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Welcome to Mesopotamia – Chapter III

Daniel final

In January 2015, Daniel Tunnard and his wife left Buenos Aires after 16 years to move to the small town of Concepción del Uruguay in Entre Ríos, Argentina, build a house and start a family. This is the story of everything that went wrong.

Read this chapter in Spanish here. Leelo en castellano aqui.

One of the surest signs of safe and easy small town life is the number of people sitting outside their houses on warm nights. You can usually find a couple of groups on every block, and remember, they’re 50m blocks, sitting on their deckchairs, drinking mate, chewing the fat into the small hours. It may well be that they just sit there because they’re poor and live in ill-ventilated homes, but if such living conditions improve the quality of life and sense of security for all those passing in the street, it is surely to be desired that such poverty endures.

'Welcome to Mesopotamia' (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

‘Welcome to Mesopotamia’ (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

On the eighth day of our Mesopotamian adventure Charlie the cat decides he’s has enough of the quiet life and goes missing. We have three cats, but Charlie is easily everyone’s favourite, a cat who thinks he’s a dog, who plays fetch with bottle tops and hair bands, a huge, 10kg blond beast, who eats melon and peaches and raisins, and who I love more dearly than anything else non-human, and several humans too. We think he might have slipped out the door and wandered into another apartment, and if this cat wandered into your apartment, you’d think twice about responding to the leaflet that came under your door, pleading for his safe return. If I ever had to replace him, it could only be with a Golden Retriever, and even then that would have to be a charming motherfucking dog. One day, I’ll make a film about him and call it ‘Charlie and Me’, and you will cry even more than you did in those final ten traumatic minutes of ‘Marley and Me’. Don’t say you didn’t. Don’t say you won’t.

I call at the house next door to see if he might have got off our balcony and onto their roof. I tell my neighbour about Charlie, choking back the tears. He opens his house up to me, lets me look in the garden, opens the empty apartment he’s renovating next door, lets me go up on the roof, tells me to call out his name (Charlie’s, not my neighbour’s). Nothing doing. He asks me where my dodgy accent’s from, what I’m doing here. I’m there a while. He shakes my hand and says he’ll show up when he gets hungry (Charlie, not my neighbour). Good people. I expect John C Reilly will play him in the film.

John C Reilly. Good people. (Photo: Asim Bharwani, via Wikipedia)

John C Reilly. Good people. (Photo: Asim Bharwani, via Wikipedia)

The story about how I came to leave Buenos Aires after 16 years and move to Concepción del Uruguay (in Argentina, not Uruguay, although the locals refer to the city as Uruguay, because fuck you, porteños) is a long one. I met my wife Josefina on the bench outside the Bangalore pub in Palermo on 8th March 2008. Where are you from, I said. Entre Ríos, she said. Which part? Concepción del Uruguay. Never heard of it. Though frankly, unless she’d named the provincial capital Paraná, the comically-sounding Gualeguaychú, or a town called Bovril, I would’ve been just as ignorant. (How times change! One of our favourite games now is to take it in turns to name towns of Entre Ríos and see how many we can name without getting stuck. Twenty-six is our record. We don’t have internet or TV in our flat.)

The first times I visited, Concepción del Uruguay struck me as a fairly dull town, population about 75,000. Imagine Crewe, only without the trainspotting opportunities. But as the name suggests, unless you’re one of the many, many people who think the name suggests it’s in Uruguay, it’s on the Uruguay River, and it is the custom of most decent folk to own a yacht or speedboat and sail out to sandy river islands at the weekends, and weekday afternoons too, which pretty much count as weekends. People anchor their boats out in the river, then wade 20 metres to the beach, where they sit on deckchairs and drink mate. Good people.

We got married here in 2011. As my best friend and for the second time best man and I took a knackered taxi to the church, he pondered on whether at our first meeting, in a student house in Sheffield in 1994, we could ever have imagined we’d end up here, in a town neither of us had heard of, grey-suited and whisky-breathed in the back of a shitty Fiat with a cracked windscreen. ‘Mmm’, I replied. It was a rhetorical pondering, anyway.

Round about that time, whenever Josefina and I were heading back to Buenos Aires after a weekend here, Josefina would whimsically say how it might be nice to live in Concepción, maybe. This was said without a great deal of conviction, a longing born more out of her reluctance to get the dreaded four-but-usually-five hour bus back to Buenos Aires. ‘Flecha Bus, la puta que te parió’, as the old saying goes. But the years passed and the idea of moving to Concepción kept popping up. Then I started half-agreeing, in the way you agree to stuff that you’re pretty confident is never going to happen.

The hard life on Isla Cambacuá (Photo via Concepción del Uruguay Tourism Sub-secretariat)

The hard life on Isla Cambacuá (Photo via Concepción del Uruguay Tourism Sub-secretariat)

Then in 2013 we decided we were going to buy a flat in Buenos Aires. Through family generosity we scraped together enough for a theoretical 2-bedroom flat in an area not trendy but not nasty either. We went to see a couple of such places in Villa Crespo, then fell in love, in as much as one can fall in love with something so neglected, with a two-and-a-half-bedroom place in Villa General Belgrano (La Paternal to most people), with a large living room and that much-coveted porteño dream, a balcón terraza, the last balcony at the top of the apartment block, 14 square metres of prime barbecuing space, overlooking the noisy Avenida Juan B Justo, but seven storeys up and thus tolerably noisy. The bathroom needed replumbing, the roofed terrace had a not inconsiderable pigeon infestation after years unoccupied, but we weren’t going to find anything like it this side of Avenida Rivadavia. We put down a deposit in May, and were three days away from completing and, probably, committing ourselves to a lifetime in Buenos Aires, when the owner dropped dead of a heart attack.

You can’t buy a flat from a dead man, not even in loophole-leaping Buenos Aires, so we had to wait for his property to be passed on to his ex-wife. I don’t know how long inheritance stuff takes in other countries, but in Argentina it takes forever. Imagine, you already have one of the slowest and least efficient legal systems in the western world, and on top of that one of the parties is dead. What’s the rush?

Six months passed. In November, as part of the book I am eternally writing about Argentine trains, I took the Sarmiento line out to Mercedes, a pretty town 60 miles from Buenos Aires. Leaving Moreno, the ugly urban sprawl slowly (they’re old trains) fell away and the countryside appeared. I walked around Mercedes, all cathedral bells and sunshine and lawnmower shops (I consider the presence of lawnmower shops in a town the height of civilization) and friendly folk saying how do you do, walking to work, dropping off the kids on foot. I thought: hey! Live in a small town. Hear church bells. Have inane conversations with your neighbour about the weather. Own a lawnmower. I got back on the train, went to Merlo and its traffic and dust, then took the train to Lobos. My body relaxed as the cement and traffic were gradually (they’re slow trains) replaced by trees and cows and all that. Then I got the train back to Buenos Aires, my body tensing up with every station, in the way your body automatically does as you unconsciously harden yourself for everything Buenos Aires can throw at you. I got home and had what proved to be a life-changing conversation with Josefina. We got up next morning. What do you think? I think we should move to Concepción, she said. You? You’ve convinced me to stay in Buenos Aires. We’re a lovely couple, very attentive to each other’s views and opinions. Good people.

The train station at Mercedes, an inspiration. (Photo: Fabio2594, via Wikipedia)

The train station at Mercedes, an inspiration. (Photo: Fabio2594, via Wikipedia)

A month passed, with still no news on the dead man’s will as the law courts went into summer recess. We got our deposit back and went to Concepción that Christmas to look for a house. The pickings were even slimmer than in Buenos Aires, and not just because most of the estate agents were closed for two months’ holiday. The Argentine second-hand market is notoriously overpriced, and nowhere is this more the case than in the housing market. People hold on to the shittiest, crumbliest old places, asking for twice the value and refusing to budge. How dare they keep their own houses and live in them, instead of selling them to us at a steal? The one house we could afford had no windows and evinced such poverty and squalor embedded in it that we knew it could never be fully exorcised, no matter how many windows we put in. The question arose, a question one should always be wary of under such circumstances: how about if we built a house?

