Well, hello, 2019. I have been a terrible writer. I was in the US for the end of December and all of January, and even though I took with me a backlog of museum visits to work on while I was there, it obviously never happened because a good 97% of my focus at home is devoted to getting tacos. Thank you for your understanding.
So now I’m home, and also sick, which is a great condition for acclimating to the change in time zone, but whatever, my point is I have time. So–
This is the Museo Judío de Buenos Aires, and if you’re thinking that’s a bit unassuming and you might miss it, don’t worry, because this is the temple next door:
The museum is connected to the Templo Libertad, the central synagogue of Buenos Aires. It faces the same stretch of squares as the Teatro Colón and the Supreme Court building. I’ll touch on the history of Jewish Argentines lightly as I go here, but Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, and their history is, of course, extensive.
Visitors to the museum will encounter first a heavy, locked door, and they must be buzzed into the antechamber. Visitors are at this point required to show identification to the doorman, who sits behind a shield. After that, the doorman is able to buzz visitors through the next heavy, locked door. You will find extra security precautions at many Jewish schools and synagogues in the city; 1992 and 1994 saw two major terrorist attacks against the Jewish community (the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center [AMIA], respectively). They are accustomed to foreign visitors, and passports are welcome forms of identification.
Inside, you will find a warm and welcoming staff. The signage is in Spanish, although an audioguide is available in multiple languages for download on smartphones, so bring some headphones. It does not appear that the guide is linked on the museum’s website, so it requires Internet access within the building or a local data plan. I hope they consider linking it in the main website so it can be downloaded prior to visiting. I also hope they expand the content someday, as it is on the lean side, but nevertheless a pleasant way to tour the museum.
The museum’s collection is entirely donated, and it includes ancient artifacts:
As well as a few contemporary art pieces here and there:
…which is a nice touch, a reminder of the museum’s place within a community that is both ancient and living.
Most of the items are from the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a 19th century Polish Tanahk (Hebrew Bible) in miniature that could be hidden on one’s person as necessary.
There are other religious texts and cases:
…as well as items related to Jewish life from all over the world:
In the late 1800s-early 1900s, there was a large number of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe, escaping violence and attracted by Argentina’s liberal immigration policy. Thousands settled into agricultural life, and Jewish gauchos became a thing.
My favorite part was the Menorah collection!
Also the Torah pointer, which is just a really practical design.
Visitors can also see the temple itself, which is very impressive, and hosts an active congregation.
The museum has a small gift shop.
A unique history museum and worthwhile visit, the Museo Judío de Buenos Aires is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm. The entry fee is a relatively steep US $10 for foreigners (but currently 80 pesos for Argentine residents and 50 pesos for Argentine retirees). It’s easy to get to via the B and D subway lines and a multitude of buses, and just down the street from Teatro Colón, so it’s right in the thick of things.
There is something that has always struck me as phenomenally tragic about the Malvinas War.
It isn’t the biggest waste of life ever perpetrated, but it was a waste of life all the same.
It’s not easy for people who were born and raised in imperial powers to understand, either. There’s a lot of background to the conflict, which is important for understanding how the islands are generally viewed by Argentines, and I am in no way well-versed in the history of it, so I’m going to try to briefly illustrate what was going on before the war broke out in 1982.
1– The sovereignty of the Malvinas (they are known officially outside of Argentina as the Falklands, but this is where I live and also what the museum is called, so I’m going to stick with Malvinas) had been in dispute for 200 years, although they have been held continuously by the British since 1833.
2– The belief that the Malvinas are rightfully the possession of Argentina has been culturally entrenched for a long time.
3– British rule over the Malvinas is seen as imperialistic, and the imperial ambitions of European nations and the US has long wreaked profound tragedy across South America, and indeed the political interference of those nations was actively still doing that in the support of the various military juntas that overthrew Latin American governments at the time.
4– Argentina’s military dictatura had murdered thousands of people and was facing a severe economic crisis and growing opposition; the war was a somewhat cynical ploy to bolster home support by appealing to that dumbest of manipulable emotions, nationalism. The war, the loss–it’s all tainted by its association with an illegitimate and murderous regime.
