Subte Stories explores Buenos Aires’ lesser-known subte stops and the neighbourhoods they are found in, scoping out local stories and the best on offer within four blocks or less. This week we get lost in mysterious Parque Chas, on the B Line.
* * *
Like any city, Buenos Aires is full of urban legends and tales of the paranormal. There is the ghost station on the subte’s A Line, for instance, between stations Pasco and Alberti, supposedly visible if you strain your eyes in the subterranean dark. Residents of the Once neighbourhood speak of a golem, or clay giant, that came with the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and lies sleeping somewhere on the Pasaje Colombo. And then there is the barrio Parque Chas, Buenos Aires’ own urban labyrinth.
Look at a map of Buenos Aires and, from Retiro to Mataderos and Nuñez to Barracas, the city lays in the neat, ordered grid system of the Spanish. Follow the B Line west, however, up Avenida Corrientes and through the far-flung barrios of Chacarita and Villa Ortúzar, till your eyes rest on a single eye staring back at you – the circular streets of Parque Chas, intersecting and diverging haphazardly, appear like a spider-web, or a pane of cracked glass, on the face of the city.
The mysterious, miniscule barrio – it is Buenos Aires’ smallest – has functioned as a sort of urban Bermuda Triangle in the porteño imagination since its founding in 1925. Like an ill-fated house constructed on an Indian burial ground, Parque Chas, with its eerily quiet streets, seems imbued with a strange, sinister energy.
Parque Chas was unincorporated and lumped in with neighbouring Agronomía in 1976 by de facto mayor of Buenos Aires Osvaldo Cacciatore, in the military’s effort to expunge that which it didn’t understand or considered subversive (a list including tango, Carnival, and filete, among other things). It was only reinstated as a fully-fledged barrio in 2005, though its unusual charm never relinquished its grasp on the city’s collective imagination.
Writing in 2004’s “The Tango Singer”, Tomás Eloy Martínez said of the beguiling, labyrinthine neighbourhood: “Hundreds of people have lost themselves in the deceptive streets of Parque Chas, where the thin line dividing fact from fiction in Buenos Aires seems to lie. The houses, one beside the other, were connected, yet the architects had managed to make the lines appear curved, or vice versa. More than one house had the same number, for instance 184, and various times I believed I saw the same curtains, the same dog sticking its snout out the window. I had the sensation that, the further I walked, the further the sidewalk stretched, as if I were moving on some never-ending treadmill.”
These ‘never-ending’ streets, named for old European cities such as Dublin, Varsovia, Constantinopla and Cádiz, have vexed many a veteran taxi driver and given rise to all manner of local legends. The barrio is said to be populated by exiles, fugitives, hapless drifters from Villa Crespo or Colegiales who stumbled into the labyrinth years, maybe decades ago – and were trapped. Residents know never to accept rides from grinning, sulphur-scented colectivo drivers, who shuttle unsuspecting travellers to hell on the phantom 666 line. Streets circle in on themselves, creating Borgesian portals and interesting addresses (“I live on Bauness and Bauness”).
Parque Chas was labelled el campo de la ciudad (“the city’s countryside”) on its founding, and stepping onto its quiet, sunny streets from any of the major avenues bordering (or containing) it is like being transported out of the chaos of the city – just be careful your innocent stroll doesn’t become an eternal, purgatorial wandering.
* * *
Los Incas – Parque Chas Station is located at the end of the B Line, on the borders of Parque Chas, Villa Ortúzar, Villa Urquiza, and Agronomía. The mysterious pre-Columbian design of the station, realised in 2003 by artists Armando Dilon, María Eggers Lan, and Héctor Pinola, complements the already supernatural reputation of the nearby labyrinth. It is named for the Avenida de Los Incas.
What to do
Hit the books – Like better-known barrios San Telmo and Palermo, Parque Chas crops up often in porteño literature; the anomalistic neighbourhood is an obvious setting for tales of romance and the paranormal. Inquire at a local bookstore or online for copies of Tomás Eloy Martínez’s “The Tango Singer” or Luis Luchi’s “Amores y poemas de Parque Chas”. Hernán Torrado’s short story “Línea 187”, available online, describes the barrio’s hellish colectivo. Finally, Ricardo Barreiro and Eduardo Risso’s comic series “Parque Chas”, published in the late ‘80s, has become a cult classic, though difficult to find. Read up and get inspired before heading into the labyrinth yourself.
Though the winding streets and sleepy plazas are the neighbourhood’s main draw, the labyrinth itself is almost entirely residential. For food and shopping, stick to the main avenues bordering the labyrinth (De los Incas, Triunvirato, La Pampa, and, further west, Constituyentes). Triunvirato in particular is home to some small designer clothing shops for those with a Palermo fashion sense but lacking a Palermo budget. Antigüedades de Juan specialises in antique furniture and curios. Open Monday-Saturday from 10am-8pm, Mariano Acha 1141.
Where to Eat
El Barrilito, Combatientes de Malvinas 3401, (54-11) 4523-4050. Located at the corners of Av. Triunvirato and Combatientes de Malvinas, in Villa Urquiza, this pizzeria serves up Argentine-style thick-crust pies and is a popular local hangout with residents from all three neighbouring barrios.
Where to Drink
Café Rincón Incas, Av. De los Incas 4399, (54-11) 4523-0269. Monday-Friday 7.30am-9.30pm, Saturday 8.30am-9.30pm. Airy, two-storey café offering coffee and tea, liqueurs, and a breakfast that locals swear by. Drop by for a drink at sunset and grab an outdoor seat for a peaceful vista of the neighbourhood. Or, linger over coffee and one of the above-mentioned books before venturing into the labyrinth.
Content originally appeared at The Argentina Independent.