Tag Archive | "buenos aires"

La Salsera: The Home of Salsa in the City of Tango

In the middle of the tango capital of the world, a different rhythm proliferates the dance floor at 961 Yatay, in Almagro.

Opened in 1988, La Salsera today is a place for anyone to learn the rhythms of salsa and bachata, regardless of their dance experience or country of origin.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

“La Salsera began as a place where foreign students came from all over Latin America – Venezuela, Colombia etc. – when they came to study in Argentina,” explains Jorge Romero, co-founder and president of La Salsera. “It was a place for the students to meet and listen to salsa. Because Argentines didn’t used to be very into it.”

I meet Romero at La Salsera in his third-floor office, which doubles as a recording studio. The space is littered with a mix of past and present in Latin music: conga drums, a Peruvian percussion cajón, acoustic and electric guitars, wide-screened computers, and fancy electronic recording equipment.

La Salsera’s story was closely tied to the economic environment of Argentina. In 1988, when it opened, Argentina was a cheaper option for students from abroad. But this changed after President Carlos Menem introduced the Convertibility Plan in 1991, tying the Argentine peso to the dollar. “Things changed,” recalls Romero. “It was more expensive to come here to study, but Argentines began to be able to travel, to go to Miami, Puerto Rico, to Cuba, and to discover salsa.”

And so the clientele of La Salsera became a mix of foreigners and Argentines familiar with Latin rhythms.

Twenty-seven years later, La Salsera offers classes every day of the week, and now includes the slower, sensual bachata, as well as Carribean zouk, and Brazilian kizomba. From Wednesdays to Saturdays, the night continues after classes, allowing dancers to stay until the early hours of the morning practicing what they have learned.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Advanced class at La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The vibe in La Salsera is different from any boliche I’ve been to, including any other salsa club in Buenos Aires. Those who come to the classes range in age from 18 to 80, and include seasoned pros, timid beginners, and every ability in between. But apart from differences in culture, age, and ability of those who attend, they have one thing in common: the desire to dance.

From the moment you walk through the unassuming metal door, the lights, smiles, and pure joy on the faces of those spinning on the dance floor is infatuating. “Some begin with a desire to dance for therapy, make friends, do a little exercise,” says Romero, but soon, “they start getting into it and it becomes a necessity for them to come.”

The teachers’ enthusiasm for sharing their expertise is obvious, and three different levels of classes allow for dancers to find the perfect amount of challenge. Both intermediate and advanced classes add choreography throughout the month. At the same time, those who have never danced in their life can be found counting to eight and practicing the basic steps in the beginner class on the second floor.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Advanced class at La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

La Salsera’s reach extends beyond its own dance floor. The club collaborates in bringing international acts to Buenos Aires, including salsa star Celia Cruz, a friend of Romero’s, who came to the city 1994. Other legends in the genre who have come to Argentina through collaborations with La Salsera include El Canario, Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Oscar de Leon.

Among other projects, Romero’s musical group, Colonizados, mixes tango and [Cuban] son, creating the new genre of ‘Tangoson’. They will be opening for the legendary Buena Vista Social Club when they perform in the Gran Rex theatre at the end of May.

Plans for the future include “creating a degree with an official title of Latin American arts that has to do with music, dance, painting, literature, everything.” Together with the Buenos Aires Education Ministry, Romero is in the process of defining requirements for the degree and hopes to begin the programme next year.

La Salsera fills up quickly, especially on these beautiful clear autumn nights. However, says Romero, “there’s always room for one more,” so come dance and fall in love with the rhythms for yourself.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon

For more information on La Salsera and their classes, check out their website and Facebook page. To learn more about Colonizados and to listen to their music, visit their page.

Posted in Music, TOP STORY, Underground BAComments (0)

Undercover BA: Hottest Emerging Designers

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. 

Many would argue that Argentina has become increasingly expensive over the last couple of years and even tourists are starting to feel the sting, including those savvy enough to change their dollars at the blue rate. Blue, official, whichever way you look at it, Buenos Aires is no longer the bargain haven it once was however, and when it comes to clothes shopping, there is a swathe of designers who are charging through the nose for pieces that wouldn’t look out of place hanging on the racks of a high street store, cheap knock-offs of labels from Europe and the US, made from crappy fabrics with shoddy confeccion. Seasonal rent hikes and inordinate overheads in the shopping malls and coveted real estate areas such as Palermo and Recoleta have left retailers with little choice: recoup the spiralling costs in the retail price of the garments or go under. Yet this shouldn’t be a cause for despair, it just means it’s important to be informed.

