On the west bank of the twisting Riachuelo, the working-class barrio of La Boca owes its origins to mid-19th-century French Basque and Genovese immigrants who worked in packing plants and warehouses during the export-beef boom. Perhaps more than any other city neighborhood, it remains a community, symbolized by fervent—or rather, fanatical—identification with the Boca Juniors soccer team.
Socially and politically, La Boca has a reputation for disorder and anarchy, but it’s also an artists’ colony, a legacy of the late Benito Quinquela Martín, whose oils sympathetically portrayed its hardworking inhabitants. It is literally Buenos Aires’s most colorful neighborhood, thanks to brightly painted houses with corrugated zinc siding that line the pedestrian Caminito and other streets. Initially at least, these bright colors came from marine paints salvaged from ships in the harbor.
The starting point for most visits remains the cobbled, curving Caminito, once the terminus of a rail line, where artists display watercolors on weekends and sometimes on weekdays. On either side of the Caminito, along Avenida Pedro de Mendoza, several landmarks lend character to the neighborhood. Immediately east, for instance, high-relief sculptures stand out above the display window of the ship chandler A. R. Constantino. Farther on, the former restaurant La Barca retains a batch of Vicente Walter’s well-preserved bas-reliefs on nautical themes.
La Boca’s gateway, though, is Avenida Almirante Brown, at Parque Lezama’s southeast corner, where the Catalinas del Sur theater group has erected the Mural Escenográfico Parque Lezama, a three-dimensional mural depicting community life through colorful caricatures. Some consider the barrio dangerous and recommend guided tours, but anyone with basic street smarts should be able to visit without incident, at least in daytime.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition