Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | July 15, 2009

A bookstore in the wall

Paseo de las Artes is a tiny bohemian enclave that has surged back to life in a very old, run-down section of Cordoba, a provincial capital in Argentina.  This part of Barrio Guemes is all turn-of-the-century one-floor houses with interior patios and flourishes that have been carved on the one-meter-thick walls.  The old houses have been painted in bright colors and transformed into antique shops and restaurants.  On the weekends, an arts and crafts fair stretches its tentacles, as twining plant, through the cobblestone streets. Stalls and tables of old trinkets, hippie ware, paintings, antique lanterns, jewelry, phones, typewriters, modern accessories, plastic knick-knacks and anything and everything else are put on sale.

Across from the Cañada, the stream that runs through the city, a row of stone buildings crumbles over its sidewalks.  Most are missing parts of their infrastructure—ceilings have disappeared, whole sections of walls, missing doors have been replaced by rusted wooden gates and twisted metals.  In one of these structures, there is a bookstore.

It is no more than a hole in a wall adorned with books.  Eduardo Montibello is the owner.  He began selling his family’s surplus books on sidewalk tables.  Pretty soon, he was purchasing books at flea markets and looking for more space.  He found it here, at this weekend fair, and his business has expanded from a next-door antiques dealership-cum-variety house to this small, dark room.

Eduardo first had to knock down part of the floor, which was about a foot higher than the sidewalk.  A century ago, these houses were built higher than today’s street level, to avoid being flooded by waters of the Cañada during swells.  The walls were coal black because the space had been previously used by a fast-food salesman who sold choripanes (a local sandwich of sausage and bread).  Eduardo placed boards with shelves over the black walls.  In came the books, and presto–one of the most unique bookstores in Cordoba.

Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | January 6, 2009


by Stephanie Martin

Photo credit: Stephanie Martin

The farm is still.

Only the wind makes sound as it

flusters the trees and rattles loose pieces of

metal in the empty sheds.

The dogs are the only inhabitants of this homestead.

As you near the house from the dirt road,

it is their black ears that you see,

poking out over the tall, white grasses,

eyes fixed on the horizon. They move,

slowly, from sun to shade and back,

in the endless monotony of long days

and still longer nights.

Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | July 28, 2008

A welcome parentheses

An elusive Borges poem greets you at the main entrance, and then, wall-to-wall windows draw in the profundity of the sea.

You step in, hesitantly, lured into the spaces that exist between human words. Whispers navigate sturdy silences as visitors drift between displays. You listen to the haunting language of whales; wander through exhibits that straddle the wavering border that separates air from water.

There is a flurry of the transcendent here, in this place called, succinctly, Ecocenter.

Perched over the plunging cliffs of the Valdes Peninsula, in Argentina, this marine learning center has the feel of a Buddhist temple and the spacious levity of a modern art museum. Its reverent white walls hold histories not of painters or sculptors but of whales and seals and other beings of the sea. Ample wooden decks reach out into the ocean in a final attempt to merge with the ocean.

During six glorious months of the year, schools of Southern Right Whales swim past these coasts during their yearly breeding migrations. Century after century, the whales follow the same route for reasons only just gleaned by man. The knowledge of this migration is carried on within their bodies over generations. We, humans, flock in thousands from all of the world, to see them pass by, content to just catch a glimpse of the mystery, one which we will never fully comprehend.

Amid the tourist frenzy, this building stands as an emblem of the mystic and serene. We walk in tranquility here. Windows of all shapes draw in the profundity of the sea.



The Sea (El Mar) by Jorge Luis Borges


Before dream (or terror) wove
Mythologies and cosmogonies.
Before time was coined into days.
The sea. The ever sea, existed and was there.
Who is the sea? Who is that violent
And ancient being that gnawed the pillars
Of the earth and is one and many seas
And abyss and brilliance and fate and wind?
Whoso watches, sees it for first time.
Always with the amazement that the
Elemental things leave behind. The beautiful
Afternoons. The moon. The blaze of a bonfire.
Who is the sea, who am I? I will know the day
Beyond that follows agony.


(My translation.)



For more info on the Ecocentro, go to:

Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | May 25, 2008

Rock party at the End of the World

Beach scene at the Tierra del Fuego National Park, the southernmost national park in the world.

Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | May 25, 2008

Sailing away from Punta Arenas

Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | May 15, 2008

First pages: Possession by A.S. Byatt

These things are there.  The garden and the tree
The serpent at its root, the fruit of gold
The woman in the shadow of the boughs
The running water and the grassy space.
They are and were there.  At the old world’s rim,
In the Hesperidean grove, the fruit
Glowed golden on eternal boughs, and there
The dragon Ladon crisped his jewelled crest
Scraped a gold claw and sharped a silver tooth
And dozed and waited through eternity
Until the tricksy hero, Herakles,
Came to his dispossession and the theft.
from The Garden of Proserpina, 1861



The book was thick and black and covered with dust.  Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time.  Its spine was missing, or, rather, protruded form amongst the leaves like a bulky marker.  It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow.  The librarian handed it to Roland Mitchell, who was sitting waiting for it in the Reading Room of the London Library.  It had been…
by A.S.Byatt
Vintage International Edition
October 1990
Owned and revered (and water splashed) since:
Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | May 12, 2008

MP3 & the desert

Tuareg music enthusiasts, camels, MP3 players and a stage in the middle of the Malian desert: there is so much to love about this story. Check out the article and accompanying slide show below:


Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | May 11, 2008

Sunrise of an exhausted city

It seems to me that -as of late- solemnity has settled over my city. She has fought many battles in her time against enduring enemies. Ignorance, corruption, violence, greed. Human weakness laps constant and hungry at her feet. The defiant glory of her old buildings continues to battle, alone, against time and pollution (both physical and ideological). She is proud, stalwart, fascinating, this metropolis, but she has grown weary.

