Welcoming Wendles

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I recently read that at some point this year more people on the planet will be living in cities than in rural areas for the first time in human history. Subsequently I wasn't surprised to learn that a third or Argentina's population - nearly 12 million people - live in greater Buenos Aires. This became smoggilly, traffically and frustratingly apparent as I sat on a choked highway staring at a vaguely familiar neon flashing 'M' sign in the 20th hour of my 18 hour journey from Bariloche.

The city itself is very European and considers itself the Paris of South America. From the architecture to the outdoor cafe culture, from their love of nicotine to their interesting hairstyles porteños (as residents of BA are called) don't seem to consider themselves South American, and because the vast majority are descended from Spanish invaders they don't even look South American like Peruvians or Bolivians.

I have, however, discovered three statements an Englishman should avoid saying unless he wants his head kicked in by an Argentine - and a porteño in particular. Saying them in Spanish will also prevent confusion and delays:

1) That Maradona is one fat, talentless, cheating, crazy junkie.
2) Forget it, you're never going to get those islands back.
3) I thought Madonna was superb as Eva Perón.

Of course I'd never say those things, especially when I had other things on my mind. Loyal reader(s) will remember Wendy the friendly Aussie I met in Australia at the cricket. Well somehow she's managed to get 10 weeks off work and has decided to fly all the way here to spend it on Argentinian buses sitting next to me. There might therefore be a delay until the next update...

After meeting Wendy at the airport we spent the next couple of days catching up and wandering around town, including the boisterous street market held every Sunday in San Telmo with its street music and tango dancers, to the famous Recoleta Cemetery. It's here where Argentina's most famous woman Eva Perón has been laid to rest, amongst the rows of fabulous tombs of dead presidents and the Buenos Aires elite.

I distinctly remember Perón saying - and indeed singing once or twice under her stage name Evita - that Argentina shouldn't cry for her but what did I see at her tomb in the cemetery? Several large Argentine women blubbing away snottily as they placed stupidly large bouquets of flowers at the door of the crypt. Maybe they were a bit more emotional as today - May 7th - would have been her 88th birthday, but still.

Buenos Aires is also famous for the tango and so one evening we went to the legendary Cafe Tortoni to see a show. It's a beautiful ornate building offering two touristy shows a night on a tiny dancefloor complete with band and a crooner who looked like a young John Thompson, but the limited space didn't stop Jose throwing Luciana around with sensuous, fast-paced abandon. A top night, finished with a fine ale and pizza in an Irish bar. Nice!
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