Mendoza may sit at the periphery of Argentine geography, but is also the subcontinental crossroads.  As such it seems to look more to the west and to connect more closely to the region’s indigenous cultures than does Buenos Aires.

The earthquake which in 1861 wiped Mendoza’s geographic slate almost cleans seems also to have freed it of many vestiges of Spanish colonialism.  The ornate architecture that everywhere else marks the alliance of the Hapsburg monarchy and Jesuits is noticeably absent in the orderly geometry of its broad streets and public parks, and in the Latin contemporary lines of a more subdued skyline that conforms to the land rather than imposes upon it.

Mendoza vineyard against Andes Mountains backdrop

Few crops require a more highly tuned sensibility to the relationship between harvest and end product as the one between grapes and wine.  That same sensibility seems to have translated into an aesthetic reflected in parks, monuments, performing arts, and dining that far exceed expectations of a city this size.

Andean earthquakes and avalanches, a propensity for harvest-threatening hailstorms, and the vineyards’ ever-present thirst for irrigation seem to have instilled in this place a clearer sense of man’s vulnerability to nature, and a longer view of its own economic rhythms.

 

Restaurant along the Plaza Independencia, Mendoza

It is after sunset as I venture out onto Mendoza’s streets.  Warm light spills over diners seated in stylish sidewalk cafes as aproned waiters ferry meals out to them.  I wander down the block to the Plaza Independencia where a Christmas tableau stands outlined in colorful lights.

 

 

 

Arrayed in a semicircle around the vast square are artisans at their booths, many working at their crafts as residents of all ages stroll among them.

Puppet artisan booth, Plaza Independence, Mendoza

 

 

 

 

A young guitarist strums soulful American blues as the beat of Latin drums begins to pulse at the opposite end of the plaza.  A Christmas theme headlines at the performing arts theater across the way, but American jazz appears prominently in its schedule of upcoming shows.

Tonight I fly back to Buenos Aires, and it will be interesting to see how it will now feel in contrast to this place… and how this place will look as seen in B.A.’s rear-view mirror.

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