Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Buenos Aires Memories

After a whirlwind 10-day partying in Rio ended, we proceeded to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.  All three of us were exhausted by the time we landed in BA so we rushed to our rented apartment in Palermo, the quiet and trendy neighborhood of Buenos Aires and called it a day.  
(The Japanese Garden, Buenos Aires)
The next morning, we started exploring the area on foot. Our first stop was Jardín Japonés (The Japanese Garden). A not so large but beautiful Japanese style garden administered by the non-profit Japanese Argentine Cultural Foundation. Apparently it is one of the largest gardens of its kind in the World, outside of Japan. On our way back from the garden, we saw one of the famous dog-walkers of Parlermo. I had read about the dog culture in Buenos Aires and its dog-walkers but it was lovely to see it in person. This dog walker we saw had about 15 dogs, both big and small, on the leash. I am not sure how much money he makes. I would certainly go nuts if I were to do this arduous task of handling that many dogs. Some may wonder why I was astonished by the sight of a dog-walker. Simple answer: we don’t have this in Asia.
A Dog-walker in Palermo
Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral
The next day, we decided to view the city from the hop-on/hop-off tourist bus. This is what we usually do when we are in a new city not entirely sure where to start. We have done this in Paris, Sydney, Munich, Mexico City, Barcelona and a number of other cities. What better way to see a new city than from an open top bus? If you like a site and it is worth exploring more, you can simply get off to do so. Once you are finished, you wait for the next bus and move on. EASY. I love this bus service in cities.
Casa Rosada
Buenos Aires, largely recognized as the Paris of Latin America, is rich in architecture. The tourist bus gave us a great vista of down town BA, Plaza de Mayo. This square has become an important place (often used as a political gathering place) ever since the 25 May 1810 that led to the country’s independence. Historical sites and monuments such as Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, The May Pyramid, The City Hall, The Buenos Aires Cabildoand Casa Rosada (The Pink House) are all there standing right next to each other. Not only have these old buildings with Art Nouveau and Neoclassical styles also the new modern buildings with eclectic styles added attraction to this city of 15.2 million habitants, the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after Sao Paulo.
Down town Buenos Aires
La Boca
The Buenos Aires Turibús also took us to La Boca which means the mouth in English. La Boca, staying true to its name, sits at the mouth of Riachuelo River. As we passed through the neighborhood, we saw the streets lined with colorful zinc shacks, children playing soccer on the street and old ladies chatting while shopping grocery at the local market. La Boca is a charming little neighborhood that seems to have its own agenda which, I believe, sets it apart from the rest of the city. Since I was so impressed with La Boca during my first drive-through, I went back there the next day to experience it street by street à pied.  Many believe La Boca to be the soul of Buenos Aires.  Many of the residents here are the descendents of Italians settlers from Genoa during the World War. Therefore, you can feel a strong European flavor here too. Near the multi-colored street museum “Caminito”, there are a number of local restaurants with tango shows, gift shops, artists selling paintings and handicrafts attracting the tourists. We watched our first Tango show in the streets of La Boca.

