On my last Saturday in Buenos Aires, I took a cab to La Boca, the old city port, and went on a walking tour of this historic and colorful area. Afterward, I entered the PROA museum to see an Ai Weiwei exhibit and passed into a totally different visual world….from a kaleidoscope to tranquility.
La Boca tour
My FreeWalks tour (which cost 200 pesos) took us along El Caminito, a safe alley of passage in the middle of La Boca, a notoriously unsafe barrio. El Caminito (which translates as “little walkway”) inspired the music for the famous tango “Caminito”, composed by Juan de Dios Filiberto, and is considered the birthplace of the dance, itself.
La Boca’s rich history of immigration, isolation, and resistance (as explained by our guide) revealed the proud and vibrant community that exists behind this seemingly typical tourist trap of restaurants, staged dancers, and vendors.
La Boca was the original port of entry for goods and people: the Spanish colonialists in the 1500s; a large influx of Italians, predominantly from Genoa, Italy in the 1800s; and then immigrants from other countries, many living in shared housing called “conventillos”.
The barrio declared itself an independent republic in the 1880’s, raising the flag of Genoa (!), and seceded from Argentina for a short period of time. That strong sense of political and social solidarity still exists and is apparent in much of the street art.
Revived by the local artist and philanthropist Quinquela Martín, in 1959 El Caminito was designated an open-air street museum. It is a veritable photographer’s paradise.
For soccer (fútbol) fans, La Boca is the home of the internationally famous team Boca Juniors. Their stadium, locally known as La Bombonera, was built with seismic design principles to withstand the physical force of the rowdy fans.
Along the waterfront is PROA, a small museum of contemporary art. In complete contrast to its surroundings, it is a modern oasis of glass walls that look out on the neighborhood and white spaces filled with provocative art. I saw Inoculation by Ai Weiwei, “…a remarkable exhibition dedicated to public work and social intervention”.