Monday, 19 March 2012

Some buildings

One of the pleasures of living in the Congreso district is the discovery of extraordinary Belle Époque buildings. Most of the city is recent concrete residential blocks, mostly as dull as can be, but in Congreso older buildings have survived. As the name suggests, this area is where the Congress building is, so maybe there were more great mansions there, dating from the days when, as I discover from reading Irene Nemirovsky's short stories of 1930s Paris, a wealthy, generous and good-natured playboy in Paris would be Argentine.

& the disadvantages of Congreso? The endless political demonstrations, noisy with drums and shouting, the streets closed off, and riot police, backed up by water cannon. Not that I ever saw them do anything.

The Confitería El Molino is one of the most extravagant – and decayed – buildings in the district. Completed a decade or so after the Congreso, it became a favourite meeting place for local cultural, business and political figures. The café was closed in 1997, and today is only rarely opened to the public except for events advertising the urgent need to restore the building. Derelict and boarded up, it appears to be falling apart. The more strange because it is just across the road from the Congress building itself, a great contrast of styles, the well-maintained austere American/Hellenic Capitol/Congress commanding serious respect, with the almost wilfully bizarre Molino, which almost urges you not to take it seriously, a fun building. I think Tangocherie wrote about it and the well-used dance floor there, but I can't find the reference.

(Just a note here: the UK has an ornate Parliament building as its predecessor burned down during a short period when Gothic was fashionable. A few years earlier or later, and our Parliament would have been a serious block of Portland stone.)

Wandering round the streets reveals other less fantastic but still fabulous buildings, with wonderful details.

 But nothing prepared me for turning a corner and coming across this. Those nymphs must be at least three metres tall, and the putti above the size of a grown human. They look like marble, and could well be, but are more likely to be stucco, perhaps mixed with with marble dust. I can't help wondering who chose to sit on that balcony between those nymphs for a morning coffee. & in that quiet, tree-lined side street it would still be exceptional.

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