Could we? It sounded like fun. How hard could it be to build a house? It wasn’t like we’d be building it ourselves. Surely you just sketch a plan, give it to an architect with a bag of money, and he/she does the rest? Oh, to be so happily ignorant again. We phoned up various people in the know to ask how much the square metre of construction cost. Guesses came in from $3,000 to $6,000. Hang on, you mean we could build a house with a surface area of 100 square metres for about US$50,000? Well, no, but we still found that with the money for our pigeon-infested, dripping-toilet, dead man’s 55 square metres in La Paternal, we could get twice the floor space and a big garden, although rather than paying all that money up front it would tend to haemorrhage out slowly, and not in a good way.

Uncle Jorge, wise man, doctor of medicine, well-versed in the relaxing arts of the quiet life, warned me: if you build your own house, you’re asking for an ulcer from the stress. He was wrong. I got Bell’s palsy from the stress, a partial facial paralysis that miraculously cleared up three days after we moved to Concepción. Although give me another three or four months of house building and by golly, we’ll see about that ulcer.

Enjoyed this? Make sure you read Chapter I and Chapter II if you haven’t already.

Daniel Tunnard’s first book ‘Colectivaizeishon, el ingles que tomó todos los colectivos de Buenos Aires’ is available from Buenos Aires bookshops and mercadolibre.com.ar and as an e-book from Amazon and megustaleer.com.ar.

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Undercover BA: Remake/Remodel – The City’s Best Design Stores

vanessa bell

Vanessa Bell is a freelance writer and trend hunter, running a bespoke personal shopping service called Creme de la Creme, as well as writing as a lifestyle, food, and fashion insider for Wallpaper*, Monocle, and other international publications. She’s lived in Buenos Aires since 2010, having visited all her life as her mother is Argentine. 


When it comes to buying souvenirs as presents it’s easy to fall into the cliched unimaginative tourist trappings, especially when time is limited. The more I’ve travelled, the more I realise that anything cottage industry -be it a cushion, painting or a breakfast bowl- makes for a far more heartfelt gesture, and there is nothing as satisfying as knowing that the design object will serve a practical function and forever remind the recipient of who gifted it to them. My selection of design and concept stores are the ideal spots to source original and contemporary handmade gifts, and with a broad range of prices to suit any budget.

Enseres Bazaar

enseres joined

This meticulously curated shop in Palermo was conceived by art director and photographer Cecilia Miranda, and fashion photographer Miguel Esmoris, founded on a mutual passion for beautiful artisan products and a nostalgia for the porteño bazaars of yesteryear. Enseres offers a selection of objects with a common thread running throughout, products made with exemplary locally-sourced materials, which are equally beautiful to the eye and the touch. Their website offers personal recipes, beautifully photographed with products available to buy at the store as props. 

El Salvador 5986, Palermo. 

Salmon Tienda

salmon joined

Stepping into Salmon Tienda is challenging for anyone with a weakness for interior design and hand crafted items, and this is arguably the most eclectically stocked store in my list. From sumptuous crockery to soft furnishings, art, books and to-die-for bric-a-brac, you’d be hard pushed to leave this store empty handed. Standout wish list contenders are smaller-scale framed works by porteña muralist Lucila Dominguez, commissioned to decorate the recently inaugurated Palermo branch of the Mooi eatery, in addition to some of the traditionally produced items, such as hand loomed scarves and mittens from Chaguar Wachi in Chaco Province, and various other rural cooperatives. 

Cabello 3658, Palermo.



Founded by French born Isabelle Didot, this multi-disciplinary design firm encompasses an architectural studio, interior design services, events, and an in-house boutique. Isabelle boasts an enviable lineage, hailing from a dynasty of printmakers, editors, and French typographers who came to prominence in the mid 1700s when Louis XV fell in love with a simple typeface created by Didot and ordered that all the books in France be printed using it. Products sold in the shop range from bespoke to one-off, including furniture, books, and decorative objects, designed by Isabelle and made by artisans with natural and quality local materials.

Gurruchaga 1840, Palermo

Tienda Patrón

Patron Store2

Owner Laura Patrón Costas’ innate good taste is reflected in the beautiful products she stocks in her design store which spans two floors, with a gallery space in the basement displaying works from contemporary artists on a rolling basis. Patrón’s strength is its imaginative and carefully researched selection of contemporary jewellery designers, from more avant guarde and experimental designers such as Cecilia Borghi with her ceramic creations, to established names such as Cabinet Oseo, Soledad Kussrow, and Gabriela Horvat. If stationery is your Achilles Heel brace yourself, as their hand-painted illustrated notebooks are love at first sight, as are the hand crocheted backpacks from Bamba. 

Malabia 1644, Palermo


mar joined

Mar may be located in Florida, but don’t let that deter you from making the short journey by train to discover this charming store. Mar has created a homage to the Buenos Aires of yesteryear, an adorably quaint store that is the epitome of slow shopping and a perfect excuse for idle browsing. Pick up one of the cute Periplo Ediciones cookbooks, jewellery pieces, or any of the indispensable basics from owner Mar Lazio’s autonomous label, as well as hand-stitched quilting creations from Lubica. Look out for ad hoc events at the store throughout the year with invited dance and guest performance artists toasting the unveiling of new seasonal collections.

Lavalle 1778, Florida

For more insider tips, news, and updates, follow Vanessa on facebook or instagram

Lead image (L-R): Salmon Tienda, Didot, Enseres Bazaar. All images courtesy of stores. 

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The Other Buenos Aires: Villas and the Struggle for Urbanisation

Gastón walked home from his first day of secondary school on a Monday afternoon, mid-March. The 13-year-old arrived, after playing “popcorn” with friends, to discover his cat trapped in a cesspit. In an effort to save the animal, he fell in too. Neighbours tried to pull the boy out and waited more than 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. By the time it did, Gastón had died.

Residents from his Rodrigo Bueno neighbourhood, nestled in the shadow of Puerto Madero’s shiny towers, blame a lack of urbanisation for Gastón’s death. Without proper infrastructure, preventable deaths are common in the villas miserias, or shantytowns, of Buenos Aires. These neighbourhoods are home to 163,587 people, according to the 2010 census, with today’s figure estimated to be much higher. With few exceptions, they lack sewer systems, roads, reliable electricity, and hospitals.

This absence of infrastructure is more than controversial. In Buenos Aires at least, it’s technically illegal.

There are six laws that call on the city government to “urbanise” these neighbourhoods. As of 2015, none of them have been properly implemented. The most recent bill in 2009 was set to improve Villa 31, also minutes from Puerto Madero, bordering the famous Retiro train station.

That law gave the city government 180 days to start implementing urbanisation policies in Villa 31. But six years later, according to newly-elected delegate, Dora Mackoviak, little has changed.

She reclined on a blue lawn chair outside of her house, enjoying a cigarette after a long week of campaigning. Mackoviak, mother of ten, has been at the forefront of the urbanisation fight in her neighbourhood. Over the years she and her neighbours have earned the “fear and respect” of the city government.

“We have been fighting in this neighbourhood for a long time,” Mackoviak said. “We go out, we demand, we make noise.”

She’s seen countless preventable accidents like Gastón’s in her own villa. Fires, electrical accidents, open cesspits, all hazards triggered by shoddy construction. The streets in most villas are too narrow and unfit for an ambulance or car. Even if paramedics can enter, they often won’t. Instead, they wait for a police escort and add significantly to response time. Mackoviak says neighbours sometimes volunteer their own cars instead of waiting for an ambulance.

A narrow passage in Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

A narrow passage in Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Aside from preventable accidents, villa residents are also more likely to suffer from slower, less conspicuous health issues linked to a lack of urbanisation.