People, too rushed or self-absorbed or simply too stupid to care enough, continue to toss their candy wrappers and larger pieces of private crap over their shoulders, as if a magic hand will immediately materialize and whisk away their garbage. Larger and noisier public buses roar down deserted streets, racing against an imaginary foe (themselves). Their putrid exhaust continues to settle into yet another layer of grime behind them.

More sidewalk tiles break and splinter then virtually disappear. Cracks turn into holes turn into man-eating craters. Another old woman falls in, dies and then makes the headline news. We all complain. The next day her story is buried beneath a traffic incident. Two public buses crash. One ends up inside somebody’s house and the other breaks into two pieces against a red stop light. The passerby says, “This always happens. Someone will be killed.” The day after, a private bus tries to beat a train at a crossing. Twenty-six people die.

This is nothing new. It has been the same way for decades. We keep complaining. Frustration mounts, explodes, recedes, then mounts again as nothing is mended, nothing is fixed and everything continues the way it used to be.

Perhaps it is this insane year. 2008 began with the placid escape of summertime and then exploded into a huge social, economic and political downturn. Protests broke out in plazas and avenues, and blockades barred all entrances (and exits) to the city. We toil on through thick and thin but a minacious inflationary spiral eats away at any sense of productivity. The government: immobile yet incendiary. The president: caught in a time warp, reliving toxic animosities that were (thought to have been) laid to rest decades ago as we watch, expectant, for some sort of solution. While we suffer, a creepy cloud of smoke invades the streets for days and then clouds of ash from a volcano eruption on the other side of the Andes barricades (heaven) the higher atmosphere.

I walk to the park with my dog to escape the craziness only to balk at a helpless monument defaced by graffiti and plastered with government publicity. No one seems to notice this grievous attack on art but me. Has society been dragged into the warp?

My city is tired and so am I. It is inhumanely early on a Sunday morning. I look out my window and see that, even though there’s cement and concrete everywhere, the pigeons fly from roof to roof as if they lived in the midst of verdure.

Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | April 27, 2008

Doctors of the Andean Cosmos

Image from the documentary \

The human body is a reflection of the Earth. Its blood is the water. Its bones are the stones and its head, the summits of the mountains.— Kallawaya priest doctor

The Kallawaya live in the northern mountains of Bolivia, in the misty valleys and and slopes of the Apolobamba mountain range. Their culture has existed for more than a thousand years. Before the rise of the Incas, they developed their own vision of the cosmos and used their knowledge to treat Incan royalty. They managed to survive the onslaught of the Spanish and are considered throughout Bolivia and South America, to this day, as the sacred healers of the Andes.

These medicine men practice an intricate system of healing based on herbal, mineral, animal and ritual beliefs. Their pharmacopeia consists of over 600 plants. They are itinerant doctors–traveling to where they are needed, sometimes over hundreds of miles, in their own territories and abroad.

A documentary film crew (as portrayed in “Andean Healers, Secrets of the Kallawaya” directed by Thomas Wartmann) followed one such journey, as a Kallaway doctor traveled with his apprentice from deep inside the Kallawaya heartland to the highlands of Peru. Their destination was Machu Picchu. Their objective: to deliver one single medicinal plant to a friend.

As they travel, the Kallawaya collect botanical and spritual remedies, making their way through extreme latitudes, expanding their understanding of the universe. Over the centuries, their knowledge has exceeded the confines of what is known as medicine and reached a deeper, more powerful level.

For more info, go to the website for the documentary “Andean Healers, Secrets of the Kallawaya” at (in German), directed by Thomas Wartmann and produced by Film Quadrat.

or follow this link to see one part of the documentary “The Secrets of the Kallawaya”:

Posted by: Valerie Audrey Martin | April 19, 2008

City of smoke

If someone had written a story about how, one fine day, somebody started a fire so big that its smoke covered an entire city, it would have been considered fantastical literature. As of late, reality has exceeded fiction on so many levels in this town.

Over the past week, Buenos Aires has disappeared into a massive cloud of smoke. Whether you are in the northern part of the city, at the other end or one hour south of the capital, you can’t get away from it. The smoke diffuses all figures and forms, and seeps into buildings, rooms and clothes. Daylight has turned into a bleary white sun that weakly shines through a haze of indefinite gray. It seems like sundown all day, whether its 10am or 2pm. Eyes burn, it is difficult to breathe at times and everyone smells like they’ve been sitting next to a barbecue for hours. People on the streets walk through this cloud as if emerging from the surroundings of a blazing fire–and they are, except that the fire (actually 297 of them) is raging more than one hour north of the city center.

Activity as been drastically altered across the city. For several hours during the past days, the national routes entering the city have been closed to due null visibility, the domestic airport was shut down, the main bus terminal has ceased operations several times, the port was shut down and even one of the subway lines had to close due to the amount of smoke in the underground tunnels.

Despite all of it, life continues almost as usual. People here are accustomed to crises of all forms and natures. And so we head out into a perpetual fog each morning with our to-do list as long as it was the day before–only now we carry a handkerchief and eye drops in our bags.

Check out this funky youtube video (posted by fabianese7) with pics of the city edited to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” by the Platters.  [It looks like this video has been taken down from  I’m searching for a new one.]  Unfortunately, the video posted below has been taken off the web. 

primera_135_humo_diariosic   1208535916135_efe_20080418_180219_comunidadpuntolaprovinicapuntoes

(left: a photo of the El Faro towers in Puerto Madero, from;

right: a view of the Planetario in Palermo, from

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