Mike and Dan go to South America
Daniel Emberley, October 2005
Monday, October 17
All the direct flights between Dulles and Brazil/Argentina leave at night and arrive in the early AM. Even though there’s little or no jet lag, you arrive so wiped out by the 11 hour flight as to have a similar effect. Our tiredness wasn’t helped by United’s sending our bags to an entirely different terminal for customs inspection; with the help of a Dutch traveler who shared our flight and predicament, we located our luggage, breezed through Ezeiza (Buenos Aires International Airport), and shared a cab into town.
Our hotel, the NH Jousten, was kind enough to let us check in at 11AM. The NH chain is based in Spain; they create boutique hotels out of dowdy has-beens. The Jousten was built in Spanish Colonial style in the 1920’s. The Perons partied there during their rule, and that glamorous past was preserved in a swank renovation. Japanese style fountain in the lobby, original terra cotta columns, luxurious linens and towels. Located right at the corner of two main downtown streets, Corrientes and L.N. Alem, across from the main post office, and just above a subway station. Michael loved the luxury, I loved the location, and my medications were happily ensconced in the minibar. We can’t compliment this chain enough; we would definitely choose them again in the future. No U.S. locations, but many in Europe and Latin America.
We set off to find out if we could actually order food in Spanish. This was interesting: it turned out the barrier was not language (once you learn the words for “steak”, “salad”, and “bread”, how wrong can you go Argentina?), but food culture. Argentines eat differently than we do. First, when: a small breakfast, large lunch, coffee/dessert between 5 and 8PM, and large dinner rarely earlier than 9PM, and often as late as midnight. Second, how: food is ordered for the table, rather than for the person, with the assumption that most dishes will be shared. Third, what: there are only two menus in Buenos Aires, the coffee one and the lunch/dinner one. Once you learn what is generally eaten at either meal, you can get the same dishes at almost every establishment, high or low. The coffee menu includes a variety of hot and cold drinks, and pastry, most based on dulce de leche, chocolate, and/or fruit. The lunch/dinner menu starts with a basket of bread (technically, paid for in the “cubierto”, a charge for your tablecloth, dishes, and silverware, but essentially all you can eat), moves into a cold cut plate/salad/empanada course, then steak with either French fries or mashed potatoes. Dessert, “postres”, is rarely as good as in the coffee house/bakeries, and usually comes with either café con leche (half coffee, half steamed milk) or a dessert wine. ALWAYS order wine in an Argentine restaurant; there are never enough opportunities to savor the delicious, inexpensive options. We are big fans of sparkling mineral water, “agua con gas”, and ordered it frequently, even though the tap water is safe and readily available.
Of course, we didn’t know any of this when we sat down at Bogota Café, but pieced it out, and savored delicious plates of ham, steak, and pasta. We took a siesta back at the hotel to catch up on missed sleep, and at 6PM walked around the neighborhood up to Calle Florida.
Florida was once the fanciest shopping street in South America, but it has been overshadowed by several malls and streets in now-swankier ‘hoods. Still, was fun to check out the shopping, the street performers, and the energy. Ended at the Gallerias Pacifico. This had been built in the 1920’s as a Bon Marche, branch of the upmarket Paris department store, and renovated several times. In the 1950’s the great arched vault was frescoed by five Argentine classical-modernist painters, and their work now crowns the grand stair case to: the food court. This was to save our lives, as it was difficult for us to postpone dinner to 8PM, the earliest any respectable Buenos Aires restaurant would consider opening for dinner. In addition to several pizza/burger/salad places, the food court had places serving Argentine barbecue, “parilla” (that’s pronounced “pu-ree-juh”). We made friends with the management at one of these, who helped us get the full parilla for two: cubierto, salad, wine, several cuts of steak, pork and blood sausage, intestines, kidney, unidentifiable beef parts, and French fries. Delicious. Good thing we liked it, because we were going to be eating a lot of it, in different restaurants around the city, in the next two weeks. One advantage of the food court was that you could actually see the beef cuts in photos, so get some idea of what you were ordering. All dinner menus have lengthy lists of beef cuts, none of which correspond to Porter House, T-bone, or eye of round. We eventually discovered that “lomo” is basically a tenderloin, a “chorizo” a steak-with-bone, and were able to fake it from there.
For postres, we got a helado in an ice cream place. Helado is gelato, what the Italian immigrants who make up a good third of Buenos Aires created with local ingredients. It is not as good as gelato in the streets of Tuscany, but a better substitute than anything sold as gelato in D.C.
We kept walking east, to Plaza San Martin, a great sloped park that anchors the Retiro neighborhood. Very posh, a major landmark where cross-town expressways merge into city streets. The fabulous Art Deco Kavanagh Building for years the tallest skyscraper in South America, marks the northern end. We walked up Avenida Santa Fe to the Avenida 9 de Julio, billed as the widest street in the world, to the Obelisk, the Washington Monument of B.A. It commemorates one of many steps in the Argentine independence movement from Spain, but is most noteworthy as a traffic circle and confluence of three major subway lines that cross beneath it. Walking south on Corrientes to our hotel we passed through the theater district, including several amazing Art Deco 1930’s movie palaces that now show live theater.
We got cheesecake, wine and agua at a cafeteria, and headed back to the hotel for a well earned rest.
Tuesday, October 18
Portenos (that’s what residents of Buenos Aires call themselves) generally eat an Italian breakfast: croissant or horno (crescent shaped pastry) with café con leche on the run. Our hotel served those in an enormous buffet with cold cuts, sandwiches, hot dishes, fresh fruit, cereal, and desserts. We HAD to eat it every day; it was included in the room price <smile>.
Buenos Aires lies on the right bank of the Rio de la Plate, a river so wide it looks like the ocean. Most of the city is based on big, regular grids; they only get confusing when they come together. Buildings come right to the curb, except at corners, where they generally step back to prevent pedestrians from running into each other at a “blind corner”. Downtown, “Centro”, is technically at the river and around Plaza de Mayo. North of downtown, however, into the river, Portenos built a major port complex on landfill called Puerto Madero. This is now a trendy neighborhood and ecological reserve. The river runs northwest to southeast, but who can remember that orientation? You tend to think of the river as north, with other directions following accordingly. East of downtown (so, actually, southeast, but enough of that) is San Telmo and La Boca. Inland, south, from downtown are the working class Once and Abasto neighborhoods. West of Centro is Retiro, high rise office and affluent condo towers around commuter rail stations, then posh Recoleta and even posher Little Palermo. Behind these are Barrio Norte and funky Palermo Soho. Keep going west/upriver and you get to Belgrano, the furthest out we got. Surrounding the whole megillah are rings of suburbs and shanty town slums that we only glimpsed from moving cabs. Five subway lines, the Subte, run out like fingers from the Plaza de Mayo.
