November 24, 2007

One man's Thanksgiving

The sign says "Life, this thing full of problems, but how lovely it is to live it!"

In Gaiman, Argentina Parque El Desafio is Don Joaquin Alonso's lifetime masterpiece forged entirely of garbage, illuminated by phrases from Seneca or Plato or Don Joaquin himself. About 50,000 wine and beer bottles, soda containers and cans cut and painted as tropical flowers, repurposed clothes hangers and trash trellises comprise his vision--pro-whimsy and anti-bullshit (defined by war, surveillance, usury or laziness). It surrounds his modest cement house, covering every inch of the family property where a more sensible spirit would have placed a lawn and some rose bushes. He spent thirty thousand hours building it (if you want to do something, advises one sign, start it).

When I visited El Desafio (which translates as "the achievement") Don Joaquin had been hospitalized and a neighbor let me in. It was clear that this beloved labywrinth of trash, with a Guiness record as the biggest recycled park, was entering uncertain times. It made it even stranger, to read the theme in his messages, to savor friends, stupid jokes, and even yourself, because none of it would last.

At least he has shown foresight. With Don Joaquin's "Monument to Myself," a heap of rocks, crushed soda cans and a set of handprints, declaring, "What did you think? I'd wait for the rest to do it?" he pokes ultimate fun of (while reveling in) the ego involved in creating.

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