Now more than ever, it’s vital to shop smart in Buenos Aires. This isn’t always easy as many Argentine designers only have a local market, making it difficult for visitors to gauge quality through trial and error. Argentina produces some of the most sought after wools and alpaca in the world, premium quality cotton and sublime leather, much of it for export. At a time when there is little variation between the costs of clothing from one label or designer to another, it’s preferable to put an emphasis on those using these natural materials, and not be seduced purely by the design. I’ve adopted the policy of buying sparingly, and being selective. Personally, I would rather purchase one incredible piece a month that I know will stand the test of time. Below are a list of promising designers with a conscience, producing artisan, handcrafted pieces that don’t scrimp on materials and look amazing. World class design comes at a cost, but the good news is that with these designers you get what you pay for.

JHDaels1Juan Hernandez Daels

This young Argentine is already a veteran of the international fashion scene, having earnt his sartorial stripes working for Dries Van Noten and Raf Simons after studying fashion design at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Hernandez Daels has been selling his collections in Paris since 2009, and along with his business partner and fellow designer Paula Selba Avellaneda run hip local multi-brand Panorama (BA’s take on Opening Ceremony).

He inaugurated his much-awaited debut boutique two weeks ago, in one of the chicest locations in Recoleta. His latest collection and the decor of the store radiate an understated refinement, a rarity in Argentine’s fashion scene.

Although a fan of monochrome, this collection includes flashes of royal blues and dusky pinks, pieces with detailing and exquisite fabrics that wouldn’t look out of place alongside Margiela or McQueen.

House of Matching ColoursHOMC2 

Paula Selby Avellaneda is also a former student of the illustrious Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Upon graduating, she rented a small space in London and began contacting musicians, asking if they’d be willing for her to design pieces for them.

Her original signature customised leather jackets let to her becoming a regular fixture at Paris Fashion Week and establishing her label. She was stocked at Opening Ceremony, with her pieces worn by the likes of Chloe Sevigny and was even commissioned to design a garment for a Beyoncé music video.

She recently completed her showroom in the Botanical Gardens area having taken the decision to sell to the local market, as well as offering made to order bespoke wedding dresses. Her space is a delightful sneak peek into her eccentric and fantastical world, where ethereal dresses with exquisite rainbowbrite hand embroidery detailing hang casually alongside her bold leather jackets.

Magically, it just works.

By appointment only.

Photo by Estefania Colson

Photo by Estefania Colson


I’ve been a fan of Maydi since I first met her, a diminutive Argentine from Corrientes with a Parisian inflection to her Spanish after working for 12 years in fashion marketing in France.

For the last two years she has been spearheading the movement to honour and promote the use of noble local materials and traditional artisan production and techniques in high fashion and conceptual garments. Where she has pioneered, other young designers have quickly followed by example.

She produces accessories with her label Maydi, such as hats and gloves, as well as dresses, jumpers and snoods and avant garde scarves, the latter being her forte. The pieces are all hand knitted or produced on traditional looms, using only natural dyes.

Sourcing only the finest materials, the current collection uses 100% organic merino wool from the same provider who supplies Stella McCartney.

By appointment only, or on sale at TupaLafinur 3132.

Pardo HatsPardo hats 1

Sol Pardo, the young designer behind Pardo hats started out collaborating with Lena Martorello, providing the accessories for their first campaign. This launched her career as a milliner, spanning little over two years. She works outside the traditional conventions of millinery, and in her latest collection experiments with atypical materials, including acrylic into her designs.

She produces on a small scale, often on a made to order basis for magazine editorials, and individual clients. She recently won Argentina’s Harper’s Bazaar’s annual award for best accessory designer for 2015. The local fashion scene is still relatively conservative and few wear hats so the exposure and favourable press she is garnering will hopefully help challenge local prejudices.

By appointment only.


This experimental label is the creation of two young graduates from the University of Buenos Aires.

The debut collection has already caused a stir, with an original aesthetic rooted in geometry.

The pieces are characterised by tessellating triangular patterns, from repeated cut out designs to structured sleeves which produce a trompe d’oeil effect of circular movement.

