There was a time, as Rosarinos will tell you whenever possible, that Rosaria was bigger than Buenos Aires but it is not any more. There was a time when Rosario was the most important town in Santa Fe province but that day, too, has passed and gone. Rosaria is now stuck as a biggish town but forever being second best to other places. Signs all over the city ask ‘what is it about Rosario that makes it such a good place to live?’ and it is a good question. We have read it described as a pretty town but we are not really sure. There are certainly a number of substantial early 20th Century buildings with towers, details and the kind of huge statuary that makes you say ‘whoever thought that that would look good?’
The big department store on Cordoba was particularly impressive and Jen got into trouble for taking photographs. (Why do some places stop you from taking photos? I recognise that flash can damage fragile textiles but this is a huge building full of the usual stuff for sale.)
The town has several parks and bits of open land and when the weather is better there are beaches by the river (currently under water due to the flooding). We came to Rosario and were immediately engulfed in a plague of mosquitoes (along with lots of signs encouraging people to try to avoid dengue fever) so we may not be the most impartial judges but it is not high on our list of places to return to.
Although we’ve not been staying in dorms, we are trying to keep the cost of accommodation down and are mostly using hostels rather than hotels. These often have advantages like small kitchens and common rooms although the predominantly young people staying in these places are often a bit confused by us. Our hostel here though seemed a bit strange. Firstly, although we arrived in the evening there appeared to be nobody around except a couple of staff. Although it was fairly clean, our room was small with no space for luggage and was painted garish and exotic colours. We were surprised to find a mirror suspended over the bed and when we found a bowl of condoms in the lounge we began to suspect that our hostel wasn’t just for weary backpackers.
We never really got to the bottom of the hostel’s origins and current uses but later evenings had more of the sorts of guest we had expected to meet. Although it seemed more normal, we never completely lost the feeling of staying in a boudoir!
Rosario’s fame and fortune was originally based on the riverside trade and the fertile land of the province. The harbour masters wisely set their levels of taxation lower than those of Buenos Aires and consequently attracted a lot of import and export shipping. The town established exchanges for cereals, cattle and eventually stocks and shares, rapidly becoming major marketplaces internationally.
The old Bolso de Comercio building is a magnificent structure that bears witness to the importance of trading in Rosario up to the 1930s. Indeed, the board showing the first ever day's tradings shows linen being expoted to Hull! From that time, however, things began to fall away. The area is still a huge exporter but grain has been overtaken by Soya beans (mostly exported to China, explained our friendly guide, with a mime probably stepping over the line into racism). But the boats no longer go from Rosario but from a container port to the north. The cattle market has moved away and the Stock Exchange is now almost completely virtual and conducted from offices and a new conference centre. We had heard that there was a museum in the building so we boldly entered the huge doors, ignored by the doorman.
We stood in a towering entrance hall where there were no signs at all, to museum or anything else. We went back to the doorman to ask and were directed up some stairs to an office where there were still no signs of a museum. We asked at the counter and were told that there was a museum, we had to show our passports and have badges and leave our bags in a locker. Eventually our guide Cecilia arrived, established that we would use Spanish and began our tour. There seemed no time limit and we spent an interesting hour or so with her talking about the exhibits and the development of the town. Our Spanish coped remarkably well although towards the end she talked a lot (and very quickly!) about how corrupt politics has restricted the country’s prosperity. When a new government is brought in it looks at first like it will do good but then the same corruption appears. ‘It should be easy’ she said, ‘we have fertile land and good shipping routes’. Certainly the constant changes of government over the years can’t be a positive contribution to development.
Quite a lot of the riverside area where the docks had been is now being renewed with walkways and old buildings are being converted into bars, restaurants etc. A lot of this work appears to be directly carried out by the local council but hopefully it won’t meet the fate of so many council run places in UK (Roundhay Park café for example). The omens are not good, however. Part of the riverside development has been the conversion of a huge grain silo into a museum of modern contemporary art (with the trendy title MACRO), described as the best collection of modern Argentinian art. The outside has been impressively painted and there is a really nice café/restaurant and a good looking evening bar although we didn’t go to it. We walked the riverside and tried to get in but it was closed. To be fair, it said that it would be on the door but the times on the door were different from those given to us by the council run tourist information.
