Dancing in La Boca

Alright, alright. I’ve left you all hanging long enough…

Last week’s Mystery Snapshot comes from El Caminito, an extremely touristy couple blocks in the famously colorful La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Most people are either completely turned off from the “performance” that has become La Boca, or they love it. While, yes, it’s disgustingly touristy, I try very hard to look beyond the Argentina-times-a-hundred show they put on, and into the slightly less obvious moments that sprout from the details within the loud (in appearance and sound) neighborhood.

Old man in La Boca, edge of touristy part.

Home to the Boca Juniors soccer stadium, the neighborhood sits on a very polluted portion of the Riachuelo River, where rusting ships and old warehouses decompose. At the end of the 19th century, thousands of European immigrants settled into this neighborhood. With little to their name, people built homes from the metal scraps of boats, and used leftover paint from the shipyards to color their scrappy metal homes. Never having enough paint to color the entire wall, the neighborhood became a mash-up of brightly colored homes made from cheap and rusting materials. Now, ironic as always, tourists eat it all up with a spoon.

Colorful wall made from metal scraps, La Boca.

The colorful homes aren’t the only trademark of this neighborhood. Tango — the national dance of Buenos Aires, which originated in brothels much like those once prevalent in La Boca — can be found everywhere you turn, in every form. People singing tango, playing tango, dancing tango, watching tango… It’s in-your-face, almost too much to enjoy it for what it is. It’s like you want a mouthful so you can taste it, savor it, but they shove a bit too much down your throat and you almost gag.

Tango in La Boca.

That said, if you can tune out the Disneyworld-esque shenanigans, you can see some real dancing, hear some beautiful music, and enjoy a neighborhood that is really unique, and quite poor, under the caked-on makeup of tourism. Beyond the very small section of La Boca dedicated to tourists, there is still a very real, working class neighborhood. And behind the colorful doors and shutters, real Argentines are watching TV, cheering on the Boca Juniors as if their lives depended on it.

The real La Boca.

The actual dance shown in last week’s photo is probably La Chacarera, an Argentinean folk dance that involves dancing on a wooden board with a lot of stomping and twirling. My Argentine friend Mali (Mariano M., who I met while I studying abroad in Barcelona), sent me this YouTube video in case you want to see the dance in action. I also found this video (pretty bad but it’ll give you the idea), which was actually taken in La Boca by some tourist. The dance I captured might  have some of influence from the Argentine dance, called the zamba (not the Brazilian samba), judging by the flying scarves. I’m no expert, but there you have it.

In other news, Shannon and I are having a lot of fun. I’m trying to balance my writing assignment with giving Shannon a well-rounded first-experience in Argentina, and then I have new friends and lots of family to see at all times. It’s amazing how busy we’ve been, and how much work there is to do! But yesterday, even though I was working on a Sunday (well, technically I am working every day, but yesterday’s assignment involved going to an awesome archaeology museum and a fancy polo store in San Telmo), Shannon and I found time to stop, smell the chorizo, and sip a delightful cafe con leche at a lovely poet’s cafe in San Telmo.

Sunday afternoon at a cafe in San Telmo.

It’s hard to believe we’ve only got about ten days left for our adventures in Buenos Aires. There is SO much I still want to do! I’d say this is the calm before the storm, but I think I’ve sort of been in the middle of the storm for almost a month now. Both of us are in the midst of huge changes, about to begin big new chapters in our lives that will lead us… who knows where? But Argentina is doing us both a lot of good. Seeds of change have been planted in both our lives; it’s almost time to watch how things grow… 🙂

A tree grows in San Telmo.


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