Images of La Boca: A Colorful Barrio in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is composed of many “barrios“, or neighborhoods.  Few are as colorful or as well-known as La Boca, on the southeast corner of the city, close to the Riachuelo which feeds the Rio de la Plata.  La Boca started very much as an Italian immigrant neighborhood, working class and fairly poor.  It remains mostly so except that its center has become not only quite colorful but also a magnet for tourism with its famous street “Caminito” and the tango dancers all around. La Boca hosts the Boca Junior football (soccer) team at a stadium whose real name does not matter much.  Its nickname is what counts:  La Bombonera!  (bonbon box).

Though it seems a little over-done these days (code words for “tourist trappish”), it nevertheless conveys a sense of part of Buenos Aires’ history and charm.  Tourist souvenir shops, cafés, street performers, colorful buildings, tango performers, and some historical markers all form part of this area of town.  Oh, and don’t miss the colorful figures that are perched on balconies, streetwalk, or windows – you may recognize Evita, Pope Francis, and Maradona (druggie, druggie!)/

Here are, as promised, the images of this barrio.  Check it out if you go to Buenos Aires!

Click on the image for full-size viewing.

Minneapolis: A City of Arts and Culture

If you are from Minneapolis, don’t take this the wrong way but I was NOT expecting the vastness of the opportunities for art and culture in your town that I discovered in a recent visit!  As I pored over the options, I settled for visiting a few museums and checking out one show for this short visit knowing full well that there were a lot of options – just too little time (this trip!).

Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA)

In terms of art, I chose the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) not just because it was free but because it is vast in its scope and collection.

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Entrance to the MIA

It was well laid out and quite manageable facing a nice park with the city’s skyline as its backdrop.

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Chinese statue at the MIA with the skyline as its backdrop

It has a large section on China, including reproducing the interior of a home, as well as art collections ranging from medieval Europe to contemporary “art” (some of which could be just from some yard in the mountains of the South; hence the quotation marks….).

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Across the way at the MIA: a sculpture in flight!

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Etruscan style table from France from the 19th century

In any case, one of my favorite pieces was the Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun by van Gogh.  Oh, heck, I liked all the impressionist art – there is just something either appealing, reachable, or understandable about impressionist art for me.  (I was reminded I like Signac but always forget him when I cite favorite impressionist painters…)

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Late 19th century painting by Signac: Snow, Boulevard de Clichy (Paris) – awesome piece

The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA)

Being a lover of Russian history, The Museum of Russian Art intrigued me and I was rewarded not just with art but also with a great exhibit about the Romanovs, thereby satisfying my eternal curiosity of Russian history – a great wealth of artifacts and video clips from the Russian monarchy.

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The Russian Museum of Arts

They also had another exhibit about “Christmas” decorations from the Soviet era.  I did not know about the New Year’s Tree, the Soviet re-invention of the too-religious Christmas tree.  They had sample ornaments made during those times, some quite homemade and others of a little better professional manufacture…

American-Swedish Institute (ASI)

In this trip, I was seeking to learn more the history of the city and I was made aware of the American-Swedish Institute (ASI).  Minnesota has a lot of Swedish blood and one of the Swedish families – the Turnblads- built a mansion in the Golden Mile district of the city in the early 20th century.  The house eventually was donated by the family and now houses the ASI which is much more than a museum – it is also an important cultural center.

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The Turnblad Mansion reflected off the new building housing the Institute – great juxtaposition

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Detail of the architecture of the Turnblad mansion – its huge stained glass window!

The house is open for visits and, during the time of the year when I visited, was decorated for Christmas.  But it was not just decorated for the season but it did so in the styles not only of Swedish traditions, but also in the traditions of the other “Scandinavian” countries:  Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.

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Detail of the table setup display from Norway

A nice touch was that they also presented Mexican Christmas traditions given the strong Mexican presence in the area where the Institute is.  I have to say that when I first walked into the Institute (not the house itself) and saw the cafeteria area on the left, I felt I had walked into IKEA!  That soon passed though as, clearly, this was not an IKEA store.

Brave New Workshop

I did not have too much time left to squeeze in show but I had Saturday night open so I opted for the Brave New Workshop comedy theater as my show to see.  This is the place where Al Franken from SNL fame started so I thought I’d check it out.

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Marquee of the Brave New Workshop

The cast was composed of 5 actors who were quite funny on their own merits but some of the pieces written for them were simply brilliant.  The mix of their skills and the pieces exploded when it came to their spoof or “Royals” by Lorde and the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  The theater is cozy and after the function, everyone is welcome to hang around for a full session of improv.  I had had a long day and, sadly, felt that it was time to leave to get a good hot shower and hit the sack.  But if you go, plan to stay on as I can ONLY imagine what this cast got into after I departed!

Art outdoors

Feel the need for fresh air and the outdoors?  Well, in Minneapolis there is art outdoors too!  The Walker Museum’s Sculpture Garden offers some interesting work near the art museum of the same name (which I will visit next time I go!).  Just cross the bridge from Loring Park (perhaps, as I did, before or after stopping at Café Maude for brunch or dinner – I enjoyed the country hash for brunch!), the garden is free and offers not only great art but a phenomenal backdrop with downtown’s skyline and the Basilica of St. Mary.

