Salta, Argentina – Saturday 4 November, 2000

Salta is gorgeous, and seems to be most people’s favourite destination on the tour thus far. The town square is surrounded on all four sides by buildings in the Spanish colonial style, with wide verandahs or galleries forming a covered footpath all the way around. There is a fantastic cathedral on the square and at around 7.30pm on Friday evening, the bell ringers went into overdrive, playing a wonderfully funky peel for around half an hour. Salta also boasts one of the finest delicatessens I’ve ever encountered, with locally produced proscuittos, hams, cheeses, olives, wines and more, in a long dark cool shop with a bar, tables, chairs and almost every form of drink imaginable. The antipasto platter is to die for, and the local aperitif wine is good, too.

On Saturday morning, many players head for the chairlift that takes visitors up a nearby hill for a view of the town and surrounding cordillera, whilst others go shopping in the town, at the markets or the local handcraft fair. Desperate for fruit, Peter Kilpatrick bought some fresh figs at the produce market. Only while eating the fourth did he open one up to find that they were full of grubs. He reports that he won’t need more protein for a while.

Salta is high in the foothills of the Andes, at around 1200 metres above sea level, or about the same height as the top of Mt Wellington. The town sits in a valley surrounded on three sides by steep hills. The climate is warm and quite dry, although one of the locals told me that it rains in the summer. The population is reported at around 500,000, although it doesn’t feel like a city of this size – in fact it feels about the size of Launceston. Several members of the touring group have mentioned this phenomenon in Argentina, that the cities don’t feel like towns of their population.

A possible explanation lies in the apparently vast economic and social differences in the population. Argentina is a nation of 38 million, but the average monthly income is just US$200.00 (source: Lonely Planet Guides). This in a country with apparently high costs of living seems at first odd (it seems to be as expensive to live in Buenos Aires as in London or New York – much more expensive than in Australia). This would tend to indicate, and local information confirmed, that there is a very large underclass in Argentina, a population that is outside the superficial Western-style economy. There is still in Argentina a small but very wealthy upper class, who tend to own a disproportionate percentage of the land and property; a struggling middle class who work in the businesses and towns, and vast numbers of poor who live in slum areas around the towns. We saw several such areas, in various parts of Buenos Aires and on the outskirts of Rosario – homes that could only be described as humpys. crowded together and surviving as best they can.

The TSO is reportedly the biggest orchestra to have toured to Salta – there have been visits by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Vienna Chamber Ensemble, but none previously by a full symphony. The concert is received by a small but enthusiastic audience in the 600-odd seat local cultural centre, a more modem facility than any we’ve seen to date in the regional centres – it even has air conditioning! The base drum case was too big to be loaded onto the aircraft from Bahia Blanca, forcing a change to the program (we had already had locally hired timpani trucked in from BA because ours wouldn’t fit onto the aircraft), so Tchaikovsky is replaced by Beethoven 7, which is received with rapturous applause.

The encore, the scherzo from the Tchaikovsky, makes it a late night – the concert commences at 10pm and the encore doesn’t begin until midnight! At the end of the encore, there is more applause, and after three curtain calls, it only ends when the house lights come up and concertmaster Liz Sellars leaves the stage. John O’Carroll wishes David Porcelijn a cheery ‘Good Morning’ as he departs the stage.

Argentine hospitality has been fantastic, and again there is ‘supper’ – a full three-course sit down dinner for the entire orchestra and local Mozarteum committee. We have been honoured throughout the week by the presence of not only the astonishing 72 year old Recha de la Vega de Paolini, who coordinates all Mozarteum Argentine’s regional concerts, but also by Gisela Timmermann, head of Mozarteum. Gisela is intrepid and accompanies a large group of us to La Casona del Molino, a venue on the outskirts of town where local folk music is performed. Don Bate had found this place the previous night and reported an experience every bit as transcendent as last week’s at the Tango bar in BA, and he’s not far wrong. Different groups play in the large open courtyard of the Casona and in other rooms off of it. Don’s enthusiasm is boundless, and he ends up playing guitar and singing with one of the bands (see photograph).

Michaels Fortescue and Johnston attend the Casona dressed in their full concert tails, and are next seen at nine on Sunday morning returning to the hotel having enjoyed a champagne breakfast on the way! They return to their beds just in time to be woken by loud amplified music booming around the square. Bicycles assemble from all directions as the rock concert continues and any thoughts of a Sunday morning sleeping are abandoned. It seems that there is some sort of bike tour to raise funds for a local charity. Or it could be that in Salta nobody is allowed to sleep in on Sunday, regardless of whether they attend church or not!

Our last afternoon in Argentina is spent flying back to BA and then commuting the 40 or 50 kilometres from the domestic to the international airport for our flight to Miami and then Edmonton, Canada.

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