As I write this, I have sought refuge from a thunderstorm inside Centro Cultural Recoleta, where I find myself for the third time in one week. For me, instead of all roads leading to Rome, they’ve somehow led to Recoleta, on my first mini tour of what we Brazilians call the “Cone Sul” of South America.
There’s a little bit of everything in this cultural center named after the upscale Buenos Aires neighborhood where it’s located: alternative films, exhibits, diverse live shows in multiple performance spaces, a bar and courtyard, reading booths fashioned out of plain wooden planks, board games, trippy rings you can sit on that light up and sound almost like a Daft Punk song. You can chill or you can stretch out your senses.
The first time I came here, I walked in randomly because I’d failed to make it by closing time to Cementerio de la Recoleta right next door, where Eva Perón is buried.
I discovered a free concert would take place within the hour, and decided to browse the premises while waiting. To my great delight, I ran into an exhibit by French photographer Raymond Depardon. It features an array of time capsules of the spectacularly mundane in places like France, Ethiopia, Algeria, Zimbabwe and Lebanon.
The interestingly incongruous concert that followed in one of the halls of the center featured a guy drawing a scene on a pad that showed up on the screen, another guy reciting existential poetry, and a third playing the guitar and jumping in and out of tune and into different voice pitches and volumes. They spoke too fast in porteño Spanish and I couldn’t register much of it; perhaps I would’ve gotten more out of the experience had my ears been better trained, but honestly, I was simply happy to have happened upon the show.
My next visit to the Recoleta center was entirely planned.
It happened a few hours after I’d arrived back in Buenos Aires, also for the second time in a week. One of my main aims in turning around and coming back had been to experience Fuerza Bruta, likely the most remarkable show at the Recoleta center and one of the strangest and most impressive I’d get to see.
Think Cirque du Soleil, except a lot more intimate and less frilly, with constant displays of physical impact, plenty of movement of and interaction with the audience, and a black box room devoid of hierarchies (front or back tiers), of a point of focus for the show, and at times of any personal space.
*SPOILER ALERT* One moment, the artists play the drums and dance convulsively on one side of the black box. The next, a guy walks against the wind in the center of the room and breaks through blocks. Then the artists swim in a transparent tank lowered closely above the audience’s head and throw their bodies violently against it. In another scene, they appear above a tarp that a minute earlier had enveloped the audience and sling themselves down and across the ceiling – so entrancing that we don’t even notice our whiplash, or that we’ve been standing for a whole hour.
I’d left it up to my mood whether to return to Buenos Aires after visiting quaint, dilapidated chic Montevideo across the bay in Uruguay (more on that in a later post).
But really, deep inside I already knew I would return.
I had become seriously infatuated with the Argentine capital, not because I was blown away by culinary or cultural or nightlife experiences per se, but because I felt like I melted into the flow of the city and connected with its amiable locals and other captivated visitors.
I even found travel buddies for Montevideo and made new friends I think might last through the distance. It’s the sort of familiarity and synchronicity I remember feeling only once before when I visited a city – in Lisbon, Portugal.
My third and final time at Recoleta for this trip is due to most of my plans for the day falling through.
But these plans not working out also allowed me to try the tastiest empanadas I remember ever having. It was at Mi Tío, into which I had ducked when I’d found the hyped up San Telmo Sunday Fair absolutely deflated because of the downpour. Next, I was supposed to try to find Evita’s grave again, but this time was chased out of the cemetery by lightning almost hitting me (I guess Eva wants me away from her premises).
And so here I am, reflecting and writing for a moment before my next bus – this time 17 hours, to Puerto Iguazu (towards the famed waterfalls), a totally different environment, to say the least.
The more I see of the little bit of the “Cone Sul” I’m getting to experience, the more I wonder what has taken me so long. Why did I have to move so far away before finally coming over, to savor and appreciate my own “neighborhood,” a sense of connection almost unparalleled thus far in my travel life?
Cover shot: Fuerza Bruta in action, July 2017, Recoleta. (Photo by Ana Ribeiro)