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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

BA as a living tale of people and their places

An inside peak at the beautifully preserved Pasaje Olleros.
An inside peak at the beautifully preserved Pasaje Olleros.
An inside peak at the beautifully preserved Pasaje Olleros.
By Veronica Stewart
For the Herald

Open House Buenos Aires issued invitations to take an intimate look at the city

“This is my house,” Rosita says as she takes us on a tour of Barrio Parque Los Andes, a huge housing complex where she has been living for decades. She is about 80-years-old and tells stories of the place, stories of kids who never cut flowers and grown-ups who always say hello; a fairy tale of sorts in the middle of a restless city like Buenos Aires. Horacio, one of the neighbours we run into during our tour, takes us to his home. After apologizing no less than three times for the supposed mess, he says he is very thankful that we agreed to see the intimacy of the walls that have held him since he was young, of the place that has seen him be a husband, a father and a friend. “God willing, I’ll die here”, he says.

Out of all the places available to visit thanks to Open House Buenos Aires, Los Andes is special. Built in 1927, it has kept a sort of small-town charm although it is located in the city centre, only 20 minutes from the Obelisk. Karina Riesgo, president of the homeowner’s association, explains that the neighbours take care of everything and organize a number of activities. “Today, we’re serving choripanes,” she says. She points out the window of her home, where the unmistakable Sunday barbecue smoke starts rising into the air and drawing people in.

Pasaje Olleros, also a housing complex, has a similar vibe. While a ginger cat licks its paws unaffected in the corner of one of the apartments, Federico, who has opened the door to his and his wife’s home, tells visitors of the time children entertainer Carlitos Balá, who grew up in that very spot, knocked on his door to take a peek at his old childhood home.

While they proudly show us around, two of their friends sit and share mate, as a way to remind us that even though it might feel like an atypical Sunday to us, it is still Sunday to them. The building in Pasaje Cabrer has the same feel to it on Saturday, when Andrés talks enthusiastically about architecture with the many students who have come to see his home while his daughter hands out flyers about a low budget movie he is trying to promote, a scene coherent with the collection of Bafici brochures in his bookcase.

Edificio Bencich is different from everything else. Its style matches its location — two blocks away from Plaza de Mayo — was once used for office space rentals and is now used for audiovisual productions, each and every one of its rooms different and stylish in its own unique way. Escuela Ecos, on the other hand, is a lot more modern and has a huge courtyard, home to a palm tree. It feels like another city than that of Edificio Somisa, a public building with a structure made completely of steel and plunging seven floors below ground level.

It quickly becomes apparent that Open House is not exactly about architecture. When visiting the buildings, you learn about their style but what you absorb is not so much the information about materials used or the reforms made, but rather the atmosphere of the place, the feel that the people in it leave behind. There’s a huge difference between the places mentioned above and Galería Güemes and Edificio República, both interesting for their spectacular view of the city. There’s even a big difference between Pasaje Cabrer and Hotel Casacalma even though both have hanging gardens, reinventing and trying to defy the view of Buenos Aires, because one feels like a home and the other like a place to stay.

And just like people change the feel of a place, places get under people’s skin as well. The manager of Somisa talks about the machinery in the building as if he were another cog in them, with the tenderness you have for the things you know like the palm of your hand. Valeria del Puerto of the Hotel Casaclama speaks soothingly, just the way the place tries to make people feel, while María Eugenia Cabezas, great granddaughter of the architect of the Bencich talks of it as the family relic it is for her, and even says she doesn’t want to do anything about the wet spot in the wall because “to me, that’s beautiful because it’s natural. This building is never finished because it is alive.” Escuela Ecos echoes inside jokes that are written on boards in every classroom and Güemes stands tall on every piece of history José retells on the top floor.

So when Rosita says “this is my house,” she may not fully understand just how true that is, and how we claim places just as much as they claim us. A city like Buenos Aires is filled with stories that make it a living organism, one that belongs to us just as much as we belong to it.

@VeroStewart

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