Montevideo vs. Montevidayo

by on Apr.03, 2011

My friend Rodrigo lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, the city real and imagined.  His family moved back a few years ago after having fled Uruguay during the dictatorship.  We both majored in cultural studies in college, so I thought he’d be a great person to ask eight Montevidayan questions, which he kindly and thoughtfully answered below.  My favorite answer is #8.

1. Describe a typical day in Montevideo.  A hot date with your city, if you will.

A date would involve a stroll on the promenade which rings the city, a view onto The River Plate, a shared yerba mate with a lover, as the red sun sets over the water.

2. What are some examples of low brow art in Montevideo?

The Murgas performances during carnival.  Grown men don tacky costumes and perform cacophonous songs that mix bowdy humour with superficial political commentary.  They compete amongst themselves and the most popular wins.

3. What kinds of animals do you see on a stroll?

Lumpenproletariat whose humanity has been completely demolished through structural poverty and crack cocaine.

4. Is Montevideo the sexiest city name in the world?

No.  Buenos Aires is the sexiest name.  And the people from Montevideo will never admit it.

5. In Brazil, people are so used to volatility and disillusionment that they’ve come up with the expression “Brazil is the land of the future, but the future never arrives.”  Do people think this way in neighboring Uruguay?

No, they would say that the future already came and went.  The rest is decay.  I think no other city in the world has as much Art Deco and Beaux Art architecture in such an unsightly state of disrepair.  There is no future.

6. Who are some amazing contemporary Uruguayan writers and artists?

Some of my friends and acquaintances.  Bands – Carmen Sandiego, Franny Glass.

7. Describe Uruguayan teen culture.

Depends on your socioeconomic status.  However, they all have facebook and cable television in common.

8. In her book State of Exile, Cristina Peri Rossi asks, “Did a city named Montevideo once exist?”  She also writes, “I have a pain here,/on my homeland side.”  Does this mean that the history of Uruguay throbs in people’s bodies?

It means that Montevideo as possibility once existed.  European kitsch consciously constructed by freemasons and left to decay with the change in paradigm sixty years ago.  That pain is the permanent exile of the Uruguayan, first from Europe, then from Uruguay itself.  Astor Piazzola embodies this second-order nostalgia, this fantasy of a fantasy, perfectly well.  Nostalgia for the Great Country Artigas once dreamed.  Nostalgia for what we could have been – what we should have been were it not for the evil of the White Men who laid us waste, the white men that we ourselves are.  Uruguayans know the heart of darkness.  Even the native of Buenos Aires throbs with more passion and authenticity than the Montevidean.
3 comments for this entry:
  1. Josef Horáček

    I know that the decay is a symptom of poverty and fraught political history, but I have to admit that I feel deep nostalgia for decaying monuments of modernity. I was sad to see them all revamped and turned into tourist sights in Central Europe in the 1990s. To me, the decay makes them part of the lived present rather than just places of historical interest.

    In the future that never arrives, this would be the perfect host city for the First International Montevidayo Symposium.

  2. Johannes

    Yes, lets do it – the Montevidayo Montevideo Meeting of Decayed Monuments.


  3. Rodrigo

    Decay can present creative opportunities if approached correctly, through the lens of re-birth (renaissance).