First week in Argentina

Trip Start Jan 06, 2008
Trip End Mar 31, 2008

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Where I stayed
Apartment in Belgrado

Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, February 7, 2008

We have now been in Argentina almost a week and Mitzi leaves this evening. She will fly non stop to Paris and thence to Birmingham. The flight to Paris takes 13 hours. Because of the need to use her time here effectively, we have had a busy week.
Having come from hot but dry Santiago we have found the humidity here to be draining. Our apartment has air conditioned bedrooms, for which we are truly thankful, but the main area is not.  Also, of course, when we are out on our many trips we are battling the humidity all day. A very rough comparison between Santiago and Buenos Aires would contrast LA and New York. Santiago has the newer buildings and metro and has no humidity, but has smog, whereas BA reminds me of the slightly tacky appearance of most of Manhattan interspersed with expensive looking apartment buildings. It is very like being in New York in July when you can cut the humidity with a knife. Do I go on too much about the humidity?
We visited the cemetery in Recoleta and paid the obligatory homage to Eva Peron at the surprisingly modest Duarte family tomb. If it were not for the line of people taking photos of the tomb, it would be easy to miss. The same surprisingly modest appearance applies to the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, and the Plaza de Mayo. How many presidential palaces have a subway entrance literally abutting the side wall of the palace? There are no flowers in the flower beds, the fountains were only intermittently running, and there was a giant riot fence obscuring the view of the Casa Rosada from the plaza. I asked an Argentinian why there was not more done to beautify the Plaza and was told that there were other priorities of more immediate importance. It is hard to imagine, even in the worst of times, the White House grounds, or the approaches to Buckingham Palace or the Elysee Palace, being neglected to the same extent. There were painted symbols of head scarves on the ground to remind us of the grim past when mothers and wives lost their children and spouses without ever knowing what happened to them, and still today they parade regularly around the Plaza.
And yet... There is a good feeling here, the taxi drivers are cheerful and attentive, the neighborhood we are in is leafy and bustling with life. Everything works, the tap water is potable, the local bakery makes superb bread and croissants (very French), the taxis are metered and cheap, the subway is cheap (30 cents) and efficient. Our stumbling Spanish is tolerated, even assisted. We went to Puerto Madero (a smartly redeveloped dock area) on Sunday and it was a pleasure to see the portenos (people of Buenos Aires) strolling with their families in the beautiful weather (for once the humidity was low) clearly enjoying their day out
We also had a day out to Uruguay via the high speed catamaran ferry which runs between BA and Colonia in Uruguay. This was a strange experience. There was a feel of the land that time forgot to Colonia. Its claim to fame is that it has a 17th century core which is now a Unesco heritage site. But, apart from a reconstructed wall from that period, there is little to see and the tourist facilities have clearly been impacted by the economic slow down in Argentina. Nevertheless it is a quiet location and we hired a golf cart to drive along the Rio de la Plata shoreline. We saw some golf course developments with houses in an attractive modern architectural style, but overall there was this feeling of waiting, I am not sure for what - a true backwater.
Last night we went to the Esquina Carlos Gardel to see the tango show. This is essentially a dinner theatre, named in honor of the great tango singer, which presents a nightly tango show of music, singing, and dancing. It is clearly a major tourist attraction, with coachloads arriving before the start of the show. The pace at which you are seated, presented with a menu, and asked for your order is somewhat off putting and we were prepared to have found ourselves in the middle of a tourist trap. It turned out not to be. The speed is necessary to get everyone seated and fed before the show begins. Once the show began we forgot all our concerns. Every aspect of the show was first rate - the dancers, the costumes, the band, and the singers. The pacing of the show was cleverly varied. Most of the people there were clearly familiar with Gardel's songs. We certainly got our money's worth of tango!
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