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The short story: La Boca

Kristin Dean

By | June 17, 2009 | Leave a comment

As an art historian (and self-proclaimed nerd) there are few things I enjoy more than the random historical factoid. Whether ironic or tragic, weird or wonderful, these little nuggets of information allow me to keep drowsy undergrads from nodding off during lectures, and help me to wow friends and family while touring the world’s cities.

After just a little research, I’ve been delighted to discover the unconventional and under-promoted truths about some of Buenos Aires’s most famous monuments. So, if you’ve got visitors on the way that you’d like to impress, or if you’re just curious, here are a few highlights:

El Caminito, La Boca
As legend has it, the brightly colored paint used to preserve the hulls of ships at port first appeared on the surfaces of La Boca’s brothels and dance houses during the turn-of-the-twentieth-century. Although these vibrant exteriors are still a trademark of this major tourist zone, many of the buildings that line the Caminito once functioned as a type of low-income housing particular to Buenos Aires, the conventillo (tenement). Abandoned by the porteño elite upon the onset of yellow fever in the 19th century, these buildings were quickly converted into cheap housing for throngs of European immigrants. Within these formerly grandiose homes, several families would share a single bedroom (sleeping in shifts throughout the day), and as many as 30 families would share cooking, washing, and bathroom facilities. Low-income housing of many kinds, not just the conventillo, can still be found tucked behind the Caminito today, which is why most tourists guides advise visitors not to venture beyond the main strip.

Interested? Want to read more? Check these out:
Emanuela Guano, “A Stroll through La Boca: The Politics and Poetics of Spatial Experience in a Buenos Aires Neighborhood,” Space and Culture 6 (November 2003): 356-376.

James Scobie, Buenos Aires: From Plaza to Suburb, 1870-1910 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974).

Kristin Dean
LBA Staff

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