'The Randoms and the Opera'; or, BA - Paris II

Trip Start May 05, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2011

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What I did
LOADS of stuff in Buenos Aires...then I ran out of time :(

Flag of Argentina  , Central Argentina,
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And so, the epic travels continue!

Right, I should begin by pointing out that, though I am in Cordoba, this blog update is foremost concerned with my many strange adventures in Buenos Aires. Let's face it, Cordoba: you may be the South American equivalent of Oxford (and you may even have been crowned with the title īCapital of the Americasī); but, like Oxford, you can't hope to compete with the out-and-out, fun oddness and frenetic pace of the capital. Not by a long shot, my friend.

(No doubt any Cantabridgian friends who are reading this will have liked that. Pity Oxford is prettier (!))

Firstly, an observation about Buenos Aires (B.A.): it's friggin' freezing! Actually, it's freezing for someone who has just come from Brazil. 13 degrees celcius at the end of Autumn is actually a tropical paradise, compared with Oxford, Cambridge, and of course Chipping Norton. But, being out all day with a bit of a cold, I felt it more than I might in England. It certainly made me grateful for the warming taste of empanadas at lunchtime (although this does raise questions about my decision to buy ice cream in B.A. Twice. What? - it's gelati, produced by Italian immigrant populations. How could I turn it (by which I mean: absolute deliciousness) down ?!)

I believe I left you all with the news of my first day in B.A.; wandering around the city, watching Pirate-related educational films, enjoying the hilarity of bizarrely Pink Presidential Palaces. By the way - Lorena, my portena (B.A. local) friend told me that they only began illuminating the palace with fuscia lights at night when Cristina - Argentina's first woman president - was elected. It's like Barbie in the White House!

Well, my second day (Friday) was cool, and a little bizarre, in the best way. I set off in the morning, with the best of intentions to go to the Argentinian National History Museum. But the sun was shining, and I thought it would be such a shame to be stuck in a museum on such a beautiful day. Indeed, I thought, it would be a crime not to use to day to visit a cemetery. Yep, not kidding. Ah, but this isn't just ANY cemetery. This is a decadent, marble-shrined, black and grey-granite structure oozing with nineteenth century memorialist appeal. This is (not a bizarre television ad) - it's Recoleta Cemetary. World-famous Mausoleum, featuring the resting place of Evita herself. Recoleta is far away, and the walk took me most of the afternoon (it involved several diversions in search of an English-language version of Borges's short fiction - yes, I did plan to get down and pretentious by reading Borges in an Argentinian cafe, I confess!! But I do love him...) Anyway, finally I got to Recoleta, and it was worth the walk. The golden evening slight streamed out from the entrance portico, capturing a hollywood afterlife sheen that was more than the original architects could possibly have hoped for. And the tombs - variously in neoclassical, gothic, brutalist, and even naturalist(!) styles - were beautiful. Even if the narrow lanes really did make it seem like a necropolis - a city of the dead.

After the charming trip to the cemetery, I decided to make my itinerary even weirder. After going home to shower and shave (I really needed it), I headed to the opera. Of course, the opera was followed by a late dinner and clubbing...but hey, that's the way I do things. Oddly. The opera was in the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires's original, decadent, and beautiful theatre venue. Now, I've seen nineteenth century decadence in opera houses (take Vienna). But that paled in comparison to the golden lobby and staircase of the Colon. Quite accidentally, the opera I went to see was actually in English (I have a habit of accidentally seeing English operas when I travel - by which I mean, Eleanor and I did the same in Vienna). It was called 'The Servant', and was a diabolical tale about a manservant corrupting his Victorian master with a world of decadence and girls. Of course, morals aside, the opera was great. And it cost me less than ten quid! It was performed in the lobby, stairwell and balcony, rather than the auditorium, and we followed the singers around. It was awesome, although I felt dubious about the Victorian gentleman being called 'Tony'. How preposterous.

After walking in the cold for ages, I found my way to a hearty meal (and a lasagne odd enough to rival the recipes of Wolfson Court), and then made my way to a pumping Argentine club in Palermo district. I'll admit, it was a little odd, almost immediately after the opera...Luckily, I made friends with some international students at B.A. University (Brazilians, Germans, Venezuelans and Dutch guys, mostly), and we danced the night away. Literally. Until 6am. I have a bit of a history with similar bizarrely late incredible late nights (mainly spent partying, and then setting the world to rights with various very dear amigos). So I approved. I did not approve of the hour-long bus journey back, and then the walk home (which was sort of through a dodgy district, but it was fine). I fell asleep at 7 - and unsurprisingly, was unwilling to think of getting up until 1:30 in the afternoon.

