Tagbuenos aires

Dispatch from the road: Museums of Buenos Aires

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LA PROA, El Boca

We’ve been on a roll visiting museums all over the city. It’s a really nice excuse to explore new neighborhoods and spend some time inside, where it’s cool, enjoying art while outside it’s the hottest month of the year.

So as a reference, some quick and entirely subjective impressions.

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba)

Certainly one of the more impressive of the city’s museums, this big, lofty building contains an ecclectic collection of contemporary arts from Latin American artists. When we were there, there was a lifetime work exhibition by photographer Oscar Muñoz, which was great. Recommended. (link)

Museu de Arte Contemporáneo de Buenos Aires (MACBA)

Changing, very well curated exhibitions of contemporary artists are the highlight of the MACBA, situated conveniently in San Telmo which makes it a nice target for daytrips into the neighborhood. (We live just a few minutes walk away, so for us it’s convenient anyway.) The space is pretty gorgeous, too, in a glass & visible concrete kind of way. Small, but excellent. (link)

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA)

A big collection of more traditional fine arts, again with a focus on, but not exclusively Argentinian artists. You’ll find European impressionists as well as a number of more colorful collections donated by private collectors. (Asian fans or mate straws, anyone?) (link)

Coleccion de arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat

The brainchild of philanthropist María Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, this private collection is somewhat all over the place, ranging from photographs (think straight-from-the-handbook stuff like reflections of monuments in puddles, or Tango dancers shot from above while hiding their faces) to 19th century as well as contemporary paintings and sculptures, and even some archeological pieces, it’s truly ecclectic. Not any less impressive, though, so if you happen to find yourself near Puerte Madero with some time to kill, you can easily spend an hour or two here. (link

Funcación PROA

In the heart of edgy La Boca, PROA is part gallery, part museum, and has a fantastic reputation as one of the first who dared breach into this otherwise notoriously crime-ridden neighborhood. We ended up going there when the exhibitions were being changed, so I can only say for certain that the cafeteria on the rooftop is a great place to relax. I’ll definitively be back here when it re-opens to the public in a few days. (link)

So that’s the major ones we’ve visited so far. Nothing for me compares to the New York MoMA or the London Tate Modern, but they’re solid, enjoyable, high-quality collections.

Dispatch from the road: some observations on Argentina

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Our tribe is strong here in Buenos Aires. We’ve been meeting likeminded folks left and right, geeks and journalists and startup and strategy folks and hackers and activists, and whathaveyou —

(Note: Partly that’s surely a function of introductions through trusted friends here and abroad which, as so often, has been working brilliantly. Please keep in mind I’ve only been here for basically a few days, so I might be over-interpreting. Proceed at your own risk.)

— and so, as far as I can tell, talk on the street here in Buenos Aires is about the same general topics as back home. Of hackerspaces, of sucky outdated copyright, of international licensing issues that mean you cannot legally watch your shot of Game of Thrones online, of old and new jobs and pet projects, of data plans and of where to find the best music, coffee or dinner.

But then there’s a whole other, more existential layer that concerns people here, even though it seems nobody lets themselves get dragged down by it. The crazy inflation (employees in Argentina are, I’m told, get a raise twice a year to make up for the massive inflation). How many things can be bought only in US dollars, which cannot legally be bought in the country. The hassles of importing things into the country, and the hassles of traveling with an Argentinian passport. The black market that all this creates. The suspicion of elites, both domestic and international.

Mind, you can buy everything in stores; there’s nothing I haven’t seen. Prices vary quite a bit, though, and have for years. (Prices in guidebooks are invariably off, and usually have double or tripled since the book was printed a year or two ago.) But there’s a huge (and growing) gap between those who can afford it all, and those who can’t. Given that Argentina is a highly developed country, you don’t really get ripped off as a tourist; haggling is not a big thing here. There are, however, in many instances officially two prices, like for domestic flight tickets. Not because the airline overcharges you as such, it seems to be more of a legal issue or government guideline.

So dinners here have roughly been at a price level not unlike low/mid range in Berlin, or in some cases easily on par with fairly expensive Berlin restaurants. (And similar quality and service, too.) But as far as I can tell, income levels are, on average, nowhere near the same. So this creates problems.

Most people I’ve talked to seem unsure what the future holds; but they also refuse to tear our their hair over any of this. Instead, there’s a tremendous energy of building stuff, and building communities, and just working to make things better. It’s really quite something.

Out with the old, in with the new

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Over the last few weeks I’ve traveled from Berlin to Boston (via London), up the coast to Ipswich, back down to Boston (a couple of times), then Berlin (via Madrid), down south to the Black Forest to clear our out old family house, back to Berlin, to Hamburg and back, and now I’m about to head to the airport to fly to Buenos Aires with M. By the time we’re back I’ll have close to 40.000 km (as the crow flies) under my belt in less than eight weeks.

Phew. I’m not sure how I feel about that, even though the trips themselves are all pretty much fantastic.

