Friday, January 22, 2021

Tilting (Back) to the Molino

In the early to mid-1980s, when I first visited and then lived in Buenos Aires, it was in the Congreso neighborhood barely two blocks from the national legislature (which was out of service then, as Argentina chafed under a military dictatorship). Still, the area itself retained a certain elegance, with the ponds and fountains of the Plaza de los dos Congresos and architectural landmarks such as the Art Nouveau Confitería del Molino.

The Plaza de los dos Congresos as seen from the Palacio Barolo (the tower of the Confitería del Molino is visible to the right of the Congress building).

My wife-to-be’s parents owned our modest apartment on Cangallo (now Perón) that was barely two blocks from the Congreso, and was within walking distance of numerous landmarks, including the Molino. They had bought the tiny (cozy?) two-bedroom unit to house their kids while attending the Universidad de Buenos Aires; there were three other apartments in the low-slung building, and everybody had access to a rooftop terrace for asados. Part of the time we shared it with my brother-in-law and his wife, and part of the time we had it to ourselves.

Today, high fences block access to the pools of the plaza (the Congreso rises behind the monument).

Accustomed to single family houses, I sometimes found the apartment cramped, but it was easy walking distance to the theater and cinema district—not to mention the world’s greatest ice creamery—along Avenida Corrientes, and to the country’s symbolic heart along the Avenida de Mayo. At the east end of Avenida stands the Casa Rosada presidential palace but, from vantage points like the observation deck of the Palacio Barolo, the west end view of the Congreso and its plazas was truly spectacular.

In better times, families gathered outside the pools, and kids waded in them.

Sadly, the area often looked less appealing close up. I always enjoyed watching kids wade into the pools on hot summer days but, in the aftermath of Argentina’s 2001 economic meltdown, city government fenced off access to them, and areas that were once gathering places became little more than thoroughfares. Even before that, in 1997, the landmark Molino shut down and gradually deteriorated even though it was declared a national historical monument shortly thereafter.

The Confitería del Molino is a true landmark (the decorative windmill itself is not yet functional, according to reports). 

I didn’t really frequent the Molino, though I did pay one memorable visit when a local journalist made numerous useful suggestions for the first guidebook I ever wrote on the Argentine capital. Now, I read, the scaffolding has gone down from a major restoration and the building itself, now property of the Congreso, will reopen to include a new version of the confitería; while I have no photos of the interior, Madonna shot a kitschy 1995 video there that displays the main floor and its columns.

The renovated Cine Gaumont is another positive development in what has been a declining neighborhood.

While the neighborhood is still recovering from decades of neglect, there are other hopeful signs such as the revival of the classic Cine Gaumont, operated by the Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Visuales (National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts). Meanwhile, our old apartment—now the property of my wife and her three siblings—is rented out to a Colombian immigrant family. Despite the worn exterior, it’s still comfortably livable.

Our weathered apartment building, on Perón (ex-Cangallo) is better than it looks from the street.

Even though I may never live in the neighborhood again—since 2002, we’ve owned an apartment in Palermo—I look forward to revisiting the Molino and, perhaps, enjoying my morning medialunas alongside the congressional powerbrokers. At least, when it becomes possible to travel there again.

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