Saturday was spent in the beautiful autumnal sunlight in Puerto Madreno, the most decadent area in the city (possibly the world). Think the poshest part of London's docklands. Doubled. It also has some beautiful parks. So that was ok (even if not the perfect place to be reading Wuthering Heights). The evening was another entertaining one. The previous night, I told my new international student friends that I had yet to sample parilla (grill - ie famously succulent Buenos Aires steak). As a result, they insisted on meeting me to try it, and we went together to a place that was recommeded to me in San Telmo. My. God. HUGE steak, thicker than I've ever had, but so tender and delicious. Two of us split a 500g steak, and we had gorgeous fries and pumpkin (possibly one of my favourite things) on the side. I was satisfied. Despite my plans for an early night, my new friends instisted that I accompany them to a house party. Even further away, deep in Palermo. Sigh. I think it was an anniversary of their first party in B.A. Most people knew each other well, so I was constantly being asked (in friendly, but rather abrupt German tones) 'What are you doing here?', before they told me that it was a great honour and a pleasure to meet me.

By the way - as a aside: I have discovered something incredible in Buenos Aires. I get street cred, purely on the basis of my nationality. It's cool to be British. Even amongst the Germans. Seriously, these Venezuelans spent the whole night telling me how they were influenced by British music. And a German guy actaully spent ages extolling the virtues of Skins. And it wasn't just them: at Recoleta, I was mobbed by Argentine schoolgirls, some of whom told me they loved me. I mean, maybe the Royal Wedding is to blame for some of this love. But all the 'alternative' crowd seem Anglophile too. I might have expected it in America, but Argentina? Yikes! Well done Blair, Cool Britannia clearly worked. Although I think being blond kind of adds to my personal exotic admiration potential...Maybe I should pretendto be a prince from now on...

After a great night, I once again headed home late (or ealy, depending on your perspective). Less sleep, this time, so Sunday was a bit of a washout. All I did was explore San Telmo market, a hive of antiques, art, and general bohemian-ness. But that was a diverting few hours. In the evening I headed to a Tango lesson, and following that a concert of tango music. I was not good at Tango. This fact poses a bit of a problem for me, for it is a known fact that I am a good dancer. BUT - I have learned that, at expert level, Tango is all about improvisation. Therefore, I comfort myself with the thought that I'm like an expert Tango dancer. Only, without the rudimentary and intermediate Tango skills.

On Monday I managed to squeeze in yet another Latin American country - but this time for a whole day. I headed over to Colonia de Sacremento in Uruguay by fast ferry, and spent all day long there. It really was beautiful - picture-postcard, almost. Like a rustic Spanish or Greek town, with old ruins and a lighthouse, lit up in stark beams at night. Indeed, this incredibly peaceful, beautiful town took on a delightful character at night - almost film noir. Thus I loved it. Nonetheless, I had more fun in the day there - I found a fantastically beautiful giant chess set, fashioned from recycled plastic bottles, and challenged a local street hawker to a game. We both played very badly, but he beat me anyway. I blame too much partying, and my now vicious cold. It was a great day.

Tuesday was much more relaxed. I went on a tour of the Argentinian Congress - in Spanish (I had enquired about English tours before, and been politely put off). Which was really interesting (the Senators have pressure sensors in their chairs, so the government knows if they are seated but are not voting electronically - I daresay that's hard for many poor senators, who would rather like a sleep). Then I met my friend Lorena for empanadas in the rare glimpse of sun, before heading to grimy, working class La Boca to see the beautifully coloured houses. My last day in B.A. - still no museums, but a lot of fun.

Following a surprising early 6:30am arrival in Cordoba via the overnight bus, I set about making up for my lack of museums. Indeed, I think I've been to 4 museums in total, and to a market, several churches, and a university! Some beautiful colonial houses, of course, and the deeply affecting museum on the secret police under the Argentine dictatorship in the 70s. Best, though, was the Cordoba University museum tour. We got to see the oldest church and university in Argentina, along with a large chunk of the library of the Jesuits. It was all rather gilded, decadent, baroque, and beautiful, but has left me exhausted. One more day in Cordoba, then I'm border hopping again! Onto Chile - and hopefully, a spectacular South American birthday yet to come.

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