Paul Theroux says Argentinians have a "dampness of the soul," in "The Old Patagonian Express." Maybe it’s all the winter rain.
Sydney was dark and rainy. Buenos Aires is cold and wet. We seem to have a habit of visiting cities known for their glorious summer sun at the wrong time of year.
Oh well. I really wanted to see B.A., and am very glad we did, although poor Jason was sick for half our stay.
Walking down the streets, you could be in New York at times. Recoleta and Palermo Veijo reminded us of the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, respectively. Sadly, we found no equivalent for the Lower East Side. Tall, elegant apartment buildings looked Parisian. And of course, there’s New York-style pushing and shoving.
For a real New York experience, we rode the excellent and cheap subway system, including some beautiful old cars that smelled like an antique shop.
Buenos Aires is a very relaxing city for a western traveler, and also very cheap right now. The boutiques and restaurants of Palermo Veijo could have been transplanted from Soho, with prices about a third of what you’d pay in New York. I thought the boutiques and fashion were great, and now have a shopping hangover.
Futbol mania was in full swing in Buenos Aires.
Though there were some dissenters…
We went to the San Telmo antique market one day, and to an ethnography museum. The ethnography museum’s text had a liberal, self-critical bent, denouncing the European destruction of Patagonian cultures, and praising the Patagonian culture as one of the world’s most advanced. Walking through, we made the observation that the museum’s "voice" was opposite that of most museums we’d encountered on our trip. Many state-run museums in countries like Laos or French Polynesia don’t acknowledge past foibles. And while this ethnography museum may have gone just slightly far in an opposite, self-flagellating direction, we appreciated their historical perspective, and great exhibit design.
Unlike the ethnography museum, B.A.’s history museum has the old fashioned, familiar exhibit style of portraits of old white military men and commemoration weapons. We didn’t get as much out of the experience. We did, however, see Juan Peron’s swinging sixties phone.
We also toured the local opera house, which is apparently one of the best in the world, acoustically. The general opulence of the opera house contrasts with the depressing 1950’s-public-school-in-bad-repair aesthetic of the rehearsal spaces, and costume and set design workshops.
B.A. has a beautiful footbridge by Santiago Calatrava.
The Malba museum of art was fun. Each country seems to have had their own purveyors of cubism, abstraction, op art, pop art etc, and Argentina is no exception. Seems like people from every wealthy country traveled to Europe, learned some style, and brought it back home. There was also a Lichtenstein exhibit on.
Argentina being the land of meat, we had to try some steak. At La Estancia (The Farm), a traditional old steak restaurant, I had an enormous steak, which was quite good.
We stayed at a great B&B called Bed y Baires, located in Palermo Veijo, which we thought was the most fun neighborhood. The proprietors were very sweet. We were actually their first customers; this is a moody photo of Jason from the housewarming party.
One of the owners, Nora, took us to Tigre, a small town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Tigre is where the yachting, boating and rowing set hang out, and there are multiple Princeton-looking rowing clubs. We also saw polo horses. Tigre is on the the Rio Plata, the widest river in the world. Looking out from the shore, we thought it was the ocean — you cannot see across. They also sell mate cups made from hooves there, as Nora´s friend Grace pointed out.
Nora and family often drank mate, a local herby tea drink with lots of caffeine, while they were at the guesthouse. Apparently 90% of Argentinians drink mate.
La Boca, a shore-side community, once had many colorful little houses with zinc siding. The local people used the leftover paint from painting the ships, resulting in lots of different, contrasting colors on their little metal home. It was a rainy day though, and we didn´t stick around for long.
Buenos Aires is famous for tango dancing. Many people still do it, and there are lots of clubs. One night, we went to a tango show in a tiny little bar with an art nouveau interior. Entered the room, a grandmotherly type was belting out a tune; we were startled by the power of her voice.
A small band with a squeezebox played a few tunes, and two tango dancers came out. Their dancing was absolutely wonderful — really nuanced (Jason´s photo).
Then, horror! The man asked me to dance, and the woman asked Jason. We did some kind of elephantine waltz for what seemed like an eon, while the rest of the audience looked on. Oy. After, tempering our humiliation with some wine, we listened to grandma do "The Girl From Ipanema."