Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sketch of the Day: La Boca

La Boca
The above sketch was inspired by a visit to the neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, specifically the area of it known as Caminito.

La Boca

Next to the murky waters

of an old port canal
we walk on cobblestone

through corrugated tin colors.
Accordians and meaty grills

waft in the damp air.

Vendors line the streets

selling tourist trinkets.
I look for something

amidst the pulsing square.

Something that isn't frill.

Finally I find it

hovering like a ghost

in the reverence

of an old man

and his polished violin.

Currently Reading:
Fight Club
by Chuck Palahniuk

Currently Listening To:
Song: Juicy
Artist: Emily Wells (myspace) (iTunes)

For more on how I first ended up in Buenos Aires check out the first post of Harmony and Dissonance.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stand By Me (in the Cemetery)


To me some of the most fascinating aspects of modern civilizations are the structures that are abandon for decades and left in disarray. Fragments of what were once functioning parts of a municipality but because of technology, economy, war or any other number reasons, have been discarded and left behind with only a few people around who know the whole tale of their past. Places where mother earth has been slowly breaking down and taking back what was once hers. An amusement park on the outskirts of town. Old grain silos near the port. It was recently though that I discovered abandoned piece of Buenos Aires that was slightly more macabre.

My friend Nate and I recently took a trip to Chacarita Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Buenos Aires. Unlike Recoleta Cemetery, a popular tourist attraction in the heart of the city, Chacarita sits out near the end of the red subway line, Linea B. Similar to Recoleta is houses many open above ground tombs where caskets sit in plain site, however, a large part of it also exists underground. Throughout the grounds marble stairs descend down into immense corridors full of vaults. These underground hallways are spread out underneath the cemetery like an underground college campus.

The cemetery owes much of its immense size to the yellow fever epidemic of 1871. Even much of the concrete wall that encircles it is stacked full of vaults, and in some places they are stacked 25 feet up in the air. What most people don't know, and Nate and I discovered that day, is that there is a back part of the cemetery that is abandoned, hidden from view behind an inner wall of vaults. It was here that I experienced one of the freakiest moments of my life.

This area is accessible to anyone, a person just has to walk far enough to see opening in the wall that leads in. In this abandoned area sits the remnants of an old mausoleum about 15o meters long and with almost all the vault doors missing. It stands forgotten by the city and forgotten by time. When we first stumbled upon it we stood in awe. All around the structure lay fragments of marble vault doors, pieces of weathered coffins, and the shiny crucifixes that once adorned them. Above us, like out of a Hitchcock movie, birds flapped and fluttered, disturbed by the unusual presence of people, or at least living people, near their graveyard home. As we walked amongst the debris it was only a minute of two before we started discovering human bones. A vertebrae here. A femur there. We were speechless.

As we surveyed the perimeter of the structure we noticed large glassless windows at the base and peered in through the iron bars. Underneath the crumbling mausoleum was a corridor of vaults that sat in greater disarray then what lie above ground. We decided to search for a way down, while keeping an eye open for maintenance workers. The main stairwell down at the center was bricked off with shards of broken glass splintered across the top to prevent intruders from climbing over. The second stairwell on the far end was bricked and glassed as well however in part of the wall there was a rusted metal door. If we were to get down there this would be the way. We gave it a tug. Birds flapped out of the archways above scaring the hell out of us. It was unlocked. We caught our breath, checked one more time to make sure no one was watching us, and then made our decent.

I won't describe in detail on my blog what we saw in shadows underneath that mausoleum. What I will say is that what was above ground paled in comparison to that which was below. The 15 minutes we spent walking down were 15 of the eeriest moments of my life. Nate and I both agreed, it was like we we're in a horror version of the movie Stand By Me. And that is how the painting at the top of this post came to be. It is derived from a climatic scene in the movie that takes place not long after a group of friends discover a dead body along the railroad tracks. When I look at it I think not of the four kids in the movie, but rather what Nate and I discovered one day at the cemetery.

Here's preview of pics from the cemetery (click to enlarge).
Check out the rest of the pics on flickr.

The abandoned mausoleum

Currently Reading:
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding

Currently Listening To:
Song: Dead and Done
Artist: Bobby Long (myspace) (iTunes)

For more on how I first ended up in Buenos Aires check out the first post of Harmony and Dissonance.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Park


For a couple of months now my friend Ty and I have been planning a bike ride to an abandoned amusement park, Parque de la Cuidad, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Spring rain had canceled our last few attempts to get there, however, a few days ago, under a warm South American sun, we finally made it happen. According to maps the ride would take us through some sketchy parts of town so we packed light, and did our best to not look like outsiders. Unfortunately there's only so much two 30-something white guys over six feet tall can do to not look conspicuous in a part of town that doesn't get to many imports. It probably didn't help either, at least not while on the bikes, that we both had decided to wear white t-shirts and camouflage shorts that day, although later on I would be thankful for my choice of garments.

