By Iván Beltrán Castillo
Photos: Carlos Gómez
How many times would Lionel Messi have donned a spotless uniform scented with the lavender ironed into it by his mother and grandmother and carried a soccer ball through these streets as he dreamt of glory in the stadiums? Was it in one of these houses marked with geraniums and wide hallways where Ernesto “Che” Guevara —years from becoming a revolutionary— took his first steps? How many characters created by Roberto “El Negro” Fontanarrosa ―like Boogie el Aceitoso (Oily Boogie) and Inodoro Pereyra (Potty Pereyra) ― sprang from the imagination of this genius of humor, satire, and literature in the bars and cafés of this port city? How many rough sailors, fair damsels, and inveterate adventurers sailed down its river of cold, deep waters? Was it the sizzling rhythm of sensual nights that urged Fito Páez, the enfant terrible of rock and roll in Spanish, to heed the siren song of music?
To travel to Rosario, Argentina’s third largest city after Buenos Aires and Córdoba, located in the southeastern-most corner of the Santa Fe province, is to commune with culture, cuisine, and historical and literary memory. The architecture speaks to us of dreams of the past, Bohemianism at its most lyrical, traditional and modern art, urban legends, and even superlative medicine.
Twelve museums, seventeen cultural spaces, twenty-six theaters, eight large cinemas, twenty-five emblematic sites and cultural treasures, nine parks, eleven shopping areas, fourteen pedestrian streets, some thirty high-class hotels, and myriad food and entertainment venues more than meet the expectations of visitors to Rosario.
A rich cocktail of bloodlines from the farthest confines of the Earth runs through the soul of Rosario natives, imbuing them with a fascinating feeling of mystery, a gentle, subtle sensuality reminiscent of a Chopin sonata, an intense and inexpressible passion for life, and a curious desire to reflect on the conundrums that have always engaged the human mind. Today’s Rosario natives reveal something of the philosopher, the sensual artist, and the curious observer of elusive realities.
Rosario’s veins pulse with chatty Italians, literate humanists, botanists, Portuguese who speak of Lusitanian myths, Cartesian French, pragmatic English, Spaniards, Arabs, Jews, and Germans. We can also add a touch of pre-Colombian sages, and Japanese, and Chinese. This profusion of identities has been melded into such a personality, such a unique and unusual self, that the difference is remarked upon even by fellow Argentineans.
Memory and Water
A short trip from Buenos Aires brings us to Rosario, where we are immediately greeted by a wonderful world on the banks of the Paraná River. This is a place of economic ferment and aesthetic inquiry, where there is a reverence for a past that both humble passersby and punctilious experts paint in the tones of a legendary epic.
Although the city was born and grew on the shores of the tumultuous river that was always its greatest source of wealth, for many years Rosario turned its back on its magnificent treasure, as if determined to ignore it or live a life free of its influence. Experts and scholars are dumbfounded by this attitude; we would need to drill deep into the subconscious to untangle the reasons for such disdain. Attitudes slowly changed, and later generations of Rosario natives approached the river with reverence, reclaiming the ties between the city and its watercourse.
The Paraná River is now the lord and memory of the city, calling to passersby to stop and dream a while along its banks. The many beaches, restaurants, bars, and promenades serve as a backdrop for the residents’ dreams of successful businesses, marvelous symphonies, rigorous economic research, new dishes to further enrich delicious Latin American cooking, or futuristic stores or shopping venues that showcase a sublime spirit.
The loving embrace of the Paraná is industrial, financial, everyday, sporting, and more. Port workers, fishermen, and sailors carry on a running dialogue with this body of water, one of the largest and most powerful in South America and the world. Its shores and their beach clubs provide local residents with a break from daily routine: La Florida, Rambla Catalunya, and the San Andrés shoals are a few of the most prominent.
A family of nearby islands, oddly shaped and with diverse vegetation, rises before visitors like a mirage dominating the horizon. These destinations are sought after by both visitors and residents, who arrive in launches, gomones (a kind of raft), comfortable sailboats, or sumptuous ships like the famed Ciudad de Rosario.
Vision in Stone
Everyone is a historian in Rosario. There is a good reason this city is home to the National Flag Monument, an impressive structure that reaches 230 feet in height. It was inaugurated in 1957 on the site where General Manuel Belgrano raised the flag before a passionate, freedom-loving crowd.
Past meets future every day as an endless stream of children tours the monument, absorbing the epic details of the saga of their nation. The monument stands in the park of the same name, and the cupola offers a majestic view of the Paraná River and the city. The structure was constructed by two utopian architects, Ángel Guido and Alejandro Bustillo, who added the most fantastic lyrical touches to every inch of stone. Built of Travertine marble and Andean stone, it covers an area of 108,000 square feet.