We took a morning walk around the main government center. The building to the south of us started a large portico connecting several government buildings, a lot like Federal Triangle. We headed east to the Plaza de Mayo, and around and past the Casa Rosada. This is where the president works, but not where he lives, so it’s both the White House, and not. Yes, it’s where Evita Peron (and Madonna, in the movie) addressed her public from the balcony, but it’s essentially a big federal office building. Those, we have in D.C.
The Metropolitan Cathedral has a Spanish Colonial core with a French/Church-of-the-Madeleine inspired façade. Translation: Spanish Colonial in the U.S. means something from the 1920’s-1950’s, usually in California or Florida, designed to look vaguely Spanish. In Buenos Aires, it is Baroque, Rococo and neo-Renaissance architecture built up until the revolutions of the 1820’s. Where in America we built skyscrapers and suburbs with Colonial Revival/fake Georgian details, in Argentina they did the same with Spanish Colonial. So, back to the Cathedral, the interior could be St. Peter’s in Rome, with the monumental tomb of San Martin, liberator of most of South America from Spain. The outside looks like a giant Greek temple, as interpreted by architects from Paris. Shouldn’t work, but it does.
Three avenues join Plaza de Mayo to the south, the Diagonals Norte and Sur with Avenida de Mayo in between. All are lined here by fabulous Beaux Arts office, bank and government buildings from the first decades of the 20th Century. Portenos tried to outdo Paris, but just as we Americanized Beaux Arts in Federal Triangle with eagles and Indians, they used over-the-top Spanish Rococo details. Very cool. The Manzana de las Luces is the ruin of a colonial Jesuit college surrounded by these buildings. The brick and plaster are in decay, but create beautiful arcaded spaces, some of which house antique and crafts shops.
The Cabildo was the colonial government house. It now serves as a national historic site of their War of Independence. Think Independence Hall in Philadelphia, but in the structure of the Cabildo on St. Louis Square in New Orleans. Now rip off one third of each side of the building so you could ram those diagonal avenues through in the 1910’s. We were surprised at what we started picking up, given our meager Spanish. The Argentine wars of independence started due to the Napoleonic wars in Europe. Napoleon deposed the King of Spain, who hadn’t paid too much attention to his River Plate colonies in the first place. Wealthy Portenos were torn between continuing loyalty to their deposed king (this happened in Brazil) and independence, a la the U.S. and French Revolutions. In turn, there was competition between the city/port of Buenos Aires and the country/provincial areas in Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Peru, all of which potentially could have been the new country. Instead there was factional fighting, civil war, British invasion, assassination of founding fathers, backstabbing intrigue, and general mayhem. San Martin, the man who led the locals to victory over Spanish troops, threw up his hands and retired to France. Try to picture John Adams assassinated by Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin conspiring to return us to King George, the Carolinas declaring independence from the Confederation, and George Washington giving up and abandoning Mt. Vernon. The mess only got resolved when Spanish political control was replaced by English economic control in the 1870’s. What was left of the country started to act like one, albeit never fulfilling a potential equal to that of the U.S., Canada, or Russia. It was interesting to see how that all got interpreted in museums and historic sights.
We headed south up the Avenida de Mayo, a grand avenue running between the Casa Rosada and the Congress. Many of the grandest buildings here are now government offices, and not open to the public. The Barolo building is abandoned, but we were able to walk through the shopping concourse in its base, still grand without any tenants. Lunch at Plaza Asturias, a Spanish restaurant on the Mayo. Serrano ham, gnocchi, limoncello, banana pancakes flambé. Yum. We couldn’t figure out if we were allowed in the Congress or not, so I suppose we weren’t, but we walked around it. It has the massing of the U.S. Congress, but the style of the Paris Opera. The Senate operates a museum across the street in their office building. After extensively checking our passports, the chain smoking guard let us in to a dull exhibit room dedicated to the Capitol and congressional history. A lovely exhibit in the back showed Deco magazine covers from the 1930’s and ‘40’s; we were pleased to recognize Peron, Roosevelt, and Mussolini in the caricatures.
We walked down Calle Alsina, parallel to Avenida de Mayo in the Montserrat neighborhood. Lots of wholesale fabric stores, but none that looked like they sold retail. We hopped on the Subte (at 70 centavos, about a quarter a ride, a bargain) to ride the C line to its end at Constitucion train station. Each line of the Subte was financed by a different country, and built according to that country’s engineering. C was paid for by Spain, and the stations have amazing tile murals of Spanish cities. Estacion Consitucion serves commuters from the poorer eastern side of the city and points south; it is still beautiful in a worn 1930’s Classicism. Our goal was a fabric store that specialized in silk that advertised in the tourist literature, to the south of La Boca. A complete waste of time, the fabric was not that interesting, and they do not allow you to browse, but insist on personal service. How can you shop with someone at your elbow? Honestly. Was cool, though, to see a middle class neighborhood. It reminded us of the non-tourist residential parts of Rome; apartment high rises with markets and day care centers on the ground floors.
We went to the Teatro Gran Rex to see the Circo de Shanghai. The Gran Rex is one of the Deco theaters on Corrientes we’d passed the day before. Absolutely stunning streamlined modern spaces, all in white and gold. The floor, seats, and it seemed the whole theater were made of wood. Can anyone say “fire at the Coconut Grove”? We wonder if there are building codes in B.A. The sidewalks seem to be the responsibility of the abutting building, not of the city. Each property owner paves their little bit, badly and cheaply, usually putting tiles right on the dirt with no foundation. The end result is a pedestrian nightmare, with tripping a part of life, and some truly amazing potholes right in major downtown sidewalks. Add that to the fact that most downtown streets have sidewalks that are only about a yard wide, and you have a dilemma between looking at architecture and not suffering major injury from a fall. No one picks up after their dog, or even themselves, dropping litter as they walk. I’ve degenerated into a diatribe on public space: the Argentines don’t seem to respect it. Every statue/park we saw suffered major graffiti. People don’t seem to care. Perhaps there is no reason to, if someone else will just trash what you don’t. Perhaps this is what happens in a country with runaway inflation, or a recently dictatorial military. Hard to say, but a sad note to a potentially gorgeous city.
