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How do we remember place?

Image:  inti

IN THE CENTER of the plaza is a statue of General J. A Roca,¹ his face tagged with pink and green paint. Two pot-leaves are stenciled on his jacket, and the word “GENOCIDIA” is written in all caps across his horse (whose balls and eyes and nostrils are also pink). Spraypainted on the base of the statue, the side facing the wind, are the words “PUEBLO MAPUCHE.”

In what tense do we remember?

White headscarves, symbols of the Madres of Plaza del Mayo² are stenciled in a circle around the plaza. There are different messages by each scarf. One translates “we’ll never forget you.”

In what tense are we remembered?

Near the statue, a man has a Saint Bernard on a chain. Attached to the dog’s collar is a little whiskey barrel. They close in on two Asian-looking tourists. He says something and the dog hops up on a bench, then the tourists squeeze in by the dog. The man steps back and takes their picture. Nearby, along the top of a low stone wall, my daughter is walking, balancing (“both manos!” she always says when she wants to do this) and Lau is holding her hands.

How do you define “connection to place?”

The wind keeps gusting hard, the lake forming large surf. It seems about to snow. I ask the girls if they’re ready. On the way out I think about how Nazis³ used to live here and probably still do. If I had the chance to meet one, would I say anything? Would I paint PUEBLO JUDIO across his face? Just then a car speeds through a stone archway where we’re about to walk.  The driver honks at us.  I flick them off.  Beside the archway, at the exit, I see a cannon. Someone has jammed a plastic bottle into the barrel.

There are all kinds of war.

We walk holding hands across town to the movie theaters. We see Toy Story 3. After the movie it’s raining hard outside. We find a merry go round that’s inside a small wooden building. There’s a lot of music and noise, and when Lau says “back at the plaza you were muy ______,” I don’t fully hear / understand the last word but interpret it as distracted. In 20 minutes the bus is leaving for El Bolsón.  Tomorrow we’ll have to go up in the mountains somewhere. Over the sound of the merry go round, I hear Lau say: “She needs her papi. She need you to introduce her to the world, sabes?


¹Argentine army general and president, most famous for his “conquest of the desert” in the late 1800s, an extensive military campaign to “subdue” indigenous people from the pampas to Patagonia.
²Women whose children were “disappeared” by Argentine Military Operatives during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and 80s.
³Including SS Officer Erich Priebke who was once the rector of the German School of Bariloche.

Community Connection

Have you ever tagged and/or ‘defaced’ a place?
Do you feel like dogs (and other animals) being used as props for pictures is a form of exploitation?

For more on Argetnina, please visit our Argentina focus page.

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About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • David Page

    Great writing, DM. I’m right there with you on that plaza. And right there in your head. Thanks for the glimpse.

    • admin


  • Jared Krauss

    Like that you followed the rules you set out for yourself on your blog.

    • admin

      thanks jared.

  • joshua johnson

    In most pix, everything is a prop but your own smiling self. As for tagging, in my younger and dumber days.

  • Carla

    Glad to see somebody writing about the town I grew up in :D And glad you discovered some of its secrets…

  • Ashlea

    I find it strangely relevant that you saw Toy Story 3 after that experience as when I saw the movie I found it could easily be deconstructed to be Holocaust influenced.

  • Carla

    It was nice to read this piece about the town I grew up in, I recognized your descriptions as if I was there. Some things never change, everything you mentioned was still there 10 and even 20 years ago. Strange. Oh, and Mr. Priebke was my principal…

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