Shopping is not, ever has been, nor ever will be, high on my list of priorities. Thus walking around city centres can often leave me a little bored unless I raise my gaze away from the plate glass windows that have been ripped out of the bowels of the buildings and look at what lies above. London, Paris, New York and today Montevideo: the assortment of architecture in an old city can be breathtaking. And today, on rounding a street corner, I was rewarded with a rare treat, a fabulous confection of a building rising 27-floors up and above the Plaza de Independencia. Watched over by Uruguay’s homegrown liberating hero José Artigas astride a massive mount, the Palacio Salvo was the work of Italian immigrant Mario Palanti, a resident of Buenos Aires.
Finished in 1928, and once the tallest building in South America, it was in that era a paean to the nascent art of reinforced and molded concrete. The lower part alone would make for an imposing building, but the corner tower takes it into a league of its own. Many consider this to resemble a cake, but for me it has much more in common with a child’s squat space rocket, powered on each corner by boosters and with a bulbous head cone. Mario imbued it heavily with Italian Gothic and then tempered that style with quirky dashes of classical and new-romanticism.
Originally intended to be a hotel it never fulfilled that role and became a part residential and part commercial warren of intertwined interests which continues to this day. A state of the art sound recording studio rubs shoulders with a properly Arabian cafe where louche women displaying disproportionate amounts of tanned skin smoulder slowly at you as you walk . . . slowly past. An old woman with a mouth sliding down the left side of her face jokes with two hirsute Maté sipping locals. It is all very friendly and would be quite the place to stay in Montevideo if one was looking for a hearty helping of the exotic and quirky. I liked the Palacio Salvo without reserve, not just for its exuberant space rocket appeal but for its slightly shabby, down at heel and making do as best it can feel: for the heady smells of a Lamb Shawarma roasting on the spit mingling with sweet sickly perfume.
Next time you’re walking down a busy city street, drag your eyes away from the fripperies and tat on offer at street level and take yourself up and away into the beautiful perspectives of the built environment.