Their pieces experiment with the contrasts between gravity and weightlessness in relation to the body, drawing on inspirations from interior design and architecture, creating structured pieces in light fabrics.

Their recent show at Fashion Edition BA was received favourably as was their appearance at the seasonal editions of the pop up design sales ROOMIE.

By appointment only.


Jessica KesselJK2

Jessica has been honing and refining her aesthetic and brand for several years now, having sold from a closed-door showroom in her flat until a few weeks ago when she opened her first store in the heart of San Telmo.

Her parents are antique dealers, something that is reflected in her great taste and eye for detail, indeed the furniture in her store are period pieces loaned to her, to die for mid-century decor she innovatively uses to display her beautiful shoes.

The latest collection is her most accomplished to date, autumnal palettes with contrasting heels and uppers, metallic details and boyish lace ups with feminine colourways.

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

Lead image L-R – Jessica Kessel, Fractal, Juan Hernandez Daels. 

All images courtesy of designers, unless otherwise stated. 

Posted in Fashion, Life & Style, TOP STORYComments (0)

The Indy Eye: Feria Puro Diseño

It’s that time of the year again! The Feria PuroDiseño is upon us, this year celebrating its 15th anniversary. Taking place in Palermo until 25th May, over 350 designers from all over have transformed the sprawling La Rural into a spectacular exhibition, featuring innovation, creativity, and aesthetic. For an entrance fee of $70, you can browse the work of forward-thinking visionaries, including clothing and accessories, contemporary jewellery, equipment, objects, lighting, and digital design. Indy photographer Katie McCutcheon visited Pabellón Amarillo at La Rural to cover the event.

For more information on this year’s Puro Diseño, visit the website or Facebook page


2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Eterno Saludo booth at Feria Puro Diseno (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Eterno Saludo booth at Feria Puro Diseno (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

2015 Feria PuroDiseno at La Rural (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)


Posted in Fashion, Life & Style, Lifestyle, Multimedia, Photoessay, TOP STORYComments (0)

A Night to Remember: The UWC Turns 80

Thursday 7th May was always going to be a memorable night, with the superclásico River-Boca playing and in the UK a closely-contested election unfolding. But for a large group of women in Buenos Aires, the real occasion to remember happened at the Club Francés, where the University Women’s Club (UWC) Buenos Aires celebrated its 80th anniversary.

Founded by 35 university-educated North American women in 1935, the UWC has continued throughout the past 80 years to grow under its motto: ‘Friendship and Learning through the Universal Mind’. With 115 members today of all ages, women from both Argentina and 15 other nationalities continue to meet monthly to share ideas, find friendship, and talk in English. Last Thursday, members and their guests gathered together at the Club Francés in Recoleta to celebrate in style.

Members of the Buenos Aires University Women's Club celebrate the anniversary

Members of the Buenos Aires University Women’s Club celebrate the anniversary


After a reception with a video of snapshots of the UWC over the years, the dinner kicked off with a welcome from the 2015 president, Kathryn Power. In her speech Kathryn paid homage to the guest of honor, Norma Gonzalez, executive director of the Fulbright Scholarship, and highlighted the milestones that the UWC and women in general have achieved in the last 80 years:

“One of the 35 women who in 1935 chartered what is now the UWC was Josephine Timberlake, a 1932 graduate of the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. She was a typical US college girl of that time, a member of Delta Gamma sorority and the Glee Club. In Buenos Aires she was the president of UWC in 1951, an official hostess in the US consulate and dedicated much of her time to promote the teaching of ‘Speech for the Deaf. In our club directory she is listed as Mrs. Carl von de Bussche. It wasn’t until 1981 that the members of UWC were listed with their own first names. A milestone.

“In 1947 there were 2.3 men for every woman in US universities and in 1960 there were 1.6 men receiving university diplomas for each woman. Today a female college student is 33% more likely to graduate than her male classmates. And since 2004 more women are receiving masters and doctoral degrees in the United States than men. A milestone.

“In 1935 the most common and accepted fields of study for university women were teaching and nursing. Today, women in their early 30s are just as likely to be doctors or lawyers as they are to be teachers or secretaries and at least 50% of all students studying medicine, law or business administration are women. Unfortunately, women are still earning 22% less in salary than men even though they make up 50% of today’s work force. That’s a milestone we will have to work on.”

