Montevideo, Uruguay, Day 1.
The bus journey from the border of Chui, is one I'd rather consign to the far corners of my mind. A hastily purchased ticket sees me taking a bone-shaker all the way along the coast, stopping at all the little villages and towns. It is freezing cold, the wind whistles through the bus like a test tunnel, and the loo door swings ajar, slamming shut on the bad bends, like a giant fan, outside well, a toilet - you get the picture....!
Some time in this country however has shown me that the bus services in general are actually top class, and I just had an unlucky moment. The lady in the tourist office ate her lunch as she helped me, and was more concerned with possibly getting me sorted for tickets (any tickets), before closing the doors, and giving me the dirty eye for free-loading on her WiFi connection, and calling Europe.
I got into Montevideo Bus Station around 11pm I think, and called the cab, which put me at the hostel door. The hostels I have seen so far all have a few things in common, sockets are rare, they are slightly cold, and the breakfasts are like a 10-year-old's birthday celebration in terms of refreshment and nourishment. But this one has style, dude.
The Ukelele Hostel has recently been refurbished by a couple. This is a Montevidean Town House in the Parisien style, Art Deco I think...., much space high ceilings, svelte mouldings, etc. (my new haircut from Pelotas is like hand-in-glove here). The front room has a welcoming roaring fire in the glass front stove, and there are plenty couches on which to recline.
There is a pool, but the only things swimming are the fallen leaves. Still it is a smashing spot, and the guests and staff are all muy tranquilo.
The following morning, I explore a little further and get to the roof, among the linen drying in the light breezes off the estuary of the Rio Plate. Google enhancments are becoming the order of the day, here is the view toward the Atlantic southern shore of the City peninsula.
Montevideo is a noble place, General Artigas the liberator is still among the citizens, and his ashes are in an elegant modern nicely designed mausoleum directly below his hero-worship statue in one of the Main Squares, just before you hit the old town. It is a fascinating and arresting display of military dedication, with two men-at-arms standing to attention the day through.
His ashes are kept in the urn at the centre of the historically informative showcase, pertinent dates of the foundation of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, cast in-situ in the walls of the underground chamber. It's all black and grey, and dutiful and masculine, but very beautiful and touching somehow, as the nation recognises it's founder with adulation decorum and respect. Well worth a visit I think.
So it came as a somewhat welcome relief then, that as I ventured deeper into the old Barrios of the Ciudad Vieja, the avant garde forms of expression provided me with an alternative experience and a sense of visual balance, feminine forms, deep blues and rich colours are to be found on almost every street, and wall.
The port operates out of the down town old city shoreline, and this place is as much a port as the city across the mouth of the river, Buenos Aires. The Argentine portegno locals there refer to Montevideo as another Barrio of their great capital, but this place has a very unique local elegant charm; that you can experience the city walking is a great bonus, and there is much to be seen. There seems to be a very vibrant and thriving arts and culinary scene here, and there is much inspiration to be found. It would not surprise me if for instance that the artisitc inclinations of Gardel (the famous Tango singer and performer) were indeed nurtured first in this bijou city, before he sought greater success across La Boca del Rio Plata, in Buenos Aires. But both the Argentines, and the French interestingly, will have some more, much needed input there, I'm sure!
I will let the images speak for themselves.
It is noteworthy that the first president of Uruguay, was a despot, and for his own reasons made a decision to ethnically cleanse his new great nation of all indigenous people, in the early 1800s. This piece pays tribute to the facial characteristics of the native people I suppose. How sweet the colours, how amusing the little animals, the choices of blues and greens, against the earthier natural skin tones, and house colours again are sublime.
A detail from this lovely work.
I go on to the Carnevale Museum, and see this piece, a depiction of the Carnevale by a local well traveled cubist painter of that movement era, who donated this to the Museum before his death recently.
This is the brightly coloured outside of the museum center.
Inside I am given a free coffee, and there is a female jazz duo performing some smooth tunes for the entertainment of the patrons of this busy café, and the music is very very good. I was going to film them as they put out their suave rhythms, but in my, at that point, un-sober state, I decided that that would have been very un-jazz, and totally not cool, maaaaan. So I just let the girls do their thing. And clapped on my own amongst the dining tables. (Only joking).
Now, it wasn't my fault that I got drunk. I got hungry, I had been walking alot that Sunday morning already (note that it was the weekend), and after demanding Salchichas (sausages) and Papas Rusticas (Potatos with jackets on) with mushroom gravy, the waitress who had become accustomed to my Irish ways (not speaking spanish very well, and expecting comprehension regardless) took my order, and assumed that I had wanted the 2 litre bottle of Cervesa. I expected you know, the old 33cl Corona jobbie, but no. I looked up from my mobile phone to the sound of the cap being lifted, and there it was. Big Bessie. A full two litres of cool crisp beer. At first I was afraid, I was peterified.... But then I thought, sure why let it go to waste.
Here is the typical Asado (That's what the Argentines call it - it's called something else in Uruguay), which froms the basis of some finger licking good dishes of the local cuisine including my own; roasted vegetables and meats (of all kinds.. I look up the meanings of some of the meats on Google Translate in the cellphone, and one comes back as "willy". Oh mí dios). Hence my insistence on Salchichas, solo Salchichas, entiendes!!? (I could have been crying as I made the request for some clean meat, I don't remember).
And so blue with the booze, I reluctantly went through the exhibition that I had paid for, and mourned the fact that we don't have such a sexually expressive national festival in Ireland, and cursed church and state for the dismal circumstances in which our "celebrations" usually take place. Intentions of strongly worded letters to local government and organising public naked parties soon passed, and I soon got over it and after a glass of water and another coffee I resumed my positive happy trek through Montevideo.
(The grounds of Leinster house should though, be the place for the new Irish Carnevale, or at the very least a trouser-less work day for everyone in the Dáil and ministerial offices).
Seriously though, it's lovely to see a place that takes frivolity and frollicking seriously, as an integral part of the culture and expression of it's people. I know that Carnevale Brazil would probably make Uruguay's version look like the Holy Pentecostal Thursday procession, but that it is a celebration of the human mind and body as being an integral whole, makes it valid (and almost necessary somehow in a country like little old Ireland) for people to recognise that sacredness publicly together as equals, and to recognise the sanctity of sexual expression as being a beautiful dance of celebration, and an aspiration to the highest form of worship; that of the natural expression of the joy and innocence of and through eros.
(Now take your clothes off).
Even that the street pavements are embellished with the public sharing of little artworks, with artists repairing the missing tile slots with colourful mosaics, makes this a place that sees the beauty in random and spontaneous artistic expression as being a gift to all. And that for me, says much about those that dwell here. Music, tango, milonga, contemporary latin dance beats emanate from houses here and there, locals talk to me, telling me where to go, where not to go, asking me where I'm from, people cook their Asados openly in the street (even though it's the winter, yeah right!), and the general vibe is very chilled.
I sit on the dock of the bay, and I watch the tide roll away. I watch the ships roll in and I watch them roll away again.