's answer to the grandiose Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. I'm very pleased: The acoustics are stupendous even from my fifth-story, cheap-seat perch. From there one can lean on the long, slightly rickety wooden railing to ALSO note how the trappings of luxury found in seat quality (and railing style, naturally) decreases with increased altitude. We are the rabble, hear us roar! (We also are in greater numbers than the expensive seats found below and in front and center, a vastly young-ish crowd I am nevertheless happy to note.)

Afterward comes the promised deluge of rain to break the heat spell, a lightning storm that eventually erupts as I walk toward Plaza España with Wagner playing on my iPod. Soon the bathtub above properly dumps, turning the streets into rivers to the extent that I twice lose a flip-flop to the torrent - and have to race barefoot down the street to retrieve each in time.

The break in the heat is MOST welcome even for the flip-flop race distraction, nonetheless. Moreover, I can only hope that it does something to keep down the noticeable increase in the number of mosquitoes I've been recently enjoying this time in C-town (versus the last, where they were not an issue even with the much more appreciable heat). My bite collection has veritably gotten out of hand, tiny bulbous and pink-red volcanoes all found up and down my legs since my laptop effectively kept their feasting out of view until too late. These attacks invariably happen when enmeshed in the task of writing this very blog which you are hopefully really, Really, REALLY enjoying at my considerable expense.

But that's about it for Córdoba for a second go-round. I've been making tracks all over the pedestrian zone, marveling at the various colonial buildings I somehow must've missed over all the previous walkabouts. I'm always impressed by just how large and square each city block is, too. Many businesses and residences that have a door to the street, as they all ultimately must, are actually located deep within the bowels of the block. This includes my hostel, where from the terrace I can make out many unrelated rooftops in our block that all stand between the hostel and the street in any direction.

But all this blather can only mean one thing. My tourism in the big C is over. Should I come this way in the coming year or so, it'll likely be with a mentality toward living here for a few months. Time will tell, but I've got a night bus to Mendoza to catch. Another death bus (as I still call all night buses, assuming that I will arrive a physical wreck). Back to Argentina's wine capital, Mendoza!
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