Joaquín Benítez, of non-partisan government oversight group ACIJ, explained the domino effect of human rights in the villas. Lead contamination, for example, is exacerbated by flooding, and is especially dangerous for children. These healthcare problems, he said, can’t be improved without urbanisation.

“They could have access to way more rights. They’d have proper water and sanitation infrastructure.” Deaths from preventable fires, caused by unsafe electric grids, he said, wouldn’t be an issue if urbanisation laws were implemented.

Mackoviak has been waiting years for these laws to bear fruit. Meanwhile, the city positions her and her neighbours as “the bogeyman”, she said. And while stigmas and fear of the villas continue to grow, the funds for resolving underlying problems continues to shrink.

Budgetary Nosedive

This year, the amount of money allocated from the city budget for urbanisation is the lowest in recent history.

Money for “vivienda”, or housing, has steadily declined over the past ten years, with only a slight uptick in 2010. In 2015, housing will receive 2.4% of public funds, making it the lowest amount in a decade. This money is reserved for anything from urbanising villas to helping the estimated 600,000 Buenos Aires residents living in emergency housing situations. One in six people in the capital, according to ACIJ, lives in an emergency situation and would theoretically receive that aid. ACIJ projects that only 0.6% of the city 2015 budget will be allocated to villas.

Dwindling budget funds allocation to housing in Buenos Aires (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Dwindling budget funds allocation to housing in Buenos Aires (Courtesy of ACIJ)

If past is prologue, most of these dwindling funds won’t be used. The city has a deep history of under-executing on social housing spending, and over-executing on works in tourist-dwelling areas like Palermo and Puerto Madero. In 2013, only 31% of allocated housing funds were actually spent. In 2014, only 28%. Meanwhile, last year, the city government was 78% over budget for government advertising, according to the 2015 ACIJ housing report.

Julian Bokser, psychology professor at University of Buenos Aires and member of Corriente Villera Independiente, or CVI, works on improving villas without government aid. His organisation fights for urbanisation and social equality through an anti-capitalist, leftist social movement.

Bokser is well aware of the city’s under-spending, and is clear about why it happens. “They spend less than they have budgeted for, and that is a political decision, it’s not an anomaly or that something went wrong. If they wanted to do it, they would have done it already.”

Bokser works with neighbours like Natalia Molina from Villa 21-24, in Barracas, a few kilometres south of the Casa Rosada. She said they’re much better off in 2015 than they were when she was growing up. As a child, she and her family would go weeks without power, and had to walk ten blocks to get clean water. She now lives with her three kids and husband Roberto with running water, electricity, and a patio for her seven-year-old daughter and enormous white dog to play outside.

“But it is the neighbours who have built all this,” Molina said. “It’s not like the government came and said ‘there’s a plan to build a water network, there’s a plan for a power grid’.”

Any materials provided, she added, are “low quality building materials, that are not going to last through time.”

Alvaro Arguello worked on the 2009 urbanisation law for Villa 31, and is still campaigning for its implementation. He said there seems to be more money spent on patching up emergency situations than building infrastructure in neighbourhoods like Molina’s.

The number of people applying for emergency aid, or “emergency housing stipends”, according to ACIJ, rose almost 600% since 2006. In response, the city has increased the amount allocated for emergency situations by more than 200%, according to an annual report from CEYS, the Economic and Social Council of Buenos Aires. The report says that the increases in emergency funding have not resolved or reversed these temporary living conditions

Arguello explained that in the long run, it would be cheaper to build infrastructure housing than to keep paying for temporary subsidies. The increase in emergency funding, he said, feeds the cycle of poverty.

“The [housing] policy is not designed to resolve emergency situations,” Arguello told The Indy. “The local government says ‘every city in the world has a housing deficit’ which is partly true, but what is happening here is that, due to an absent state, the issue is getting worse, year after year.”

Improvised construction work in Villa 21, Barracas (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Improvised construction work in Villa 21, Barracas (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The Reasons

Arguello explained that most politicians publicly support urbanisation. But the word “urbanisation” isn’t explicitly defined in the laws, complicating discussions between parties.

“They have different visions about how to make these things better,” he said. Who will pay? Who are the recipients? What role will different people play? were some of the questions raised when negotiating the Villa 31 law.

Arguello’s colleague, Rocío Sanchez Andía, was deputy of the housing commission from 2009 to 2013, and helped organise and present the 2009 urbanisation law for Villa 31. Andía is a member of Coalición Cívica para la Afirmación de una República Igualitaria or CC-ARI, a social-liberal party founded in 2002 that does not see eye-to-eye with either city Mayor Mauricio Macri or President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Sánchez Andía does not blame the law for ambiguity. She mostly points the finger at a lack of leadership by both the city and national governments.

“If we have organisations that are fighting and are willing to move forward, what’s missing? Political will,” she said. “There’s no decision to abide by the urbanisation law, no decision to abide by the constitution.”

She said that the city and federal governments have “different outlooks and different administration styles” but are able to work together when it comes to clearing real estate.

In 2014 for example, city police and national gendarmerie joined forces and bulldozers, to demolish homes of informal settlers, leaving 1,800 people homeless. They had moved onto the state-owned land six months earlier, demanding urbanisation after they say the government failed to deliver on a 2005 law to develop nearby Villa 20.

Security forces watch on as hundreds of families were evicted from 'Villa Papa Francisco' in 2014 (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

Security forces watch on as hundreds of families were evicted from ‘Villa Papa Francisco’ in 2014. (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

The razing came one week after the murder of 18-year-old Melina López nearby, allegedly by villa residents. This informal settlement, provisionally named Villa Papa Francisco, was outside of areas covered by the existing urbanisation laws, thereby removing protection against eviction.

There were attempts at dialogue for months but the city’s Social Development Minister, Carolina Stanley, later said they were not willing to “negotiate with those who break the law”. The possibility of economic aid to settlers was quickly also out of the question, and their homes were razed to the ground.

Election Time

The neglect of the villas seems to cool down during elections. Macri ran his 2007 campaign on the promises of 10km of subte lines per year, one policeman on every corner, and urbanising the villas. He projected that in ten years, you could urbanise the entire capital.

“These settlements should be gradually urbanised and integrated into the rest of the city,” Macri said in his 2007 campaign. He pledged “open streets so you can have access to an ambulance, rubbish collectors, and the police”, as well as the extension of sewer and water utilities, land rights, and to build permanent housing.

Daniel Filmus and Pino Solanas, opposition candidates in the last mayoral race, published a 2011 evaluation of Macri’s promises. It painted a significant shortfall for housing. “From his promise of 40,000 homes, only 350 were built,” Filmus said in the assessment.

The city government points to steps it has taken to urbanise, even if it is not what neighbours envisioned. Last August, more than 200 volunteers gathered to “urbanise” the Cildañez neighbourhood, or Villa 6, in southern Buenos Aires. The group, according to the Buenos Aires government website, painted 140 houses, planted 350 trees and 600 plants. A “citizens pact” was signed, a commitment from residents and the government to work together in the transformation process.

“If we all work together, we can make a better future for all, especially for our kids, convinced that they can have more opportunities than we had,” Macri said at the event.

Yet this brand of urbanisation is not what neighbours have historically blocked streets and protested for. Molina recalled events like the one in Cildañez in her own neighbourhood, but never a permanent solution.

“The solution is not fixing a lane or putting cement and covering a hole, and that’s it. That’s not urbanisation,” she said. “Because the officials come in, they make promises at election time, they come round to buy some votes, and then they disappear and the problems remain.”

Six existing urbanisation laws for villas in Buenos Aires have not been implemented (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Six existing urbanisation laws for villas in Buenos Aires have not been implemented (Courtesy of ACIJ)

Stigmas and Incentives

Molina supposes that the lack of commitment to urbanising reflects a lack of support for the residents. She said there is a myth about villas, a dearth of understanding that is shaped by people who have never been there. For years, she has felt unable to integrate into a city “that puts you in a different dimension and that excludes you, based on the fact that you live in a villa.

