If you know just something about soccer, you know Boca. Probably the most known, maybe even the most famous team. I cannot say I am a fan, nor that I am not, without getting being scolded at, as it is not the only team here. And here, soccer matters. You are a team : Boca, River, Racing,… Me, I am lucky enough to be excused for not supporting one team or another, only because my foreign accent.
Soccer often makes me smile, like this afternoon. You don’t have to watch the news or have the TV on to know there is a game on. Nor to keep up with the scores. Neighbors all around, mostly men I am afraid, come outside on their terrace, or just open their window, to shout their lungs out ‘goooooooaaaalll!!!!!’. Depending on the importance of the game they repeat it once or twice, or they keep on shouting for a minute or longer, cars start honking their horns, and I start to doubt if that counts for one goal or if there has been another one : today ‘they’ (my neighbors) won with 2 goals, and the game was pretty important.
But apart from the soccer team, the name also refers to the neighborhood where the stadium is. Or rather, the team has got its name from the neighborhood. It is said that the first Buenos Aires settlement (Fuerte de sante Maria de Buen Ayre, 16th C), was in la Boca. But this settlement was abandoned shortly after. It was only in the 19th C, between 1830 and 1852 that the huge influx of Italian immigrants shaped La Boca in how we know it today : little houses made of wood and corrugated iron, divided into even smaller places in order to house more families mainly coming from Genova, Italy. All painted with boat paint, in different colors as they didn’t have enough of one color to do a whole wall. A colorful shanty town is what it was. It used to flood with every heavy storm, living conditions were not exactly good.
Nowadays it is a still horrid place, but for different reasons. It is only 3 streets big, although nowadays you can wonder off a bit, providing that you are careful. Today the 3 streets are full of terraces and people trying to force you to open your wallet. Bringing your camera close to your eye is enough. Each bar and restaurant has their own tango dancers, and a team of aggressive waiters is set about to make sure you don’t take a picture without sitting down and buying something to drink, and after paying the check, not forgetting the 10% tip, the dancers come round with their hat and ask for more. Or the dancers follow you trying to win you over for a dance, or just to take a picture, not telling you they ask $100 for a 1 minute show. On the house’s walls are now horrid colored statues imitating fat short people hanging out of the windows and waiving at you. There have always been Maradona look-a-likes, now, of course there are several Pope Francisco’s.
But it is and will probably be tourist place number 1. It is, unfortunately, how Buenos Aires is shown to the world and sold by travel agencies, the colorful houses with tango dancers, although to me, it is not what Buenos Aires is. It is a neighborhood I go to, over and over again, when I have visits from overseas. Or this one time, very early, before the waiters start working, before the shops open their doors. Peaceful, it seems, but to me it seemed even more desolate, sadder still.