5– Unlike the US, which is more or less constantly sending soldiers to die in conflicts, Argentina hadn’t been involved in any foreign conflicts to speak of since the Paraguayan War in 1870. Most of the Argentine war dead in the Malvinas were conscripts.
So–the Museo Malvinas is located on the edge of the ex-Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, once the largest clandestine detention center and execution site during the dictatura, now a memorial complex. The museum itself is quite new and really lovely.
Outside the building is a large pool with a map of the Malvinas in the middle:
and a memorial to the ARA General Belgrano, which was sunk by British torpedoes with 321 of its crew and two civilians.
It’s not a particularly comforting space. You walk down, until the silhouettes of the ship are above you. The sound of the fountain forcefully brings to mind the idea of water rushing into the ship. It is an evocative, emotional memorial.
Inside, the museum covers the history and flora and fauna of the islands.
That is the focus of the very polished film that runs inside this little theater, despite its introduction here.
There are also areas that cover the older history of the islands as well as Argentine-British relations.
A sizable portion of the museum is dedicated to how the Malvinas have been and are currently addressed in Argentina’s culture, and the idea and importance of sovereignty.
Plenty of space is also given to the war and the dictatura (the leaders had assumed that the UK would not really bother with a military response and that the US, which Argentina had been aiding in funding the Nicaraguan Contras, would stay discreetly out of it, neither of which would be true) that made the dumb ass decision to go through with the invasion.
The war dead are, naturally, also memorialized. You can watch the tablets and note how many were young draftees.
So, for better or worse, the Malvinas remain a British holding (the Falklanders, incidentally, are overwhelmingly of British descent and wish to stay within the UK). The brief war ended with 904 dead and 2432 wounded. The loss finally brought down the dictatura, which had bought nothing with all the blood it spent for Argentina except meaningless grief and psychic scars.
The Malvinas are currently on the 50 peso note.
The Museo Malvinas e Islas del Atlántico Sur is free and open seven days a week and holidays. It’s accessible by train and several bus lines, as it is situated at the back of the ESMA on Avenida del Libertador, a huge avenue. None of the signage is in English, so if your language is weak, you’ll need to bring a translator. There’s a nice small cafe within the building.
Stepping inside, however, reveals a slick space of vibrant color, from the enormous performance posters to the magic, clown, and practical joke props for sale. Visiting during normal shop hours will also grant you a look at a (small for museum but large for personal, which it is) collection of magic artifacts, including original posters from the 19th and 20th centuries, props, photos, and books. Most of it centers on one stage magician in particular.
There was once a famous magician named David Bamberg, who was the seventh, and final, member of the Bamberg dynasty of Dutch magicians. During the first half of the 20th century, he performed in Chinese-style clothing under the fakey Chinese and remarkably racist name Fu Manchu.
Odd place for a lot of the stuff belonging to a UK-born itinerant magician of Dutch extraction to end up, right? Well, David Bamberg started using the stage name “Fu Manchu” in Buenos Aires, and eventually retired here and opened a magic school. He died in the city in 1974.
The museum is a small room, so it only takes a few minutes to look around, but if you’re interested in vintage magic stuff in general or David Bamberg in particular, you’re going to like it.
There is also a cabinet of mid-century Argentine magic props. The sign says the staff will not tell you how they work.
Visit the Argentine Museum of Magic in the Bazar de Magia during store hours every day but Sunday, but they break for lunch–check the website for hours. The store not only has magic props and gags, there’s also books on magic (even some in English). You can walk there from the Plaza de Mayo, and it’s around the corner from the Avienda de Mayo stop on the C line.
I need to get this posted, because I was told that this museum will be closing next month, which sucks, because it’s pretty cool. It has a strong online presence, a good physical space, and a great staff. It will be a loss.
The MUMIN (MUseo de MINerales, get it?) is the educational endeavor of the SEGEMAR, the Servicio Geológico Minero (Argentine Mining Geological Service). It caters mainly to school groups, tasked with making rocks interesting to children. Geology, being perhaps not the sexiest of sciences, could make that a bit difficult to achieve, but they have done an admirable job. Things to touch, demonstrations to look at–there’s a lot of activity for minerals.