“There’s more than what the media shows,” she says, referring to the dominant stories about gangs and drugs. “Here we also have people who want to better themselves, who do so every day, despite us not having a dignified wage.”

She used to blame herself: “Maybe I don’t make enough of an effort, that’s why I live the way I live, or maybe I deserve this?” she remembered. But doubt shifted. She found an answer, and it was not to leave her neighbourhood.

“I realised there’s another reality worth fighting for. That’s the reality I will continue to build together with my neighbours to be able to leave a better place, a better future for my children and for the children of all the villa residents,” Molina said.

It is a misconception that people are always looking for a way out of the villas, she explained. There is a culture, a physical and emotional closeness, that does not exist in other parts of the city.

“You can say ‘well, I’m off somewhere’ and I know my neighbour knows I’m gone, and he will look after my house,” she said. “Here you know most of your neighbours – maybe in the city you may live next to someone for 50 years and don’t know that person, maybe in the same building.”

But even if they do not want to leave the villas, some residents fear that eventually, they will be forced to. Mackoviak says Villa 31, with its prized location for real estate, is especially vulnerable.

“They want to evict us from this place because it’s very sought after, it’s the most expensive part of the city,” she said, adding that she is worried about her area becoming “Puerto Madero 3”.

Modern towers loom over Villa 31, which is located on a valuable patch of land (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Modern towers loom over Villa 31, which is located on a valuable patch of land (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The start of this process, ironically, could be setting up title deeds for villa residents.

By handing over land rights without proper infrastructure and support, ACIJ’s Benítez says people living on this valuable state-owned space might be incentivised to sell their property. In places like Villa 31, a stone’s throw from the Four Seasons and luxury restaurants in Puerto Madero, this brand of urbanisation could be lucrative for real estate developers.

“If the villa is located in an area that is very valuable to the urban space, it will start to get gentrified,” Benítez said.

There are also those within the villas who oppose idea of urbanisation. Those sitting on their hands are landlords who profit from a recent boom in population, as internal and international migrants relocate to Buenos Aires.

The number of people living in villas grew by more than 50% between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. The actual amount is likely much higher than reported, since many residents are recent immigrants and are not documented. More people meant a bigger demand for housing, and a huge opportunity for landlords. They unofficially rent to multiple families, and control the price of housing. Some of these landlords own 20 homes, and run an unregulated, lucrative system, which CEYS called “predatory” in their 2015 annual report. The urbanisation laws would bring regulation to the villas, and one new house per family, ruining profits for some landlords.

Walls Rising

Mackoviak could barely be heard over nearby drills as she spoke to the Indy in CVI’s abused women’s shelter. Villa 31 has been buzzing with construction lately, but again, not in a way locals hoped for. A four-metre wall is slowly being built on the side facing the upmarket Recoleta neighbourhood. It will separate the villa from a nearby highway and train tracks.

Mackoviak’s room is less than 90 metres from the tracks. Construction workers line both sides of the tracks, just feet from the only bus stop.

“In a couple of months it’s going to be like the Berlin Wall. We’re going to have a wall we can only cross using that bridge, and that’s it,” Mackoviak said.

There is already a wall on one side of the highway, at least one metre tall, with a fence on top. Mackoviak described it as a way to keep them out of Buenos Aires society, rather than integrate them. She wonders why they would build a wall instead of a park.

“It looks like you’re a prisoner when you get close to the wall and you’re behind the fence looking at the cars drive by,” she said. “Like if you were in a jail looking out from the other side.”

The justification was safety. “We’re going to make this bigger so the trains can go through here, we don’t want any accidents,” she said quoting the city government’s logic.

“That’s a lie. There has never been an accident in that crossing… there’s always people’s lack of care and they’re not going to stop accidents from happening just by putting up a wall or a pedestrian bridge.”

The train tracks running alongside Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

The train tracks running alongside Villa 31 (Photo: Kate Rooney)

Moving Forward

Julian Bokser of CVI laughs when asked about his hope in the urbanisation laws, almost spitting out his coffee at the CVI-owned La Dignidad café in Villa Crespo. He explained that many people, especially foreigners, expect something to happen because a law exists.

“That’s not the way it works here,” Bokser said. “The law was an achievement, but our hopes don’t lie solely on what happens with legislation.”

Bokser says the CVI is not hanging around. The group often shoulders the physical and financial burden of rebuilding villas, working with residents, building everything from nurseries to healthcare centres, and a shelter for abused women in Villa 31. He says they focus on the small improvements. They exist, he said, so people can fight for change.

Bokser, to put it lightly, is not optimistic for upcoming presidential elections. Macri, the current city mayor blamed for his inaction, is running for president in October. Macri’s PRO party could not be reached for comment on his record with villas, or his campaign platform regarding the issue.

But Benítez of ACIJ held on to hope through public awareness.

“It’s slowly taking a more important place in the public agenda,” he said. “More people are becoming aware that they are people that have rights.”


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Mural of the Month: Hollywood in Cambodia

Hollywood in Cambodia is a stalwart of the urban art scene in Buenos Aires. Founded eight years ago by six street artists who were commissioned to give Post Street Bar an artistic makeover, HIC is an artist-run gallery and shop located at the rear of the Palermo Soho watering hole. This is the closest you will come to finding a “local” bar in Buenos Aires, with it being the preferred artist hangout and garnering a large band of supporters who make a big turn out for every monthly opening held in the gallery.


A few weeks ago, the founding members called up their friends and invited them to come down and paint a new collaborative mural on the bar’s famed terrace. Already boasting works by international artists such as ROA, BLU and Pixel Pancho, the Hollywood in Cambodia guys took advantage of the rarity of having many local artists back in Buenos Aires at once for the first time in many months. Sonni, Jaz, Pedro Perelman, Chu, Rundontwalk, BsAs Stencil, Stencilland, Pum Pum, Cabaio, Poeta and Falu all descended on Post to collaborate on a wall that spans the length of the terrace. 

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Check out this timelapse video to see the gang in action:

Hollywood In Cambodia – terraza 03/2015 – timelapse from bs.as.stencil on Vimeo.

The wall includes the signature stencils of BsAs Stencil, RDW and Stencilland, Cabaio, Sonni’s fun and quirky cartoons, a human/animal hybrid by Jaz, an industry-scape t-shirt by Pedro Perelman, Chu’s classic connected dots, a punky girl by Pum Pum, a roaring beast by Falu a patchwork of geometry by Poeta. 

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Hollywood in Cambodia can be found at Thames 1885, Palermo. For more information on the bar and art openings, visit www.hollywoodincambodia.com.ar or their facebook page

This article was produced in collaboration with Graffitimundo, a non-profit organisation which celebrates graffiti and street art in Buenos Aires and supports local artists. For more information on the artists, exhibitions, and Buenos Aires street art tours, visit their website or facebook page

Photos by Sorcha O’Higgins. 

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Journey Through Time: The Life of Calle Florida

“When we were children, if we wanted to go to the Calle Florida, we had to dress our very best. If we didn’t have the correct clothing we didn’t go, we were ashamed.” Sara Schindler, on her 85th birthday, remembers the elegance and class that defined the Florida of her childhood in the 1940s. Schindler was a member of a poor family on the outskirts of the city. Calle Florida, of which she speaks adoringly, was the centre of a city that, during that era, buzzed with progress and sophistication.

Today, walking along Florida’s ten blocks from Av. de Mayo to Plaza San Martín, your ears ring with a chorus of “cambio, cambio, change, dollars, reales,” The constant call for exchanging money mixes with the opera singers on street corners, multiple languages, and the odd electric-guitar amp blasting above the rest of the buzz in the centre of the bustling pedestrian street. Florida is a true quilombo, a mess of energy, style, chaos, elegance, poverty, and above all, layers and layers of history. They are all plastered one on top of the other like those election propaganda hurriedly graffitied on bus stops in the middle of the night.

