Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween. Next!

Zabar's bakery-counter ticket.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pimp My Bus

From the moment I saw my first Linea 17 turquoise bus, on day one in Buenos Aires, I was hooked.

There are 144 different bus lines in BA all privately owned and operated.

An eye-feast of color and typography ...

But really nothing compared to the old days when buses were rolling works of genuine folk art. See pre-1970s buses covered with the scrolling flourishes of ‘fileteado’ here and here.

Interiors, too, are personalized-- there was at least one instance of fuzzy dice, and fancy cut glass mirrors are installed over many of the windshields.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Case Against Globalization

Sure, there was something comforting about having Zara and Citibank in Buenos Aires, but travel just wouldn’t be as much fun without stores named Harry Truman, Maybe, and Mr. Sweater.

Just wondering, does a room scent called “Je t’aime” sound as absurd to the French as Glade's “I Love You” sounds to us? Much thanks to the folks at Johnson for that, and also for putting the graphic muscle in Mr. Musculo.

What Does One Million Look Like?

So, you know the 2000 years that happened before the current millennium began? Well if you go back those 2 millennia, and then do that 499 more times, you’ll get to the year this Raquel Welch classic takes place.

Designers of information graphics often find themselves in the position of explaining large numbers. At the recent Society of News Design conference in Buenos Aires, I had the magnitude of numbers like million, billion and trillion conveyed to me by no less than three different infographics gurus. Nigel Holmes of Explanation Graphics was the keynote speaker and is the undisputed master of explaining magnitudes of time, space, and dollars. To check out his short animation from 2000 explaining the then $5.7 trillion national debt, go here and click on the first clip.

Keep in mind that $5.7 trillion is barely half of the $11.9 trillion outstanding today. So watch it twice. Then watch the others for more great explanations.

Later that week, I found this Argentine banknote at the San Telmo market. I recognized it immediately--I knew what one million looked like. But not so fast. You see, It was issued between 1981-1983 during Argentina’s hyperinflation days. it’s out of circulation now, and has nothing to do with the 20 pesos (roughly $5) I paid for it. In fact, it didn’t even have much to do with itself over the 13-year period that particular peso-unit was in use. When Argentina introduced a new monetary unit in 1983, The New York Times put it this way: “In 1970 a new, four-door automobile cost 20,000 pesos. Today, 20,000 old pesos would purchase two sticks of chewing gum; the new car costs 993 million.” Yikes, now that’s inflation.

So, I might know what one million looks like, but what it means? Well let's just say that it all depends.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The World of Interiors: Afterlife

Mini villas of the dead line the streets of Cemetario de Recoleta. Situated in the toniest neighborhood of Buenos Aires, this historic burial ground of the rich and famous (mostly rich) contains just about every architectural style imaginable. At 13 acres, the richness of exquisite detail is overwhelming and mesmerizing. The cemetery’s mythology and iconography is fascinating and has been documented extensively. Most intriguing to me, however, were the interiors and the tales of changing fortunes they told. The prosperous, the neglected, the ruined—from fresh flowers to foreclosure, it’s all there.

Peering through locked gates and glass on a sunny day was dizzying—stone, metal, lace, dust, cobwebs, stained glass—a cacophony of shadows and reflections.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Buenos Colores

Garbage cans and other street furnishings are for most part invisible to us...

until we go someplace else. Above, waste receptacle, recycling bins, and public telephones in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Brushes with History

High on my list when visiting a major metropolis for the first time, is to check out its most fabulous art supply store(s). I had been in Buenos Aires a whole week already and had so far found a stationery store with some drawing pads and paints in the back. There was also a high-end store with fancy paint sets secured in sleek glass cases. So when I noticed the Association Estimulo de Bella Artes, I thought perfect, here’s where I can find out where the artists go. The raucous graffiti covering the building’s entrance, lead me to expect walls encrusted with posters and flyers, along with the requisite assortment of pierced, tattooed, and otherwise tribally marked art students.

The cool serenity of the interior took me completely by surprise, as did the emptiness.

After a nonproductive encounter with a Spanish-only speaking guard, I followed the irresistible curve of the staircase to my next surprise. A curious antique cabinet was tucked under the first landing. The forest of sticks inside it turned out to be a carefully installed collection of brushes. Each one stood upright in its own little hole with a white identifying label—each had once belonged to a teacher at the school. The palette perched atop the cabinet read ‘PINCELES CON HISTORIA.’

So I never did find the quintessential art supply store I imagined that there had to be in BA, but I was richly rewarded for my quest.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sell Them the Disease, Then Sell Them the Cure

Bayer set up tents offering blood pressure tests in the center of Buenos Aires. They were promoting their "aspirinetas" and healthy heart awareness. I bet they didn't realized how perfectly the giant orange hearts, filled with heart-shaped balloons, framed the McDonald's across the street.

By the Same Token ...

Buenos Aires has much in common with NYC
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