Well, except me. I am forever getting lost in this grand city. Buenos Aires is vast and spread out – occupying an area of 203 km2 compared with the 59 km2 of Manhattan I’m used to navigating – and mastering the public transport system is no easy feat. There are two main options: the subway, or subte, and the bus, or colectivo. Given my New Yorker background, I’m most comfortable with the subte; unfortunately, its stops are not always convenient, and it stops running at around 10 p.m., during the hours when walking is least feasible… which brings me to the colectivos. They run all night, with tons of routes and stops on every block. Sounds perfect, no? Wrong. For me, the colectivos are a nightmare.
For starters, the stops are not always easily visible – the route number might be pasted onto a lamppost or the wall of a building, or even better, scribbled onto the bark of a tree. And a stop that’s supposed to be at, say, Medrano and Sarmiento (according to this website which is both my best friend and worst enemy) might actually be a block away. But this is nothing compared to the confusion that ensues once I actually make it onto the correct bus (which I’ve only succeeded in doing a solid three out of probably ten times). The stops are never announced, and it’s up to you to know when to get off. Which is all well and good, unless you generally have no idea where you are and whether your stop is coming up in one block or twenty. And then there’s the fact that the colectivos are usually jam-packed like a can of sardines, so that by the time you arrive at your stop, you’re in the middle of the bus squeezed between two strangers, making yourself as small as possible, clutching your purse for dear life and holding your breath because the man in front of you, who presumably just ran a marathon in the Sahara given the amount of moisture collected on his body, is holding onto the overhead bars with his armpit in your face. Which begs the question: how the hell am I going to get off this thing? Conventional wisdom says that you should begin to make your way towards the door a stop before your own, in time for you to press the button that tells the driver you’ll be getting off soon. Totally logical, unless you have no idea that your stop is coming up until you’re about to pass it… so my colectivo experiences have generally ended with me frantically pushing my way through the crowd, yelling “PERMISO, PERMISO!” (“excuse me”) at the top of my lungs, pushing the magic button as we zoom past my stop, and jumping out a block away.
Not that this isn’t all extremely fun and exciting (I might as well be in one of these Buenos Aires party buses) but I usually prefer to walk whenever I can. My excursions follow a familiar routine: after a quick peek at Google Maps, I scribble a few street names on an old ATM receipt and head out, hoping for the best. Of course, I still get lost walking, but as long as I’m in a safe area, who cares? I’m out in the sun – and I make my very best discoveries while wandering.
On Wednesday, I decided to visit MALBA, the renowned Museum of Latin-American Art in Buenos Aires. Google Maps told me the walk would be about an hour, to which I had no objections; it was a sunny day and I had nothing but time. Of course, given that I made a number of wrong turns and overshot the museum by a few miles at least, my walk was closer to two hours. But what a blessing! For starters, I discovered one of my favorite streets so far in Buenos Aires. With its whimsical, awe-inspiring canopies of green, la Avenida Coronel Díaz was well worth the detour.
So was this little guy:
And these mouth-watering Panaderías:
And my all-time favorite accidental discovery, this genius piece of street art:
Needless to say, once I got to MALBA, my legs were shot. But the party must go on! And MALBA was well worth it. The museum houses an inspiring mix of traditional and modern Latin American art, including paintings, photography, sculptures, and other installations.
A few of my favorites…
And finally, check this out: it’s an installation called “Fitotrón” by Luis Fernando Benedit, who explores nature and the physical world through his installations or “micro-labs.” One of his 1970s installations, for example, featured 4,000 bees living in a field of artificial flowers. Installed in a room, the hive was also connected to outdoor gardens, and included everything the bees needed to feed and survive. This current installation, the Fitotrón, was first exhibited at the MoMA. It’s a hydroponic chamber with vegetation grown on a soil of volcanic rock, fed and watered by an automatic, self-recycling system. According to the plaque at MALBA, Benedit’s work has implications for agricultural production and utilized knowledge of botany, chemistry, genetics, horticulture, landscaping, architecture, engineering, and cybernetics (whatever that is) but even more importantly, allows us to observe cycles of life, development, and adaptation in an environment that mixes nature with the artificial. Cool, no?
Anyway, MALBA was a hit. And to top it all off, I bussed home with minimal difficulty. Success!