The Harrods building on Calle Florida, then and now. (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

The Harrods building on Calle Florida, then and now. (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Argentine author Delfín Leocadio Garasa wrote in his 1981 book ‘La otra Buenos Aires. Paseos literarios por barrios y calles de la ciudad‘: “On Calle Florida all historical periods are superimposed, which preserves its existence”. And it’s not just the buildings: Florida’s history also exists in the stories of the people who lived during the drastically different periods in the street’s history.

Buenos Aires in itself is a fascinating mishmash of political regimes, economic booms, crises, moments of despair, and times of prosperity. It comes as no surprise, then, that Florida, a street so expressive of the commercial and aristocratic history of Buenos Aires should fully reflect these changes. Come with me on a journey through time, from the beginnings of Florida, to its time in the spotlight, and its current movement toward the periphery of porteño culture.

Animals, Dust, and Trenches: Florida Street Pre-Independence

Florida existed long before it was named such, and long before streets were paved. When Spanish conqueror Juan de Garay, the second founder of Buenos Aires, drew his plans for the city in 1582, Florida was the first he traced. It had a commercial soul from its very beginnings: the dirt road “was the place where they began to construct the first stores that sold things in the city in that era,” describes Hector Moreno, president of the Friends of Florida Street Association.

The street – which remained nameless until it became Calle San José in 1744 – didn’t resemble the architectural and cultural mix that is Florida today. In the Boston Foundation’s history of the street, it is described as “a lot of mud, grasslands, and ponds of standing water or dust and more dust over a hard crust traversed by deep tracks and grooves from the wheels of the carts depending if it rained or was dry.”

According to the foundation, humans weren’t the only ones who navigated the street in that era: “And precisely the continuous march of loose animals—cows, pigs, oxen, horses, and stray dogs—especially at cross streets, produced deep pits and trenches where residents would throw waste and even dead animals.”

Modernisation and Multiple Names

Little by little the street became modernised. San José was the first street in the city to become “paved” and acquired the name del Empedrado (cobblestoned) when cobblestones were laid down from 1785 to 1789. It was also colloquially known as del Correo (the mail street), as the post office was located at one extreme of the street, near Plaza de Mayo.

“It had many names, because obviously, they went along changing names according to the president or who was in power,” adds Moreno.

The definitive name ‘Florida’ was set in 1822 to commemorate the Battle of Florida eight years earlier, in which the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata won a battle for independence in what is now Bolivia.

Florida continued to be the modern centre of the city in every sense except geographical (it is located in the far east). A tram was installed toward the end of the 19th century, and it became the first street in Buenos Aires to have electric lights in 1887.

As immigrants flooded into Buenos Aires’ port and European people and ideas became more and more valued, changes on Florida came quickly. Gath & Chaves, the first upscale department store in the city, was founded in 1883. In 1897 the exclusive Jockey Club was founded on Florida 102. And Harrods opened in 1914, becoming the only use of the iconic London store’s name outside of England.

In 1932 Florida was “old and narrow, but still the chief shopping street in the city,” according to an MGM travel programme produced that year.

“The presidents of that time would walk along the street,” remembers Rosita Bas, 90-year-old secretary of the Friends of the Calle Florida Association. She vividly describes the way that Argentine presidents would receive foreign leaders in the Casa Rosada, and walk them down the street, with an entourage of ambassadors and official cars until they reached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located in Plaza San Martín.

“At Florida 400 there was a men’s tailor shop: Rhoders. And the owner would bring his employees out onto the street with flowers when the processions passed by,” adds Bas. “And when the ambassadors passed, the flowers were always the colour of that country’s flag. Very beautiful.”

Beautiful Buenos Aires

“Everybody throngs through the narrow calle as if it were the feature street in the block party,” proclaims a 1950s Braniff International Airways tourism video titled ‘Beautiful Buenos Aires’.

In the 1950s Florida was still the commercial centre of activity in Buenos Aires. The enthusiastic narrator declares, “Practically everything that the civilised world has for sale may be purchased here and the prices are comparable to those of the world’s cosmopolitan cities, except the price of alligator bags, which are surprisingly low.”

Toward the mid- and late-20th century came a series of dramatic changes to taint Florida’s commercial and aristocratic glory. The Jockey Club was burned by Peronists in April 1953 in what the Boston Foundation called “one of the biggest tragedies of our street”. With the Jockey Club, “an era of Florida ended, and with it went valuable works of art, the exquisite real estate, and numerous volumes from the library.” Gath & Chaves was closed definitively in 1974.

The year 1971 brought a complete remodelling of the street, commissioned by the city government and supported by the Friends of the Calle Florida Association. The distinction between the road and pavement disappeared, essentially pedestrianising the street. A discrete marker in remembrance of its cobblestoned past reads: “From primitive cobblestones of the Calle Florida. Erected during the remodelling work in 1971. Buenos Aires City Government.” The marker, surrounded by a square of cobblestones, remains today, hidden behind the entrance to the subte station on Diagonal Norte.

A small patch of cobblestones remain from the historical Calle Florida (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

A small patch of cobblestones remain from the historical Calle Florida (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Schindler, who mostly spent time on Florida during special occasions as a child, especially remembers the elegance of the clothing.

“Before, everyone used to go with starched collars and hats and fancy gloves. Not just anyone went to Florida. Now yes–anyone and everyone goes. That era was very aristocratic. It was elegant. There were bakeries, restaurants, and dance halls with orchestras. It was very, very beautiful.”

Carlos Berta, a waiter in the iconic Florida Garden at the intersection of Paraguay, echoes Schindler’s sentiment. The Florida Garden, which opened in 1962, “is the same as always. It didn’t change much. What has changed are the people.” The way they dressed “at five in the afternoon, for example, they came to have a cup of tea, the women with big hats, gloves, the men with top hats, many suits, many ties. And now, they dress very commonly. We are all dressed the same.”

Nightlife on Florida during the mid-20th century benefitted from the novelty of the cinemas on nearby Lavalle. “When the movies ended, many people came here to have a coffee. They could walk down Florida from end to end, which was safe. There was no fear,” says Berta. Today, the tourists leave as the sun goes down, and nighttime brings homeless people, brothels, and seedy bars. According to an article in Clarín, the fast-food restaurants that now occupy almost every block wrap extra food and hand it out to cartoneros and others who don’t have anywhere else to go.

Florida remains as commercial as ever, but its cultural and commercial relevance has moved to other parts of the city, such as the ever-sprawling, ultra-hip neighbourhood of Palermo.

Central No More?

Harrods is arguably the most iconic reminder of Florida’s elegant past and uncertain present. Its windows have remained empty since 1998, when economic decline and a lawsuit over the name from the London department store led the owners to close the doors.

“The first half of the ’90s was a fairly good economic period. And obviously this was reflected in the life on Florida and commerce in general,” says Francisco Muñoz, concierge from the Plaza Hotel. “In the second part of the ’90s it began to decline, we began to pay the dollars that we were spending abroad. And so, many businesses closed, Buenos Aires was very expensive for tourism in general. And Florida is a street that lives through tourism.”

The December 2001 financial crisis brought a low point for the country’s economy, and was painfully visible on Florida. “A lot of things closed, and the ones that stayed open were always less elegant, less classy, than the former ones,” says Muñoz.

A painfully visible reminder of Florida’s past is the Richmond Café, which opened in 1917 and was closed in 2011. It served as a place of meeting for the prestigious Florida Group, which most notably included writer Jorge Luis Borges. Legislation protecting buildings of historical significance required that the original façade and parts of the interior remain untouched, but do not protect the commercial nature of the building. Instead of traditional waiters serving coffee to patrons on silver platters, sports clothing clashes weirdly with elegant chandeliers and antique wooden panelling.