Tango in La Boca
Colorful houses of La Boca, Buenos Aires
Here in Argentina, people eat a great deal of meat. One of the staple Argentine cuisines is called “Parilla, simple and naturally tasty beef cooked over a large wood-fired or charcoal grill. Almost every interior part of a cow is available on the menu, from liver, kidney, blood sausages and intestine, to the usual tenderloin or sirloin steak. We ate Parilla almost every day with a good bottle of local Cabernet Sauvignon. (After two weeks in Argentina, we were totally beefed out that I wondered if let out a scream, it would have sounded “Moo”.)
Recoleta Cemetery
Unlike the bohemian La Boca, Recoleta is definitely a posh and chic side of town where 5-star hotels like The Four Seasons and luxury designer boutiques can be found. The influence of French architecture is evident in this area. It is also known for the Recoleta cemetery, the final resting place of some famous and rich people, including Eva Perón, Raúl Alfonsín, and several presidents of Argentina. Many affluent people’s mausoleums decorated with enthralling sculptures are well-maintained until today while some others are crumbling apart unfortunately. 
Eva Peron's final resting place
The highlight for me was visiting one of my heroines, Eva Perón’s black marble crypt. As a young boy growing up in Burma, the first time I became aware of Argentina and Eva Perón was when I watched the film “Evita” with my parents. Back then I did not understand what was going on in the film (I was puzzled why they were singing and dancing all the time). Later on, I read about the movie musical and a brief biography of Eva in a Burmese magazine. I was fascinated by her rags-to-riches story and how she eventually became the spiritual leader of her country. If anyone back then said I would one day visit Argentina and experience the Argentine way of life, I would have laughed it off for sure. (Argentina? It felt so far away). Being there that day and the subsequent visit to “Evita museum” the next day made me think of that time period of my life in Burma and realize I have come a long way.  And a long, long way from Burma that is.
Evita Museum in Palermo
Evita is still very much part of Argentine people’s lives. Her name and her images are still apparent in the city’s graffiti and in the posters and statements of current politicians. People still remember and talk about her fondly. Even when we stopped over for drinks at a famous gay Karaoke joint called “Sitges”, some young fella went up on stage and sang “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from the Broadway musical “Evita”. He was of course greeted with thunderous applause. 
Buenos Aires Skyline seen from Puerto Madero
One of my favorite spots, Puerto Madero is located next to the river and it used to be part of the harbour. After being abandoned for many years, it has been urbanized and turned into a very fashionable district that features restaurants and bars, hotels and many high-rise buildings. We really enjoyed walking around the harbor at sunset with the view of beautiful Puente De La Mujer (Woman’s Bridge), designed by the Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava.
Puente De La Mujer (Woman's bridge)
Next on our must-do list, Avenida Corrientes, also known as “The Street That Never Sleeps”, is Buenos Aires’s answer to Broadway. We went to see “Chicago”, the musical at one of the theatres. It was entirely in Spanish but it was not a problem for me. (Not because I speak that much Spanish, simply because I know the story by heart.) It was nevertheless an unforgettable evening. The cast was amazing. I must have been smiling so wide and giant that when the show was over, I realized my cheeks were really tired. (Nothing excites me more than a dazzling live performance, really.) 
Musical "Chicago" in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, as a city is truly versatile; modern skyscrapers and classic historic architecture, both European and Latin American cultural influences, people of different backgrounds and status existing in harmony. In the arts department as well, you can almost have it all. Theatre, Classical concerts, Dance, Cinema, Literature, Art galleries and museums, oh, you name it.  You will not get bored as there are plenty of things to do for both day and night. Porteños, as people from Buenos Aires are known, (meaning people who are from or lives in a port city) are nice and friendly people. Many of them speak English but as a courtesy, it is best you approach them with some Spanish (even if it’s limited), then switch to English once it gets too complicated, they are happy to help out, give directions and have a chat. It is also a comfortable city, communication -wise. The metro lines are uncomplicated, clean and effective. I would go back there in a heartbeat if I ever have a chance again in the future.
Argentine Congress
After one week in BA, we packed our bags once again to set out for the Patagonia region and Iguazu falls of Argentina. The city life was incredible but we needed to see the countryside and the amazing landscapes of Argentina as well. We did go back to BA for one more night on our way back from the falls. That night, opera singer, Placido Domingo was giving a free concert in the city. Sadly, we did not get to go as we found out too late and we had already made a dinner commitment with friends. That is one thing I regret because it would have been a great way to wrap up my Buenos Aires experience on a real high note. Well, you can’t have it all, can you? 
An artist in La Boca
Buenos Aires Cabildo at night

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

I also loved Palermo.
Palermo Chico, part of Palermo proper, is an exclusive neighborhood of elegant mansions off of Avenida Alcorta. Other than the beauty of the homes and a few embassy buildings, this small set of streets, tucked behind the MALBA museum, has little of interest to the average tourist. Plus, there is no subway access to this neighborhood. All of the apartments in Buenos Aires there are expensive, but luckily, not for tourist, so I stayed there for 2 weeks!
Lindsay