Rosario’s old quarter convincingly transports visitors to another time. The eclectic mix of architectural styles, the streets and avenues, and strict conservation of the original spirit of each house and building make it a bulwark of nostalgia. Many retirees, former bankers and teachers, enjoy their well-earned leisure in Rosario’s parks. The parks also host chess players, who make their moves with time-honored slowness in spots set aside for “the scientific game.”
But this is not just a place devoted to nostalgia. The Córdoba pedestrian street, which runs through the center, is a vital synthesis of what was, is, and will be the life of Rosario, with its shrewd shopkeepers, alert wholesalers, industrious officials, tailors, barbers, and workers who remain optimistic even in periods of crisis. This is much more than a simple monument to the past. Here you will find the Faculty of Humanities and Arts, the Palacio Fuentes, the University Cultural Space, the Unión Bank, the Agrícola Insurance Company, the Jockey Club, the Local Innovation and Development Center, the Pam pedestrian walkway, and the Spanish Club.
A Sound Body
Rosario natives have always been partial to nature; it is dynamic, hot-blooded, and sunny here, with summer being the preferred season. This is perhaps why sport is a constant presence in the city, with a continuous parade of events: marathons, soccer competitions, and exciting hockey and golf matches.
Three annual international marathons that attract people from many countries have already become traditions rooted in the collective psyche. The Rosario City half marathon takes place in May; the International Flag marathon in June; and the International Rosario-Victoria Bridge marathon in October. This last one carries runners across the impressive bridge that links these two towns. The construction of this bridge, although not chronicled, was a human adventure full of drama, personal greatness, and vicissitudes. Pedestrians gather to cheer the effort and strength of the marathoners, in recognition of the months of discipline and dedication required to run.
Golf, hockey, and water sports also compete for attention on the city’s sport calendar. The Litoral Open and the Ciudad de Rosario Open are two important annual golf events. Some say that the European heritage of many Rosario residents inspires fervor for the elegant and unhurried game. Water sports and car racing are another integral part of the year in Rosario. Each sport has its own idols, legends, and names that figure prominently in conversations about sporting results.
But as expected, the myths, legends, and timeless images imprinted on the soul of Rosario draw on soccer. This is where we leave the realm of reality for mythology and collective devotion, a ritualized, near-religious passion. There is a fierce rivalry between Rosario Central and Newell’s Old Boys, the legendary teams of Rosario soccer. Four o’clock on a Sunday sees fans crowd the stadiums as the games begin. When the Rosario classic is played, the city comes to a complete stop, with the silence broken only by shouts of “goal.”
Fans of Newell’s Old Boys will collar foreigners, unsuspecting strollers, and journalists in order to relate the history of their club’s golden age: the years when the team included soccer prodigy Lionel Messi in the first stage of his dazzling career.
The Rosario dining scene is imaginative, colorful, and touched by genius; its creators are consummate artists, poets moved by the infinity of flavors the universe offers. Rosario cuisine differs from that of the rest of the country and features an astonishing variety of fish from the Paraná River, giving diners a unique experience that takes them back to the city’s historical roots. Experts claim: “Our fish taste of the past, of spring, sometimes of winter, of love, and of embraces.”
Just like in a Picasso or Alejandro Obregón still life, food feeds the eyes of hungry diners: proud jaibas (crabs), prehistoric-looking fish with unpronounceable names; oranges, pears, and vegetables in vivid colors; meats that confirm the excellence of Argentinean cattle; and as if that were not enough, the most famous artisanal ice cream in all of South America.
Art and music run bone deep in Rosario, which is, in fact, the birthplace of trova, a poetic and revolutionary musical movement that spread messages of freedom during the Falklands War. This was during the era that music in English was forbidden, which paved the way for folk music and rock in Spanish.
On May 14, 1982, in the Obras Sanitarias Stadium, Juan Carlos Baglietto unwittingly founded a movement with the launch of the album Tiempos difíciles (Hard Times). His band was formed of brilliant performers, including a young man who was destined to become a Latin American legend, one of the most productive singer-songwriters of rock in Spanish, and an iconic figure in Rosario: Fito Páez.
With such a background, the many Bohemians who still haunt the cafés and bars of the city, especially those of the Faraón ––a famed spot where the intellectual and artistic elite of Rosario gather–– feel that the gentle specters of Che, Fontanarrosa, and a glorious past still hover over Rosario.
Héctor “Picho” de Benedectis, Minister of Tourism of Rosario and President of Rosario Tourism (ETUR).
Federico Stolar; Executive Director of ETUR. Diego Paladini, Deputy Minister of Tourism. Bibiana Boca, Director General of the Ministry of Tourism. Claudia Simón, Communications Director.
Special thanks to María Julia Orseli.