They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thirsty for freedom to walk among pictures, books and trees

Thirsty for freedom to walk among pictures, books and trees

By Sara Plaza

It was during our last trip to Buenos Aires, the place that Gieco [1] calls city of fate, goblin of a destiny, in his LP "Rural bandits", when soaked to the skin we toured a small piece of the history of its wet corners. If the memories I have of that day are not wrong, our first steps along Defensa Street took us to San Telmo... We wanted to arrive at the History Museum of the City; however, in the Tourism Office that we found under a bridge after crossing Belgrano Avenue, a very kind person advised us about the fact that we will find the Museum closed because a few days ago someone has stolen a clock that belonged to General Belgrano... As announced by the Tourism officer, its doors were closed and we could only admire the cannons placed in the yard, with the same raindrops that drenched us streaming down their black bellies. We went for a walk around the Lezama Park and touched the roots of its ancient ombúes [2], which to be made of the very same mud that covered our shoes. The Café Británico offered us a small table next to the window, and a couple of very hot black coffees (mine bitter, and very sweet Edgardo's one) turned our cheeks red again and put the smile back in our lips. We strolled around San Telmo Market and went into the Defensa passage, ex–house of the Ezeiza family, with its drainpipes flooding the floor of uneven stones and withered colored slabs, making it very slippery. Then, we went back to the Manzana de las Luces (The Enlightenment Block) and visited, almost alone, the Ethnographic Museum. My delight was sheer when I discovered that I was able to understand what the showcases in front of me described, without having to stop for so long beside them, in order to read every small piece of paper explaining what was exposed inside. The handful of readings that I have been doing about the native peoples in Argentina, their legends, their tales, their daily struggles and their ways of living, together with our visits to different museums along the Andean Range, and the direct observation of the people who inhabit today this endless continent, plus the many kilometers journeyed with Edgardo while we went through its diverse landscapes, thirsty some of them, almost intoxicated with the water of their falls others, in addition with our collaborative work, allowed me to recognize what I had previously learnt along the path of our life together.

It is a marvelous experience to become aware of certain traits of the past, which make it possible to understand a bit better some features of a present that you don't know in full measure, yet. At least it was such an experience for me. I am completely conscious of the vast continent where on I stand, and continue to discover it day after day. As much as I like to listen to the people who inhabit it today, I also enjoy reading the pages that talk about those who inhabited it in the old days; I get the very same pleasure from stopping next to the paths that they trodden many centuries ago, as from doing so in front of the showcases that keep a small piece of their history inside...

Later, we went to know the library named Ávila and its literary coffee downstairs. We were delighted to search carefully for old magazines in its wooden drawers, and smiled to each other while we blew out the dust that covered the first editions that rested on the shelves.