Back to the Gran Rex. The Shanghai Circus was terrific: balancing acts, juggling, comedy, acrobatics, all on a stage that looked as grand as Radio City Music Hall. Great fun, and cheap, about $12 each.
Wednesday, October 19
After breakfast we crossed over to Puerto Madero. This waterfront hasn’t been an active port for seventy years, but the buildings only began to be renovated in the last decade. The massive brick warehouses and modern glass and steel towers are striking, a little like Montreal’s new construction near the old city. Lots of condos, office buildings, and night clubs. A cable stayed, one-armed pedestrian bridge by Santiago Calatrava crosses the former canal, and Cesar Pelli has at least two skyscrapers here. We walked over to the ferry terminal to get tickets for Friday’s trip to Uruguay, then caught a taxi to Recoleta. We had been warned that we should only call for taxis, not get into them on the street. Maybe we were lucky, but we hailed cabs everywhere we couldn’t get by Subte and had no problems. It is an adventure getting into a B.A. cab; the drivers make Bostonians look like little old ladies.
The cemetery at Recoleta is one of Buenos Aires’ major attractions. If you’ve seen New Orleans above-ground mausoleums, double the density, make the style Art Nouveau, and add a heavy dose of elitism. Only the best Argentines are allowed to be buried in Recoleta. When Juan Peron forced the internment of Evita here he almost caused an upper class revolution. Despite the lack of greenery this is a truly beautiful, park-like experience, part labyrinth, part architectural fun house, all graveyard.
Next to the cemetery is a former Franciscan monastery, open as a museum, and Our Lady of Pilar. “Recoleta” is a variation (subset?) of the Franciscan Order; the monastery was here before the city. The surrounding neighborhood is historically Buenos Aires’ most elite, a South American Chevy Chase. We walked through on Avenida Las Heras; to be honest, it looked like bad commercial Bethesda. The parks west of the Cemetery, just south of the rail yards that line the river, are perhaps the most posh part of B.A., Little Palermo. Great Beaux Arts mansions reign here in their original extensive grounds, many of them now serving as embassies. Our goal was the Museo de Arte Latino-America de Buenos Aires, MALBA. This is one of the newest and best museums of the city. Most of the museums here have poor collections in great old palaces that need maintenance. MALBA, however, is a great collection of some of the best art made in Latin American in the 20th century, housed in a new concrete-and-glass pavilion. Great examples of the op, psychedelic, and electronic art of the 1960’s. Michael was unimpressed, but I thought it was terrific. They had temporary shows of Frank Stella’s Moby Dick prints (bad) and Andy Warhol movies. The Andy display was great. Nothing really happens in his films, so they can be hard to sit through. MALBA had eight films playing simultaneously in one gallery, so when you got bored with one, you just had to shift your eyes to another. Some very hip 1960’s video of Angie Dickinson, Susan Sontag, and Edie Sedgwick.
That tired us out, so we walked back through Little Palermo to have tea at the Museum of Decorative Arts. The Museum is located in, and to be honest, actually just is, the former Alvear Palace. The Alvears are one of the most important families in Argentina, and their home was by a French architect that all the best families were trading around at the turn of the last century. They spoke with Rodin about having him create their living room fireplace, but dumped him when they didn’t like his model. Some great paintings by Joaquin Sorolla (see our New York City write up for more on same, the murals at Lauriol Plaza on 18th Street are derivative), and an entire room done Art Deco by Jose Maria Sert for the oldest son.
Walked back toward downtown on Avenida Libertador, a main east-west drag, past the oh-so-1950’s Modern Automobile Club of Argentina (their version of AAA), with a sign that was both the ACA logo and a tribute to “Welcome to Las Vegas” neon. We passed a park dedicated to Evita Peron as social heroine. Evita is definitely a cult here, but perhaps deservedly so. There’s more to her than the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Madonna diva. She had facets that remind you of Eleanor Roosevelt – she made equal rights for women, universal literacy, and the problems and rights of the poor national issues that had to be addressed. Of course, her husband was a Fascist thug who trashed their economy, but that’s another piece of the story.
The National Library was designed as a giant concrete mushroom by local architect Testa in the 1960’s, but wasn’t finished until a few years back. Ugly, but nice grounds. We were headed back to Recoleta, where, several levels under the monastery, is the Buenos Aires Design Center. This is an amazing shopping mall, with high end design stores, many unique to Argentina, and stores that sold only Argentine designed products. Most excellent. Later we discovered that between the monastery, on top, and the Design Center, at the base, is the Cultural Center of Recoleta. Whole thing is built into the slope of a hill, so each entity has windows and terraces on the roof of the next structure below it. Great use of urban space.
We continued east through Recoleta on Avenida Alvear to the Alvear Palace Hotel. This is the great hotel of B.A., their Willard. Like all hang-outs of the affluent, this had armed guards keeping the beggars away from the entrance. We breezed in like we were staying there, checked out the restaurants and lobby, breezed back out, and went through the attached shopping arcade. A lot of the major shopping streets (Florida, Santa Fe) have little shopping plazas feeding off them, like branch streets, only they dead end. Some of these gallerias are fabulous, most are mundane, a few scary. This one was okay, but at the end was an elevator. A kind guard helped us figure out that this would take us down two floors to the level of the next street, Posadas, behind the hotel. Sweet. We took Posadas to Patio Bullrich, our least favorite shopping mall. This was once the livestock exchange, like a stock exchange, with stone horse and cattle heads in the wall. It is now a shopping mall for blue-haired ladies, very high end/Mazza Gallerie/Chestnut Hill Shopping Mall. Boring.
Wandering east through Retiro, we stopped at the St. Moritz, a “nationally recognized bar of importance”. Argentina has made national monuments out of some of the bars and cafés where the cultural lights of the 1960’s (Borges, Cortazar, and company) hung out. This was one of them, but we were so tired we just got dinner. Given that it was only 6:30, the barkeep amusingly provided it, but let us know this was the earliest they’d ever served dinner at that establishment.
Did an evening constitutional east to Corrientes and Solo Empanadas, a hole-in-the-wall we saw the other day and wanted to try. Just like the name says, all they serve are empanadas: flaky pastries filled with beef, chicken, ham and cheese, veggie. They stamp the initials of the fillings on the outside; once we mastered that “JQ” meant “jamon y queso”, “ham and cheese”, we were sitting pretty. Empanadas are part of the national cuisine. We would have better ones, but these were pretty good.
