It was past midnight on a Saturday night in Buenos Aires as I made my way through the quiet neighborhood of Almagro to catch a dose of Argentinian theater. Earlier that day, I’d bought a magazine from a homeless man near the Recoleta Cemetery and sat down for mate, the national tea drink of Argentina. Leafing through the magazine searching for offbeat events, something caught my eye: a short listing announcing a late-night theater performance at a metallurgic factory. There wasn’t much information, just the approximate time, address and a short description. That was all I needed; I had a plan for my first Saturday night in Buenos Aires.
And there I was, on a deserted industrial stretch of the otherwise leafy residential barrio, standing outside a run-down warehouse, suddenly unsure of my decision. But there would be no turning back now. I pushed through the heavy, metal doors and climbed up the crumbling dusty stairs, past pitch-dark nooks and crannies and giant factory halls with heavy machinery. At the very top of the building, I entered an empty space. Through the dim light, I could see the contours of people already gathered in corners, chatting away to the sounds of electronic music, in anticipation of the upcoming performance.
Some minutes passed and then, suddenly, the music changed into ominous sounds of loud drumming. Alien-like figures dressed in space-age costumes appeared from all sides. The audience cuddled together as giant men on stilts approached us from the four corners of the room. Crouched figures wearing black robes pushed an imposing vehicle with a massive drum and a performer dressed in silver hung off the ceiling in acrobatic poses, eerily descending towards us. The event went on chaotically for a very intense hour, as we ran from one side of the hall to the other, either following the performers or escaping their manic moves. At one point, a girl dressed in white hugged my knees, wailed and looked at me with pleading eyes.
We were all part of the event, the performance coming alive only with the presence of the audience. This interactive vision of the state of our world—apocalyptic, alienated, robotic, yet so touchingly beautiful—was a new piece by Public Works, one of Argentina’s renowned experimental dance/theater troupes.
This was my introduction into the world of IMPA, La Fabrica Ciudad Cultural. Touted as a pioneer of the factory revival movement sweeping Argentina during the last few years, IMPA is the most successful model of a factory turned cooperative. After being declared bankrupt and on the verge of closure in 1997, the workers decided to take their destinies into their own hands and revive factory production, which had been severely damaged by corruption, economic crisis, and appalling working conditions.
By 1998, the factory workers had taken over IMPA, creating a people-run cooperative. But there’s more to this story. Students, artists and activists of all stripes then approached the cooperative with the idea of turning the space into a cultural center. And the public campaign bore fruit: Since the takeover, the factory has boomed with metallurgic production during the day, while in the evenings, the space has become a beehive of cultural activity.
The city of Buenos Aires declared IMPA a sight of cultural interest in 2001, and the factory is now a micro-society and the place to be for exchange of creative ideas. IMPA hosts over 30 workshops every week, on subjects such as theater, dance, music, photography and writing, and has a regular repertoire of theater performances, concerts and visual arts exhibits. Whether you want to learn about photography or documentary filmmaking, tango or capoeira, poetry or African drumming, head to IMPA and you’ll find something to suit your tastes. That evening, I walked away elated. The performance and the environment of IMPA challenged and inspired me.
| Travel notes|
here are surprisingly few flights to Argentina from the U.S., but you should be able to find a fairly convenient direct flight to Buenos Aires. Several airlines offer daily nonstops, including American Airlines, United and Aerolineas Argentinas.
Where to Stay
Finding accommodation in Buenos Aires is rarely a problem: almost half the hotels in the country are to be found in the capital, with prices ranging from $15 for a very basic double room with shared bathroom to $3000 for a luxury suite. However, with the exception of the city’s excellent youth hostels, attractive accommodation can be difficult to find on a tight budget, especially for the single traveler. Try the excellent website bedandbreakfast.com.ar for alternative accommodations listings in English.
What to Eat
Argentineans love dining out, and in Buenos Aires, especially, eateries of every description and nationality (lots of pizza!) stay open all day and till very late. By South American standards the quality of restaurants is high, with prices to match. But you can keep costs down by menú del día or menú ejecutivo, usually good-value set meals for as little as AR$8-10. In the evening all-you-can-eat tenedor libre or diente libre buffet restaurants are just the place if your budget’s tight. Excellent local fast food is also available. Try the empanadas, humitas and tamales, or the hearty locro stew.
Argentine cuisine is defined by the best beef in the world: succulent, cherry-red, healthy meat raised on some of the greenest, most extensive pastures known to cattle. The barbecue or asado is an institution, but it’s not the whole story. Parrilla is the other mainstay of Argentine cuisine. The parrilla is a barbecue, the national dish, served at restaurants known as parrillas. These places are not for the faint-hearted: mountains of meat come with heaps of salads and chips and the traditional chimichurri sauce, of course!