Inside the former Richmond café, now a sports clothing store (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

And the changes on Florida continue. The day Antonio Capraro, owner of café and ice cream shop Vía Flaminia, was interviewed for this story, he announced that in just a few weeks his store, which has been open since 1983, would be closing its doors for good. “The majority of our clients are employees,” he explained, “and employees today can’t spend money. Before, we used to sell 8kg of coffee per day. Now we sell four.” Those very employees “used to have a much higher purchasing power than they do now. Now they don’t make enough to go out for lunch”

As for people’s appearances, Capraro remains negative. “About 1% of the people who come in are well-dressed,” in comparison with the past. Now they are “bad. Badly dressed, bad quality footwear.”

Far from the upscale department stores and cosmopolitan fashions of the past century, Florida today is the place to go for discount clothing, fast food, and to exchange money. Many are pessimistic about the street’s immediate future. Juan Seusins, concierge of the Plaza Hotel, suggests that the current economic situation and uncertain political future discourage entrepreneurs from investing in business on the street. “Everyone is sitting on their savings, waiting to see what happens,” he says.

When asked to look further into the future, he is more relaxed. “It’s all cyclical. One day it’s good, the next it’s bad,” says Seusins. “Only God knows. I hope it changes for the better. I hope that there aren’t as many people saying ‘cambio cambio’ and inviting the tourist to come and sell dollars. That is the part of the Calle Florida that I don’t like.”


A regular day at Florida (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Yet the president of the Friends of the Calle Florida Association is optimistic about the street’s future projects. For one, the relationship between the association and the city government is, “at the moment, excellent,” says Moreno. “We have, you could say, almost permanent contact with them—with all of the functionaries and the mayor himself, and that is very good.”

Moreno speaks in a less nostalgic manner about Florida. He also seems to see it as a cyclical process that flows with the evolution of the country. He seems resigned to these shifts. Referring to the changes in many of the historical businesses in the past few decades, he comments: “They close because the owners die and they don’t have heirs, and they are large buildings. The successors sell them. But the entire structure of the building is preserved, that is the beautiful part.”

The project to renew the streets of Microcentro and make them more pedestrian-friendly has nearly finished, “save for a couple more streets,” says Moreno. Looking to the future, Moreno and the association have a vision of Florida as not only a centre of commercial activity, but also as an open-air art gallery, promoting “art and culture with monuments, sculptures, with tonnes of paintings”. By hanging large canvas paintings in the windows of a former business that has been closed, for example, he sees it as an opportunity to showcase local artists in temporary exhibits.

Recent photo of Florida Street (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Recent photo of Florida Street (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Despite mixed opinions about the immediate future, people seem somewhat optimistic about the long term.

The street has come a long way since it became the first in the city to get electricity. By 1899 electric lighting had reached the fronts of buildings, and according to the Boston Foundation, “Florida is and always was a commercial street of excellence.”

Now it may be joining the contemporary era, but is no longer a leader of excellence. When it comes to wifi access, for example, only on 13th March did Florida follow the rest of the city in becoming a free point of internet access – number 281 in the list, quite far from being a pioneer.

Florida is a place of high hopes, and for some, unrealised dreams. For Capraro, his ice cream parlour “never gave the results I expected”. He had dreams of luxury and elegance upon opening in 1983, it fell short. Seated inside the luxurious Vía Flaminia, he serves me an indulgent coffee drowned in honey, and finishes on an upward note: “For me, Florida will someday have a comeback. Because it is very important, and we can’t deny this.”

Florida is no longer “the feature street on the block party.” Seeing as fashions, cinema, and nightlife have moved away, it is safe to say that not only is it no longer the feature street: at least for the moment, it seems that the party has gone elsewhere.



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Cocktails and Colour Palettes: Paint Nite Argentina

During a night out in Buenos Aires, you generally don’t have to worry about accidentally dipping a paint-covered brush in your glass of beer, or mistaking murky paint water for a cup of Malbec. But at Paint Nite events in Buenos Aires, participants are provided with an apron, canvas, painting materials, and expert artistic guidance while buying drinks and creating a masterpiece.


At Simone Bar about to start the Paint Nite event (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

This is not your typical high school art class. “What we do is play,” says Monica de Gregorio, one of Paint Nite Buenos Aires’ artists.

I attended a Paint Nite event on a Wednesday night in Simone, an elegant restaurant and bar along the water in Puerto Madero. After the first 15 minutes of chatting, mingling, drinking, and wondering what we had signed up for, the artistic work began. Monica, our artist and teacher for the night, immediately broke the tension: “This is an event to enjoy yourself, to have a good time. If you know how to paint, great! And if you don’t know how to paint, it’s even more fun.”


The paintings even matched the cocktails (photo: Lucía Hernández)

Using the painting ‘Circles and Stems’ as a model, Monica guided our group of 25 budding artists through the process of mixing of primary colours, creating the illusion of a lighted a background, and ensuring continuity on our canvas. She circulated throughout the room, guiding us with her knowledge and experience, but also gave us the freedom to interpret for ourselves. “Those colourful balls can be flowers, joyful spirits of the night, or if you want to think outside of the box, go for it!” Some of our painting mates had different ideas: “sperm!” shouted one enthusiastic participant.

Many of us initially agonised over our execution of the shaded background according to Monica’s instructions—did I have enough green in the “greenish grey” border? Had I left enough white toward the middle of the canvas to make sure it looked “illuminated”? Everyone looked around the room, silently evaluating each other’s painting skills and looking for validation.

After a while, however, the atmosphere changed. Whether it was the beer or the blossoming artists inside of us, the room became a centre of calm. Without realising it, each painter became focused inward on their canvas, brushes, and colour palate for the final hour of creating colourful circles to complement our stems.

Monica has been teaching painting in schools for over 25 years, and loves “to be able to do this in a non-academic environment. This is not like a painting class in school,” she emphasised. The top 40 music playing in the background, drinks alongside the paintbrush water, and the range in talent and experience of the students are certainly unique from your 7th grade art class.

How are the adults of Paint Nite different from Monica’s school-age students? “Adults have more fear. When they know they can do something, they can paint freely, but they must be awakened.”

The end of Paint Nite (photo: Lucía Hernández)

The end of Paint Nite (photo: Lucía Hernández)

People’s reasons for coming to the event varied: “My friend told me there was going to be art and alcohol, so I said yeah,” said one attendee. Others attend each week “as a form of therapy. You spend two hours with your mind blank,” commented Paint Nite’s Argentina Licensee, Genoveva Aguirre.

Genoveva, who originally worked as a travel agent, discovered Paint Nite on a trip to Boston. “Painting is my hobby, and I always liked to paint with my friends.” She turned her hobby into an occupation in May 2014, when Paint Nite Argentina was first introduced in Buenos Aires. Unlike franchises that must maintain everything identical to original brand, Paint Nite operates under a licensing model. This means that Genoveva is allowed a certain degree freedom in her execution of the events in Argentina. “Everything is exactly the same as the events in the US, but we add something a little porteño. The New York events are much calmer.”

Francisco, Genoveva’s son and assistant, commented on the beginnings of the event: “First it was mostly friends of our friends, until word of mouth took over and the event grew.” Paint Nite currently operates in three different bars in Palermo, Puerto Madero, and Martínez, and is looking to expand in the future.

“The objective is to have a different night out,” says Genoveva. I left my first Paint Nite feeling relaxed, and with some great conversations from porteños and foreigners alike, great photos of my artistic prowess in action, and a beautiful canvas painting to decorate my apartment and show off my newfound talent.

paint nite head photo

Paint Nite attendees enjoying themselves while painting. (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Awaken your inner artist: check out the Paint Nite Argentina website to find out about upcoming events and locations. Photos of past events can be found on their Facebook page. Events are $350 and include all painting materials and artistic instruction, drinks are extra. Take advantage of the exclusive discount for Indy readers: enter the code INDY when you sign up online and receive 30% off!


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Refined Tastes

Closed minds, struggles to be creative.

In the affluent neighbourhood of Recoleta, cafe Lattente didn’t work: bad sublet, stoic residents, difficulties adapting to a new culture. Talk of months spent in court fighting to regain what had been lost straightens Zehan’s smile, attention drifts towards a cloudless sky; I drift with her. “I thought we’d sell good coffee.” She lights a cigarette; inhales, exhales sharply. “There were problems.” From tall trees crisped leaves fall, settle around us. I wonder what went wrong. “New approaches met old habits,” she says.

