Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lujan- When I suggested my interest in visiting this town on the pampas a few hours from BA on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree site, someone responded saying, “Who the hell would want to go to Lujan.” From that moment I was determined to visit the town. Lujan is the premier religious pilgrimage site for the Argentine. Legend has it that in colonial times an oxcart carrying a statue of the Virgin became stuck in a rut and the local townsfolk decided that this was a heavenly sign and that the statue needed to remain at this place. Years later a massive basilica was constructed (a few kilometers from the rut since the ground was not good there for a Chartes size edifice). We headed there on a Sunday along with a multitude of other pilgrims. To get to Lujan one must take a grimy commuter train for two and a half hours. In the train’s aisles was a constant procession of venders selling bootleg CDs of Argentine hits packaged in sandwich bags, charcoal grill lighters and spill proof unbreakable plastic yerba mate bombillas. The bombilla venders would loudly rap their wares against the metal handrails of the car to demonstrate their products durability as they proceeded up and down the train. As we continued out we saw more of the real Argentina where simple cinder block homes replaced of Belle Epoch grandeur of the capitals central district. We passed posters for local entertainment such as the group Pampas Yakuza, who I presume play Asian, influenced gangsta tango. In Lujan the massive basilica rises from the pampas and dominates the countryside. Stalls selling both religious and gaucho trinkets line the sidewalks on the way to the massive edifice. Inside, the church is conservative by Latin American standards, looking much more like a late gothic structure than some exotic miracle site below the Equator. As a miracle site most of the evidence of intercession is displayed in countless plaques that lines the walls around the altarpiece. Milagro pieces normally displayed randomly with a tin leg next to metallic eyeballs were also more systematically arranged. Here mosaics of milagros spelled out what miracles had come about. I was quite impressed with the collection of those in the shape of cows that spelled out in Spanish “bless our cattle.”
Outside the basilica was a line of cheap parrillas offering smoking meats for lunch (perhaps the same cattle saved in the miracle). The parrilla we dined in I nicknamed “Que el perro no quiere” since we were brought a platter containing something chewy that at one time could have been a belt or part of a saddle, two blood sausages, two somewhat edible sausages, some slices of tripe and some unknown variety meat. Next to our table a strange looking man adorned in red satin vestments sat at his table puffing copious amounts of Turkish tobacco from a three-foot tall hookah. Above our heads on a tarp strung over the dining area feral cats wandered gazing down on the meaty morsels we were not consuming.
Behind the basilica in the shadow of its steeples was a somewhat seedy small amusement park with rides and tawdry attractions. One attraction offered viewers a chance to see a real electric chair in action. Nearby along the pleasant Rio Lujan were locals in paddleboats and yet another amusement park.

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