A place where past and present coexist in a singular and contradictory way (by Diego Vidart & Martin Herrera).
Photo: 12.50m. The british arrived to the area in the 1890s and purchased 14 hectares to establish what is today the Peñarol neighborhood, in Montevideo, Uruguay. Over one hundred years later, the train system is partially abandoned and in many cases in ruins. Up to 2.000 people worked for this establishment in its best days (1920). Today less than 200 work here. Abandoned wagons in AFE train garage in Peñarol neighborhood, Montevideo, Uruguay. By: Martin Herrera.
Created towards the end of the year 1800, with the intention to populate the area where the most important workshop for the rail system brought by the British would be installed – Peñarol remains alive today, stubborn and defiant, in spite of the sad state of the railroad network and of the public entity that maintains it (AFE – Administración de Ferrocarriles del Estado).
This entrepreneurship resulted in one of the most important ‘hoods’ of the country, marked by the dynamism, the prosperity and the modernity that characterized it. In its moment of glory it had three banks, two movie houses and a theater in just seven blocks. On a typical day the district witnessed the crossing of up to forty trains that traversed the combined route of Peñarol and Sayago.
Photo: The Theater. On the early days of glory in Peñarol (Montevideo, Uruguay), there were among other activities, a recreation center founded by the british to host social and sports activities for the workers and their families. In 1975 many of the establishments of Peñarol were declared national monument. Today the municipality is investing over 800 thousand US dollars in the course of repairing and preserving the theater and movie theater. The project is due by year end 2011. By: Martin Herrera.
The workshop where once thousands worked, symbol of the zenith of an era and clear synonym of the industrial revolution, today takes in just over one hundred persons, most of them veterans, aficionados of the train, because the company has barely hired anyone for quite a while.
Shortly after the Second World War, confronted with few and inauspicious options, the British decided to sell the railway system to the Uruguayan government, in exchange for the debt accumulated during the war for shipments of wool and meat sent to the British Army.
Many believe that the decline of the railway system was triggered by the departure of the British. What once worked with the precision of a clock, with the reliability and punctuality that is a British characteristic, was slowly infiltrated, as time went on, by the indolence and the more casual attitude of the new administration. The sale of the railway marked the beginning of a slow but continuous deterioration of the service and the company, and, consequently, of the Peñarol neighborhood.
Photo: Locomotive. One of the few young employees in the AFE garage repairing and active locomotive in Peñarol, Montevideo, Uruguay. By: Martin Herrera.
As a railroad without destination, that suddenly dies in the middle of nowhere, the decline of the rail system left a Peñarol without apparent purpose. However, and as opposed to what has happened in so many other places in the world, where the spaces have disappeared or been totally renovated, Peñarol resists, stubbornly and resolutely, the overwhelming reality that surrounds it. Of those who remain, some still work in the workshop where, until this day, the few engines and cars that circulate, slowly as a man walking, in the kilometers of damaged rails that score the countryside are repaired.
In an era marked by immediacy and the decisive wish to prioritize the modern and the technologic, the workers of the workshop are proud to continue to use, still, the same tools brought by the British in 1800, and to put them away in precisely the same places.
The café, the barbershop and the extinct recreation center are suspended in time. In Peñarol, at least a few are passionately proud of this rare capacity to stop the clock. There is something nostalgic and ancient, but at the same time fresh and alive, in the streets of this peculiar neighborhood of Montevideo. There is an unspoken appreciation for the traditions of yesteryear, for the things that do not wear out, for the values that were the basis of a past era, an era of success and prosperity.
Photo: The bar. One of the many patrons that frequents the neighborhood bar on a regular basis. Founded in the early days of the Peñarol, this place remains an central element of social life in the area. Montevideo, Uruguay. By: Martin Herrera.
Peñarol is a tribute to the Uruguayan idiosyncrasy to look to the past, to remember who we were and where we came from, but it is also a relentless standard of determination and defiance to the modernization that is being imposed. It is a reminder that not everything new is better, that change may not be the only valid offer for us to project ourselves in this new century.