Thursday, October 20
This morning we walked the length of Puerto Madero, over the Calatrava, to the newer section across the old harbor. After surviving a million potholes on downtown sidewalks, Michael’s foot went out sideways on some new uneven paving here and he took a tumble. Go figure. We checked out the part of the old port they’ve preserved as an ecological sanctuary, the Costanera Sur. It’s amazing to see the difference is plant life between the two continents: the climate here is D.C./Atlanta, but the vegetation sometimes seems like it survived from the dinosaurs. Maybe it did?
We took a cab to La Boca. This is very tourist-centered, a poor Italian area of port and dock workers. It is now painted wild colors with a crafts market (El Caminito), souvenir stores, and tango demonstrations. We had lunch al fresco at a great little Italian place, the usual steak/salad/pasta, almost getting wiped out a couple times by buses that took a wrong turn and ended up on a street too narrow for both a bus and a sidewalk café. Surviving the traffic, we went to the Fundacion Proa. This is a privately sponsored art space, one of several in the city. They were showing work by Rosemarie Trockel, a current star of the German art world. In the German Embassy in D.C., Trockel did the ceiling painting and carpet in the men’s lounge. Like all B.A. art spaces, the draw was not the show (eh), but the space – modern architecture in a former warehouse with sensational views of the old port in La Boca.
Right about then Michael started feeling the pains in his foot. Turns out he’d pulled some muscles. We hustled into a cab, set up our hotel room as a hospital, elevated his leg, and had the front desk bring ice. I found a pharmacy where, between my Spanish, their English, and some helpful bilingual customers, we diagnosed the problem and prescribed an anti-inflammatory agent and pain reliever. We’re still not sure what the drug is (we didn’t see Advil or any of our brand-name meds there), but it did the trick, and he was walking gingerly the next day and fully back walking the day after that.
With Michael in bed and immobile, I should probably have stood watch, but we agreed that would be dumb, so I got in a cab to see things Michael didn’t care about. The Museo de Bellas Artes, the national fine arts museum, is a dull building with a poor collection of Western art, shown in the usual chronological fashion downstairs. The treat was upstairs, where they do the same chronology of just Argentine art. Probably the best collection of Argentine art in the world. Again, the 1960’s op/kinetic stuff blew me away. Oil paintings by surrealist Leonora Carrington, and prints by someone I’d never heard of, Adolfo Bellocq, that were terrific.
Walked past Retiro train station to the Torre de los Ingleses. This was a gift of the people of Great Britain to the people of Argentina. It’s essentially a big brick clock tower. Of course, since the Falklands/Malvinas War, the friendship has been a bit strained. The city keeps the tower open to the public. There are great views of the old port, the train stations, and San Martin from the top. On four floors are double-height spaces serving as photo galleries. Pretty cool, but none of the artists used the dramatic space to its full potential.
Walked across to see the Malvinas Memorial, a Vietnam War Memorial rip-off with a perpetual honor guard. Given that the war finally ended the military’s catastrophic rule of the country, but that it was an epic failure and loss of life, people are legitimately conflicted about it.
One of the best private galleries in Argentina is in Plaza San Martin, but it took me a while to find it. It’s a big park, and I knew the gallery was under the park, but I wasn’t sure how to get it in. Finally, toward the top, near where two sensational palaces have been made into military headquarters, I found a parking garage entrance. Go down one level, take a left, and you’re in Ruth Benzacar’s. One of the best commercial galleries I’ve ever been in, showing cutting edge contemporary art. In the back of the gallery is an art and architecture bookstore, where the nice gentleman told me that no, there is no guide to the architecture of Buenos Aires, I could stop looking. There is, however, a good tourist guide with photos of the buildings in 3D, which helped us tremendously on the rest of the trip.
I got dinner for Michael and me in Gallerias Pacifico, and we shared it at the hotel.
Before we leave for Montevideo, time for some gripes about Argentina:
· Big bills. No one gives change. An Argentine 50 peso note is worth about $17; unless you were buying $15 worth of stuff, no one would take them. $100 peso notes were even worse. We ended up hoarding smaller bills, and changing big ones in our hotel before we set out. Another social cost of the inflation.
· Air pollution is the worst we’ve ever experienced. Worse than New York. You shower at night and Q-tip dirt out of your ears. They don’t have catalytic converters on the cars, and you can see the result. Ironic for a city whose name means “good air”.
· Bland food. Yes, everything we ate tasted good, but there was not a spice in the entire country. You get salt on the table, but have to ask for pepper (“pimiento, por favor”). They are happy to provide pepper; it’s just that like Cleveland, you’ve got tons of Italians cooking bland food. Who’d have thought it was possible?
· Bookstores wrap their books in plastic, so you can’t leaf through them. It discourages browsing, and makes it hard to decide whether to buy a book or not. On the other hand, there are tons of bookstores; this is one of the most literate cities we’ve ever enjoyed.
Friday, October 21
We headed over to the ferry terminal in Puerto Madero and caught the boat to Uruguay. People seem to go to three places in Uruguay:
- Colonia, a day trip directly across the river. Once a Portuguese colony, now a tourist attraction
- Punta del Este, the Riviera of South America
- Montevideo, the capital
We decided to hit the capital. It’s three hours away by high-speed ferry, and cheap enough that we were able to travel first class. Is odd to go through Customs for a boat trip, but we were whisked through at both ends, and off to discover.
At first glance Montevideo looked like a dump. There’s a historic “old city”, the Ciudad Vieja, which is where we stayed. It is a poor slum. East of that is downtown, around the Plaza Independencia. Further east is the 1920’s city, and east and south of that the place where middle class and affluent people actually live. The country has been in an economic freefall even worse than Argentina’s, with a hard-to-do-the-math exchange rate of 18 Uruguayan pesos to the dollar.
So, the city is depressed, but it is an amazing opportunity. The architecture in the Ciudad Vieja and downtown is outstanding; a collage of Spanish Colonial, Art Nouveau, and ultra-modern 1950’s-60’s concrete and glass. Looks like nothing new has been built in about two decades. The food is some of the best we had on our trip, the beef and leather goods better than we saw in Argentina, and cheaper. They have a local red wine, Tennant, which is good, and a sparkling white, Medio y Medio, that is outstanding, like if Asti Spumante really tried to be champagne. If we wanted to retire somewhere, make art, and open a craft store, this would be a contender. If only we could figure out how to get well-healed tourists to show up. In the end, we related the city to Michael’s parent’s old house in Houston: a place that was once solid, but has been running for too long on deferred maintenance.
