Don't Cry for Me!
Thursday 8 November 2007 - Sunday 11 November 2007 24 °C
Buenos Aires checklist:
● Mate with friends
● Trip to Puerto Madero
● Panicking about coins for a colectivo bus
● Eating bife de chorizo, milanesa, or other carne
● Seeing Evita's grave at el Cementerio de la Recoleta
● Seeing a tango show
● ---- CHECK !!
[crossing the Andes]
Buenos Aires is sometimes called the Paris of South America, and many of its inhabitants (called porteños (just like residents of Valparaíso! I mean, of course… “porteño” just means “from the port”)) consider themselves more European than South American. On my 3 day trip there with my friend Jeff, I definitely felt that there is a big difference between BsAs and Valpo for one thing, and even between BsAs and everywhere else in Argentina.
We stayed at in San Telmo, where most of the youth hostels are, at Hostel Ostinatto, a refurbished old apart building that is now a minimalist-black-white-and-red color scheme, high walls, very international crowd sort of place. The high ceilings even in the dorm rooms give it a very high-class feel though do contribute to a tremendous echo if people are being raucous below. They laid out us a simple but comparatively hearty breakfast of bread rolls, tea with hot milk, tangerines, and lots of pastries. Dave said it once, and I’ll say it again: Argentines definitely top Chileans in the sweets department. Both in BsAs and Mendoza, you could follow your nose to the corner pastelería and take about 15 minutes to look at all the choices (drooling the whole time) before settling on what to get.
Argentina is big on their medialunas (croissants) and I think have a much bigger thing for alfajores (delicious small cookie sandwiches with manjar (if in Chile) or dulce de leche (if in Argentina) and covered in chocolate or meringue or plain). There’s a huge difference between packaged, mass-produced alfajores and artesenal ones you can buy at a pastelería or vendor on the street. Te really sooped-up manurafctured alfajores with like 4 layers with mini chocolate chips taste like some kind of monster cookie you could buy in the States, but freshly made ones (see “La Ligua” entry… mmm…) are made with better manjar/dulce de leche and chocolate and are softer so you can really enjoy eating them. It’s like the difference between going on a roller coaster and spending an afternoon strolling in a park. Te parece?
Hopefully I don’t spend too much time in this post discussing food. Then again, I’m not apologizing if I do.
Getting back to the location, San Telmo is apparently one of the older sections in the city and one of the few places which still has late colonial and Rosista buildings. There are cafés everywhere you turn, with plazas sprinkled throughout, cultural sites, and a terrific San Telmo handicrafts fair on Sundays (I got a ring made out of a coffee spoon).
After arriving late Thursday night, we went to find food in Plaza Dorrengo a few blocks away, and were interested to find the plaza quite full of people dining under a totally dark sky with a few streetlamps to light up the performers (including a one-man drum band… impressive) and children walking around asking for money. Actually, we were both surprised to see how many small children were out so late at night, usually asking for money or going through garbage.
The next morning we took the New York Times’s recommendation to go to Zanjón de Granados, currently a museum slash event center where you can get a guided tour through the history of Buenos Aires (or Buenos Ayres if you’re feeling French and old-fashioned (AL?)). A zanjón (irrigation ditch) ran through the neighborhood centuries ago, and underground tunnels were built around it. In this building in particular, ownership was passed between people who added and changed the tunnel system and left evidence of their life which was only recently discovered by urban archaeologists. The cool thing about the place, I think, is that instead of just being a museum where the objects aren’t to be touched and the building is removed from the neighborhood environment, this building was changed and refurbished and can still be really utilized and enjoyed by people. If I ever have like a bat mitzvah or something in Buenos Aires, it will definitely be there. And I’ll invite you, don’t worry.
After walking past tons of antigüedades shops (I also think Argentina has a thing for antiques), we walked along the massive Avenida Paseo Colón and to the even massiver Avenida 9 de Julio (claiming to be the world’s widest boulevard) and over to the Plaza de Mayo (pronounced “Masho”…. haha, oh the Argentines!). I gripped my bulky camera bag close to me, as Argentina is known to be thick with thieves. In fact, several of my friends have had personal encounters being attacked, robbed, and held up at gun point (in any order of the 3).
We then went down to the “Subte” subway to meet up with a friend of Jeff’s near Recoleta in the center of the city. There was a long line to buy tickets, and when we finally got up to the window to buy them, there were two young kids on either side of the window asking for your change once you made the transaction. It struck me as pretty brilliant strategic placement, though I didn’t actually see anyone giving them any money.
We met up with Blair and Lauren, who are studying for the semester in Buenos Aires, and they took us to the immense Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden) and talked a lot about how our experiences have differed. Let’s just use, hmm… FOOD… as a point of analogy. While in Chile, almuerzo (lunch) is the big meal of the day, where the whole family tries to be home, for Argentines it’s the big dinner. They have dinner at around 8 or 9, whereas my family has “once” (ohn-say) around 7. For us, breakfast and once are always the same thing: tons of bread and tons of palta (avocado). First of all, Argentines don’t call palta palta. They call it “aguacate,” just like the rest of Latin America (BO-ring). Second of all, they never eat it.
