Carolyn Broadwell - Travel Tidbits - Dec 2003 - Jun 2004

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Buenos Aires, Argentina

From the time I was in the third grade (and that was a long time ago!), I had thought of Buenos Aires as someplace I wanted to see; I have no recollection now of why that was! Only that I wanted to see it. And when I took a ferry from Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1986, I remember feeling all choked up and teary when I stepped ashore in Argentina.

Now, many years later, I wondered whether I would have any of the same reactions? I haven't had the choked up or teary feelings, but I think I am as impressed with the feel of this city as strongly, and maybe more so, than I was the first time! So, here are some impressions:

(First I have to insert the comment here that growing up I often stated that I didn't like cities. It was natural wonders that I wanted to see - which makes it even more peculiar that I was fixated on Argentina and Buenos Aires!)

Everyone tells you that this city feels European, and that is somewhat true, I guess. But there are certainly touches that could only be here.

One is the famous Avenida 9 de Julio! It is twenty-two (yes, 22!) lanes wide! There is a divider down the middle, and on each side of that there are eight lanes. Then, on each side of the eight lanes, there is a planted strip (trees, mostly) which itself is wide enough for two or three lanes, and on the outside of each of those is a three lane road.

It is impossible to get across the whole thing on one signal! I have to cross it to get from my hotel to the apartment of my friend who has - very kindly - let me use his ethernet connection to have access to the web with my own computer. (I hope, before I leave here, to have also posted some pictures from travel thus far. They are mostly all on the computer by now.)

Miguel lives in the center of the action, in a very old building just off the main pedestrian street (Florida, for those who have been here). I've been coming here all week, once in the morning, and again in the evening. In the morning the walkways are crowded with people who appear to be rather businesslike, but in the afternoons and evenings, it's a more leisurely crowd. I think lots of them are tourists, but from Spain or other places in Latin America, as I hear mostly Spanish. And every evening so far, there has been at least one couple a block away demonstrating the Tango! Now, that is one sexy dance! And I have watched quite a bit of it by now.

Tonight as I was leaving the hotel, there was a couple dancing the Tango on the sidewalk outside the restaurant beside the hotel. I ate there yesterday; it's pretty touristy, but was absolutely delicious. The waiters were wearing "bombachas" (maybe that should be "bombachos" as I thin pantalones are masculine) which are the pants the gauchos made famous. They have pleats in front and back, and are sort of full in the legs, then tucked into boots; very picturesque. The outfit of the waiters also included a vest, and a kerchief around the neck. I don't know how typical it all was, but as I said, it was picturesque! The real attraction of the restaurant is the parilla, which is meat...but not just one cut of meat. It is apparently served as a selection of many different cuts of meat, grilled or barbequed, but the cuts can vary from different meats to different parts of the animal. In 1986 I had parilla in Paraguay and also here, but so far, haven't had it this time. It's hard to get for just one person - seems to be best for a crowd. Also, it's a lot of food, and I'm rarely that hungry.

The population in general is pretty good looking. Another traveler commented to me that he wondered how they all stay so lean with all the good food around. (more on food to come) And many are pretty lean, and very handsome, as a group. Last night I went to a performance in a small theater, and it was really fun to people watch. So many interesting and good looking people! It was not unlike a similar crowd, in a similar type of gathering, in San Francisco. (I'm not talking about the average appearance of people either here or there.)

When I do look around here, I see almost no one of African heritage, in any shade; there are a few, though. There are other dark skins, but from where, I can only guess; many may be of native American background. There were lots of Indians in Puerto Iguazu. (I miss the variety one sees in Brazil or the Caribbean, or certainly in California these days.)

Food! Well, in spite of not yet having had parilla, I have had more good food here than probably anywhere I've ever been for the same amount of time. Even the simplest fare is of excellent quality. Salads are exceptional, cafe con leche a wonderful way to start the day (or tea, with toast and/or media lunas, or croissants, is what is served in my hotel), empanadas come with a variety of delicious fillings, and then there is pasta! There are many people of Italian descent here, and they brought their pasta with them. Just the pasta with a little oil and salt is unbelievably good. I would never have thought so until I tried it. Cheese! I had lasagna with at least three kinds of cheese last night. Delicious! And I can buy little containers of cut up fresh fruit mixtures in almost any kiosk. Now I could go one, but that would just make anyone reading this hungry. (I didn't try writing it until I had had a bite to eat, by the way...)

The economic crisis which resulted in the devaluation of the peso (it had been equal to the US dollar, now I get around 2.90 pesos for a dollar) has made it really downright cheap to travel here. But for the local population, it resulted in lots of poverty; there are many beggars and homeless families on the streets. It also led to attacks on the banks. Lots of them look more like wartime bunkers than banks; they are barricaded and fortified and very strange looking, with political slogans graphitied (can that be a verb?) all over the doors.

There is also great luxury to be seen. All of the world famous products could probably be obtained, if one had the money to do so. There are elegant clothes (most especially for men!), expensive cars, and all of life's necessities in a variety of qualities.

I guess there is a lot more I could ramble on about, but that's enough for now. So, again, I say Ciao...


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