Things I Have Learned In Buenos Aires
“The two elements the traveler first captures in the big city are extra human architecture and furious rhythm. Geometry and anguish.” Federico Garcia Lorca
Recoleta Cemetery is the final resting place of the good, the bad, the beautiful and the rich people of Argentina’s past. It is a remarkable necropolis of tombs and mausoleums. It is proportioned like a miniature village with its stately Greco-Roman crypts lining the narrow walkways. They believed “the bigger the mausoleum, the closer to God. “ It is less expensive to live your whole life in Buenos Aires than it is to be buried in Recoleta.
There are approximately eighty cats who live at the Recoleta cemetery. They say that they are the guardians/ tour guides of the 4800 tombs and have been taken care of for twenty years. Everyone including me takes photos of them.
When you enter the cemetery through the neoclassical gates (designed by the Italian architect Juan Antonio Buschiazzo.) There are two messages in Latin. The message on this inside is from the living to the dead and says rest in peace. On the outside, it is from the dead to the living and says Wait for God.
You have found Eva Peron’s flower strewn monument when you see people. She is buried among the rich people who did not like her.
Outside the cemetery on Saturdays is the Feria Artesanal Plaza Independente Alvear, Recoleta. It is a sprawling arts and crafts market. They sell leather goods, indigenous products, art, souvenirs and snacks. I bought some really good gifts there. (artist Pablo Maino)
Buenos Aires like Paris is a city of street markets on Saturdays and Sundays.
Drivers in Buenos Aires love to break the rules. Six AM is a dangerous time to be on the road as many people are heading home from milongas and dance clubs.
It turns out that Argentina has great ice cream. (or helado in Spanish). The blend of Italian immigrants bringing their tradition of making gelato, with high quality and creamy milk, combine to make some of the best ice cream in the world. Un Altra Volta is always a good place to go and they have a few locations. The Dulce De Leche is really tasty.
La Boca means the mouth in Spanish. The La Boca barrio is located at the mouth of the Riachuelo. It was originally a shipyard and housed the people who worked there. The houses were built with cast-off ship building materials, meaning that they were largely constructed of planks, sheet metal and corrugated iron. They were painted in different colors because they used whatever colors were brought in on the ships. There never seemed to be enough paint in one color.
Caminito is the colorful artist/tourist street by the river. In 1960, La Boca artist Benito Quinquela Martín painted the walls of what was then an abandoned street and erected a makeshift stage for performances. It attracted the artists, followed by the tourists, tourist hustlers and bland tourist restaurants.
It is fun to see the open air tango display and I bought some nice photographs from an artist on the street. If you are going at night, take taxis to and from your destination. It is still a rough working class barrio. (artist Doralisa Romero)
Throughout history and male dominated governments, women were supposed to suffer injustice in silence. During the reign of the military junta it is believed that 30,000 to 45,000 people “disappeared”. These victims were sons and daughters. In 1976 a small group of mothers walked around the Plaza Mayo holding photos of their missing children. The protests were not legal. A woman’s place was in the home. The women said a mother’s place is to protect and find her missing children and so they protested on a technicality. Some of the early protestors went missing as well. The women began to wear white headscarves. The movement grew throughout Latin America. Sting and U2 recorded songs about them. In 2006 President Kirchner declared unconstitutional the laws used to imprison the Disappeared. Following this move, the Madres ceased their annual protest marches. (U2 on UTube)
Today the Madres de Plaza de Mayo are the largest civil rights organization in Argentina. In addition to their initial work to find the disappeared, the Madres have tried to continue the work of their lost children. They have set up a newspaper, a radio station and a university.And they continue to fight for social justice. The march every Thursday afternoon at 3:30.
MALBA (Museo de Latinoamericano Arte de Buenos Aires) has an interesting permanent collection and should not be missed by anyone interested in art.
