Art residency, Buenos Aires- The Madres / by Kerri McGill


The thundering storms make mornings good research time.  I pour over books and websites and bus schedules to piece my days together. One tour guide touts SanTelmo's "faded grandeur".  Another the bright colors of Boca... A poverty stricken barrio that became the most colorful after using boatyard leftovers to paint the homes. The tour books make it very clear it is still a poor area and whatever you do do not leave the tourist area. Tourists books are a little strange.

They celebrate Chinese New Year here--perfect!  My second day in the art residency at Buenos Aires and celebration of a new start! There is a large Chinese population here with a run on small food markets. The announcer explains the story of the dragon dance.  At one point he says: "The next time you buy your groceries, know this is what all those ppl working in fruit markets believe is true..." Apperntly this celebration is also an introduction to the holiday.

I dutifully visit the list of museums and openings Frank gives me. It seems like standard homework that leads me to a touristy area and the Museo Nacional de Bello Artes. A beautiful collection of European art. Sadly the second  floor w/regional artists is under construction. I traipse to the top floor for work from a contemporary photographer. Black and white portraits, extremely close, extremely large.  The walls are filled with faces of old woman. There are two photos of each woman: one with the fluffy hairdos of woman of that age. The other, with a white kerchief around, tying their hair back.  Without the fluffiness of hair, the shape of the face Is different.  I can't help but meditate on the cause behind ages' deep wrinkles .With and without a white scarf hair. There is no longer a visual balance to the deep austere lines of age of many if the faces. I don't understand much of the text. Not sure if the scarf is a social comment or traditional symbol but I like the idea of alter egos. Like a super hero cape.

That evening as I do my homework, I catch a few pages about history. The Madres. Their loss at the hands of the government, children disappeared-Their march-Their strength and persistence. Many of them still march every Thursday.  I read these word and mark it on the map for tomorrow, Thursday. 


They march in the Plaza del Mayo, in front of Casa Rosada (the pink equivalent to the White House).  A crowd cheers as they climb out from a minivan.  They walk with a banner chanting nd singing. At the end, a speach.  Her voice is powerful, maybe a voice and a strength you wouldn't expect.  I am moved to tears even though I don't understand her words. 

It is plain that Spanish lessons are a necessity. As someone who enjoys conversation, the inability to understand others is upsetting in the most painful sense of the word.  How can I know a city if I can't understand anyone? 

On the way home, another thunderous storm appears. My Chinatown umbrella doesn't stand a chance and is blown into oblivion. I run to the corner pizzeria. The house is only a few blocks away, but the rain says; "Stay. Have an empanada and a beer."  The server speaks no English but he is kind and patient as I hack up his language.  We wait out the rain and watch the local fúrbol match. With the help of my dictionary, I find out the teams, His team, and the schedule for the wknd games.  Maybe there's hope for me after all...