Buenos Aires - Part 2

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Coming into the last two weeks of our trip and our stay in the apartment, our thoughts have been turning to what to have for Christmas Lunch.  We have been to a few supermarkets and local stores and so far turkeys have been eluding us. It is a toss up as to whether we go for the traditional English turkey, or the Argentine staple of beef, although the shops do seem to be filling up with whole and half goats and lambs, so perhaps that is what Portenos go for?

We take another walk out to Recoleta, this time to visit the famous cemetery, surely one of the worlds more bizarre tourist destinations.  The cemetery itself is very large covering 4 blocks and it is packed with over 6000 mausoleums and is almost like a small barrio of its own.  The tombs are a bit of an architectural free for all with many styled like greek temples.  Some are in great condition and some are literally falling down and we see more than a few broken coffins with their contents exposed!  The dead however, are not the only residents as the entire place is teeming with cats and we see a few local women setting out bowls of food for them all around the cemetery. The dead buried here include the great,the good and the not so good of Argentina including many ex- presidents whose names are familiar from the street names, bank presidents (surely not the most popular at the moment!) and strangely the past presidents of the Argentine Automobile Association, Jockey Club and Taxi Drivers Associations.  The most famous resident is of course Evita herself whose husband Juan Peron had her buried here covertly at the dead of night, in her families tomb, allegedly against the wished of BA's high society.  She is buried under 27 feet of concrete as her body has been dug up and stolen on several occasions! As cemeteries go it is certainly one of the most impressive in the world not that we have made a habit of visiting many.

Last night we visited our first Tango show and Cafe Tortoni, one of the oldest tango cafes in Buenos Aires.  It is just as we had imagined with waiters, all in their 60s buzzing around with trays of drinks and foods the only thing that is missing from the 1930s is the smoke filled room as BA restaurants, whilst not completely smoke free, do at least segregate smokers.   We both like live music but have never really listened to any tango music before so this is a new experience for both of us.

The tango orchestra consists of a pianist, a violinist, a bass player and a guy playing a bandoneon (a bit like an accordion).  We had popped into the cafe a few days previously and booked the 9.00pm show and as we were first on the list, we got the best seats right at the front on a table of four that we were to share with two others.  We had chosen the smaller, more intimate of the two rooms and this was certainly intimate as we were virtually sitting on the stage! I had my fingers crossed that there would be no audience participation. We ordered a bottle of champagne (at 10 pound a throw it seemed rude not to) and settled down in anticipation of the show. We were shortly joined by a German couple who didn't seem to happy with the table arrangements and the guy tried to arrange a seat for his wife on the table next to ours by stragetically placing his bags around (much to the annoyance of the people at that table!) I am just surprised that he hadn't arrived at breakfast time and thrown his towel over his preferred seat - sometimes national stereotypes are just so true!

The show commences with a tune from the band and then the dancers arrive. Now, we have watched Strictly Come Dancing (I am embarrassed to admit!) but seeing this dancing up so close and in such a small space was incredible.  Both of the dancers were incredibly fit and flexible (how many women can touch the back of their head with their stilettos whilst still wearing them? The male dancer was just how I imagined a tango dancer to be with slicked back hair, wide lapelled suit and the tango shoes that were falling to bits just added to the overall, sleazy look.  The music too was excellent and all of the musicians were incredible.  Then came the tango singer, who, judging by the reaction of the Argentines in the audience was well known and a bit of a comedian was a real character and held the whole show together.  At the end of the show the concertina guy, a real virtuoso and well into his 70s got the longest ovation by far and seemed a bit overwhelmed by it. All in all a great night and so much better than at least I was expecting.

Not long after we arrived in the city we met up with some Argentine friends, Alberto and Teresa, with whom I had been corresponding via a travel website when planning our time in Buenos Aires.  Alberto has lived in BA all his life and has proved a mine of information.  We arranged to meet up for lunch on a Sunday and prior to lunch he took us , along with some friends from California, on a whistle-stop of the city.  The drive around the main areas on BA took around 30 mins and Alberto showed us the main landmarks so that we could get our bearing.  This later proved invaluable as, although the city is built loosely on a grid system it is immense and all of the maps seem to be oriented differently (i.e. north is not always at the top - or anywhere else for that matter).

After lunch at Fervour, an upmarket parrilla in Recoleta, Teresa (Alberto is not driving himself because of a very recent knee replacement op), drops us of at the Sunday fiesta in San Telmo.

<b>San Telmo</b> is all about tango and antiques and  is one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods. It was once  the home of the very wealthy until and outbreak of yellow fever in 1877 caused many to flee to newly developing areas north of the city center. At the heart of San Telmo is Plaza Dorrego<b>,</b> where a few of the buildings still date from the colonial period. Again, it is one of the most touristy areas in Buenos Aires but it does have a sort of decaying grace.

Tango-themed bars make up much of the entertainment in this area and  Calle Defensa, the main street is  lined with antiques stores and runs from north to south. It takes its name from the route Argentina's colonial army used to defend itself from a British invasion in the early 1800s (is there anywhere we haven't invaded??). As we are here on a Sunday the San Telmo Antiques Fair is in full swing.  Not really interested in antiques we wander around watching the street theatre performers and street tango dancers and jazz bands. We happen upon one tango dancer who is well into her 80s and still performing every Sunday here (complete with slit skirt and fishnets) we recognise her instantly as she is pictured on many of the postcards we have seen around the city.

Many Porteños still think of the neighborhood as dangerous, based on crime dating back to the 1990s, but the gentrification has changed the area completely. Having said this,it was allegedly in this neighborhood that President the Bush twins were robbed (its a wonder he hasn't invaded the place in retribution!). When we get back to Palermo, we happen accross one of the ubiquitous dog walkers in the city and, for once we have the camera with us to capture it on film.  Most Potenos seem to have dogs as pets even though they live in small apartments.  They seem to outsource the exercise of their dogs to professional dog walkers, some of whom walk as many as twenty dogs at a time! This one only has about 10 dogs.  Clearly a novice! He does however offer to pose for a photo.

On our penultimate night in BA we are booked into <b>Opera Pampa</b>, a sort of opera on horseback,  charting the history of the Argentine nation. Opera Pampa is held at La Rural, a big exhibition and conference centre, about a ten minute walk from our apartment.  As we wander alongside the Botanical Gardens to the opera, Carolyn decides to count the number of stray cats living in the park and stops at 56, cats seem to be abandoned here and are fed by local women who are out in force with trays of food and bowls of water.  clearly cats are not as popular as dogs here!

The opera itself is nice, but not as big a spectacle as we had been expecting, apart that is, from the horse riding which was amazing as the participants sought to recreate all manner of battles, between the colonial Spanish, Indians etc... The event was somewhat let down by its lighting (btw - apologies for  the photos) which made it difficult to see parts of the show but it was enjoyable nonetheless. On the way back there are even more cats in the park (79). It has been a great month in Buenos Aires and, apart from seeing family and friends, I can't say we are looking forward to our flight back to England tomorrow......
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