Having arrived from Russia aged 23, by 25 she wanted to leave. A rented apartment was taken back, advanced payments kept by the landlord, belongings left by the side of the road. Zehan came home to find locks changed and her dog missing. “I was stood on the street with my things, it was hot,” she says, “no one offered me water.” Grimacing like she’s tasted blood, plumes of smoke cloud the air around us. “I mean, what is that.”


Zehan Nurhadzar Lattente co-founder (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Coffee is served, I thank her business partner, sip from a tall cup. Relaxed in each other’s company we converse about street art, Palermo’s vibrant community, youthful expression. “Ever find your dog?” I say.

“I don’t know what happened.”

Trying to settle, to succeed, floods came from above, a relationship strained to the point of question. Zehan met unwilling residents through legal obligation, as seems customary in Buenos Aires the process would last months. Once concluded at a financial loss, damage needed to be restored. With nowhere to stay there seemed nowhere to go, a return home to Indonesia was considered. “That period adjusted my personality a lot,” she says, “I used to think people in Buenos Aires had ugly thoughts.” We laugh a little, exchange smiles. “My father, he has his own business, three times it didn’t work out, but he kept reopening,” she says, honesty shared as naturally as her time. “I’m stubborn about what I believe in, that person before wasn’t me.”

Farmer, picker, roaster, barista; to extract flavour is to leave bitter tastes behind. I drink coffee so rich in flavour it lingers like a memory, curiosity stirs, sensory awakenings; I wish to know more about process. “The amount of oil taken from the bean should be minimal,” she says, “there’s a lot you can learn.”

On a street outside Lattente people come and people go. Motorbikes zip by on a busy road, car horns toot playfully in the distance; buenas noches replaces buenas tardes. Soon strollers will swing under a clear evening sky. I ask what it means to work alongside a youthful vanguard, competition from rival business, fresh faces. “It’s great, a lot of people come to Palermo, there’s opportunity here.”


A saturday afternoon at Lattente (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Ink stained, tan, summer dresses and short sleeves, customers arrive steadily until closing. Zehan plays with tired children clinging to a parent’s leg, asks about their day; tickled bellies, flushed cheeks. Interruptions become introductions. “We don’t have internet, you can understand a lot through other people.”

She’s needed in the cafe: new business cards, a stock order, jokes shared with relaxed employees. Regulars are embraced with an enthusiasm suited for celebration. I watch on through a glass exterior: tall tables, wooden stools, a comfy sofa, scents of nut, pipe tobacco, and spiced caramel drift from an opened door. On a wall behind the counter an animal picks beans from a tree; tall chalkboards advertise tastes of the day. In many ways Lattente is a common space to spend time, a place where a pen is not required in order for your name to be remembered.


Zehan tamping the coffee grinds to make a wonderful espresso (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Zehan returns, sits by my side. For a while we discuss the difference in attitude from Recoleta, working relationships with city residents. “Here, we talk about our coffee,’ she says, ‘a customer asked for his milk to be warmer, but we don’t heat above a certain temperature because it breaks up components that can make your stomach bad. He came back with friends and asked me to explain this to them.”

On her wrist is a tattoo of the cafe’s logo, a steaming cup ringed by red ink. “A friend did it,” she says, pointing at a tattoo shop across the road “my business partner has one too.”

Petit, warm, lyrical, embracing; partnerships are formed through casual conversation. In the coming days a chef will make organic yoghurt for the cafe. Last weekend a local baker sold fresh cannoli from a stall front of store, the week before bagels were offered to hungry locals by a travelling chef. “These people are food engineers,” Zehan says, “we work together.”

In the three years since Lattente opened its door to bustling Palermo, there have been collaborations with community, projects with city charities; a national award for her product. I ask what it means to be recognised for what she does. “They are passionate about it,” she says, “the people who gave us those awards make serious coffee.”


Zehan showing  her Lattente’s logo tattoo (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

“How important are the baristas?”

“Very, they control the final step, but there’s a long process of nurture involved.”

Night time plots begin to thicken; passages ready to be explored. Restaurants brim with hungry bellies, pinked tourists enter bars in search of Latin flavours, dogs are walked and carried under arm, yawning locals rest easy on steps; to the sidewalk taxis deliver the latest looks. Above us water drips from potted plants; puddles form, puddles dry. Zehan hands me a postcard. “You should send it to someone, say hello,” she says.

“I’ll do that.”

We hug, laugh about how easy company can be with an initial stranger, make plans to spend time together again. Soon she will open a shop in Plaza Italia, a stop and go for busy commuters trying to make their way underground. “Things turn around,” she says.

Lattente can be found at Thames 1891 in Palermo. The cafe sells exclusively Colombian blends, and also sells ground coffee to enthusiasts. Open Monday-Saturday, 9am-8pm, Sundays 10am-8pm. For more information visit their site www.cafelattente.com or their Facebook Page


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Beyond your Guidebook: Expert-Led Walking Tours

On a sunny morning last week, my inner history geek and curious traveller were awakened when I joined Context Travel’s new The Making of Argentina walking tour. While meandering through downtown San Telmo, the walk examines the impact of immigration on the formation of Buenos Aires and the country as a whole. Context’s new Expert-Led Walking Tours take tourists and locals alike beyond the façades of Buenos Aires’s historical neighbourhoods to experience the city’s rich history and culture that surrounds them.

Natalia Barry (right) and the group at the National Historical Museum, Buenos Aires. (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Natalia Barry, our guide, opened the tour in Puerto Madero with the story of her grandmother, Antonia, who came to Argentina in 1920 during the second or third wave of immigration. Natalia’s interest—both personal and academic—in the subject matter was evident. Her eyes lit up with enthusiasm as she illustrated the image of the old Buenos Aires port in the time of her grandmother’s arrival to Argentina. Armed with photos, music, tango lyrics, and stories, she made the neighbourhood come alive.

Over classic porteño coffee and cookies in the middle of the walk, we learned the history of the alfajor, a standby dulce de leche-filled treat now found in any food store or café, which came along with Spanish immigration.

Travelling through three centuries in three hours, we saw, heard, and felt the undercurrent of modernisation in the city. As we strolled along the cobblestoned Defensa towards Plaza de Mayo, we compared the simpler, more traditional colonial style of Spanish-inspired arches, and the elaborate, French architectural masterpieces that the city sought to use to mask the colonial history. We listened to three distinct styles of tango music, and analysed the moods from decade to decade.

Reading old Tango lyrics ‘El porteñito’ (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

The small size of the group walks—a maximum of six people—permits the docent to personalise the walk, respond to questions, and give participants insider tips and suggestions for the rest of their stay in the city.

Lily Heise, expansion manager from Context Travel, explained: “It’s eye-opening going on these walks sometimes, there’s always these wow moments.” It’s true: on my way back to work after leaving the walk, I found myself analysing every street corner and wondering – with new eyes – whether this corner had been constructed pre- or post European immigration.

Context offers walks in 28 cities around the world and recently started five walks in Buenos Aires. These include the history-focused The Making of Argentina walk, the more architectural Belle Epoque walk, the Evita and Peronism walk, for a more political understanding of the city, and Tango Beyond the Dance, to learn about the music pulsing through the city’s past and present. The Welcome to Buenos Aires walk rounds out the offering, giving visitors an introduction to the city and the tools to navigate the area in which they are staying.

So what makes Context’s walks different from any other traditional walking tours in the city? The walks, says Heise, “are like little seminars, a three-hour course on the subject matter, because then they’re giving you the tools to understand and to see on your own.”

Context calls their tour guides docents, as many are Ph.D. level professors and local experts in their field. The tango walk, for example is led by professional porteño tango dancers, who take participants to a hand-made tango shoe store, the bohemian La Boca neighbourhood where Tango began, and finishes in a milonga.

