Sunday, November 25, 2012

Weekend in Montevideo


Yesterday I took one of my rare South American bus trips – usually I have my own car but in Buenos Aires, I don’t need it and, when I cross the river to Uruguay, I’m dependent on public transportation here. That’s why, at mid-morning yesterday, I boarded a COT coach from Colonia to Montevideo. After three-hour trip and a short taxi ride from the Terminal TresCruces, I left my gear in the hotel and set out for the Ciudad Vieja, the colonial core that’s become the city’s top attraction, even if there’s not much truly colonial remains except for the narrow streets and sycamore-shaded plazas.
Unexpectedly, as I walked along downtown’s Avenida 18 de Julio, I found the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo open – every other time I’ve been here it’s been closed. This time, though, there was a special exhibit on painter Juan Carlos Martínez Zorrilla, about whom I knew nothing, and I found the canvases by Carlos Páez Vilaró and his brother Jorge Páez Vilaró (pictured above) more interesting. It’s an interesting space, though, and worth a look for anybody who’s in town.
Proceeding down 18 de Julio, I crossed Plaza Independencia and entered Sarandí, a narrow pedestrian mall fills with a Sunday crafts and flea market that also occupies most of the nearby Plaza Matriz. I was hungry, though, and headed toward the Mercado del Puerto, the picturesque home to a gaggle of grill restaurants where Uruguayans and tourists scarf down artery-hardening quantities of beef and other meats, plus the occasional fish dish, in lively surroundings.
On this particular Saturday, there was live music as a local samba band drummed its way through the market in what, on the face of it, looked like a tourist trap promotion but, before long, Uruguayan diners were up and spontaneously dancing to the drums, trombones, and rectangular chapas – improvised from bottle caps, the chapa appears to be a functional equivalent of the tambourine. Oddly, as I watched, they were playing a version of “Cielito Lindo.”
Unlike most diners at the Mercado, I decided to forgo red meat and went for a sweet-and-sour chicken that was more on the sweet side. Afterwards, walking slowly back to the hotel I stumbled upon yet another art event, the recently inaugurated Bienal de Montevideo, taking place at several sites in the Ciudad Vieja – Bolivian artist Sonia Falcone’s “Campo de Color” (pictured above) was a cluster of colored and conically piled spices on the floor of former Iglesia San Francisco, a church with no priest or congregation that’s to be redeveloped as a cultural center; Falcone’s exhibit had both visual and olfactory appeal. The venue is interesting in its own right - Uruguay must lead the world in secularization, as not even Xmas is an official holiday; here, it’s Día de la Familia, “Family Day.”
Most of the Bienal exhibits, though, were in the Ciudad Vieja headquarters of the Banco de la República, a landmark structure that I had never entered before. The building’s central atrium, with its gilded teller windows on both sides of the floor, made a magnificent site for a diversity of creative pieces.
Sunday was a little more relaxed, as so many thing are closed in town. I did manage to have one of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed in Uruguay, a seared tuna with sesame at the 62 Bar in the Pocitos neighborhood (pictured above). I also took a look at the new My Suites hotel in Pocitos, a wine-themed boutique whose every floor is dedicated to a different Uruguayan winery. Unfortunately, public tastings take place every night except Sunday, so I won’t get to appreciate it fully this time.

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