Two weeks ago, my friend Nestor dragged me to the outer reaches of Buenos Aires to attend a birthday party in a barrio called Liniers. We took a bus along Avenieda Rivadavia, which he told me was the longest road on earth and after this bus ride I think I believe him. Finally, we hopped off at a quiet corner with a lush park tucked between two sleepy streets. Quiet? Sleepy? Were we in Buenos Aires? What kind of party was this?
Truth be told, it was 5 pm, which is really when the town just begins to wake up.
As we circled the corner, I heard what I came for. The high-pitched screams of children. The retort of parents who begged their offspring for voices an octave lower as they all yelled over the high-pitched kids music. And then, I saw it. The street was stuffed full of children, parents, grandparents, even great grandparents all celebrating the 90th birthday party of Don Luis, the man who operates the oldest calesita (merry-go-round) in Buenos Aires. His particular merry-go-round, was built in 1920 and has been bringing squeals of delight to the kids in the ‘hood for close to a century.
Don Luis’ merry-go-round is one of 55 scattered through the neighborhoods of BA, with nearly one in every ‘hood. With wooden carved horses, carriages and trains painted in faded pink, purple and gold, they quickly leave you with the impression of another epoch. The city has embarked on effort to save these little jems of history that conjure up happy images for young and old alike, going into far flung neighborhoods to reconstruct and rescue piece of the city’s strong European history.
“Three generations of my family came here, including me,” a wrinkled woman of the barrio told me. She was in her early 90s, her husband 97. That was what made this party so remarkable – the mixture of generations who all were united to celebrate what was, is or will be part of their collective memory. It was a symbol of community that is too often forgotten in an age of video games, Facebook and television.
There was an award for Don Luis from the city, for his dedication to the community. He spoke briefly, with pride about the challenges throughout time to keep the calesita running. “Today all the children of Argentina can enjoy the most fun and healthy diversion we have,” he declared, beaming with joy as the throngs of children and adults alike clamored to kiss and hug him on his special day.
There was a torta (cake) of course, a 90-kilo purple behemoth, in honor of Don Luis’s age. It was extra sweet, with dulce du leche and nuts sandwiched in between a moist yellow cake and the crowd pushed with ferocity to get near the table underneath a jacaranda tree to grab a slice.
Soon the crowd was energized, maybe from the sugar, maybe from the celebratory vibe. Kids climbed onto the merry-go-round, making life-long friends, making temporary enemies, loving their sisters, hating their brothers, with parents snapping pictures furiously in the golden spring afternoon. Either way, it was simply a beautiful sight.
To see more pics, go to my flickr site. Also, be sure to check out the special cultural programs the city has going until the end of the year at calesitas throughout the city.