After reading about the house and chapel of Guido Buffo, a legendary philosopher and general Jack of all academic trades whom Unquillo proudly showcased in various history books and tourist guides, I felt compelled to see them for myself.
Hidden in the dusty foothills of the Sierras Chicas, in a tranquil area by the name of Quebrachitos, the house of Guido Buffo still stands alongside his most impressive of works; a beautifully architectured chapel, renound for its unique style that he single- handedly built in memory of the wife and daughter who were cruelly taken from him.
The winding roads leading up to the Sierras transformed our chosen mode of transport into a blender; myself and accompanying friend Claudía into the mush of fruit pulp. The path launched more and more dust through the windows as we ascended, the landscape becoming drier and drier. The thick and suffocating carpet of dust, dirtied and concealed the shanty houses, plants and road signs that had been deprived of natural light for an indefinite period. As we crawled further up into the Sierras, the increasing number of empoverished domiciles seemed to embellish sporadical luxurous retreats or get-away abodes– somehow avoiding the blanket of dust, the same that was choking humble home constructions.
Moments after arriving at the steps to the house of Buffo and his chapel of enamoured hommage, Claudia´s simmering passions bubbled over her bronca saucepan; I could see the anger in her eyes fired by the state of the, supposedly preserved, work of achitectual genious. For a start, the people entrusted with the upkeep of the house were nowhere to be seen; the prominant image in Unquillo´s municipal logo and well-promoted tourist attraction was stubbornly locked up.
“These people are paid more than I am, a teacher of forty children, and where are they?” Claudia rhetorisised. “They could at least clean these poignant inscriptions here on the wall, for God´s sake,” she exclaimed, running her fingers along the inset frame of Buffo´s eulogy to his wife, Leona, in utter disgust.
As we strolled around the over-grown poetry garden, we were shocked and saddened by the state of the inscribed plaques, perhaps more so than by Buffo´s emotive words themselves, that had been chipped and scatched. It was evident that nothing had been done for quite some time to replace the missing words of Buffo´s poetic laments. The chapel from afar mirrored the beautiful tributary masterpiece I had seen in the tourist leaflet, the same on that had spurred me to come and see the unique building in the flesh. On approaching, however, the glossy chapel soon became myth, as the reality of its aesthetic became clear; the photo must have been taken years before, or perhaps visitors had always been disappointed that they could never have seen its true beauty. Unsightly power cables draped the once-white walls like distasteful chords, clashing against the material of their partnered curtains. Graffitti was disrespectfully scrawled, in barely legible red, on the walls that Buffo had shed sweat and tears to construct; yet the words had faded since their rebellious release before anyone had got round to even considering a purchase of white paint. The crumbling plaster ran away with Buffo´s prophecies, holding them hostage with a grand ransom fee of the upkeeper´s dwindling efforts, while overflowing cascades of dying plants prevented access to what could have been an attractive viewpoint to be appreciated by all. “Buffo would be turning in his grave if he could see this,” Claudía spat.
Around the house and chapel was more ammunition for Claudía´s pistol of fury. Despite a sign demanding respect and care of the natural surroundings, plastic bottles, rags of synthetic material and cigarette boxes blemished the uncleased river and stained the tree´s organic sheets. The straw that broke the camel´s back was a shoddily errected fence accompanied by a sign protesting against the entry, to what used to be a picturesque spot for families and lovers to appreciate nature´s splendour, in the name of the “casero”´s right to tranquility . Claudía and I strugled to understand the relevance of this casero to the house if Buffo- who was he to prevent the public´s right to enjoy the surroundings?
However, it seemed like many had given up on that possibility anyway, based on the heartless defacing and poor attempts of maintanence here. When I asked Claudía if she thought the neglect shadowing the house and chapel and its environment mirrored the neglect of Argentina as a nation, and its people, she could not agree more.
I had seen families struggle financially and battle with the harsh winter without the – some would say, basic – commodity of central heating. I had heard and about so many political injustices and learned of shortages in supply of food or coins, leading to great supply of bronca- the underlying anger shared by all living in this Republic. Yet, my visit to the house of Buffo had, exemplified more so than all of these issues, the neglect of Argentines. The Argentines who have been forgotten by their European descendents that had left them there, after tiring of their search for paradise on a colonial mission to the New World.