When I tell Chileans that I really don’t eat that much palta in the States, they’re totally surprised. And when I tell them that I just don’t really eat that much bread either, they stop talking, look at me confused, and ask quizzically, “Well, then… what exactly do you eat??”
We later went to what our porteña friends described as a café for “Argentinean soul food” with a young atmosphere popular with exchange students that Jeff and I likened to Café Journal (shout out Viña del Mar!). Either way, they have amazing cazuela stews (calabaza + lomo + queso mmmmm) and empanadas totally distinct from Chile’s. Argentina’s are smaller and come in many sweeter varieties, whereas most Chilean ones are meat or vegetable focused.
And MATE of course! (That’s “mah-tay” for all of you unfamiliar with this strange herbal tea drunk from a hollowed out gourd through a burning hot metal strainer straw.) It was served with a lovely basket of small biscuits. We were such gringos and had to add sugar to the mix (which is a NO-NO) and also had big problems inserting the straw properly and had to move it around after we’d poured the water in (another NO-NO). Not to mention that all the herb leaves were floating around (NO!), meaning we’d done several other things wrong along the way. Well… you MATE some, you MATAR some… if you know what I mean.
We then hit up MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano, where it was really cool to see all of the artists we learned about in AP Spanish inside a single exhibition room: Xul Solar, Wilfredo Lam, Fernando Botero, and of course Frida & Diego. Now, I don’t really know that much about art, but I had the perception that the collection was much more colorful than similar exhibitions I’ve seen. Even the section on modern Latinoamericano art was not the squares of white canvas with a stripe of black or other extremely minimalist works that I, for one, have seen (not that I don’t like them). In any case, it was definitely worth checking out. They also seem to have some sort of cinema, but we didn’t look into it.
Later that night, instead of going to a jazz show that turned out to be like 1.5 hours away, we walked back to Plaza Dorrengo to a café with live music (easy to find, especially with waiters out on the street trying to hustle you inside). We then went for the first time to the ice cream parlor Nonna Bianca… and let me tell you, if you’re in BsAs, you HAVE to go! They have about 40 flavors, many of which you’ve never seen before (cerveza ice cream? Anyone?). Unfortunately, they have a one sample rule, which meant I stood at the counter for like 10 minutes figuring what to get a sample of, then another 10 figuring out what to actually buy. Jeff was definitely already finished with his cone by that time.
The next day, we took Buquebus to Colonia, Uruguay. Check out my other post for that. (It makes me uneasy to mix too many countries in one post, you know?)
After coming back around 5pm, we made reservations and headed over to Café Tortoni, apparently the first café of Buenos Aires and home of a famous tango show. The audience was almost entirely non-Argentines (in fact, entirely non-Argentines except one pretty drunk and unnecessarily flamboyant lady). The dancing was impressive and acted out in the form of a drama with one man singing the narration. And just as an FYI, food is not included in the price, and Sergio will bring you the bill for the drinks as soon as the show is over. So afterwards we headed to the closest and most Argentine (aka cheapest) eatery we could find and ate---guess what!?---BEEF!
Sunday, our last day on the Atlantic seaboard of this massive continent, we started off by heading to the San Telmo street fair and picked up some medialunas on the way there. We then rode the bus to the incredible Recoleta cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta) which has, among many others, the famous grave of Evita (which always has a crowd of people around it). The aesthetic of the cemetery is amazing: mausoleums shoulder to shoulder like a marble village. You can find one from centuries ago and nearby a minimalist one with tinted black glass from 1996.
We walked through the extremely long crafts fair near the cemetery and had lunch on Calle Ortiz and picked up some Havanna alfajores nearby (dang good). Nearby, two men in costumes were running down the street, ran up to me, hugged me, and yelled at Jeff to take a photo. I was so startled, and the only thing I could say was “POR FAVOR, NO ME ROBEN!!” (“Please don’t rob me!”) They laughed, Jeff clicked the photo, they ran away, and all my money was still in my wallet. Confusing? Yes. Good photo? Also yes.
By the way, Calle Florida is a pedestrian zone that lasts like 10 blocks, but it’s always packed, and you can find the same street vendors selling elsewhere (i.e. San Telmo market) in a less crowded environment.
Oh, and since our Chilean cell phones don’t work in Argentina (or at least not if you don’t have roaming activated), I got my first chance at using a “locutorio” (if in Argentina) or “centro de llamadas” (if in Chile). Apparently there is an underproduction of coins in Buenos Aires, so shops will put out signs saying “NO HAY MONEDAS” and won’t give you coin change, instead giving you small candies to make up for the difference. Anyway, the locutorio owner told us we had to spend a minimum of 2 pesos (about 60 cents), and our Argentinian calls only amounted to like 1 peso, so we calculated that we could call the USA for exactly one minute. So I did, and oh boy was it a productive minute (te juro).
We then walked back across the center of town and back to the Hostel. And to the airport. And trying to exchange $4000 Uruguayan pesos (check other entry). And back to Chile.