Rosario, Argentina: A Big, Blurry Picture

Rosario is a big city, the largest in its province of Santa Fe, on a big river, the Paraná, that eventually joins with other rivers to form La Plata, the giant river upon whose delta Buenos Aires sits. Much of the agricultural production from Santa Fe and Entre Rios provinces moves through Rosario on its way down the river to Buenos Aires, and from there on to the rest of the world. So much soy floats out of this port. The Paraná doesn't look that big when you look at it on the map, until you realize the river you see that edges the city to its northeast is only part of the river, and all that empty space between Rosario and Victoria on the map is an aggregate of marshes, islands, and rivulets. The bridge that connects Rosario to Victoria on the other side of the Paraná is 59 kilometers long.

A wave of European (Spanish, Italian, and German) immigrants turned the town into a city towards the end of the 19th Century, and another wave of European immigrants arrived after World War I. Evidence of their presence lives on in the language with the soft -j sound for -ll, and in the food with pizza, house-made pastas, and ice cream shops on what seems like every other corner. Espresso machines hiss all day long. What some call schnitzel and others call chicken fried steak, Argentines call milanesa, and in Rosario, there are restaurants specializing in milanesa all over town. There are even restaurants that put pizza toppings on milanesas.

All of this is immediately visible in the city and probably available in any encyclopedia article. Yet, it's hard to wrap my outsider head around Rosario. The city is chockablock with beautiful old buildings—look up and up and around to see all the gorgeous details. But, look at eye level and see defaced beauty, metal security shutters, and lots of trash. The grand university buildings are tattered; we walked through the well-respected law school and I witnessed classroom conditions far more outdated, ignored, and in more disrepair than anything I've ever seen in any of the hundreds of classrooms I've been inside in the United States. Like other Argentine cities, dense shantytowns ring Rosario and the residents' shaggy horses are tied to stakes to graze on the margins of roads. I didn't take pictures of these things, but I see them in my head when I think of Argentina.

This makes it sound like I may not like Rosario, but I do. I love it in a confused, slack-jawed, fumbling way.

While we were there, an apartment building exploded. You may have read about it in the news. 21 people died in the explosion that resulted from a gas leak that resulted from poor inspections and the gas company's disorganization. Survivors posted signs looking for their lost animals. Everywhere, all over the city, family members and friends posted this sign with a picture of Santiago Laguía, a good looking young man who survivors supposedly had seen walking away from the explosion in shock. But shock affects the witnesses too, not just the victims. He had never walked out of the apartment building. His body was one of the last to be found.

It's a big city, a beautiful city, a broken city, but one that hopes hard.


Wonderfully told, Christina, and the story of so many cities. Change a few details and you could be talking about Detroit, Marion's hometown and our daughter Claire's current home. A mix of former grandeur, great sadness and genuine hope.

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