Last stop at Plaza de Mayo Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Lucía Hernández)

Docents on the Belle Époque walk are architects with extensive research in their field who “not only talk about styles and evolution of an architecture movement, but also are going to tell you more about how that fit into the era and the social implications of it. So you’re not only seeing a building, but you’re also understanding its importance to the whole history of the city,” says Heise.

What makes Buenos Aires ideal for this type of tour? “It’s a city of surprises, and there’s a spontaneity here that I think isn’t found in other places,” says Heise. This can be good and bad. During our walk, Natalia fought against the roar of morning traffic, aggressive drivers, and parks under construction along our tour route. However, this allowed her followers to see a truly authentic view of the city.

And to go even deeper, keep an eye out for the first Buenos Aires Expert-Led food walk, which is currently in the works. It will add another layer to the historical-cultural experience of Context’s walks by allowing participants to taste the creations of this cosmopolitan city.

Except the two-hour Welcome to Buenos Aires walk, all walks are three hours and give you the option of joining a regularly scheduled tour (US$60 per person) or booking a private group tour, depending on your preferences and availability. Check out Context’s website for more information and to book your tour.


Posted in Life & Style, The City, Travel, Travel, Travel FeatureComments (1)

Undercover BA: The Holy Grail of Vintage

vanessa bell

Vanessa Bell is a freelance writer and trend hunter, running a bespoke personal shopping service called Creme de la Creme, as well as writing as a lifestyle, food, and fashion insider for Wallpaper*, Monocle, and other international publications. She’s lived in Buenos Aires since 2010, having visited all her life as her mother is Argentine. 

For any vintage lover, Buenos Aires is a thrifters paradise. Unlike London, for example, where even the do-gooder octogenarian volunteers have cottoned on to the vintage phenomenon and aren’t afraid to price accordingly. “It’s a for a good cause,” they always say when you baulk and quibble over the hefty price tag. Not so in Buenos Aires. Sure, vintage clothing has become coveted in recent times, there are more and more online enterprises, artfully curated shops and showrooms, but if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, your efforts will be rewarded.

Cheap as chips Aventura (Av. Rivadavia 3484) is THE place to find that diamond in the rough, if the smell of granny’s closet and dust don’t detract you. Ask nicely and platinum blonde matriarch Valeria will give you access to the backroom. I’ve unearthed precious gems here. If you’re at a loose end on a weekend, Saturday’s Dorrego Market (Plaza de Los Andes, Dorrego and Corrientes) is the perfect place for a rummage, or head to Parque Centenario in Caballito and walk around the circumference of the park to while away the day and come back with a bag full of indispensable $20 bargains you’ve convinced yourself you really can’t live without. The Galeria Quinta Avenida (Av. Santa Fe 1270) is another must, the faded glory of this vintage shopping mall is exactly what gives it its charm, with erratic opening hours and shopkeepers as colourful as the clothes they stock. 

But if you want someone else to do the leg work for you, I’ve selected five of my current favourite showrooms and vintage enterprises I personally shop from and also include in my shopping tours, with a drool-worthy selection, and thankfully not a mothball in sight. 

Holy Innocents

1) Holy Innocents

This online boutique has been honing and perfecting its look and selection for the last couple of years, producing stunning look books with pared down fabulous basics and wardrobe staples. With a regularly replenishing stock and a penchant for muted palates, this is exactly what & Other Stores crossed with Cos would look like as vintage 20 years down the line if we were afforded the luxury of time travel. In other words, impossible wish-list territory.

You browse and buy everything online from their website, and the pieces are conveniently delivered to your door by courier, with the option of next day delivery. 

Vittoria crop

2) Vittorita

One of my vintage go-tos, sisters Pamela and Daniela scour BA’s estate sales, auctions, and far flung markets for the most delicate and feminine vintage pieces. With a seasonal collection, photographed by talented photographer Dani, this vintage showroom feels more like a label in its own right.

Run out of Pamela’s adorable little studio apartment in San Cristobal, she makes you feel at home with jazz playing and a relaxed atmosphere to try on at leisure, leaving you with the dilemma of what you can afford to take with you and what you can’t afford to leave behind. 

Appointment only.

Almacen de Lulu

3) El Almacen de Lulu 

The Almacen de Lulu is an appointment-only showroom located in a beautiful San Telmo mansion flat, think palatial entrance with white marble foyer and greenery. Lu started the enterprise several years ago when her mother, a renowned Latin American writer and journalist, decided to entrust to her the beautiful wardrobe she had amassed from her years of globetrotting.

Having clearly inherited an eye for beautiful things, Lu has gradually sourced other pieces to add to the impressive collection of daywear, party wear, accessories, and pretty much anything else in between. If you’re a sucker for vintage, this place will make you salivate like a hyperactive kid in a sweetshop. 

Appointment only.


4) Miel

Miel is the vintage enterprise of Argentine Julia ‘Miel’, whose adorable selection of vintage threads are available to buy online and at J U N T A S, a regular pop-up sale she sells at along with other local creatives. The garments are all lovingly photographed and presented as dyptichs with gorgeous scenes from nature, crystals, vintage wallpaper or other aesthetically beautiful images that capture Julia’s imagination.

The prices are insanely reasonable so if you’ve got your eye on something and planning on heading to a sale, ensure you get there early to avoid disappointment and brace yourself as there’s usually a scrum for the prized pieces. 

Buy through Facebook or at J U N T A S pop up sales

La Percalina

5) La Percalina

La Percalina really is a one-off niche boutique, run by two dedicated followers of fashion, Virginia and Alejandra, a lovingly curated homage to “moda fuera de moda” (timeless fashion). Timeless pieces span from handmade dresses from the turn of the 20th century to choice pieces from the 80s and 90s. Garments in need of reparation are restored to their former glory, and the girls painstakingly source buttons and missing elements in keeping with the style and era as well as relining and re-hemming where needed. For what feels like a museum of a bygone era, it’s incredibly affordable, with prices they would like to see if they themselves walked into the shop as paying customers.

Service here is highly personalised and the epitome of slow shopping, with Billy Holiday the musical accompaniment as each item is carefully ironed, folded, and wrapped in crêpe paper and ribbon, with cute fabric bundles of organic lavender, made from dresses that “didn’t make the cut”. 

For more insider tips, news, and updates, follow Vanessa on facebook or instagram

Posted in Fashion, Life & StyleComments (1)

Mural of the Month: Goncalvez Dias 1142

Zosen Bandido and Mina Hamada are an Argentine/Japanese urban art duo based in Barcelona. Collaborating since 2010, they connected over a shared love of abstract, free-flowing, and colourful forms and create playful and upbeat murals that reflect the artists’ cheerful personalities.

photo courtesy of Graffitimundo

photo courtesy of Mina Hamada

As part of a South American tour in late 2014/early 2015, they visited Buenos Aires and painted a wonderful wall in the new street art mecca of Barracas. The mural is painted in their signature style on the house of the area’s resident matriarch, Susana, who everyone refers to as “abu” or “grandmother”.

Susana was more than happy about the mural, as you can see in the beautiful video below.

Mina Hamada & Zosen Bandido :: Argentina 2014 from hazte1delosmios on Vimeo.

Zosen and Mina also exhibited in Club Cultural Matienzo during their stay, and left some prints and t-shirts, which can be found at Hollywood in Cambodia or Galeria UNION.

photo courtesy of Graffitimundo

photo courtesy of Graffitimundo

This article was produced in collaboration with Graffitimundo, a non-profit organisation which celebrates graffiti and street art in Buenos Aires and supports local artists. For more information on the artists, exhibitions, and Buenos Aires street art tours, visit their website or facebook page

Posted in Life & Style, The CityComments (0)

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24th March marks the anniversary of the 1976 coup that brought Argentina's last dictatorship to power, a bloody seven year period in which thousands of citizens were disappeared and killed. Many of the victims passed through ESMA, a clandestine detention centre turned human rights museum

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