The ferry docks at the northern neck of the Ciudad Vieja; we walked across the Old City to our hotel. The NH in Buenos Aires had booked this for us. It is the chain’s only location in Uruguay, but what a location. A 1950’s glass box on the beach, so stunningly Modern that we kept expecting the Rat Pack to saunter through. We were given a room with an incredible view of the river. There’s not a lot near the hotel, a British church on one side and a hospital/convent on the other, but it is within a 20 minute walk of all the things tourists are supposed to see.
There are several markets in the city. The Mercado del Puerto, the port market, is across from the ferry terminal, and comes highly recommended for lunch. We had two meals here, each amazing. The same kind of parilla as in Buenos Aires, but with better pastas, tastier beef, and that amazing Medio y Medio to put a happy haze on the day. Our first meal was at El Palenque, and was the best meal of our trip, ending with a chocolate/dulce de leche confection that was outstanding.
After lunch we explored the Ciudad Vieja. We’re not sure if our comfort zone expanded, or if the city requires attention, but it grew on us the more we saw. The city wants to cater to tourists, and is making efforts with art galleries and shops, but is not there yet. Fun to feel we were ahead of the well-traveled. Walked around the old Plaza Zabala, into the Catedral Metropolitana, and the craft market on Plaza Constitucion.
Besides being able to add another national capital to our roster, the big draw for me in Montevideo was Joaquin Torres-Garcia. He was an artist who made his name in 1920’s Paris, hobnobbed with Picasso, Matisse, and the big boys, and after WWII came home to Montevideo to found the first modern art school in South America, the School of the South. I think his style was called neo-plastic-constructivism; it uses black outlined cubist grids filled with symbols, all in bright colors. His followers are still pursuing that style, with several cool murals and pieces scattered around the city. I love it; it’s an easy, accessible style, that adapts well to all kinds of uses as well as paintings on canvas.
One of his followers, Jose Gurvich, founded his own museum downtown. Had never heard of this guy, but saw the art in the window, recognized the style, and went in to discover a new favorite artist.
The National Historical Museum of Uruguay is located in several former palace/mansions around downtown and the Ciudad Vieja. Ignore the collections, go for the houses. The Casa de Lavalleja and Palacio Taranco are both great; the latter had a new Sorolla painting for me in the entrance hall. The Museo Torres-Garcia is on the western edge of the Plaza Independencia; it’s also the artist’s school, which is still active in part of the building. Walked outside the 1856 Teatro Solis, one of South America’s great opera houses, which has been under renovation for the past decade. General Artigas, the man who faced down the Spanish, the British, and the Argentines during the Uruguayan independence movement, is buried under an equestrian statue in the middle of the Plaza Independencia; the underground tomb is oddly 1970’s, in black stone with a perpetual flame and honor guard. Walked around the Plaza, through arcades of the Palacio Salvo and Edificio Lapido (an Art Deco and Spanish Colonial mélange from the 1920’s, but still the tallest building in Montevideo). The Avenida 18 de Julio, running east from the Plaza, had decent shopping: nothing high style, but inexpensive. We bought more fabric than we could carry for less than $100; silks, upholstery, everything. The women there thought we were crazy, but had fun with us as we kept requesting meters of this and meters of that, working together to figure out what English fabric names translated into in Spanish. Cabbed it back to the hotel to unload, and for siesta.
We pushed ourselves to have dinner at a civilized South American time, 8PM. Okay, early for them, but as late as we could make it. Walked east on San Jose, just south of the main 16 de Julio drag we had been on earlier, to a stretch of restaurants southeast of the Independencia around Plaza Cagancha, where the crafts fair was just closing up. Ate at El Fogon, a restaurant recommended by one of our guidebooks that again had parilla, but also seafood (common in Montevideo, rare in Buenos Aires). We got fish in saffron sauce and paella Valenciana; this was the best paella we have ever had. Could it have been the wine <grin>? Two hours, white tablecloth service, more food than even Michael could eat, $42 combined, with tip. My Epicurean heart goes pitter-pat at the memory. We walked back to the hotel, sat on the river bank, and watched the moon over the Rio de la Plate.
Saturday, October 22
NH did not disappoint us with the breakfast buffet; it was as good as the one in Buenos Aires. It was served in a perfect 1950’s glass room facing the river, with Rolling Stones music done samba style over the P.A. Felt like we were in a spread in Metropolis magazine. This we could get used to. In the daylight we could appreciate better the varieties of excellent brickwork in the 1950’s and 1960’s towers near the river, as we headed back into the Ciudad Vieja to purchase leather goods. Got to a street that was closed except for one chain linked pedestrian path; turns out an entire building had collapsed into the street. Amazing what a lack of maintenance will do. Since we were in the neighborhood, had another fantastic meal at the Mercado del Puerto, this one at the Estancia restaurant. An estancia is a River Plate phrase for ranch, it has a lot of the mythology of a Texas ranch, with a similar nouveau-riche class aspiring to them. The restaurant did amazingly good parilla, or maybe we were just getting better at ordering what we liked.
Back through the Ciudad Vieja to downtown. The city has founded a new archeology museum in a mansion/palace that once housed a spa, then the Uruguayan army. Great Beaux Arts architecture. In downtown, Uruguay has erected the first memorial to gay rights in Latin America, in a little plaza behind the main shopping strip. Not an impressive memorial, but an impressive action. Felt good to be recognized. The Contemporary Art Museum is a floor in a 1920’s office building downtown. The hit was the elevator cage to get there, which looked like it hadn’t been upgraded since it was built. Shaky, and fun. Continuing east we hit new territory, by the city hall/municipal headquarters. This is a magnificent Deco brick pile, with a first floor that doubles as an exhibition hall. A cool giant aerial photo of the city is installed as the entry paving. A nice city employee made sure we saw it even though we weren’t registered for the show in the hall. We headed back to the hotel via an artisan’s market off the 18th of July.
We probably had time to catch a cab to the national art museum, the Legislative Palace, the suburbs at Punta Carretas, or the hill across the harbor that gives the city its name of “mountain view”, but we were bushed. Next trip. Hung out in the hotel bar, took another walk along the river, then hiked with our leather and fabric up to the ferry and an uneventful ride back to Buenos Aires.