The evening continued and an excellent dinner of pumpkin soup with roast vegetable bruschetta, dry aged beef, and poached pears with pistachio ice cream was served by the Chef Sebastián Fouillade, with Cruz Alta wines.


UWC president Kathryn Power sings with Teatro Colón tenor Fermín Prieto

Door prizes were raffled thanks to generous donations by Bodegas Catena-Zapata, fair trade handicraft non-profit Matriarca, as well as Masako Kano for making place mats out of archive photos of the UWC. The flower centrepieces from the Palacio Duhau flower shop were also distributed among the members.

Dessert was followed by a live performance by Teatro Colón tenor Fermín Prieto, who sang a selection of solos from Carmen to Turandot and ended with the real surprise of the evening: UWC president Kathy Power, a soprano with the Teatro Colón’s Permanent Choir accompanied Prieto in The Merry Widow’s duet, Lippen Schweigen. It was a wonderful finale to a truly memorable night.

To round off the night, a toast was proposed by long-term member Maria-Rosa Braille: “May the UWC continue to be a lighthouse for all those, foreigners or locals, who are seeking friendship and intellectual nourishment.”

The UWC meets once a month for a luncheon with a speaker in English. Members also attend workshops and guided tours. Any woman with a university degree and an interest in speaking in English may join. The UWC sponsors a school in Entre Ríos through APAER and publishes a relocation book for expats ¡Hola Buenos Aires! available on Amazon, all proceeds to APAER via HelpArgentina. To join, see www.uwcba.com.ar or the Facebook page or write to u.w.c.news@gmail.com


Posted in Expat, Life & StyleComments (0)

Mural of the Month: Tacuarí and Venezuela

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada is a Cuban-American artist whose large-scale works in charcoal are unique in terms of both scale and medium. Having left his mark on the city some years ago when he painted a tribute to his recently deceased father-in-law in Colegiales, Rodriguez-Gerada was back in Buenos Aires at the end of this summer to create a stunning and moving mural in Monserrat.

Jorge 1

The wall, which is the backdrop to a car park, bears the face of a young boy. This is “David”, an 11-year-old student in the Isauro Arancibia Educational Centre in neighbouring San Telmo, which provides a space for 200 homeless children and teenagers to attend school. The centre faces potential demolition to make way for the Metrobus and the mural was painted to highlight its plight.

The wall forms part of ‘Identity’, a series of hyper-realistic portraits of anonymous locals that the artist began in 2002. The intention is to elevate these unknown residents to the status of social icons, and to challenge the idea of what is presented to the public via large format works, usually via advertising. The project was realised in conjunction with ResNonVerba.


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

All photos by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada

Posted in Life & Style, The CityComments (0)

The Many Sides to Circus in Buenos Aires

“Do you see that window up there where the ray of sun is shining through? Circus was like that window, opening up my world and introducing me to a world with sunlight, with colour.”

Leandro, a professional acrobat, clown, and instructor of circus arts in Buenos Aires adds: “Circus is the best thing that happened to me in my life.”

Les 7 Doigts de la Main, Canadian circus company that will be performing at Polo Circo. (photo: Alexandre Galliez)

Les 7 Doigts de la Main, Canadian circus company that will be performing at Polo Circo. (photo: Alexandre Galliez)

For the next ten days, the circus arts become ultra-visible in Buenos Aires as the seventh Polo Circo Festival descends upon the city, bringing both national and international performances.The Polo Circo, an initiative of the Buenos Aires Ministry of Culture, began in 2009 and brings well-known contemporary circus groups from countries including France, Canada, and Brazil in addition to local Argentine groups. But what about the rest of the year? When the festival ends next week, what else makes up the Buenos Aires circus scene?

On Saturday 2nd May, circus organisation Circo Abierto held a day-long seminar of panel discussions, speakers, and workshops to consider various characteristics of the circus arts, especially focused on social transformation.

Such arts alive today were born on street corners, inside cultural centres, and within both independently operated and state-supported circus schools around the city, and the seminar allowed participants to consider the position of circus within the greater theme of social transformation.

Subsuelo Cultural, Ciudad Universitaria. (Photo: Rocío Alvarez)

Subsuelo Cultural, Ciudad Universitaria. (Photo: Rocío Alvarez)

Historical Context 

Despite the Polo Circo bringing circus to prominence in recent years, circus in Argentina has a long and varied history.

