National Geographic : 1967 Nov
Dynamic mayor, Eugenio F. Schettini stands before the Cabildo-the colonial town hall. From its balcony on May 25,1810, Argentines proclaimed defiance of Spanish rule. Mayor Schettini, ap pointed in July, 1966, by the military regime of Lt. Gen. Juan Carlos Ongania, resigned last Sep tember after a dispute with the administration. Danube, the Volga-stream after stream has its memorialization in song. But not the broad watercourse formed where the Parana and Uruguay Rivers join, and on whose pancake flat southern shore sprawls the capital of Argentina, with its suburbs the biggest city on the continent. Why no song? I stopped to ask the question at one of the innumerable record shops dot ting Buenos Aires-shops blaring noisy evi dence that music and gaiety still complexion the city that gave birth to the tango. The shopkeeper looked at me in amaze ment. "Why?" he exclaimed. "Who knows? Perhaps because we Argentines are more in 664 terested in wine and women than in water." In sense of humor, and in other ways, the portenos, as residents of the port city call themselves, are a lot like people of the United States. Remarkable similarities shape their heritages. Argentina fought for independence from a European power. It repulsed a British invasion. It brought order to frontier lands through Indian wars. It had waves of immi gration that resulted in a cross-fertilization of cultures and ethnic strains.* Take the employees of my hotel, for exam ple. Manolo, the elevator operator, was born in Spain's Canary Islands. Salvatore and Enzo, barmen, came from Italy. Poppe-Milius, the concierge, had roots in Belgium. Of all the waiters, only three were Argentine-born. Walk the streets of Buenos Aires, and the mingling of blonds, brunets, and redheads reminds you of a city in the United States, or perhaps Europe. Scan store signs, and you sense the varied backgrounds: Gath & Chaves, Harrod's, Peuser, Yamamoto. Thumb a tele phone book, and such names as Lafitte, Laz zeri, Lefcovich, Lopez, and Lynch pop out. Facts Justify Portefios' Civic Pride Greater Buenos Aires is the biggest Spanish speaking city in the world. But its people can be called Spanish only in the same way a New Yorker can be called English-in unity of language, but not a lot more. The modern Buenos Airean assimilates the best from his heritage and marks it with his exclusive stamp. He has confidence in his tal ents and prides himself on his individualism. That pride sometimes takes unexpected tacks. My friend NicolAs Rubi6, a trans planted Spaniard and producer of engravings and art films, summed up one of them. He was telling me about carnival time. "If a Buenos Aires resident puts on a cos tume," he said, "it will be that of Batman, Superman, a knight, or a grandee. But seldom will it be that of a clown, or a monkey, or a ludicrous character. For that would result in papeldn-the fear of being laughed at. And his pride couldn't stand it." The portefio believes himself the pivot around which Buenos Aires wheels, and his city the center of the nation and all that is truly important in the world. And he can cite facts to make a pretty good case for it. Buenos Aires, with its suburbs, sits on the banks of the Rio de la Plata as a rough half circle whose radius measures some 18 miles. *See "Argentina: Young Giant of the Far South," by Jean and Franc Shor, GEOGRAPHIC, March, 1958.