The building was designed to interact with art. A bench is not just a bench. (bench, bench continues)
The gallery space is sectional yet fluid The permanent collection consists of painting, sculpture, photography, print, drawing, and installations. Visitors see major works by Xu Solar, Diego Rivera, Antonio Berni, Frida Kahlo and Jorge de la Vega, and a host of other modern masters from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela. (Antonio Berni -love this piece)
The Teatro Colon celebrated its hundredth birthday in 2008. Its first performance in 1908 was Aida. The theatre is said to have one the best acoustics in the world. It is listed as one of the top five opera houses in the world. It is the only stage that Pavarotti was nervous to perform on. A massive 100 million dollar renovation was completed in 2010 and tours of the beautiful building are conducted daily in English and Spanish. Better yet, see a performance. You can get tickets online before you go.
Arte BA one of the largest and most important art fairs in Latin America was held in Buenos Aires May 24-27. Eighty two galleries from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, United States, Peru and Uruguay participated. It was really fun and interesting and they seemed to have a lot of sales. (art by Marta Minujin)
Eva Peron is a controversial figure in Argentine history. Museo Evita opened on July 26, 2002, the 50th anniversary of her death, in a mansion where her charity, the Eva Perón Foundation, once housed single mothers with children. The placement of the house here had been meant as a direct affront to the wealthy neighbors who hated Evita.
The museum treats her history fairly looking at the good and the bad. Her things have been remarkably preserved by the military government that took power after Juan Peron. Whether you love her, hate her or don’t care either way, she is an important part of Argentine history and you should see the museum.
Drink a cup of freshly roasted coffee ( I like cortado -small coffee with a splash of milk) with a crispy medialuna (Argentinian croissant) at Café Tortoni. A good place to try one is the city’s most traditional café. It was founded in 1858. Café Tortoni has doubled as both a Bohemian and literary joint over the years. It is touristy but I am a tourist . I like to mix the places I’ve heard about with the places only locals know.
I preferred La Biela , opened in 1950 near the Recoleta Cemetery. Biela means the connecting hot rod of an engine. It was frequented by early car owners and race car drivers. Their black and white photos decorate the walls. It went on to become popular with artists writers and politicians. It has life-size statues of Argentine writers Borges and Casares sitting at a table in the front of the café.
Great steak can be had at many places. I had it at La Cabrera http://www.parrillalacabrera.com.ar/ in Palermo Soho. It was the size of my head but buttery and delicious.
Palermo is the largest barrio ( neighborhood) in Buenos Aires. It has beautiful parks, polo fields and many subdivisions. The most well-known for tourists are Palermo Viejo – home to Jorge Luis Borges and Che Guevara; Palermo Hollywood named because in the nineties a number of radio and tv producers moved there. Today it is known for restaurants, clubs and nightlife. Palermo Soho, as with its London and NY namesakes, is a trendy area for fashion, design, restaurants, bars and street culture. Its “alternative” reputation makes it popular with Argentine Yuppies and tourists.
The Teatro Grand Splendid was built in 1919 as a theatre for top tier tango concerts. What a wonderful name for a theatre. Tango legends such as Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro, Roberto Firpo, and Ignacio Corsini performed here. Building proprietor Max Glucksman was a leading figure in the world of tango in his own right, as owner of the influential Nacional-Odeon record label. In 1929, the theater underwent its first transformation to become a cinema, with the distinction of being the first in Buenos Aires to show sound film. Glucksman’s love of tango carried over to the new cinema, with live tango orchestration accompanying the silent films projections.
Its latest transformation is the El Ateneo bookstore. The painted ceiling, detailed balconies, and stage are all intact. The private boxes are now small reading rooms. The stage is a café. The shelves fit perfectly around the theater’s original shape. The book collection is pretty standard and mostly in Spanish, it is an amazing place to buy a book or have a coffee on the famous stage.
Going to a soccer game with one of the local clubs is a must do in Buenos Aires. I got to go to a Boca Jr, game at La Bombonera in La Boca. The fans are as exciting as the game. They spit, throw garbage, scream at each other, sing and often dump water or urine on the people sitting below them if they don’t like what is happening. The Bocas tied the Newell Old Boys and fifty people got arrested. It was a great first night in Buenos Aires.
I would not have had such an amazing time without the help of tour guides Marcelo Mansilla (firstname.lastname@example.org ) and Fabian Ali ( email@example.com) . Muchas gracias for all your great suggestions, insight, kindness and knowledge of your very beautiful city. (Marcelo)