Resistencia: city of sculpture

Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
Trip End Jun 14, 2010

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Flag of Argentina  , Chaco,
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

After our grotty hotel in Asunción (and because we couldn't find a cheaper hostel in our very limited Internet time) we had booked ourselves into a rather swish hotel in Resistencia, just off the main square. Our receptionist was friendly and welcoming, patiently tolerating our poor Spanish and slowly explaining the hotel’s facilities. Our room was bright and clean (but unfortunately also with a leaky sink which led to us changing to an almost identical room but we lost the huge plasma TV that had been in the first room!) It was a treat just to shower and relax!

Although Resistencia is the 'capital’ of a huge area called the Gran Chaco, it actually lies at the very edge of the western Chaco Seco (dry Chaco), a vast, extremely dry and barely populated plain of thorn scrub often referred to as ‘The Inpenetrable’. Its indigenous peoples have a long history and for many years successfully fought back Spanish and other colonial powers. So it was not until the late 19th century that the area was opened up to agriculture and most of the immigration to the area has been from the 1930s. All in all this seems an unlikely base to build a ‘City of Culture’ but suprisingly they have (a bit). In 1988, the town set up a biannual sculpture competition where scuptors from all over the world come to the town and work for two weeks to produce their ideas which are then donated to the town. As a consequence there are now over 500 nmodern sculptures around the town to augment the usual clutch of bronze heads and blokes on horses that you find in every Argentine town.

A lot of the largest and most impressive pieces are kept at the site of the competition, on the edge of the town. During the competition this is supposed to be a lively and exciting place but it was not when we were there. We were the only tourists, the only other people being three policemen who were clearly skulking away in a shady spot. There are several cafes along a newly constructed constanera but these were firmly shut and clearly not in use. The sculptures themselves in the gardens were interesting and we enjoyed going around and comparing the techniques that different people had used on similar materials. We were somewhat frustrated though that we could not get into the ‘World Urban Sculpture Museum’ (established 2008), the contents of which could be glimpsed through glass doors. A sign said it was open and we should ask at the office next door to be let in but (of course) that too was shut!

In fact Resistencia has another earlier artistic claim to fame as, in 1942, El Fogón de los Arrieros (the circle of muleteers) was founded as a cultural centre, art gallery and trendy hang out for arty types. The very attractive modern building is showing its age a bit but is still a very covetable property!  Those who were in on the deal (about 400 in its heyday) each had a key and could come and go as they pleased using the bar etc. Many surfaces have been directly painted on by the members of the group and visiting artists and there are sprinklings of quotations, verses etc.  Elsewhere the walls have been covered with pictures and signed photographs from visistors to the Fogón, including Marcel Marceau, John F Kennedy and the Malfada cartoonist.Every corner and surface holds a vast array of objects from collections of old typewriters to tribal masks and guns.  A huge collection of coffee cups was particularly exciting; we once met the Mayor of Ipswich, Queensland proudly exhibiting his collection of coffee cups (I wonder if he has ever been to Resistencia? More info:

Outside the Fogón is a statue marking the grave of Fernando, a stray dog who was taken to the hearts of the people of the town. Not what you might expect, given that just about every town here includes vast packs of strays causing a nuisance. Other than having breakfast each morning with a local bank manager, we’re not sure exactly what he did to endear himself to everyone and to qualify for a funeral march from the town band and not just one but two statues in the town!

We visited a museum dedicated to the people of the area which included some interesting details such as the fact that the biggest immigrant group are the Polish people who came in the 1930s, often to escape persecution. We also found out a bit more about The War of the Triple Alliance, where basically everyone (Argentina, Brasil and Uraguay) all ganged up on Paraguay. Although we have no real sympathy for Paraguay, it seemed clear that this war and the penalties that the victors exctracted must have set the foundation for Paraguay’s current clear economic inferiority (and may also explain the intense nationalism we found).

However, the high point of this museum was the room which they had created to house small statues of some Guaraní gods. Although not the largest of the indigenous groups, the Guaraní seem to be the most influencial over a wide area. The ‘gods’ were displayed quite attractively with bits of wood and greenery to represent the forests etc. A personable young lady gave us explanations in Spanish although we were also given an ‘English translation’ on paper. This actually made things much worse! Here's a little extract from the translation:

He man-Lobizon without clothes will ram three laps left and right to pray a prayer in reverse. Metamorphosis occurs slowly and then begin to cycle through the villages firing devilish howls.

As you can see, it wasn't easy to understand the precise details of the stories even with the translation! However, we were able to see from the statues and hear from the girl that basically all these gods were obsessed with their willies and spent all their time raping the village girls. 

While we were in Buenos Aires (so long ago) we were often annoyed at the length of queues to get to cash machines but in Resistencia they were reaching new heights (lengths) frequently snaking right round the block and combining with queues from other banks. We wondered if it was just the Xmas rush but discovered from the news that there was a shortfall in public finances in the area and a cash flow crisis has resulted. We’re unclear of the full details but it seems that workers had only been given a part of their wages and were waiting for the rest to be paid in. There were obviously a lot of people concerned about security and therefore wanted their money out at once (is this sounding a bit familiar?)

Our time in Resistencia over, everyone in town seemed to be arriving in the plaza for the Christmas fiesta just as we were leaving to get our overnight bus to Salta. The party was starting but it was time for us to move on!

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