29 April 2009

Mataderos - Welcome to the Slaughterhouse



Last weekend I went to the barrio (neighborhood) of Mataderos to check out their Sunday market.

By colectivo (public bus) the market is about an hour out of the centre of Buenos Aires – right on the city limits and on one of the outer, rarely-used pages of the Guia “T” (the city street directory). Due to it’s relative inaccessibility it is rarely visited by foreigners, but what I found was one of the best kept secrets of Buenos Aires... an explosion of culture!

In my mind I thought I was going to find yet another artesano street market. This I did find, but the quality of the merchandise improved exponentially as I walked through the sectioned-off roads to the epicentre of the market. It was an open-air, treasure chest of locally made arts and crafts, wines, spices, meats, cheeses, dulce de leche, wood work, leather goods, and much, much more.

In the centre if it all was a stage where live, traditional music was played continuously by different bands. There was folklore music – with people dancing in the street - and traditional dance performances, including the first real tango dance performance I have seen in Argentina - other than the posers on the street who dance for 30 seconds and then stop until someone puts money in their hat.



[Below] I recorded this on my mobile phone with my hand high in the air, extended forward over the heads of the people in front of me, so the quality is not very good - you’ll know when my arm is getting tired when the picture starts moving all over the place. These were just teenagers dancing as a presentation from their dance school, but they were the best I have seen in Argentina thus far. The young guys were literally lifting the girls in the air and spinning and flipping them around their bodies like horizontal planks of wood. One boy span his partner’s body horizontally around his head! Yes... I said head.



The people were extremely friendly. As I was recording a music performance an old man put his hand on my shoulder, leaned into my ear and suggested I capture the Argentinean flag flying high above the stage. He kept his friendly hand there until the end of the performance, with a warm smile on his face.



There were traditional foods – asado and chorip├ín being served on every corner - and there were new foods, enabling me to sample a new kind of sugary indulgence: skewers of fresh strawberries dipped in hot caramel and covered with popcorn. At first I thought this combination of foods was implausible, but when the flavors exploded in my mouth I drifted off into a magical cloud where I hallucinated rainbows of triangles and squares.

(Below) The Candy Man. He also had other varieties of fruit prepared in the same manner. He told me they were his father’s creation. Apparently his father is a genius.



Down the far end of the market I found one long, wide road with a generous runway of sand along the middle and the frame of a soccer goal bisecting it halfway. On closer examination I saw that the frame had a little metal ring – no more than 3-4 centimetres in diameter - hanging from the middle at the end of a rubber extension. For the next 5-6 hours that followed, men on horses charged down the sandy runway and attempted to spear the metal ring from atop of their galloping horse.





These were gauchos, or cowboys. Or so I thought.

I happened to take pictures of one gaucho as he successfully collected the ring onto his short spear – no more than 25cm long. Seeing me do so, he approached me afterwards and asked if I could email him the photos. “Cowboys with emails?” I thought.

“Email?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Are you a...,” I paused, thinking that the next word coming out of my mouth could sound ridiculous. “Are you a... gaucho?”
“No, I’m a mechanic,” he said with a smile.
“Oh. And the other...”
“Everyone here has another job,” he said, finishing my question.
“Oh.”
“There’s just no money in this.”
“So...”
“It’s a hobby.”



[Above Right] Look in the top right part of the picture and you'll see the ring flying through the air as the gaucho knocked it off in the process of spearing it.



[Below] Each turn starts and finishes within a matter of seconds. In the following video you can hear someone say, "Oh, he got it!" Two second later the metal ring landed right at my feet.



[Below] The gaucho on the right is also a mechanic.



Traditionally, Mataderos was a meeting hub between the city and the country. Gauchos and farmers would go there to sell and slaughter livestock. The literal translation of Mataderos is "Slaughterhouses." Times have changed and this is no longer practiced on the street, but the market is the best place within the realms of Buenos Aires to sample traditional culture of Argentina.

More Information:

Open: Sundays, 11 - 20h
Colectivos (buses): 55, 63, 80, 92, 103, 117, 126, 141, 155, 180
Website: Spanish, English


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Related Posts

- Argentinean Folklore
- Argentinean Music
- Learning Spanish through Fruit
- Another street market in Montevideo





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