March 30, 2008
Driving west out of Bowen, fields of alfalfa or grapes slowly give way to feed stores and warehouses. An ultra modern Shell gas station sits as a sentinel on the south end of town. As the road gets wider and is lit by street lamps, traffic becomes more congested-soon, you’re weaving in and out of traffic like a local. Lanes are virtually disregarded, scooters and cars intermingle with trucks from area farms.
Bicycles are everywhere-along the shoulder of the road, or mixed in with the cars; crossing into traffic. It’s not uncommon to see a young mother, riding a bicycle with her child sitting sideways on the cross-bar or on the handlebars of the bicycle . Often the ‘driver’ is also smoking a cigarette and has her shopping bags dangling from the handles of the bike.
The downtown area of General Alvear is a time warp. As these photos show, everything was built in a Peronista flurry of prosperity, and has been more or less preserved and kept up, but not modernized.
The flower shop above is where I got my bridal bouquet-a clutch of salmon and white anemones-for about $7. The shop is full of black buckets of cut flowers, silk and real plants, and along the wall behind the register, picture upon picture of saints and the Virgin Mary, (with the occasional family baby photo) almost to the effect of wallpaper. Silvia the florist lives in the back of the shop, which is not uncommon-the store front gives way to an apartment that looks totally different than the shop.
Alvear has many things Bowen doesn’t: shoe stores, cafes, restaurants, supermarkets and specialty shops, florists, heladerias, bookstores, furniture shops, a casino, a nightclub, fabric stores, clothing shops. There’s a university, too, where my brother-in-law teaches business and economics. The town is divided by a man-made irrigation ditch that has been made into a scenic attraction by adding a water wheel to it.
The photo above is of the main round-about in the center of town. It’s near the municipal buildings, town square, church and bank. This town is almost unknown to those from outside (it’s not exactly a destination), and except for the occasional passing tourist on the road to Mendoza, no one bothers to come here. For the people in the surrounding rural areas, the city is their link to the rest of the world.