The museum is located within a government ministry building, the name of which escapes me at the moment–but you do need an ID to get in.
I poked around on my own until a staff member came out, discovered my terrible Spanish, and immediately went back to send out a very patient English-speaking geologist. He showed me around the museum, told me about all the displays, and answered all my questions. Let’s see a little of the collection! Argentina has a lot of mineral-related loot.
So, do you have a favorite kind of fossilized thing? ‘Cause I do.
“That’s cool,” you’re thinking. “BUT ARE THERE PRETTY ROCKS”
The museum does have an app available on the website that will do AR stuff with a few signs as well as a VR headset with a short meteorite thing to watch; nothing extravagant but fun and memorable. There are a few more hands-on elements to see/do, including some SUPER FUN SAND TABLES:
If you move the sand around, the volcano changes:
There’s another one!
In this table, you move the sand around to form the topography of the land. Then you can make it rain by spreading your hand. The idea is to demonstrate how water moves over the topography.
Know what else I liked? This Argentina-specific graphic of geologic time:
Wanna see more minerals?
I will never not find it fascinating that some minerals naturally grow in distinctive shapes.
Finally, I will close this out with a geode.
The label doesn’t tell you this but the very nice geologist will, this geode is an enhydro agate–a geode with water inside of it. Did you know that was a thing? I had no idea that was even a thing!
The MUMIN is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm (closed on holidays). Take your ID though because you need that to get in. It’s very close to the Plaza de Mayo and easily accessible by all the subway lines that go there. Go while you can.
The Ethnographic Museum is under the auspices of the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the University of Buenos Aires. It was founded in 1904, and it while it houses collections from other places in the world, it’s focused chiefly on this part of South America. There is a lot of information available on the English-language website.
There are several exhibitions, and I’m not going to talk about all of them, because that would be a lot. The first one, The Uttermost Part of the Earth, addresses the native populations of Tierra del Fuego, and what happened to them. It’s not a happy story.
There were two groups that had lived in the area for thousands of years: sea hunters (Kaweshkar and Yamana) and land hunters (Selk’nam). That went fine for awhile.
The hall is set up with the items of the Native peoples on the left, and items that would be used by explorers and colonizers on the right. A model of a Yamada-style canoe is in the center. There is a guide at the beginning of the hall that translates all the text into English.
Let’s take a look at the Native artifacts first.
Meet Robert Fitzroy, captain of HMS Beagle, the ship that Charles Darwin sailed around South America on:
Now meet O’run-del’lico, a Native boy kidnapped by Fitzroy in retaliation for a stolen boat, who was renamed “Jemmy Button” because his family was given a button for him while he was taken back to England for a long time.
He and three other kidnapping victims, renamed York Minster, Fuegia Basket and Boat Memory, because no indignity was too small to inflict on them apparently, were supposed to be “civilized,” Christianized, and returned to Tierra del Fuego to serve as missionaries and intermediaries. Boat Memory died in England. The other three dropped Europeanism like a hot brick and reintegrated into their tribe immediately on their return.
“Hey,” I can hear you asking, “what other insanely racist things resulted in contact with Natives?” Hahaha.
The Selk’nam didn’t long survive sustained contact with non-Natives, which would come to include actual contract murder. The very last died in the 1970s. I’ll end this part with a song, included in the museum’s English guide and I believe from Anne Chapman’s book The End of a World, of the last shaman, Lola Kiepja (recordings available at that link):
The next exhibition is “Challenging the Silence: Indigenous People and the Dictatorship,” so the reading isn’t going to get any lighter here.
The last military dictatorship (supported by the US, I might add), as I’m sure you’re aware, is still very much in living memory here. Visitors are encouraged to leave a Post-It on the wall, which says, “How to challenge the silence?”
It will come as no surprise that Native rights and labor organizers ran afoul of the dictatorship.
The exhibition includes information on how the sugar mills (having been the beneficiaries of military muscle keeping workers in check and working for decades) would act as agents of the dictatorship, informing on workers and allow their land to be used for clandestine detention centers. One company’s own vehicles detained over 400 activists, 30 of which were never seen again.
