Of course, just in time to leave, I have fallen in love. Not with a person but with Buenos Aires. From my week there I have managed to fill a whole section of my journal, so I will try to stick to the highlights.
After my romantic get-a-way, I arrived in Buenos Aires (from here on BSAS) around 23:00 to find out it was Easter weekend and everything was booked full. Oops! It turned out in my benefit, however, because I found the Ritz Hotel. It is a corner building overlooking the intersection of the enormous, fourteen lane Avenida 9 de Julio (with a two lane road flanking either side to make a total of EIGHTEEN LANES!) and another major street Av. de Mayo. It is quite the busy place. It is actually the largest street in all of South America. An entire city block was taken out to make room for it all, and the roads to either side are the original streets. Despite this enormous size, it is always packed with busy vehicles. Well, the Ritz is a nice hotel but it also has dorms, so I stayed the whole week there. The lounge/lobby starts on the second floor, and my room, two floors above, had a balcony overlooking the chaos. It was nice. They had a decent breakfast and the lounge always had great music (usually chill or old jazz). Overlooking the whole scene is a skyscraper with the image of Eva Perón facing out both directions of Av 9 de Julio.
First, I toured around the Central District, as that is where I was staying. I headed down Av. de Mayo right to the Plaza de Mayo, the political center of Argentina where people come to express their opinions. It is the city´s first plaza, built 1580, and is symbolic of Argentina´s history. It was named for the 1810 May Revolution for the independence from Spain. It has survived the military bombings in 1955, witnessed the march of the Madres (Mothers) as they protested the disappearance of their sons, and is the site where spirited crowds cheered Evita on the balcony of Casa Rosada. The Casa Rosada is the presidential offices built in 1862. The name meaning Pink House, is a Renaissance-style palace and got it color from the use of ox blood to stain it red. This building is still used as the presidential offices, yet they give free tours every weekend and holiday. I even had the opportunity to enter the actual Presidential Office, where during the week only people with authorization and use of a fingerprint scanning machine can enter. Argentina´s current incumbent is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Yes, a woman. I also went onto the lower balcony to reenact Eva Perón pontificating to the crowd below. I felt a desire to break out in, “Don´t Cry For Me Argentina.” Madonna does have a striking resemblance to this national icon. Also free and just behind the Casa Rosada is the Museo del Bicentenario, which uses a variety of high-tech multi-media and technology to present the history of the city. It is located in the remaining foundations of the original port barricade. I thought this was interesting because the coastline has been extended a good half mile further out to sea, leaving the old port abandoned. Hence, my next visit to Puerto Madero, the century-long abandoned port which has been turned into apartments, a promenade, and elegant restaurants. This is notable because I visited the Buque Museo Fragata A.R.A. “Presidente Sarmiento,” an old training vessels for the Argentine navy. They removed all the missiles and other dangerous equipment and fixed up a few exhibits with information and photographs or maps, but essentially left the boat alone and allow visitors to freely explore all the way to the engine and furnace rooms. It was something right up my father´s alley with machinery and history. 🙂
My next adventure was to the Barrios of La Boca and San Telmo. I went to La Boca to see the Calle Caminito. It is lined with murals, statues, and colorfully-painted corrugated metal houses. Home to many artists´ studios, many of those artists dot the pedestrian walkway exhibiting their work. And why is all this important? Because this is the place where Tango dancers come to dance freely in the streets, allowing the general tourist to capture an elegant dance move with the picturesque background. It also contains many of the Tango night shows and typical parillada restaurants. Everything is almost too perfect in this little area. Tango dancers are attired in fantastic costumes and occasionally holding extravagant poses; also letting you get a picture in a pose for a small fee… While wandering towards San Telmo is stumbled upon La Bombonera (the chocolate box), home football stadium of the Boca Juniors. Caminitio is quite fantastic, but I must say that this luster is a bit masked by the utter horror of the neighborhood. Run down streets, abandoned cars, long term homeless corners, and people staring you down. When I passed the stadium a guy actually threw some kind of liquid at me from a truck window. I left as fast as my little legs could carry me and recommend everyone else take the bus. Ha. On the other hand, San Telmo was completely fantastic. It has a particular charm with cobble stoned streets, colorful cafes, numerous antique shops, and dancers in the Plaza Dorrego along Defensa Street while people dine outside on patio fronts. Very lovely. I went straight to Plaza Dorrego to catch some Tango action only to discover that the Feria San Telmo, the weekly craft market when dancers and Tango orchestras are aplenty, is only on Sundays. No matter, I will return.
That evening I met Natalie, 19, from Washington, and Dean, 24, from England, at my hostel. All fellow travelers and all traveling solo, we decided to check out the BSAS nightlife. We headed back to San Telmo and found a bar with a live band playing Reggae and Jazz. They were fantastic. Guitar, drums, keyboard, and trumpet/vocalist. Wow. Despite singing some of my favorite oldies, as well as some Spanish tunes, they did a Beatles song just for our little group. The best part, however, was that this all took place in an Egyptian-themed bar. Ha! Very seriously glammed-up with pharaohs, pyramids, palm trees, and desert scenes. It was like a built-up scene too, not just some fancy wallpaper. I loved it. Especially with the highly contrasting music that would have been more fitting of a 60´s back saloon. Well is was a fantastic evening of great music and good company. I was particularly keen of the keyboardist, he was really talented and could play lightening fast.
The following day was checking out BSAS´s “lungs.” I went to the Botanical Garden, BSAS Zoo, walked by the Japanese Garden, and then all along the parks in Barrio Recoleta. The Botanical Garden was my favorite, and I renamed it Cat Garden because they were everywhere slinking through the plants or basking in a sunny patch. They were really friendly and well-behaved cats too. I even saw a woman come in with cat food and water dishes. The garden is free to the public, has numerous benches all over, and contains plant varieties from all over the world. The only down fall was that the butterfly garden is not yet finished and I could not enter any of the green houses. No matter. I sat and read my book awhile. The BSAS Zoo was a little depressing. I only went on recommendation from Dean, only to learn later that he was talking about a different zoo…which I hope to visit on my return to BSAS. It was a quiet day, so at least I did not have to tear my way through gangs of sticky children. There was a large group of Jewish families there (BSAS has a very large population of traditional Jewish people from the 1920´s) who I particularly noted upon due to their overwhelming harassment of some animals. Specifically when they goaded the Old World Hamadryas baboons. It was very rude and they are lucky those baboons were securely caged or chaos would have ensued. There was a great variety of exotic animals, and Aaron would have hated how many large and numerous varieties of snakes were in the reptile house, but nothing seemed overly happy. My last stop was to have a long knowing look with an elephant. They are such majestic creatures. She had wrinkled skin and wise, knowing eyes. I wanted to climb into her cage and curl up in her tusk.
Last stop of the day was in Recoleta at the Centro Cultural. Recoleta is this fantastic Parisian-styled neighborhood. In front of the C.C. Recoleta in Plaza Francía, I ran across this anamorphosis conceptual display that was very interesting. Anamorphosis is where the image can only be viewed from a specific point of view. Step away from that point of view and the image does not make sense. The artist then advanced this method by creating two points of view within the same structure. Which I must admit would have been an incredible challenge to undertake, and I think he is one of the first people to do it in this manner. The front of the structure, showing the first point of view, is U.S. President Obama´s face with the inscription “HOPE” beneath. Then walking 90 degrees to the right reveals the second point of view. This side shows a manifestation of Wall Street with the inscription “HOPELESSNESS.” It is the two sides to U.S. government. In a single structure, his goal was to show two sides of a story. I really liked it.