According to Julieta Infantino, author of the new book ‘Circo en Buenos Aires’, circus has experienced “tremendous growth and change” in the years since its resurgence following the end of the dictatorship in 1983.

The origins of circus in Argentina can be traced to the national circo criollo, a combination of theatre and traditional circus arts that is unique to Argentina. The moment of the popularity of the circo criollo, which lasted from the late 1880s until the 1970s, was a “small moment of glory for circus in Argentina in the grand history of the art, but soon returned to occupy this space of being undervalued,” says Infantino.

The simultaneous economic struggle of many of the larger circus companies, coupled with the rise of television, contributed to the decline of traditional circus companies toward the end of the 1970s. Repressive policies and fear suppressed circus activity in Buenos Aires during Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship.

“It was a cultural dictatorship, where there wasn’t any cultural liberty of any kind. And much less of the underground culture, parallel culture, revolutionary culture, or culture that was different,” comments Mariana Paz, director of Redes Club del Circo in Villa Crespo. She was part of the generation of “those who studied circus without pertaining to circus families.”

Paz, who had a background in contemporary dance, studied circus under an instructor who “used to teach acrobatics to anyone. Anyone. Big, small, medium-sized, fat, skinny —people learned to do acrobatics.” This kind of openness towards those who could practise circus characterised the contemporary circus that took place following the dictatorship.

Members of the Circo Social del Sur (Photo: A La Gorra Producciones)

Members of the Circo Social del Sur (Photo: A La Gorra Producciones)

Following the dictatorship, Infantino notes the resurgence of “liberty, experimentation, and the recovery of certain popular languages”, which resulted in an “appropriation by artists of the space of the street”, something that had previously been unavailable for activities of expression and performance, such as circus.

When the brothers Jorge and Oscar Videla opened the Escuela Circo Criollo in 1982 “it was a boom, it was like throwing a stone into a pond and watching the rings expand,” explains Infantino.

Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis was a major turning point in circus. “There were two simultaneous responses to the crisis,” says Infantino. First, “there was an increasing seasonal migration to Europe by the more professionalised street artists,” after which came the “opening of new places of teaching” of the circus arts. The Centro Cultural Trivenchi in Barracas, and Redes Club de Circo in Villa Crespo were among the first.

La Caravana Escuela de Circo (photo courtesy of La Caravana)

La Caravana Escuela de Circo (photo courtesy of La Caravana)

“Now I can’t even count the number of schools there are. What has been seen in these schools is a new approach to offering workshops. This method began to appear, and it began to open a new offering for job opportunities.” Circus became available to people as a hobby, in addition to a professional career in performance.

With these new methods, in the middle of the 2000s, circus came into fashion, and with it, new styles of shows, with more access and the opening of these spaces to more and more people, and a “space of greater legitimation of the circus arts”, says Infantino.

Disagreement with Government Support

Jumping on the trend, in 2009 the first international festival of circus was held in Buenos Aires by the Polo Circo.

With this came “big promises, and also tensions”. There were disputes due to differing sentiments on the role of public policy in the arts. “Mega international event versus the promotion of local art?” explains Infantino.

In 2011, following the third Buenos Aires Polo Circo festival, a group called Circo Abierto was organised, publishing a complaint signed by 500 members of the circus community, stating that this programme “seems to have become a space for private use, but financed publicly.” Despite the Polo Circo’s goals of “creating structures of support that ensure the promotion of the circus sector”, Circo Abierto’s complaint cites a lack of promotion of the circus arts, lack of open auditions, and a space of private use with public financing as damaging to the city’s circus culture.

Despite the support by the city ombudsman in 2013, who stated that “overcoming the aforementioned omissions will contribute to the recognition of cultural diversity and the opening of the varied artistic proposals originated in the scope of circus,” many argue that little has changed.

In an interview with Jorge Videla, co-founder of the Escuela Circo Criollo and a member of one of the most important families in Argentine circus history, he explains: “The Polo Circo belongs to the government, it’s a political act… it’s a different story, that has nothing to do with the circus. Neither the people, nor the spirit. It’s something else. They [the government] don’t help—in other countries like France, they subsidise circus artists… here, they don’t.”

Paz agrees: “The state support is minimum, and so self-sustainability has to do with getting the funds, the space, and being able to make a living doing what you love without having that state support.”

