One of the best parts about spending extended time in South America is listening to various histories, as told by locals. The stories are always compelling but often competing, and each individual recalls their version as the honest-to-God truth.
Almost all tourists who come to Buenos Aires are sure to visit the Obelisk, a historic monument and icon of the city. While you're looking up toward the top of the tower, crane your neck slightly to the right and you'll see a modest chalet, situated on top of an office building. Quietly nestled among the billboards and lights of the plaza, I was so curious as to how and why this tiny home was here and I began to ask around to see what this was all about. Of course, I collected several tales.
The first story I heard was that before the construction of Avenida 9 de Julio, many smaller homes had been in this area for quite some time. During the construction, landowners had been offered a price to tear down their home, and most families were happy with the offer. However, there was one steadfast man who loved his home so much that he refused to vacate. After many negotiations, the man finally agreed to sell his family's property, but with one condition: his home would be rebuilt, brick for brick on top of the new office building that was slated for the area. It was built and he lived in the home until his death, and now offices occupy the house.
Another story was that the building manager for the office building was so tired of commuting from his country home down to the bustling area, that he decided to quit his job. He was such a great fit that the building didn't want to lose him, so they built a house to suit his tastes. He would no longer have to commute, and remained in the home until his death. His successor now lives in the home with his family.
The final, and perhaps most likely story is about a wealthy furniture store owner who worked his way from poverty all the way up to the top of his field. He idealized the beach homes in nearby Mar del Plata, but couldn't possibly move that far away and continue to oversee his business. So, he built a home on top of his store in the style that he so loved - without beachfront access, but with a million-dollar view. After his death in the late 60's, his store struggled and the building was broken up into small offices, including his home, which remains an office today.
Perhaps I'll never know just which story is true (possibly there is a bit of truth in all of them), and that's OK with me. For me, it's the journey and the legends that makes learning about a new place exciting while on the road.
(Images: Smith Schwartz)