In Plaza de Mayo we said hello to a very grey sky that darkened the Cabildo walls and covered the Casa Rosada with a cloak of mist... The same darkness covered San Martin Square when we crossed it and went downstairs under a very thin curtain of raindrops dripping from the leaves of the tipas [3]. We kept on walking until we were near Retiro, but before arriving at the Train Station we turned left towards Recoleta. We went through Francia Square, empty of people and stalls under the persistent rain, which also frightened the runners that use to run around the Lakes of Palermo at that hour of the day... It was dark when we arrived at the Museum that the tourism officer we had met in the morning encouraged us not to miss before leaving: the MALBA, Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires. I must confess that we doubted whether to come in or not, since the building in front of us (and also under our feet, reflected in the surface of the puddles) was very modern and bright and seemed too noisy to us after a long day of walking alone through the old Buenos Aires... Nevertheless, our curiosity and the cold we felt were stronger than our bad first impression of it. A wide and clear space welcomed us and, for a moment, we felt more lost that we have been in the narrow streets of San Telmo. We asked for the price and, with surprise, we smiled to each other when the person made us the following question: "Do you have student card?". I really wanted to say that we did not have the card any more, but we would be students forever; however, considering the fact that teachers got the same discount, we decided that would be easier for him to believe this second option, even though we had neither brought with us our university title... He gave us two tickets for teachers and once we left our backpacks and coats in the locker, we went upstairs and discovered quickly many of the works of art we would find through that unforgettable evening. We moved from one surprise into another during the two hours that we spent at the Museum. Both of us felt very lucky to be able to look at pictures that would be kept in our memory forever, to listen to music and "hum" it with our feet, to give a wink to the children next to us, to applaud, to laugh, to play, to make faces showing that we did not understand, to shrug our shoulders showing that we did not know, to push each other with our elbows in front of some sculptures, to sit on some others... We enjoyed a lot. The Museum celebrated with the visitors the joyfulness that meant to have brought together a bunch of works of art made by Latin American authors, whose originality and commitment with reality and imagination at the same time, should always be highlighted. The Museum was like a party and a very enjoyable one, for we found a pair of "murgueros" [4] who reminded us of Ruben Rada's song, "Candombe for Figari", in front of one of the pictures of this Uruguayan artist. But it was also like a party because children were moving from one place to another and nobody was angry with them; because their grandparents tried to explain to them what this or that was, on the shelves of the Museum shop; because some works of art could be touched; because the ones that can only be seen seemed to be watching you as well; because you could move freely around; because you went forward and backward, got lost and finally found yourself; because you were free to experience whatever emotion those works made you feel... Because you could speak slowly and smile, and choose whether be on tiptoe or sit on your heels, because you could enjoy either of what you understood and of what does not make any sense for you, of the colors, of the forms, of looking at a picture for a long time or of immediately turn your back on it... Because, well, you could laugh at or get angry with you in front of the works that others made being sometimes happy and other times deeply sad...

Going downstairs, we encountered the biggest surprise of that evening. One of the sculptures that was shown there, consisted of a couple of bookshelves, one opposite the other, with self–help books on their shelves. The books were of second or third hand, they were not very much attractive, creased, with some pages fold, some of them turning yellow, quiet the majority... However, we seen how a number of people stop in front of them, sat in between, and grabbed those pages, opened, had a look and read them...

Edgardo and I thought of the many empty libraries and could not believe what our eyes were seeing. If someone stood up and left, another came in and sat in the vacant place... Those old and "shabby" books were being touched gently again and we could not stop feeling shivers down our spines while we asked ourselves what was happening in those places were books multiply by thousands and, nevertheless, are placed far away from the curious eyes of their readers...

We finished our visit spending a few minutes more in the Museum library and, once more, we had to nip at each other's arm when we saw the wonderful place occupied by those wooden shelves full of books from the bottom to the top of the room. It was really nice and there were many people there taking out and putting books in the shelves, watching photographs, speaking in a very soft voice, showing someone else the discovering that they had made among those pages...

Going back on our steps we became aware of the fact that the pictures in a Museum, the books in a library or the trees in a park, have to be close to our hands, to our steps, to our eyes, to our lips... We have to be able to touch them, even though we can only do it with our sight in some cases; we have to be able to taste them, although we can only do it through the smelling of their colors, of their lines, of their leaves... If we hide the works of art behind a fence, the books behind a wall and only admire the nature in a postcard, we will be moving away from ourselves, turning our back on our history, condemning us to a very unhappy loneliness and a very deep silence that will make it impossible for us to listen to each other, to talk with each other, to understand each other...

[1] León Gieco is a well–known Argentinean singer and songwriter.

[2] The ombú is a tree typical of the Pampas region of Argentina, with visible roots covered with a sort of wrinkles and a lot of knots and big dark–green leaves growing from its enormous branches.

[3] The "tipa" is another typical tree that can be seen in many Argentinean cities. Its trunk has deep scars all around. Bunches of leaves grow from its dark branches, and people get rest in the summer in its fresh shade.

[4] The "murga" is a Uruguayan rhythm very funny and noisy that is played in Carnival. The murga consist of many people, some of them playing instruments, others singing and telling a story... Those people are called "murgueros". Some authors believe that the "murga" stems from "candombe", the only rhythm with black background that still survives in the La Plata River area. Others relate it to the Spanish Carnival in the southern province of Cádiz.

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