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Letter from Buenos Aires, Part II

Argentina’s 3 1/2 year economic downslide continues, even as the U.S. and Europe officially name their own economies in recession. The Fernando de la Rua administration proposes cost-cutting measures, with massive bond swaps; the international monetary community views such swaps as the largest default ever. Provinces fight for service allocations from the federal government and resist adherence to the national reform program, without which the International Monetary Fund may not release the next $1.5 billion in bailouts that the nation needs just to service interest on its crushing debt. The following excerpts, from the writer’s August stay in Buenos Aires, provide glimpses of estimable people facing a worsening plight.

The Teatro Nacional Cervantes stands just off the Avenida 9 de Julio, proudly proclaimed in Buenos Aires as the world’s broadest avenue. Whether it’s the hugest or simply huge, 9 de Julio is swathed with median parks, linked by massive, International Style office buildings, then pinioned at its nearby axis with Avenida Corrientes by the city’s 67,5-meter tall, signature white Obelisco.

The Cervantes, a baroque edifice occupying one corner at Cerrito and Córdoba, is home to the Teatro Nacional. The very building emits drama: soot-stained stones of the ornate façade attest to the Cervantes’ venerable status; sheets draped at street level, painted in vacant body forms, protest the hapless government’s neglect of this institution’s employees.

Within the foyer’s wooden-countered ticket office, plexiglass floorplans are peg-holed with tightly rolled tickets, a separate floorplan for each upcoming performance. You see what is available, and are given the ticket you’ve purchased from its seathole on that evening’s plague, leaving the remaining tickets and the view of their distribution for subsequent patrons.

Elaborate mosaic tiles skirt the foyer and vestibule walls. Padded crimson textiles, embossed with floral decorations, adorn curving hallways behind the theater boxes. Sconce lamps line those bending corridors, left off to conserve money (a flyer, distributed in the foyer, pleads for assistance as the national theater faces fiscal extinction). The seats on the auditorium’s main floor, with their massive dark wood frames and crimson upholstery, look like perches for El Greco’s “Grand Inquisitor.”

Preceding a Sunday performance of Abelardo Castillo’s Israfel, a mild-mannered company representative took the stage to speak of the company’s struggles with the latest government cutbacks. Someone in the front rows declared that she’d come for theater, not sermons or protests, and kept up her derogatory interference as the rep tried to both placate her and make his statement. The audience began siding with the rep; interruptions persisted.


Alan Lockwood


The Brooklyn Rail

JAN-FEB 2002

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