La Boca, Bonita and Piazzolla - Day 440
La Boca, Bonita and Piazzolla; Colour, Art and Tango, what more does one need in life?
La Boca is the third place we have visited around the world where a bit of paint has transformed a poor area. Here, the ramshackle shacks made from cast-off shipbuilding material of wooden and corrugated iron from the nearby docks, have been covered in bright blocks of colour. This change is due to one man, a local artist Benito Quinquela Martín.
Benito was an orphan from here and adopted when he was six by some loving immigrants. He worked in the family coal shop, but in the evening would practice painting and drawing. Interestingly, Tim is reading a book called Bounce by Matthew Syed about the myth of talent and how it is all due to practice (I also think you can speed the process up by modelling experts). I reckon Benito practised a lot.
In 1960 he decided to add colour to the abandoned streets and also create a makeshift stage, attracting other artists to this area. With the vibrancy of the place together with the quaint cobbled narrow streets, La Boca now also attracts many tourists and #grownuptravellers, bringing in many artisans hawking their handiwork, stalls selling shoddy souvenirs and soccer sweaters and tango dancers twisting and twirling for tips.
It was pleasant to wander around El Caminito for a bit, the main pedestrian street with the vibrant alleyways enticing us in, mainly for the shade – it was hot. We didn’t buy anything though.
Around the corner, we came across the Museo Bellas Artes de La Boca Benito Quinquela Martín. Crikey, that’s a mouthful. Based in Benito’s former home, it is now a museum for showing some of his work as well as other contemporary Argentine artists. He does sound an extraordinary man, never forgetting his roots and founded a school on the first floor of his home and also locally a theatre, a milk clinic and a children’s dental hospital as well as sprucing up Caminito.
The museum is on the 3rd and 4th floors with fabulous views overlooking the dockyards, and many of his paintings were of this scenery, some with boats silhouetted against stunning pink and orange sunsets. One of our favourite paintings was by Antonio Alice called Viejo Baco, of an old man, perhaps asleep.
In one of the rooms was a collection of bow figureheads superstitiously used to protect the ship or perhaps they had a practical purpose, protecting the bow. There were also a few small rooms of his home which, since Benito’s death in 1977, have been preserved, including his bedroom, study, bathroom and kitchen, all painted in strong colours, including a mini grand piano which he’d painted turquoise and green with some sailing boats on the music stand.
Outside we could walk on the terrace with a number of his sculptures, overlooking the backs of the alleyways. No colourful corrugated iron here, just worn out grey, showing the real state of the place. In the background was the former stomping ground of soccer idol Diego Maradona. I remember well when “the hand of God” helped him to score a goal against us! Mmmm…
We grabbed a taxi to the Guemes Gallery. Gemma and Michael, who we spent the day with at Iguazu Falls recently, recommended going to the Piazzolla Tango and we had reserved a table for the evening but not heard that it was confirmed. Wow, the Gallery is beautiful; a stunning old elevator with gold decoration and a glass-domed ceiling with neo-classical architrave. We were pleased to hear that our booking was confirmed so rushed back to our Airbnb to spruce ourselves up.
We had booked for a Tango lesson, dinner and show. Sadly, no dancing shoes are packed, so my fit-flops and Tim’s trainers had to do.
The lesson was rather basic, it had to be, there were far too many of us on the dance floor bumping into one another; however, we did learn three basic eight count steps. The female teacher came to us and asked if we did ballroom. Chuffed, we said yes, and she then explained that our hold was too stiff, in Argentine Tango the arms and shoulders are quite relaxed!
We entered the theatre with its thick red drapes, gold lion heads, intricate wall designs, and curved balconies for the VIP guests. We were in the middle, sitting next to a table of three Americans. Sadly they didn’t want to chat with us.
Our three-course meal was pleasant; the description that the dishes were “most exquisite” was a bit far-fetched! It filled our stomachs, and the wine was all part of the price.
And then the show started. “Las Cuatro Estaciones del Tango” (Four seasons of Tango) is based on the music of the famous Argentine tango composer and musician Astor Piazzolla. When Astor was eight, his father presented him with a used accordion. Sadly Astor was expecting a pair of skates so you can imagine his surprise at this unusual gift. After several unsuccessful attempts to play the thing, he ended up having lessons. Through thousands of hours of practice, he became a legend in Argentina, with this Theatre being named after him. (Another “Bounce” example.)
The show was fabulous. The eight dancers, performing in pairs, sometimes in groups, displayed such amazing skills. The males were guiding the females around the dancefloor, lifting and swinging them or dancing as if they were joined at the hip. Sometimes their legs, flipping so effortlessly, looked as if they were hardly attached to the knee! The elegance and polished performance was a far cry from where the Tango originally developed, in the brothels and backstreets of Buenos Aires. Still, the show was very seductive.
Occasionally, the band at the back of the stage would play one of Astor’s compositions or would be accompanied by a male and female singer. The male reminded me of Reg Varney – that’s showing my age! A bit too much crooning for my liking.
What a thoroughly enjoyable evening, the show ended and as we left the Theatre, we were greeted with a thunderstorm. Luckily the downpour hadn’t reached us by the time we hailed a taxi. A day of colour, and skill; demonstrating that it takes not just two, but a lot of practice to Tango well.