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The Pain on the Wall


Although I only popped into Buenos Aires for two quick one-day visits, it left a mark. The capital of Argentina is an immense city, low slung and spread like a thick layer of butter on the Plate River coastal plain. Like many grand cities, it is probably unknowable to the casual visitor. Charm and challenge the city had in bundles, but I was only able to sample them from a walking perspective. Among other lasting images, however, the most vivid were the angry lamentations scrawled across walls throughout the downtown. Sad, angry pleas.


Argentina suffered unbelievable spasms of violence for decades. I don’t know enough about them to go into detail here, even as to whether they continue in some form to this day. Reading the city streets, however, opens the eyes to the ongoing trauma that Buenos Aires’ citizens must be going through even today.


Graffiti fill every flat surface in some areas of the city center. Cryptic pleas about bathing, dogs, and protests remain obscure to the casual passerby, with the exception that they are repeated everywhere. This is either the work of a single activist or else it speaks to some broader need for urban correction. There is humor, terseness, and even melancholia in all their visual forms.


Bedecking the police station, however, messages take on a deeper, more ominous tone. Simple words and family names. Handwritten, personal, directed. Messages that seem to be aimed at individual officers or their victims. Surprised me.

Santino Abinet - abusador (abuser)


Ariel Comminiello - violento y golpeador (violent, puncher)


The names and characteristics are not hidden. They are at eye-level, generally. They call out these people, in these cases Santino and Ariel. The language feels accusatory, challenging. They also feel like warnings. Beware you who enter this building - watch out for these people. Perhaps these warnings, if that is what they are, come from experience. A family member charged with a crime, accosted by those whose responsibility is to protect other citizens. Maybe these words are a record, a listing of the inhuman treatment by those who worked here. Are they referring to individuals long past or current occupants?


I can’t answer any of these questions. But I add to this list what remains unanswered. Why are these names and their accusations permitted by the city to remain on these walls? Is everyone too exhausted by the struggle, their own struggles, to react? The messages seem so personal and bitter. The bitterness in these words has, perhaps, become just another element of city life, like patina on these walls.

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