The exhibit also examines the museum’s own contribution to the erasure of Native cultures during the dictatorship, which celebrated the “Centenary of the Conquest of the Desert” in 1979, which could more accurately be characterized as the centenary of the genocide of the Native peoples. So, sure, parade time.
Let’s take a gander at the artifacts that live upstairs, and channel our inner (or outer) textile nerds.
This exhibit covers a lot of ground and A LOT of time, there was an entire class of children occupying a large part of the room (and I never, ever begrudge children their space in learning institutions–I just didn’t get to the more recent artifacts because their activity was taking up a lot of floor space, but they were really engaged and two thumbs way up to the museum for having a hands-on activity for them), and my dinky little minor in anthropology did not equip me for being a great source on pre-Colombian history, so let’s hit this in broad strokes.
Here’s the region we’re looking at:
The exhibit covers about 4000 years of cultural development in the region (following roughly 6000 years of hunter-gatherer societies), beginning with the earliest domestication of crops and animals.
As things settled into the first millennium CE, society got less egalitarian and chiefdoms formed. Power became hereditary and ancestor worship was socially important.
Along with the integration of groups into a large political entity came more defined social stratification and a centralization of power and activity.
But nevermind the increasing sophistication of craftsmanship, particularly metalworking, and restricted luxury goods that signified social status, let’s get back to the textiles.
The loom comes into use, and surviving textiles show that weavers developed into specialized master craftspeople, just as the metalworkers and ceramics makers did.
Of course, everything goes to hell when the Europeans arrive, as it does. That was the area that the school children were working in, so I didn’t get photos over there.
The exhibition room is large, and there are a lot of stairs, but they’ve used the space well. Old houses present a lot of challenges when they’re used as public institutions, and they’ve done a nice job with this one. If steps are an issue for you, be aware that there are lots.
There’s more to see at the Ethnographic Museum, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 1pm to 7pm and 3pm to 7pm on weekends (closed Monday). There’s a small shop if you’d like to support the museum by upping your swag game. Admission is 40 pesos (about a US dollar currently), and it’s super easy to get to on subway lines D, A, and E and tons of buses.
There are some more recent cameras, too. Look at these shockingly gaudy flashes:
My favorite things were the stereoscopes! You can look inside this one:
The very coolest thing is a large 1890s camera pointed at the front door.
If you look at the back, you can see the street outside, and it is rad:
I had a really nice visit; it’s an interesting spot for lunch. The Museo is in Chacarita, and it is open from 7am (!!!) to 1145pm every day but Saturday, when it opens at 8am, and Sunday, when it is closed. There is no cost to enter, but it is a cafe/bar, so have a meal to help keep the lights on.
Today, if you immigrate to Argentina, you will undoubtedly spend some time in the Migraciones building, near the Retiro train station and the port. You’ll be going to the same place immigrants have passed through for more than 100 years.
In 1906, the Hotel de Inmigrantes (Immigrants Hotel) was built at this site with the aim of acting as a kind of full-service center for immigrants. Part of the old hotel building, between present-day Migraciones and the Navy’s school of sea sciences, now houses the Museum of Immigration (and a contemporary art center).
The museum’s on the third floor; definitely take the elevator.
The museum does have some artifacts, but it also dedicates a fair portion of its small space to contemporary art with an immigration theme. It is more of a tribute to immigration than a strictly educational space (although it does also house historical records for research). It begins with this work, We Are All the Same Under the Skin (I would credit the artist but apparently the museum handout I was reading like an hour ago has been misplaced):
The visitor also sees a timeline of immigration legislation and its historical context:
The visitor moves through the experience of immigration, with the examples of travel documents and illustrations of accommodations:
In addition to the multimedia artwork, visitors can listen to and watch interviews with more recent immigrants. As you move into the immigrant’s process of starting a life in Argentina, there is a life-size model of a part of a dormitory in the Immigrants Hotel. There’s a voice singing, and I recognized the lullaby.
Next, you see the some of the things immigrants used to create and sustain their communities:
Finally, the museum has an exhibition by the EDO art collective, imagining a solution to the dehumanization and rejection of migrants by having them be given the legal status of fine art, and then regaining their full status as human citizens of their new countries (the transport ship, La Ballena, is organized into elements of first-world museums, as befitting works of fine art). It sounds weird but I promise the concept appears more coherent and creative in person.