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The spoon with the cherry at the Walker Garden Park (the Basilica of St. Mary in the background)

Even in random places you may find art…  As I made my way back to my hotel, I passed the U.S. Courthouse area – in its plaza, I found some really curious figures and landscape items.  Though the work on the plaza is not explained via signage, the whole plaza evokes Minnesota’s land and its many types of inhabitants:  wooden benches that are just logs, frogs, snakes, rocks, and many other cute characters.  I can see kids loving this plaza!  The plaza brought a large smile to my face as I headed to check out of my hotel and leave town.

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A rockman on its way to the pile of rocks…

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A fellow tourist like me photographing the plaza

If you head to Minneapolis, or if you want to explore arts and culture beyond the predictable places in the usual suspects (e.g., NYC), I think you should plan to explore these unique Minneapolis offerings (or the others I did not get to explore) – you will not leave disappointed!

The Minneapolis Convention and Visitors’ Bureau helped me plan my weekend based on my interests and kindly obtained visitor’s passes for me to these places.

A Miniature Fair by the Shores of Lake Titicaca in Puno, Perú

My work trip to Perú was going to take me to a three different regions of the country:  the better known Cusco and Lake Titicaca regions and the lesser known Ancash region.  But while the Lake Titicaca region is well known due to the lake, the hinterland behind the lake is fascinatingly beautiful and less explored by the average visitor.

Map (mapa) of Peru by its regions

Puno is the region in the lower right

This is the Puno province which sits at about 12,420 ft (3,860 m) above sea level.  Remember, Denver in the U.S. about 5,280 ft.  Puno is also higher than the highest point in many U.S. states!  Puno completely borders the lake on the Peruvian side,  and shares a land border with Bolivia and the jungle zone of Perú (Madre de Dios, a totally different climate zone).  I was not quite sure what to expect from the trip and the area but the natural beauty and the amazing people of the highlands of Perú definitely took my breath away. The area of Azángaro in the province was especially beautiful.

Puno and Juliaca are the key towns in the Puno province with the latter town having the main airport and being known by locals to be a place where one is easily robbed (why they emphasized it so many times to me is beyond me as I was going nowhere near Juliaca…)  Puno (with about 100,000 inhabitants) is by the lake (Juliaca is inland) so it is the gateway to Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side.  I visited most of the province except the 2 northern and 1 southern regions (that I know of! a lot of my travel was on country roads).  (Read about my visit to the islands in Lake Titicaca here: )

Mapa (map) of Peru and Puno province

Map of the Puno region; Azángaro is towards the center, right above the lake

On my way there

I made my way to Puno from Cusco where I had just concluded field visits as well as squeezing a day and a half of local tourism.  My method of transport was a bus ride that took about 6-7 hours – a welcome change from airplane rides but most importantly because I would be able to admire the landscape along the way.   The road was very well built, the terrain fairly flat (though rising over the distance), and pretty much a straight road so not a lot of wild curves to make me dizzy.

Highway between Cusco (Cuzco) and Puno road, travel

The way to Puno from Cusco was beautiful and far from scary (unlike the Lima to Huaraz route!)

The local office had arrange a pickup at the bus station for me and I went straight to the office to meet some of the local folks, hear about their work, and the visits they had planned for me.  I had been itching to get to the hotel as I was tired and the altitude had increased from Cusco so I was feeling the lack of oxygen.  I had also asked ahead of time for help in planning some tourism activity for the weekend since I was getting there on a Friday evening and there were no field visits planned for the weekend.  We finalized those plans at the office and I was ready to get to the hotel.

A Miniature Af-fair

However, one of the locals offered to take me out that evening to see a special event celebrated annually in Puno:  the miniature fair (Feria de las Alasitas).  I was quite curious and decided it would be probably something to see so why not.  I dropped my stuff at the hotel and met her to go check this fair out.

Puno is nestled between hills and Lake Titicaca so there are a lot of steep streets except right by the waterside sort of where the fair was going to take place.  The town looked quite charming at night, especially near the hotel on a very lively street with a lot of eateries.

We approached the fair and I couldn’t quite believe the amount and diversity of miniatures of all kinds.  Any object you have in real life is sold in miniature.  The idea, belief, or tradition is that whatever you buy there in miniature will come true for you real life (and real size). Examples:

–        Want to get married?  Buy a miniature groom (if you are a woman), bride (if you are a guy), or  wedding cake

–       Want to come into some wealth?  Buy miniature dollars, euros, Peruvian soles (if you want to have money)

–       Want some good possessions?  Buy a car, laptop/PC, canned goods, etc.

–       Want a better roof over you?  Buy a house, apartment building, etc.

There actually is ritual sprinkling of the miniatures and prayers that are part of the tradition.  People sometimes assemble baskets with a variety of these items and take them home.  Besides getting their miniatures, they seem to enjoy walking around the different booths, picking out the items, and socializing.

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Some of the miniatures from the fair

The fair was mostly locals only and I greatly enjoyed the atmosphere as everyone seemed to be out and about enjoying the night, the fair, and each other. One of the funnest local festivals I have been to.

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Just in case… I bought lots of “euros”, a house, and a car!

I also enjoyed walking around town at night – Puno was very lively and given its location had a good number of tourists.  It is definitely a great base from which to hit the lake and to hit the hinterlands of the Puno region!

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