Parks in Mendoza | Argentina | Living in Mexico

Parks in Mendoza

You can judge a city by its parks. Mendoza has lots of them and they're wonderful. The greatest of them is Parque General San Martín, larger than New York's Central Park, and unlike the latter, every square inch is manicured.

One look at the front gate, and you think you're in France. Only the French do gilded ironwork like this.

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And so they did here. The park was designed by architect Charles Thays, who arrived in Argentina from France in 1889 at the age of 40, promptly changed his name to Carlos, and went on to create some of Argentina's greatest city parks.

That's an Andean Condor on top of the gate—Argentina's answer to the American Eagle. It's the largest land bird in the Americas, and is the pride of the Andean countries.

Argentineans may claim they're not Latins, but they use parks just like Mexicans do. Everywhere I saw families spread out on the grass enjoying picnics or just hanging out.

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For those left behind in Northern climes, I can't resist pointing out that the photo of the shirtless man kissing his baby girl was taken on December 24th.

A coltish young skater makes her way down miles of paved pathways.

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In a couple more years she is going to be devastating, her wake littered with broken-hearted boys.

Yeah, it's a French park all right. The original of this fountain, The Four Continents, is in Paris.

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Someone explained that it was so named because at the time, Australia was considered part of Asia. Lessee. Four plus one equals five. Aren't there, like, seven?

I'm guessing the French see the Americas as just one continent because we have no culture. And Antarctica doesn't count 'cause you can't get good pommes frites there.

A monument to Argentina's national hero, General José de San Martín, caps a hilltop in the eponymous park.

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A bronze of the General astride his horse, flanked by mounted soldiers, occupies the lower portion of the monument. His arms are folded over his chest in satisfaction over his accomplishments. At its peak, we see an allegorical winged Argentina, her arms raised, holding broken chains signifying freedom from Spain.

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In the city center, a checkerboard of parks, each occupying an entire city block, were originally laid out as refuges in the event of another devastating earthquake. Today they are refuges from urban traffic and noise. This one is named Plaza Italia, in recognition of the heritage of nearly half of Mendoza's inhabitants.

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The centerpiece of Plaza Italia is a less-than-impressive fountain—it just kind of sits there and dribbles—backed by a spectacular wall of scenes composed of tiles.

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The tiles depict the discovery and occupation of the New World. Here we see Christopher Columbus and one of his lieutenants ordering the crew to turn right at the equator.

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Next, we have conquistadors bringing enlightenment to the savages. A priest, backed up by an officer with drawn sword and a fierce dog, is spreading the gospel. A worker is tapping a barrel of wine to make the lesson go down easier.

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A final scene shows the peaceful outcome of the meeting of the two cultures. The Spanish have built a mission and have finally managed to get some pants on the befeathered indian. The indigene's soul has been saved, and he has been broken of his idle habit of hunting and gathering, now better serving God by growing food for the priests.

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In the middle of the checkerboard of parks we have Plaza Independencia, a stately four-block park featuring broad stone plazas, flights of wide steps, and hundreds of elegant lamps.

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A wall flanking a reflecting pool features a bas-relief the subject of which I cannot fathom.

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I'm inclined to call it Rudolph Nureyev Discovers the Joys of Bondage.

Nighttime in Plaza Independencia, and a neon sculpture depicts the Arms of Argentina. Or of Mendoza. They're similar and I can't tell them apart.

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Christmas is over and our party is returning to Buenos Aires. I'd never even heard of Mendoza before this week. I would never have thought of coming here. The world is full of undiscovered gems: this is one of them.

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