How much do you know about Flores or Belgrano? Have you heard about the mysterious tragedy of the fiancés in Barracas? Have the cute tangueros of Balvanera sung for you on the hidden street Pasaje Discepolo?
For experienced travellers and expats, the tango/ wine/ meat in Palermo/ Recoleta/ Puerto Madero routine might not appeal anymore. Luckily, with its rich and extensive cultural development, the city of Buenos Aires has collected thousands of stories behind its massive doors and coloured windows. Practically each and every corner of the capital has memories to be shared and in many cases, it’s the lesser-known barrios that offer more interesting anecdotes than the tourist hubs. Surprisingly, a lot of porteños often also stand to learn more about their neighbours who may only live 20- 30 blocks from them.
With that in mind, María del Carmen Sánchez, an artist and director, is offering a new activity called “La historia en su lugar” (The history in its place) for porteños and tourists in Buenos Aires alike. Supported by the city government, she invited two other artists, Marisé Monteiro and Ileana Ledesma in 2010, to join her in taking real history and wrapping it into short theatre plays. She also selected a group of actors and transformed them into unique city guides whose tours never include phrases like “look to the left, now turn to the right”. These guides have an extended role of a story-teller and a character at the same time.
Every tour proposed by “La historia en su lugar” is authentic and follows the same objective: to show the real history of the barrios through the characters that contributed to its creation. Del Carmen believes that in this way the participants perceive it in a more fun and personalised way. One programme, devoted to the writers of Avenida de Mayo,is consistently interrupted by the writers themselves. First we meet a charming Julio Cortázar who talks to us in a French accent, then we suddenly see Jorge Luis Borges running in La Casa de Cultura on his first day of work.
I felt like I was being sent to previous centuries as the characters were appearing out of nowhere and sharing their personal stories as if they had been talking to their friends of that epoch. An absolute absence of a stage and lights made the past history an actual reality, where everyone was observing the life of famous writers behind the curtains.
Meanwhile, “Los Inmigrantes de La Boca” gathers people in the heart of the barrio (which is not Caminito at all!). Famous for the port that received so many boats full of immigrants during the last two centuries, the community of La Boca was created by the funniest and the saddest stories. The workers and tango dancers of Balvanera sing traditional tangos involving the local people, who end up becoming the most important participants of the play. At times this show feels less like a tour and more like a typical evening soap opera, where all actors are passionate characters who hustle and laugh at the same time.
Having the play outdoors sometimes brings challenges, like adverse weather conditions and concerns over safety. Del Carmen Sánchez remembers that back in 2011 the theatre troupe was in need of security at Plaza Flores. The play called “Flores, barrio de poetas y leyendas” (“Flores, a Neighbourhood of Legends and Poets”) attracted not only the theatre lovers but also some drunk strangers who wanted to interrupt the tour. Luckily, nothing happened thanks to security and the artists could work safely.
When the plays finish, Del Carmen asks a crowd for the short evaluation. Alejandra, an elegant lady in her late 60s, shares that she didn´t miss any play in 2012. The programme, she said, enabled her to turn into a tourist in her proper city, and she claimed to have learned much more from the plays than history books. Other porteños on the tour add their own stories related to the barrios – a bonus for the curious foreigners.
For next year, María del Carmen is planning to go into more barrios and look for more stories. “There is so much to say and show about the city of Buenos Aires,” she confirms.
All plays are free and in Spanish, and the average duration is 40-45 minutes and previous inscription is not required. The tours run during the weekends; they start in February every year and finish in October. Every tour except “Los inmigrantes de la Boca” is run once per month. Most plays start at 3.30pm. The barrios covered include Monserrat, Balvanera, Flores, Barracas, Boedo, Belrano, and La Boca. You can find more information about the project and the dates of every play on the website http://lahistoriaensulugar.com.ar