Our last day in Buenos Aires was pretty intense. We decided we would visit the ex-ESMA (now the Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos). the former military school that served as the biggest clandestine forced disappearance centre during the last dictatorship. After seeing the demonstrations at Plaza de Mayo, we thought it was fitting - if probably very dark - to visit this place where some five thousand civilians were held and, later, forcibly disappeared.
We managed to arrange a tour of the place, but got there early, so we took a small tour of some of the buildings ourselves. Just this initial, basic tour was reason enough for deep feelings and reflection: an introduction reminding us it's more terrifying to forget than to have to remember too much, there was art related to the brand of car usually used by the dictatorship to kidnap people, empty spaces, and photos of northern Argentina where you can see Argentineans of non-European descent who are most of the time absolutely absent from the collective imaginary of Argentina.
When it was time, our tour guide arrived and showed us around this place. As I write this and remember what he told us and what I saw, I still shudder. Just like when I was at Plaza de Mayo, the photos and descriptions I saw of those that were forcibly disappeared seemed not just like your average person, but like the average person I or my family or my friends could have been, with dire consequences.
But the most terrifying, the most unfathomable thing, was that the main building where people were held and tortured was the same building where the military commanders lived. These monsters ate, slept and had sex in the same place where others were being tortured and killed, The same space, separated by just a couple of floors. Pregnant women gave birth there, too. And their babies were taken and given to military families, while the mothers were forcibly disappeared. It just beats me. The whole process is beyond my understanding, but that these atrocities would happen right where you as commanding officer would lay your head for a good night's sleep? Where these monsters would command people be injected with a substance to make them unconscious and then throw them off planes into the sea so it would be the impact, or drowning, that killed them, and not the officers themselves, in a farcical attempt at being Christian (while also getting rid of "evidence", "evidence" meaning live, breathing human beings)? Sickening.
I would recommend anybody to visit this place. Lest we forget what dictators and dictatorships can do.
It was a long way back to the centre of the city, which was good, because it gave us time to process what we had seen and to try to return to a less dark mood. We went to the perfect place to try and not get depressed - el Gato Negro (the Black Cat), a beautiful café from 1927. But it's not just a handsome, old café, it's also a historic place to buy spices of a hundred kinds, as well as teas and even currys!
This would be my last café con medialuna in the city...
Another pending item on our list was the Templo Libertad (Liberty Temple, or Sinagoga de la Congregación Israelita Argentina), Buenos Aires' first synagogue, from 1897. The place had a small museum with everyday items, including some history books for elementary school children... in Yiddish! The temple itself was nice, but rather solemn. I'm afraid I prefer the historic synagogue we have in the centre of Mexico City. But Anyhow, it was cool to look at one of the most important temples of one of the most important Jewish communities in the continent. Plus, I left with a cute mezuzah case made of clay!
Since we were in the area, we couldn't resist temptation and went once more to Bodegón Pippo. But this time I had ravioli with the most intense, delicious sauce ever! How on earth could these people make such a flavourful, rich, amazing sauce!
Obviously, a meal like this had to be followed by a long walk, one last opportunity to enjoy the architecture of the city before nightfall...
Since this was our very last night, I pulled all the stops. We stopped at a bakery so I could buy lemon meringue pie and a cherry filled meringue. The super handsome attendant did a mean job to pack them so they'd survive the subway trip, LOL. And we also went for one last choripán at our local "choripanería". And we finished some Argentinean beer I had bought (a porter and an IPA). We tried so many delicious kinds of beers during our stay!
And that's how we said good-bye to Buenos Aires. I always feel I'm one lucky bastard to get to travel, but I felt especially so with this trip - I finally got to know you, Buenos Aires! Thanks!