Out with the old

One of these trips led me back to where I was born, a lovely little backwater town called Bad Herrenalb. It’s a town of a few thousand inhabitants (7.5K, including the “suburbs”), grown out of a monestary, so it was founded some 860 years ago (Wikipedia), and has some strange claims to fame. For one, it was awarded city status (despite its miniature size) early on, in 1887, by the (regional) king, and as the mayor once mentioned when I was at the city hall as part of a city-engages-with-the-youth initiative along with the other citizens that had turned 18, Bad Herrenalb featured at the time the highest quota of residents aged 65+ in the state. That, needless to say, doesn’t even begin to tell the average age in town at any given time: Herrenalb is a spa town favored primarily by the elderly. We sometimes joked that Herrenalb was like the setting for an inverted Soylent Green – there, those under 30 would be fed upon, not the other way round.

Bad jokes aside, as a kid it was a fantastic place to grow up. To go into the Black Forest – the actual Black Forest – it was a 5 minute walk. Less, if I sneaked through our neighbors’ garden, as there was only one row of houses between ours and the forest. The tap water wasn’t just potable, but of absolutely top-notch quality as it more or less came straight from the source, in a region where water from these sources is exported and sold at a premium. As kids, at night we could sneak into the open pool of the local thermal spring, where year-round the water would come out of the mountain source at a solid 35 degrees celsius. I remember a night where we were maybe 16, 17 years old, and in mid-winter we sneaked into said pool, cold beer in hand despite maybe 20 cm of snow all around, and sat there in the hot spa in the middle of the night. Not a sound to be heard, until someone else surprised us: a researcher from New Zealand, just arrived that day, who was on a research project to learn about the trees of the Black Forest, and on his way back home had stumbled unto the same pool. We shared beers and stories, and I’m pretty certain at that age I hadn’t met anyone from that far away. (Come to think of it, I probably still haven’t met people from further away – New Zealand is pretty much at the opposite end of the globe.)

Of course, that was back in the days ™ when security wasn’t big on the agenda. In fact, there wasn’t even a real fence at the time, just a line of bushes we had to wade through. By now, I’m sure, there must be motion sensors and whatnot; but this is a very, very small town we’re talking of, and at that time security wasn’t really much of an issue there.

Long story short, I went back there on a family errand. In one long day, I jumped on a train down there from Berlin (takes about 6.5 hours door to door), and cleared out the things I still wanted to keep as the house I grew up in gets new inhabitants. It’s something I had always put off, just taking bits and pieces along with me over the years, leaving much behind as I’ve been moving around a lot since I left that home. It’s a bit of an odd feeling, going through the stuff that defined signified so much of who I was at the time – and looking at it now, so much of who I am no more, how much has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my youth a great deal (within the framework of the usual caveats), and I greatly enjoy my life today. Still, this ritual of clearing out boxes from when you were five, twelve, seventeen years old triggers melancholy and introspection.

I was glad I was on a strict schedule – about three hours was all I had before jumping on the train back, and my sister was there as well, going through the same ritual. In the end, the things we settled for kind of surprised me despite making the choices myself. Some photos; a stamp collection (What can one do with a stamp collection? It’s not even a great one, yet I couldn’t throw it out?); a few bits and pieces that once belonged to my grandfather I never consciously met, or my mom, or my dad, and that would otherwise be thrown out, or small presents I had received from people I love. (Among them, a few pieces of the Berlin Wall, chiseled out by my late aunt herself, in an act I’m sure I would have found quite touristy at the time, had I thought in those terms then, but now I really appreciate.)

So many things couldn’t make the cut, as my life is too mobile, too little based anywhere with the capacity to store things, so it was mostly taking pictures of things, in the hope that digital photos might be easier to keep and store and maintain, than atoms.

So with a suitcase of past I headed back to Berlin, with a few days left to prepare our trip to Argentina, and wrap up a whole slew of meetings, as you do before leaving town for awhile.

In with the new

So instead of banking on old memory clutches, I will instead try and focus to make new experiences, new memories. That’s why M and I are headed for Buenos Aires. We’ll live and work there for about a month. Because we can: We’re priviliged in that peculiar way of the tech nomad, we can work from wherever we wish as long as there’s a decent connection. I’m (somewhat painfully) aware that it’s a thing that’s far from granted even in this decade, and it might not last. So whenever the opportunity arises, in the gaps between big events that require physical presence onsite, and obligations like more traditional employment (if that kind of thing really still exists) or family or whatnot, we decided to make the most of it and go with the flow. So we’ll spend part of the winter in the south in a place neither of us has been, but that supposedly is interesting and gorgeous and well-connected (in terms of the web). A place, in other words, that allows us to do our jobs, and do them well, and meet interesting new folks while we’re at it.

It’s been a while since I last did a trip like this one – in 2009 or 2010 I believe, when I spent a month living in New York. So far, I’ve always enjoyed this kind of thing a lot, and I have every reason to believe that I won’t grow bored of it anytime soon.

So here’s to a month of new experiences.