Sunday, October 23
We’d been in Buenos Aires for a week and still hadn’t been to its most famous neighborhood, San Telmo. Full of affluent pre-1850’s town homes and mansions taken over by immigrants and port workers, it’s known for its tango palaces and Sunday flea market. It was Sunday, off to market! We were surprised that this is a multi-venue affair. In the main Plaza Dorrego there were leather, woolen, toy, and other crafts vendors as well as folks selling dowdy antiques. In two market buildings nearby were more antique and food vendors. One of the markets had a superb 1880’s glass-and-steel vaulted roof. Surrounding streets had funky shops, and some of those cool alley-shopping galleries, here carved out of former mansions. I had a near-intelligent conversation in Spanish with a glass vendor about jazz radio in Boston. Checked out the Rococo Church of San Pedro Gonzalez, then walked over to Parque Lezama and the national history museum in the former Lezama mansion. The park was full, the museum had hours posted saying it should have been open, but the gates were locked. Chocked it up to Argentine work ethic and moved on to Constitucion train station and the Subte. Because it was the national election day, the Subte was free.
We siesta’ed at the hotel, then hopped back on the subway to Belgrano. Better pick up as many distant museums as we could, we figured, with free subway service. I know, to save a 24-cent fare, talk about cheap. Belgrano is an upper middle class suburb well west of downtown, almost at the end of the Subte. Lots of highrise apartments with neighborhood retail, but also some lovely pseudo-Tudor semi-detached houses. Checked out the 1920’s Immaculada Concepcion Church, also known as La Redonda for its Pantheon-like domed layout. Great frescoes, badly water-damaged. Another terrific craft market in the plaza in from of the church. There are two notable museums here, one of art, the other of history, both closed. It finally dawned on us that while the subway was free for the election holiday, the museums were closed. Duh. Took a stroll south on Juramento, the main drag of Belgrano, to the Barrancas. This park has gigantic specimen trees, some over 100 years old, from when the park was a private estate. It was also notable for its poor condition, with broken statues, fountains, and graffiti everywhere.
Across the train tracks to B.A.’s Chinatown. This is a fairly new Chinatown, populated mainly by Taiwanese. We had to try Argentina’s version of Chinese food, which was an odd merger of American-Cantonese as interpreted by Spanish-speaking Mandarins. It was fun trying to translate the Spanish: mastered “roulade de printemps” (spring rolls), but failed on “pate de langouste” (shrimp chips). Michael hated the food, I liked it. I think I’m biased in its favor since this was the first time ever where I got to translate for Michael in a Chinese restaurant. He tried Cantonese on the waiter, who responded blankly in Mandarin, and I ended up ordering for us in Spanish. Who’d have thought? It was great to get jasmine tea all-you-can-drink.
Caught the Subte back downtown and out again, on the line the runs under Corrientes, to Carlos Gardel. Gardel is the man who brought tango from the slums of Buenos Aires to America and Europe, became an international sensation, then brought it back to B.A., where upper class Portenos could now adopt it as it had the blessing of Europe. The station named in his honor is near where he grew up, next to the Abasto shopping center. Abasto had been the main city produce market, but was converted to a shopping mall about a decade ago. It is a truly great mall, complete with an amusement park called Neverland (paging Michael Jackson, please) on its top floors. It was sort of like a merger of the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City with a summer parking-lot carnival. Good bookstore and music store, where we were able to get the CD for that Rolling Stones samba we heard in Montevideo.
Monday, October 24
It usually rains quite a bit in the spring in Buenos Aires. We’d been lucky so far, with just a few showers in Montevideo. Today, though, it came down in buckets. Given that it was a Monday, with museums closed, it took a little brainstorming to come up with a day of interior activities. First thing, we hit the central Post Office, a grand pile just north of our hotel. Terrific 1930’s murals, and a small museum of communications technology. Waited in three lines to buy stamps, but got our postcards off safely. There’s nothing like mailing a letter to see a nation’s bureaucracy up close and personal.
We walked up to the Teatro Colon to get reservations for the day, since we’d failed to master their telephone reservation system, then west through Plaza Lavalle to Avenida Santa Fe. Santa Fe is a major shopping stretch, not unlike Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The shopping galleries/alleys here were the best we were to see. The best, the Gallerias Santa Fe, ended in an interior seating area with ceiling and wall murals by Soldi and other notable Argentine painters from the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Their stuff looks sort of like Picasso’s Classic period, with pastel gods and goddesses cavorting in an industrial landscape.
Had lunch at a McDonald’s, for our mandatory stop to see how our food capitalism was translating into their idiom. I hate McDonald’s French fries, but these were actually good, although my Hamburguesa Criolla (Quarter-Pounder with cheese and bacon) was dry. Michael’s salad in a tortilla bowl was tasteless. For the same price, Portenos could get empanadas or a tasty Italian cold cut sandwich: why would they bother?
The Teatro Colon is the greatest opera house in South America. It has the Beaux Arts flamboyance of the Paris Opera, but with a wilder Latin touch. Great stonework, stained glass, and spaces that are just waiting for Maria Callas to make a grand entrance. The Colon is a little like the White House: it’s a signature site of the city, you need to make reservations in advance, you go through several lines before you’re allowed to buy a ticket, you’re on a timed tour, and the guide has given the tour so many times that she could be walking in her sleep. However, three times a day that tired tour is given in English, and we were happy to get one of those. We got to see the foyers and public spaces you’d normally see if you came for a performance, the main theater, several practice rooms, the President of Argentina’s private reception room, and the suites of rooms where they make sets, costumes, props, and (drum roll for Michael, please) wigs. The support studios are so extensive that they have outgrown the theater; skylit underground wings reach far under the Avenida 9 de Julio. If you do this, aim for a tour on Tuesday-Friday, when you will also get to see people at work. On a Monday, with the theater dark, we got the tour, but it lacked life.
We were very proud of ourselves as we figured out the pedestrian passages under the Obelisk. The Avenida 9 de Julio and Avenida Corrientes cross here. Both are major traffic corridors, with three subway lines converging. Pedestrian paths connect with these under the streets, but we had been a bit afraid to try them out. The rain and our courage teamed up. Lined with magazine stands, coffee shops, and tourist traps, these are a little like the passages at New York’s 42nd Street or Penn Station. Fun, and even better, when we popped up on Corrientes, it was on the corner we wanted.
Stopped for postres at a coffee shop, where I got my first submarino. Steam milk, froth it, bring it to the table in a coffee cup with a chocolate bar by its side. Customers adds bar to milk, stirs. Yes, this is just warm chocolate milk, but it was delicious, and for a non-coffee drinker, a lifesaver in a café culture. A tasty ricotta cheesecake, grilled cheese sandwich, agua con gas, we were happy campers. Hit the hotel for a siesta.