The museum is free, and the hours vary by season. While the signage is only in Spanish, there is an English-language booklet available at the desk on the bottom floor (by US reckoning, I mean the first floor; by Argentine I mean the PB). Finding it is a little bit of a challenge, as the road in front of the Migraciones complex is currently severely torn up by construction (probably for years to come) and the Immigrants Hotel is set back from the parking lot. There are some large banners to help direct visitors, and it shares an entry with the Navy’s school–the sailors on guard duty were very pleasant and helpful in directing us the right way. You can get to the general area by way of a train or subway to Retiro station and walk about a kilometer, or by taxi.
Situated in the river in Buenos Aires’s ritziest barrio, parked near its better-known sister museum ship the ARA Presidente Sarmiento, you can find the ARA Uruguay. How much better-known is the Sarmiento? When you get a ticket at the Uruguay, it says “Sarmiento” on it.
But the Uruguay has its own very interesting history! It’s the oldest ship still floating in the Argentine Navy, having come into service in 1874. It was a training ship, it did military naval stuff like go to Patagonia to help throw cold water on Chile’s territorial ambitions, and then it got outfitted for scientific exploration in 1887.
The real high point in the Uruguay’s service life came in 1903, when it was refitted as an Antarctic rescue vessel. It got its chance for glory in that line of work that same year, when the Uruguay was sent to save the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, which had been stranded for an ENTIRE EXTRA WINTER after its own retrieval ship sank on account of being crushed by ice. They had to eat penguins. It was not a good time.
The ship, which honestly seems a little small and drafty for crazy cold Antarctic shenanigans, has a museum below decks.
Here you’ll find artifacts from its naval career:
It includes some items that are original to the ship.
There are some actual artifacts related to the Swedish Expedition, too.
Look at all this space below decks! The 27 guys who went to rescue the Swedes were probably super comfy. After the Swedes came aboard, everybody probably had to spoon constantly.
Ships’ wheels are kind of neat, actually.
Well that’s enough of that! Let’s see some views on the deck.
There you have it, a piece of Argentine naval history parked right there in Puerto Madero, a stone’s throw away from a more famous piece of Argentine naval history, but deserving of attention, too. Tickets are 20 pesos (about 50 US cents at the moment), and it’s open seven days a week from 10am to 7pm. Look for it in the river here.
Let me tell you, I have been a huge fan of sanitation infrastructure since reading The Ghost Map. No part of that sentence is exaggeration. It’s difficult to appreciate modern sanitary standards until you read about a virulent cholera outbreak, and the sheer amount of sewage in the drinking water. Yum.
This is the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes, or Palace of Running Waters, which is incidentally the name of my future chalet. It was completed in 1894, designed to be a water pumping station. That’s right; this glorious eclectic construction of English terra cotta tiles, a French mansard roof, and polished landscaping was built to be a water tank cozy.
Today, the Water Palace houses administrative offices for AySA, the state water company, in addition to the museum (and archive and library).
The museum devotes a good deal of its space to the building’s construction and history.
After the section dedicated to the building, there are…
And a model of the Radio Antiguo area’s English-style drainage system, which collected storm water in addition to sewage. Not every sewage system does that, you know.
Historical artifacts of the water company (once called the Obras Sanitarias de la Nacion or OSN, no I was not kidding about the basketball team) are also in the museum. There’s an office from the 1920s-1940s era:
A magazine published for the nation’s sanitation workers:
Various and sundry piping-related materials, catalogs, and certificates:
But I know what you’re thinking.
“Does this sanitation museum include toilets? Because honestly why even bother otherwise.”
Well of COURSE it has toilets.
This room is scented by an air freshener that took me a moment to place, but is in fact the most common air freshener used in public toilets in Buenos Aires. I thought that was a nice touch of ambiance.
Visitors can also see the interior of the building–the former water tanks. The space has some of the larger artifacts and photographs relating to the history of water and sanitation service in the city.
If you aren’t on the tour, there are screens with virtual guides giving short talks throughout the museum.
