Of the two habits in which Argentines surely lead the world — psychotherapy and plastic surgery — it seems peculiar that the first, rather than the second, would boast a dedicated neighborhood in Buenos Aires. After all, the point of cosmetic surgery is to be seen, whereas therapy is a much more private affair. Maybe the answer lies in the sheer prevalence of Argentines in treatment — the country boasts the highest number of psychiatrists per capita on earth, and when documentary filmmakers surveyed Porteños (citizens of Buenos Aires) on their psychoanalytic habits, most were not ashamed to admit they’d spent time on a shrink’s couch.
Or it could just be a matter of convenient real estate. Villa Freud, BA’s psychoanalytic district, began to coalesce in the 70s, when social anxiety — perhaps related to the country’s ongoing military dictatorship, or ever-present economic woes — spiked. Doctors eagerly sought out cheap space near the Recoleta homes of their wealthy clients, and found it mostly around Palermo’s ovular Plaza Güemes. It didn’t hurt that the area looked appropriately Viennese, with the twin gothic spires of Our Lady of Guadeloupe dominating the cafe-ringed square.
One evening, while wandering aimlessly through Palermo’s streets, I stumbled unaware into Plaza Güemes, as if in a dream rich in meaning. Here there was an odd harmony at play — old women spilling out of the church seemed to step seamlessly through a languid soccer game being played by some children in the park below. Bushy-bearded professor-types, looking as if they’d had their hair trimmed in order to go back in time to the fin-de-siecle, strolled through an outdoor exhibit on the city’s efforts to promote religious coexistence. Others took in the scene over coffee from behind cafe windowpanes, contemplating the square. It was as if the entire neighborhood existed in the state of therapeutic calm that its occupants sought to distill.
Tags: Buenos Aires, Exploring the City, Squares, Streetlife