It was still raining, but we had places to go! Hopped on the Subte out to Bulnes, home of the Alto Palermo shopping center. Palermo itself is many neighborhoods, over a very dispersed area. Little Palermo is embassies near Recoleta, Palermo Hollywood has television studios, Palermo Soho is artists, writers, and bohemian wannabes. Alto Palermo is a phony term used by a developer to give cachet to his project. It’s on Santa Fe, technically on the border between Palermo and (funkier) Barrio Norte. Had similar, often the same, stores as we’d seen in Abasto, the Design Center, and on Florida, in a curved glass and concrete mall layout. Interestingly, none of the malls had anchors in the way we think of them; they are just collections of high end stores. They benefit, though, from the security guards their combined power allows them. We shopped, we checked it out, we caught the subway back to Calle Florida.
I was on a quest for an Argentine Monopoly game. This was confusing, because it turns out Monopoly has a history in Argentina. There are toy stores everywhere, and all had the Homer Simpson version of Monopoly put out last year by Parker Brothers. What I wanted, though, was their classic local version. In my broken Spanish I explained that to a shopkeeper, and he showed me something called “Estanciero”. Turns out that back in the 1930’s Portenos could not wait for Parker Brothers to create a version for them, but instead, pirated the game. The board is a hexagon vs. a square, the properties are provinces of Argentina, and they have a goofy gaucho character instead of Uncle Pennybags, but it is essentially the same game. Not sure how the legal issue was worked out, but we saw a 1930’s version of this game in the city museum, and it’s currently in toy stores today, so something happened. Parker Brothers does sell a Spanish version of Monopoly in Argentina, with the streets of Atlantic City (e.g. “Plaza San Carlos” for “St. Charles Place”), but it doesn’t seem to have much play history with people here. Of course, I bought both <smile>.
Tuesday, October 25
We knew there was more to Palermo than a shopping mall. This morning we explored the Bosques de Palermo, the Palermo woods, a collection of parks and gardens that had once been private estates. From the Garibaldi statue in Plaza Italia we walked northeast into the Botanical Garden Carlos Thays. Thays is their Frederick Law Olmstead; any palace worth its gilding had Thays design the grounds. This was cool, seeing the South American plants replacing what we expect to see, but also run down. Feral cats have taken over, the conservatory is locked and the glass broken, and graffiti bad, but at least the plants looked healthy and free of weeds. A lot of our houseplants are natives of South America, was strange to see them just plopped into the ground, and at mega-scale. We walked past the zoo, checking out flamingos, ducks and cattle from outside, since the only way in would have forced us to double back to get out again. The pedestrian tunnel under Avenida Libertador had an audio-art piece of jungle sounds in it, very fun. Emerged near the American Embassy, an ugly modern building made uglier by the fortress-like security, and the Sociedad Rural Argentina, where big cattle and horse shows are held.
Into the Parque Febrero 3 and the Japanese Garden there. Didn’t seem very Japanese; greener than we expect, more like a park with Japanese bridge, pavilions, and lamps in it. Did have amazingly large koi in the pond, and rocky islands we could climb over. Passed by the oh-so-1960’s-Modern Galileo Planetarium, which looks like concrete lace over a dome, and its grounds of abandoned fountains. Sad. The Rose Gardens nearby are in much better shape; they seem to have been restored in the last five years. We were stunned to experience roses in bloom: suspect B.A. is more at Atlanta’s latitude than D.C., but it still seemed early to have such extensive banks of flowers blooming. Lovely.
We had read that the space under the nearby rail right of way had been converted to trendy restaurants, a project called the Paseo de la Infanta. It had, they had gone bust, the abandoned spaces stared forlornly into our hungry hearts. We found a parilla around the corner for lunch. El Parrillon de Recoleta is very expense-account business lunch, a little high priced, but good. The Museo de Arte Plasticas Eduardo Sivori, of modern Argentine art/sculpture/graphics, was around the corner. Mediocre art, but terrific space in blocky raw-concrete-and-glass additions to a former home. If we could build the glass box house of our dreams, this would be it.
We took a cab to Recoleta, and the Cultural Center. This was the filling in the sandwich we’d missed before: below the church near the cemetery, above the Design Center. Great warren-like space. Many shows of varying degrees of quality, none of them any good, but fun to explore. A little like Art-O-Matic, where you never know what will be around the next corner. Nearby is the Palais de Glace, a former ice skating rink now used as an art space, which was either between shows or the guards didn’t want to let us in, couldn’t tell. We walked through residential Recoleta to the Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernandez. This is the former Noel family mansion, now dedicated to the arts of the Spanish colonial period. Not a period we like, but a well presented collection demonstrating the threads that combined to create Spanish Colonial style. Did you know that Portugal, and hence Brazil, was a hotbed of cross-cultural liberalism and exchange in the 1500’s? Neither did we. The courtyard gardens were as good as the collection, although both could use a proper dusting.
Took Michael through the parts of Plaza San Martin I’d explored when he was laid up, then caught the Subte to Constitucion for a walk through San Telmo and La Boca. Apparently it is not considered safe to walk where we did, but it did not seem threatening to our educated urban eyes. The architecture is good, and the spaces look poor and middle class, but not dangerous. Maybe we’re fools, or lucky, or both. Took a cab from El Caminito back to the hotel. We got an insane driver who whipped us through rush hour traffic in 15 minutes: a crazy ride, but a fun one.
Wednesday, October 26
At this point we were mopping up: seeing things we’d missed before, comfortable getting around the city, enjoying the journeys as much as the destinations. I love it when we get to that point in a new city. Took a walk through Puerto Madero, Plaza de Mayo, and Centro. On a quest to change money, went into the Banco Hipotecario. Built as the Banco de Londres to designs by Testa, this is landmark Modernism, one of the most important buildings of South America. Pretty ugly, too. At least asking if they’d change our money for us let us see the interior space, which is great. Revisited the Manzana de las Luces; took a break for a submarino, watched a labor protest across the street. Found a pair of historic churches: Nuestra Senora de Merced, and San Francisco. The latter, run by the Franciscans, sells monk-made jam and honey.
Saw the Museo de la Ciudad, the city history museum. Located in an 1860’s row house that once belonged to a theater star, the house is a good insight into how the teaming masses who emigrated to Argentina lived. The museum had a temporary show on how electric light came to Buenos Aires, and a permanent exhibit of historic toys. We had hoped to get an overview of local history, but that was not in the cards.
