Published: November 20th 2009November 20th 2009
Street Corners 1
Calle 6 / Avenida 51
La Plata (Argentina)
15 November 2009
I had spent the afternoon exploring the plazas and churches of La Plata, the state capital of Buenos Aires province. I was now beside a bench in the Plaza San Martin. In front of me were the main government offices, housed in an ornate whitewashed building decorated with sme occasional reddish brown brickwork. The construction was fairly recent, but its formal aspects of pillars and roofing were drawn from the European Renaissance while the elaborate and more unusual features around the windows were distinctly Flemish in origin.
This was the main square in the city, named after General San Martin, The Liberator, who had led South American to independence from the Spanish in the 1820s. Streets and plazas all over Argentina bear his name and even small towns are likely to have some public monument to his honour. Here in La Plata, just off to my right, in the middle of the square, there stands a larger than life statue of the general. He sits astride a powerful horse, frozen for a moment on the plinth in full gallop, holding an unfurled flag aloft in his right hand and gazing onwards towards the horizon. At his feet by the base of the statue, a golden figure dressed in a classical toga passes him a wreath.
A few pieces of graffiti have been scribbled on the concrete support for the horse. One merely reads ´Lopez?´in reference to a long-running political disappearance case; while another shows a picture of a small girl taking shelter from the rain under an umbrella. The caption beside it reads ´Children are not dangerous - they are in danger´.
The plaza itself has a circular walkway at its centre around the statue of the general, while pathways radiate outwards at regular geometric intervals. Between the paths lie neatly trimmed lawns, planted with a variety of trees, shrubs and bushes, many with colourful buds and flowers. A few people sit or lie down to relax here under the shade.
Behind me a woman dressed in green and orange overalls sits beside a litter bin. She is the park cleaner and is on break, smoking a cigarette and drinking mate. At the next bench a young man in jeans and t-shirt lies fast asleep on his back.
The atmosphere of the square is easy going and peaceful. It has been a warm day and this is still siesta time. A cool breeze brushes against my face and neck, a welcome relief from the stickiness of the late spring air.
The skyline around the plaza is built up - but by no means dominated by high rise blocks. There are no more than half a dozen buildings over ten storeys or so - and none higher than twenty. A modern, glass-fronted hotel overlooks one corner, while next to it there stands a white and beige apartment block, a triangular structure filling the space created by two roads which join the square at an angle.
Other than these the only buildings of any size and two or three industrial and office blocks, each topped by a high communications tower.
The plaza has several people walking through, without being particularly busy. On the far side, through the trees, the steady flow of buses and pedestrians can be seen along the main Calle 7. Beside me, two dogs with huskie features amble across the grass seeking out the shade.
On the lawns opposite my bench, around twenty small tents have been erected. This is a protest camp of Las Malvinas veterans, although only a handful appear to be on duty at this time. They have also put up banners in front of the main government offices demanding their rights. A prominent slogan reads ´A soldier does not die in combat, he dies when he is forgotten´.
Signs from other protest groups are also in evidence: allegations of corruption by the official Scioli, a drawing of a head with no face to depict the vanished Lopez, and a more abstract tent decked out with pictures of flowers bearing the phrase ´Anything is possible´.
Traffic on the road is steady, but not congested. A few cars, a truck carrying a skip, numerous black taxis, the city buses, a few women on bicycles and teenagers on mopeds - all pass by but with little sense of urgency in reaching their destination.
Four young female students walk by me, carrying what look like artwork folders under their arms. They continue up the road opposite, past a statue depicting a pair of clasped hands, erected in memory of Ana Goitia, the wife of a prominent Argentine politician.
A few gulls fly overhead squawking as they go, their call answered with a burst of shrill chattering by the birds in the trees above my head.
A feeling of calm and order fills the mid-afternoon. The people who go by are mostly casually dressed, but still reasonably decorous, appropriate for office work: the one exception being a man who cycles past in shorts and bare feet.