We decided to return another day when it would definitely be open. However, this time, although a man was clearly inside, there was no sign of opening and he was obviously not going to come to the door to tell us why he was shut. There was no sign of other punters at first until an older local couple arrived and were most put out that it was closed. They vociferously shouted through the window to the man who deigned to tell them that the museum was closed because it was a municipal holiday, something not announced and not told to us by other municipal employees in other museums!
Although Rosario has a few museums it is clear that they do not expect or get many visitors. To be fair, the Museo de Bellas Artes was between exhibitions so only the ground floor was showing and the girl decided not to charge us the usual 4 pesos (60p) entrance. The Museo de la Cuidad is quite small (four rooms only) and we were greeted by one of the archivists as long lost friends. Having told us where the rooms were, he then kept coming back to say more to us. Our Spanish was sometimes being challenged as he talked about the formation, growth and decline of Rosario and then wanted an extended discussion of our travelling plans etc. He personally showed us round all the parts of the museum including the gardens and hothouse, maintaining a constant dialogue in Spanish with us. He was certainly a man with too little to do and too few visitors to his museum (there were no other visitors during the whole couple of hours we were there!)
However, we were most interested to realise that 100 years ago there was lagoon in the old town occupying several blocks and our hostel would actually have been in the water! One of the museum rooms was a reconstruction of an old pharmacy and there was some poor video showing how it had been removed to this site (but no mention of where the other stuff is that couldn’t fit in this much smaller space).
The nearby Provincial History Museum was more of a mixed bag with some attempts at thematic displays (Christian Art in the early settlement period etc). We, as usual, err to the slightly bizarre and were intrigued by a number references to a politician Lisandro de la Torre and his duels with political opponents in the early 20th century.
Politics was certainly more exciting then and a part of the exhibition showed how one of these opponents was actually assassinated by another politician in the parliament in the middle of a speech. The actual evidence photographs recreating the events for the trial were on display in order to follow the excitement along with newspaper reports etc. Another interesting display showed a stone and some earth brought back from the Malvinas (Falklands). There are lots of references in every Argentinian town to the war and the fallen heroes, which put us in a strange position (although to be fair nobody has ever said anything negative to us directly).
A famous son of Rosario is Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. It has been established that he was almost certainly born in an apartment a couple of blocks from our hostel. However, his birth certificate has almost certainly got an inaccurate date and anyway he didn’t live there for long! With typical Rosarian perversity, the apartment is not open to the public and the only concession to tourism is a small sign on a stick on the sidewalk. To be fair there is also a statue of Che but it is on a housing estate some miles away!
Rosario has another important patriotic connection, it is known as el cuno de la bandera
(the cradle of the flag) because the original designer of the national flag came from the city. They have erected a massive multipart monument with water features, statues representing soldiers and symbols such as Liberty and an eternal flame burning above the crypt of the designer. The whole thing is topped off with several stirring statements and a tower overlooking the whole town. New high rise developments are threatening to overshadow the monument but it makes good use of a slight hill and there is so much space around it that it will always stand out (especially at night when it is lit with the flag‘s colours).
We ascended the tower, remarking on a, the fact that you still have to climb several flights of stairs to get to the lift and b, the use of a lift attendant when you can only go up or down, there being no intervening floors. As we went down Jen remarked to him ‘all day the same, you just go up and down?’ His bored reply was ‘yes, but the people are different’.
And it is true that Rosarinos are a bit different. They are proud of their city and its achievements but do recognise that it isn’t what it once was. They are not jaded by tourists and appear genuinely interested in our halting Spanish explanations of where we are going and what we are doing on our travels. It’s obviously a generalisation but they seem to be happy to spend time with you and share some thoughts, whether they are serving in bars or restaurants, working for museums or just passing by on the streets. Perhaps that’s what makes Rosario such a good place to live.