Are there interactive exhibits? Heck yes there are, in a manner of speaking.
Bonus: Currently, there is also an art exhibit on the Antarctic.
The architecture alone is worth stopping by, and if you’re already there, the museum is certainly fun and doesn’t require much time. There is also a shop! A case just outside the museum shows its wares, which include the most affordable post cards in Buenos Aires, outside of free ones. Museo del Agua y de la Historia Sanitaria is a couple blocks from the D line of the subway and open Monday through Friday, from 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm. Guided visits in Spanish are at 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
I’m working at a tiny disadvantage today, as I visited the Museo Evita a couple of weeks ago and photographs are not allowed, but fortunately for potential visitors, the website is well done with a lot of information.
The English-speaking world is often introduced to her first via the musical “Evita,” which is unfortunate, as it was sourced in anti-Perónist accounts and is historically inaccurate. In any case, regardless of the facts of her life, Eva Perón is subjected to the sort of scrutiny and sneering criticism that male political figures are rarely, if ever, subjected to.
It would be difficult, or even impossible, to overstate the cultural impact of Eva Perón in Argentina (as a foreigner here, I am reminded of this Sarah Glidden comic often). She is memorialized in very large ways, including the 100 peso note…
Small wonder then that the museum dedicated to her appears to be well-funded with a very engaging community presence. The vexing question of why the English-language Wikipedia identifies her primarily as an actress is perhaps a larger one.
Incidentally, wanna see how she’s identified in her Latin American Google results?
The building that houses Museo Evita and the cafe was built in the early 1900s and acquired by Eva’s social aid foundation in 1948 as Temporary Home #2, serving as a transitional support home for women and children.
These sorts of buildings present a bit of a challenge for chronological presentation, as you can see on the map that visitors receive:
But it’s not so difficult to navigate. There are signs and an abundance of security staff to make sure visitors know where the chronology goes next. Honestly, I would not change the set up at all; who ever feels like life moves predictably?
The museum assumes visitors have enough familiarity with Argentine history to understand the context of things, and the treatment overall is kept rather light. Most of the signage is translated into English, so English speakers will not be lost. Video clips are also subtitled with English.
Since I don’t have many photos to offer, I’m going to briefly mention my biggest impressions from the museum.
The woman had an exceptional amount of hustle. Evita was born in the sticks, the fifth child in a wealthy man’s illegitimate, side family. That man abandoned her family, leaving them in dire poverty. She went to the big city at age 15 to be an actress, which had to be at least as unforgiving an industry to women in the 1930s and 40s as it is today. She worked hard and was active in her unions, helping found the Argentine Radio Association and serving as its president in 1944. Evita took no half-measures and was probably incapable of doing so.
Women’s suffrage. Evita is widely credited with driving the issue of women’s suffrage to its political fruition, legalized in 1947 and first exercised in 1951. She also organized a women’s political party. The museum has a newsreel on the women’s vote, showcasing the government’s preparation of the new voter rolls and how to vote, and featuring a scene in which an Evita lookalike argues passionately with reluctant female family members on the civic duty of women to exercise their right to vote.
The funeral room. The room adjoining the funeral room shows a large video of the Cabildo Abierto del Justicialismo–a massive rally where the assembled people pressed Evita to accept the nomination for vice president–and the Renunciation, a radio address made nine days later where she declined the nomination (these would be among her last public acts; she would die of uterine cancer less than a year later). The visitor then turns and sees silent footage from her 14 day funeral, during which more than two million people came to pay tribute. Her voice from the Cabildo rally and Renunciation in the room behind is still heard over the funeral images, creating a moving impression of memory and legacy.
Before exiting through a nicely stocked gift shop, visitors can participate in the Millones photo project, taking a self-portrait with a photo of Evita using a mounted digital camera. I took one, but it doesn’t seem like the website has been updated in awhile.
Finally, I had some fun in the swag room, where I picked up the museum guide and the lady’s autobiography.
At 180 pesos (at the time, anyway; about US $6), it’s one of the more expensive museums I’ve been to. But it is certainly worth a visit! It’s easily accessible via the D line of the subway, and is very close to the botanical gardens. The cafe is really nice, too.