illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

Back in the Land of the Living

I should probably interpret this experiencerevived from the dead as a cautionary episode, a warning against my dependence on electronic devices. But use of these tools is ingrained at this point: hundreds of files of potentially useful  material for relevant descriptive detail, all my research notes  and all my drafts are in data files in my laptop. My handwriting is lousy and I never write anything correctly the first time. Even when I want to send a hand-written note, I draft it first in a Word document. Once I decide what I want to say, I copy it, pen to paper.

I mustered sufficient resilience to enjoy the other aspects of our trip–snippets of which I managed to post on FB from my phone. And, despite one other thing that happened in Santiago, Gary and I agree this was one of our best trips. We think it’s because we didn’t know much about Argentina or Chile when we left–same as five years ago, when we took a cruise up the Amazon to Manaus, Brazil. Once we began, then, as on this trip, our appetite for the history and geography of places we were seeing expanded exponentially.

We stayed in an apartment in Buenos Aires for a week, took the hop-on/hop-off bus one day and walked miles across the different sectors of this beautiful city. We learned that wealthy Argentine aristocrats determined, in the early 20th century, to make BA “the Paris of South America.” That would, of course, be Paris after Haussmann’s late 19th cen. renovations.

Where, I wondered, did their wealth come from? Was it all from exporting the beef and wheat raised in the Pampas? Or was there mining, too? At this point, I was already laptop-less. It’s only now that I’m able to do a little searching. I’m gratified to find a Miami Herald article from 2001 that (a) confirms my guess and (b) gives a little more information on the large Italian population. We were surprised to find pizzerias and pasta restaurants on every block and then learn that 40% of the population is of Italian ancestry. We also read that they spoke Spanish because Italian dialects were so diverse in the 19th century that there was no real Italian language.

Now that my faculties have been restored, I find that “Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world at the end of the 19th Century. British money paid for the construction of national ports and railroads. Immigrants from Italy and Spain provided the labor. Sheep and cattle exports, along with mining, brought wealth.

Teatro Colon-BA

“The lavish Teatro Colon  in Buenos Aires remains one of the world’s great opera houses, inaugurated in 1908 with Italian composer Guiseppe Verdi’s Aida.” (  Although disappointed that Teatro Colon’s season did not begin until three weeks after our departure, we took the tour. It is, indeed, a magnificent theater. Busts of eight notable opera composers embellish the arches on both sides of the lobby just outside the orchestra level entrance. Why was Puccini not among them? The theater opened in 1908: Puccini wasn’t dead yet.

This article  answered other questions about Italians in Argentina. Why did so many go there? “A wave of emigration from Italy to the United States in the late 1880s led to anti-immigrant feelings there. So between 1900 and 1930, Italians moved instead to Argentina. Buenos Aires took on a decidedly Italian flavor: in 1905, 40 percent of the city’s population was of giuseppe garibaldi-BAItalian origin. Today the effect remains in the accent of porteños, as residents of the port city are known. Their Italian-sounding accent is distinct from the Spanish spoken in the rest of Argentina or Latin America.” I speak a little Italiano, so I love the idea that porteños speak Spanish with an Italian accent.

Like Paris, BA has wide boulevards, many parks and many plazas commemorating heroes. It occurs to me now that BA’s large Italian population probably accounts for the Plaza Italia & its wonderful statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Note the cat relaxing in the sun on the bottom left side of the photo.


This statue seems a wonderful complement to my favorite equestrian statue ever:  Anita Garibaldi riding side-saddle on a galloping horse, an infant and reins in one hand, a revolver in the other. It’s in the Trastevere sculpture garden, Rome.

Giuseppe met 16-year-old Anita in Brazil, during one of his exiles from Italy.

More Italian associations to come…


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This entry was posted on March 28, 2015 by in Writing and tagged , , .
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