by Amanda Carlson
Photos by Paz Olivares-Droguett
On the corner of Avenida Directorio and Murguiondo a mural announces, “Republica de Mataderos – Bienvenidos.” Republic of Mataderos – Welcome. This mural, for those entering the neighborhood from the east, beyond which lies the vast majority of Capital Federal, indicates to visitors that they are entering a place with an overwhelming sense of local pride, and that may, in fact, host some of the most vivid manifestations of historic and contemporary Argentine identity in the city.
Following the Avenida Directorio one block further, to its intersection with Avenida Lisandro de la Torre, one begins to see why: the Parque Alberdi, to which we will later return, is filled with people on this sunny, Sunday afternoon. And, walking across the park and heading down Lisandro de la Torre, an interminable mass of people becomes visible. People spill off the sidewalks and take over the street, a visual melting pot – fair stands and the smoke of the street-side parrillas – the Feria de Mataderos.
The Feria de Mataderos, also known as the Feria de las Artesanías y Tradiciones Populares Argentinas (The Crafts and Popular Argentine Traditions Fair), celebrated its 25th year on June 8, 2011. It was started in the wake of the dictatorship and embraces Argentina’s cultural heritage through crafts, food, and music. It is an event that seeks to reaffirm democracy through the community’s ability to assert its cultural identity.
The fair creates a place for people of all ages – the number of families, children, groups of friends, and couples coming from all corners of the conurbano was astonishing – to take part in Argentina’s cultural heritage without making it feel like a reenactment or caricature of itself. And, in comparison with other fairs throughout the city, it draws a primarily Argentine crowd. For many, it is a place where visitors can feel connected to the Provinces, but conveniently from within Capital Federal.
Winding my way past the stalls and in towards the heart of the fair’s activities, it was at the intersection of Lisandro de la Torre and Avenida De Los Corrales, next to the main stage, that I came across Rodolfo Zaldivar Hijo, an older gentleman from the town of Tres Arroyos, Province of Buenos Aires, who had arrived this Sunday dressed in typical gaucho attire. He straightforwardly introduced me to his relationship to the fair. He had been attending for the past 18 years and kept coming back because, “Aquí estas libre. Nadie te puede mandar (Here you are free. Nobody can tell you what to do.)” His statement, capturing the attitude of the fair perfectly, conveyed the uniqueness of this place for its visitors.
When I came across Rodolfo he was enjoying the live chamamé (from the Litoral region), but said that later he would make his way to the center to dance chacarera (from Santiago del Estero). He encouraged me to do the same.
While I decided not to follow Rodolfo’s suggestion exactly, I did decide that the best way for me to take part in the fair on this particular Sunday was to eat. One woman told me that she only ate two kinds of empanadas: her mother’s and those at the Feria. I made my way towards the food stalls and got in line. Well worth the wait, the fried empanadas were the perfect mix of crispy exterior and soft and savory interior. Delicious.
Once finished, I turned away from the modern-day, gaucho culture and delightful empanada filling, and moved back up Lisandro de la Torre. The Parque Alberdi was the perfect place to digest and take a break from the congested streets of the fair.
Parque Alberdi is a refuge of green amid the metallic grey galpones and industrial buildings that characterize Mataderos. Large trees and small hills line the major boulevards along the western and northern sides of the park, and create a natural bowl that separates the parks’ visitors from the noise of the porteño streets. From the tops of the hills the majority of the park is visible: the centrally-positioned amphitheater (currently being restored); the adjacent avenue of benches; and the park’s newest addition, the Mataderos Skatepark, which is tucked behind the western wall of the amphitheater in a space that was formerly part of the park’s immense, now-defunct fountain.
The Mataderos Skatepark was inaugurated on July 22, 2011 as the second professional skatepark in the City of Buenos Aires. The first was inaugurated in the neighborhood of Belgrano on June 4, 2011. The park in Mataderos boasts areas for street-style skating and two side-by-side bowls – a particular novelty, as they are the only public bowls within the city limits.
On this Sunday, the park was packed. Girls, boys, men, and women between the ages of five and 29, approximately, traveled from all parts of the city to use the space. Younger kids, with their parents closely watching, occupied the far end, while the older, 20-somethings dominated the bowl, some teens taking their chances and jumping in as they saw hesitation in the eyes and movements of their elders. Groups of friends, skaters, congregated at different points, themselves taking the time to watch and evaluate the tricks of those around them, while intermittently clapping for a solid landing.
To find out more about the skatepark, I was directed towards a group that had installed itself at the park’s center. It was 28 year old Emiliano who told me its history and about the neighborhood skaters’ role in the project. He recounted that over four years ago skaters from Mataderos began petitioning local government officials for the construction of a park in the neighborhood. As in the rest of the city, the lack of formal spots had left skaters to use the existing city infrastructure, or build their own. For years, these skaters used a plaza located on Cosquín, about six blocks from the new park, to build their ramps and other obstacles. Not only did they congregate there informally, but they also developed and ran a skate school for local kids. But, they were operating in a public space where they would occasionally encounter problems with local police and other authorities. They needed a space of their own.
When the city government decided to build the two skateparks, Parque Alberdi seemed a natural fit. It had both space and community support. With the park’s completion, the Mataderos skaters were given a place where they can coordinate and formalize their activities, running the skate school and planning competitions and other events.
Beyond the local population, the design of the skatepark draws skaters from all over the city. Every day of the week, during daylight, skaters can be found using the bowls and edges of the park’s stairs, ramps and railings. It has turned Mataderos into the western nucleus of skate culture in the city.
As the afternoon progressed, the park exploded with more and more skaters. At the same time, the green of the adjacent hills slowly disappeared as observers perched themselves in positions perfect for viewing the spectacle of the skatepark while passing around the afternoon mate. I made my way to one of the highest points in the park and thought a little longer about what Rodolfo had said earlier that day about how everybody there was doing as they pleased. From this raised vantage point, both the fair and the skatepark were visible, and the incongruous mixture of Argentina – gaucho and skater – felt natural, unforced. The area easily assumed the form of its own distinct republic, with its own rules, while still within the General Paz.
Mataderos Skatepark is open daily. The Feria de Mataderos takes place Sundays at the intersection of Av. Lisandro de la Torre and Av. De Los Corrales.