Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Tale of Two Approaches, Part Two: Buenos Aires to Montevideo

An overture to two capitals, both viewed through glazed, tinted windows. Only this time it’s capital to capital, Buenos Aires to Montevideo.

Once again we’re held in a clinically, environmentally, climatically controlled space, only this time it’s a high speed catamaran ferry. We’re in lock down, severed from the outside by a sealed storm proof door and a prohibition on fresh air, reduced to viewing one receding capital through grubby, salt encrusted double glazing.

The ferry sails slowly out past the breakwater and accelerates into the river, rising onto the near calm surface. The sailing time is scheduled for around three hours, yet the distance is great enough to mean both coasts of the river will recede below the horizon, lost to the global curvature. There’s going to be no backyard views, no net curtain peeps, no fleeting moments in time. It will be a slow boredom and a sluggish wander around the attractions of the styrofoamed coffee café, the duty free joke shop, and the ever popular WiFi connection. The coffee is commentless, the link is free and the gin can be had for less in town. Yet sailing into a city has it’s attractions, especially if the alternative is a cycle attack. The relaxed approach, the slow revelation of coastal secrets, the novelty of a sudden transfer from water to land. So Montevideo now joins this expanding list that includes Wellington and Edinburgh, Zeebrugge and Aukland, Victoria and Brodick, Isle of Arran.

The lack of an open deck is a pity. I miss the opportunity to lean over the rail, feel the wind and all the knots of thrust and power that we are moving at. The only indication of speed comes from the rapid passage of wavelets and the sudden escape of diving ducks beating a retreat out from under the multiple bows. I suspect a nautical engineer would argue that these open spaces are dead spaces, not frequented by the standard passenger. However, where do you go when the Plata gets angry and they start to hand the barf bags around?

Just a few of the 248 ticket booths at Retiro
Slowly an opaque smudge surfaces out of the horizon, a white dot on it’s crest, slowly resolving from blob to building, eventualy attaining the inevitable ecclesiastical status of cross and chapel.  Off to one side, emerging from behind the cerro, the hill that names the capital, rises, indecisive from the city haze, an abstract daub of plaster gray cliffs. These too, with time and proximity, expose themselves, revealing a congestion of highrise towers and lowrise duplexes, going from an ill defined, soft silhouette to a composition of hard blocks and solid structures. Closer still and the battalion of buildings gain detail, forming columns and lintels, cornices and friezes, framings for windows and clockless towers. The inner dock is overseen and scrutinised by the offices of the prefectura. A classical governmental building in the neo-brutalist  Super Powers form, think the embassies of certain countries in Lima and Beijing.They form: ponderous blocks, dark concrete, angular columns and heavy pediments rising to an intended, anticipated clock, clockless tower. Vacant, moulded orifices that gaze from all four sides over the city and the river, like  blinded cyclopses.  A perfectly proportioned building that was constructed to exude power, built in the black and white era of the mid 20th century, using the then, modern medium of cement, reflecting a past golden age and now adorned in the new modern decoration of  telecom dishes and air-con units. Friezes of technology. It's an architecture that reapears in seaside hotels and promenades, in Soviet constructs and US embassies, the message being one of  might and power, grand and majestic. . 

It’s a slow approach, our flung wake reduced to grumbling burble as our catamaran finds it’s way into dock, past the quiet container port. Some of the crane jibs raised in surrender others genuflecting in homage to a loading coastal steamer, sailing past the tethered naval mine layers and down canyonlands of steel containers. Approaching a berth where an articulated tube is waiting to suck a cargo of holiday passengers out of our ferry and into the marbled arrivals hall. Out of a chilled cabinet and back into the reality of a humid warm evening and another capital city.