Parque de la Cuidad first opened in 1983 and based on what I've found online was open less than 10 years, making it left for dead for almost 20. When Ty first discovered this place a couple of years ago a security guard was posted at the main gate however people were still free to meander through the ramshackle never never land. Unfortunately when we arrived a few days ago we were saddened to see that the gates were gated and locked. Hating to have biked an hour just to see the outside of some old park we made the executive decision to lock up the bikes near the property line and jump the fence. We had no idea if security guards still patrolled inside and there was of course the chance our bikes wouldn't be there when we got back, but we decided to chance it anyway. The two hours after jumping the fence were probably two of the most surreal hours of my life.

(left) a sea of trams | (right) atop the big drop

Check out all of the photos Ty and I shot at the park on flickr here.

What transpired inside? The day after walking through the park I wrote down some of what happened. Below is what leaked out of my pen...

Raiders of the Lost Park - November 5th, 2009

Bike riding,
through city and shantytown.
On the outskirts of town.
Destination vacant amusement park.
Destination faded fun.
Main gates locked equals
time to jump the fence.
And we're in.
No sign of security.
And time stands still.

We walk through images of youth,
frozen and rusted over.
Void of people,
but full of brown flaking steel,
and sun-bleached plastic color.
Full of awe just the same.
Everything green is overgrown.
Birds squawk and holler everywhere.
Parrots, hawks, a sanctuary.
No sign of security.

We walk and we climb.
Climb on everything your not supposed.
Over turnstiles.
Up maintenance steps.
To the top of the giant coaster drop,
and back.
We climb on tracks.
On top of coasters.
We cut every imaginary line.
No sign of security

Nothing works,
and everything works,
in our heads at least.
We push moving parts.
They shriek and squeal.
We laugh.
We snap open Heineken's.
Two beers equals
part of "packing light".
We chill on a plastic and metal,
outdoor table for four,
next to the tower,
the "space needle".
We move on.
No sign of...wait.

"Down" says Ty under his breath.
We lie flat,
beers in hand.
75 yards away,
he's traveling by scooter on the access road.
He didn't see us.
We wait.
We sip.
He's gone,
and we're up,
heading in the opposite direction of 'him'.

Another roller coaster.
More jungle gym climbing,
and then to the carousel.
We push it,
like a merry-go-round.
It creeks, groans,.
and reluctantly spins.
We leave our beer cans on the revolving steel mass.
Our sign that life passed through today.
Off to the bumper cars.
We move 'em,
and blacken our hands
on decaying rubber.
Manual collisions.
Ty scrapes his arm.
Tetanus shots? We're both good.
No sign of security.

On through a figure eight go-kart track,
and its petrified go-karts,
parked like cars after the apocalypse.
We survey other no-named caged rides,
and survey the sun.
It's sinking.
We could spends days here,
but we gotta jet.
while there's still light.
Back to the bikes we head.
No sign of security.

We arrive at the tree line.
The property line.
Near the fence.
And a taxi.
Are the bikes still there?
We hide under the cover of trees,
and our camo shorts.
Why are they here?
How do we get out?
Deep breathe. We wait.
The cops leave.
A window of opportunity.
We head for the fence,
for the quick escape.
In haste I snag my hand on the barbed wire.
Is it bad?
Not sure. Gotta jet.
We unlock the bikes in negative 5 seconds
and were outta there,
both with minor injuries.
Battle wounds.

The hand's tender, but ok.
Just scratched up.
The taxi?
He saw us but no worries.
He was in a fender bender.
Thus the cops.
Just ironic timing and location.

I arrive home an hour later.
After dark.
I soak my wounds,
tell some stories,
and sleep like a rock,
or rusted roller coaster.

The sign of security.

(Two things - 1: There's no way I would have gone out there without Ty. It wasn't exactly in the best part of town nor open to the public (at least not when we were there). 2: Were it not for the previous bike explorations of my friends Jen and Ty I would never have heard about this place. Any photos I shot or things I make inspired by the trip are a direct result of their awesomeness.)

Currently Reading:
Monkey Wrench Gang
by Edward Abbey

Currently Listening To:
Song: Outlaws
Artist: Joe Purdy (myspace) (iTunes)

For more on how I first ended up in Buenos Aires check out the first post of Harmony and Dissonance.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bringing Halloween and Frankenstein to Life


This marked our second Halloween is Argentina. An interesting facet of living abroad is the loss of experiencing holidays as we know them, and the gain of a slew of holidays that are void of personal meaning. These "special" days combined with reversed seasons (summer in winter, etc.) are just enough to continually perpetuate the bizarro-world feeling that lies just under the surface of daily life. A kind of cultural limbo. We do our best to add some normalcy to the Holidays we grew up with. For our friends Jen and Tyler that meant carving watermelons. Yep. Pumpkins are out of season here so they found the next best thing. As for us, while there were a handful of expat halloween costume parties happening, we decided to avoid the thunderstorms that were drenching the city and just kick it inside. We threw Pulp Fiction in the DVD player and I set out to paint something that fit the occasion.

Say hello to "Frankie". Brought to life Halloween 2009.

Photo used as reference:
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein

Currently Reading:
Monkey Wrench Gang
by Edward Abbey

Currently Listening To:
Song: Borne On The FM Waves
Artist: Against Me! (myspace) (iTunes)

For more on how I first ended up in Buenos Aires check out the first post of Harmony and Dissonance.