Despite spotty government support for circus, opportunities for education in the circus arts are boundless and continue to grow. Four-year degrees in the circus arts now exist in Tres de Febrero and San Martín universities. Countless circus schools, cooperatives, and cultural centres offer workshops and classes in various circus disciplines, including acrobatics, aerial arts, juggling, and clowning. These opportunities allow every kind of student, from the most advanced to someone who has never done a cartwheel in their life, to learn the circus arts.

The Circo Abierto (photo: Michalina Kowol)

The Circus and Social Transformation seminar (photo: Michalina Kowol)

A Circus Law?

The ‘Circus and Social Transformation’ seminar is part of Circo Abierto’s greater mission towards the creation of a Circus Law, which, according to the group, seeks to “have a budget designated directly to our activity, to regard and protect our rights as artists and cultural workers.” Though they are still in the planning process of the law, the next step is a forum in the coming months, in which members from all sides of the circus community will be invited to participate and share their input in the creation of the law.

Problems that the law seeks to resolve include the regulation of parks and plazas where street circus performers often fight for performance space. For example, “one park may be regulated by the person in charge of looking after it, another is regulated by the police, and a third is regulated by the city government,” says Néstor Martelini, member of Circo Abierto and street performer.

Issues of regulation of circus instruction also concern Circo Abierto’s members. “There are people who are really teachers and there are others who took two months of trapeze classes and call themselves a trapeze teacher,” he commented at a recent meeting.

As was evidenced in the workshop, students, teachers, and performers of the circus arts are full of different perspectives on what circus is all about.

The next generation of circus (photo: Michalina Kowol)

The next generation of circus (photo: Michalina Kowol)

“An important part of Circo Abierto is discovering that there are a tonne of branches within this art, and it is important to discover and research each one,” says Fédérico Fernández, another member. Despite their differences, however, he states, “we are all circus workers”.

A common thread flowed through the day, though: “Circus is happiness,said Geraldine Eriz. “Circus comes from moments of happiness that are born from moments of sadness,” adds Fernando Stivala.

As Infantino knows, one thing is for sure: “Circus is a really exciting topic right now.”

The Polo Circo Festival takes place from 7th-17th May, and the agenda can be found at their website. To find out more about Circo Abierto and their upcoming events, visit their website.

Click on the links to find at more about Circo Social, Redes Club de CiroLa Caravana Circo, and Subsuelo Cultural

Lead image courtesy of Redes Club de Circo. 

Posted in The Arts, Theatre, TOP STORYComments (1)

Fire in Textile Sweatshop Kills Two Children

At the scene of yesterday's fire in Flores (Photo courtesy of La Alameda)

At the scene of yesterday’s fire in Flores (Photo courtesy of La Alameda)

Two children died yesterday after a fire broke out in a house that functioned as an illegal textile sweatshop in Flores, Buenos Aires.

The children – aged seven and ten – were unable to escape the basement where they were sleeping when the fire began. Two adults, thought to be the parents of at least one of the children, were treated in hospital for smoke inhalation and burns. All four came from Bolivia, according to InfoJus Noticias.

Emergency services reported that rescue efforts were hampered because the entrance to the house was partially blocked, and part of the building’s interior had collapsed.

Neighbours told police and local reporters that the house at Páez 2796 was among several illegal workshops producing clothing in the vicinity.

According to the cooperative La Alameda, which fights against slave labour and sweatshops, the house had been reported to authorities as a clandestine textile factory in September 2014.

Head of La Alameda and city legislator Gustavo Vera said that there had never been an investigation into the report, which including information on 30 suspected sweatshops in the capital. Most have unsafe working conditions and produce clothes for street vendors or La Salada, the country’s biggest black market.

Yesterday’s incident drew comparison with another tragedy in 2006, which exposed the hidden and illegal textile industry that operates in Buenos Aires and mainly affects the Bolivian community.

In that case a fire in an illegal sweatshop in Caballito killed six people, including four children. The building had been authorised to produce clothing, but it was vastly over-populated with dozens of mainly-Bolivian families living and working in slave-like conditions.

Though the incident forced the resignation of city government officials in the Workers’ Protection Office, no one has been charged with a crime.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (1)

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.

Posted in Expat, Life & Style, Travel FeatureComments (0)

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. 

Posted in Fashion, Life & StyleComments (1)

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.”


Posted in Urban Life, VillasComments (2)

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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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