Walking to San Telmo we saw a third historic church, the Dominican Convent, with the overwrought tomb of Independence hero Manuel Belgrano. We had lunch in a San Telmo parilla that doubles as a tango hall by night, then did antique shopping in the back streets of the neighborhood. It’s a completely different feel, San Telmo by day versus the Sunday flea market crunch. This would be a definite contender for our neighborhood should we ever choose to live in Buenos Aires.
We went into the National History Museum that had been closed on Sunday. Completely lame: portraits, weapons, facsimiles of historic documents, none of which gave a comprehensive history of the nation, and all of which stop around 1860, except for an odd gallery dedicated to the Malvinas War. For a country that names every street, railway station, and plaza after their Independence heroes, there is a woeful lack of who these people were and what they stood for. A bestseller on the Argentine book lists currently is Felipe Pigna’s “The Myths of Argentine History”. We got a copy in English translation. It takes as its premise that Argentines don’t know their own history, and lays it out from Columbus through about 1840. Interesting. The museum has a recreation of the room in Boulogne, France where the liberator San Martin died; cool, but a little pathetic, as if George Washington had retired to Dusseldorf after the Revolution.
Siesta at the hotel, then off to discover Palermo Soho. Subte to Scalabrini Ortiz, then south to Plazas Palermo Viejo and Cortazar. This is where the funky Portenos are hanging out. It’s a little Georgetown, a little Adams Morgan, a little of New York’s Meatpacking District. There are offbeat and high end shopping, elegant restaurants, and cool coffee places, all squeezed into converted 1920’s bungalows. Fun. We stunned a parilla by sitting down to dinner at 8:30; we were just finishing, 90 minutes later, when the next guests came in. I can’t express how grateful I am to all the restaurant owners who opened their kitchens early for us. The proprietor here made sure we knew how to get back to Centro, and was on the verge of calling us a cab when we assured him we knew how to walk back to the Subte safely.
Thursday, October 27
Enough city! We were ready for some South American rain forest. Caught an early flight out of Jorge Newberry, the National Airport equivalent for in-country flights, to Iguazu Falls. Aerolineas Argentinas has insane check-in counters, but the flight was uneventful. We were a little confused on arrival at Iguazu International, but while we were negotiating a cab, saw my name on a sign held up for arrivals. Turned out the travel agent we’d booked our airfare and hotel through had also arranged transport. In fact, she’d booked us for a two day package with a bunch of Argentine families and retirees. We found ourselves on a bus to a resort hotel in the middle of nowhere, where check-in took forever, in a facility that looked so tawdry-Catskills that we kept looking to see if Henny Youngman was playing the dining room after the merengue class. We dumped our bags in our room, looked at each other in dismay, and called for a cab to take us to the Sheraton.
Now we started to get annoyed. The Falls are in national parks in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. On the Argentine side, the park is surrounded by military bases, and about ten miles away is the town of Puerto Iguazu, where most of the cheap hotels are. Want to drive in, check it out, head out? Ain’t gonna happen. The only hotel near the Falls in Argentina is a big Sheraton, right in the Park. To get in, our cab first had to stop at a park admissions booth, where we paid for entrance. Then he moved forward to a Sheraton security command center, where they called ahead to find out if it was okay to let two tourists in for lunch. Finally, he was allowed to drive us in, about a ten minute drive. Talk about off-putting, nothing like the wide-open feel of Niagara. At the Sheraton, we got a table for lunch with a view of the Falls, which was great, but the food was some of the worst we had, generic hotel buffet.
But, we were there, so we walked on over to the first of the paths around the Park. Things got better immediately. The Park itself is fantastic, with well marked and paved paths through rainforest, over Falls, and under Falls. Unlike Niagara, which is essentially two wide sheets of water, Iguazu is miles of cataracts, dramatic drops, and a couple of bowls where they Falls almost form a circle. We could not believe how close we were able to get to the water and still be safe. Apparently upriver in Paraguay is the Itaipu Dam project; it gives great control over the amount of water barreling over, and so they can lower the water level to build sturdy and safe concrete passages right out into the river. We started on the Lower Circuit, which takes you to the base of many Falls. We hopped on the Gran Aventura, a jungle walk, boat ride into the Falls, landing on an opposite shore, and truck ride through the jungle. Our guide on the truck was amazing, she seamlessly jumped between Spanish, English, and French; pointing out the plants (palms, bamboo, epiphytes, orchids) and animals (flocks of butterflys, heron, flamingos, coati, and iguanas) as we passed them. The truck brought us to the main Park Visitors Center, where most people begin their Park experience. There we caught the train that runs to the Garganta del Diablo, the “Devil’s Mouth”, where again the paths take you across islands right onto the crest of one of the biggest Falls, in the form of a whirlpool. Amazing. Train back to an intermediate stop, where we did the Upper Circuit, a walk along the crests of the Falls. From there we took the Forest Walk back to the Visitors Center. Four hours, four amazing experiences, soaked but thrilled.
Got to the Center as rain started to come down in buckets. Now we understood why the cab driver had offered to pick us up: without an appointment, cabs cannot come into the Park. Instead, we caught the bus into town. This was a true PBS GlobeTrekker experience: a 10 cent bus full of unwashed Lonely Planet college kids, some brave/cheap British seniors, and a few locals, including a native woman breast feeding her kid. Oh, yeah, a driver who drove like crazy on jungle roads in a downpour. A total blast.
The bus terminal in Puerto Iguazu is essentially the downtown. Lots of cheap hotels, pizza places, pubs. We found a parilla/pizza place that let us hang out until it was civil for them to consider lighting the grill. We’d picked it because it was close, it was open, and we were tired, expecting it to be pretty bad food. Au contraire, the wait staff was terrific, the food great, the wine Argentine. Got a wonderful Milanese Complete (a beefsteak pounded thin, battered and fried, topped with ham, cheese, and tomato sauce). A terrific end to a fabulous day. We walked around the town, and flagged a cab back to our hotel.
Friday, October 28
We had a second day in Iguazu. Know why they call it a rain forest? It rained buckets all day. We blew the hotel, went to the airport, and tried to fly standby on an earlier flight. Didn’t work. Not a pleasant day.
Saturday, October 29
Woke up back in Buenos Aires, ready to enjoy our last day. Packed, checked out of the hotel, and took off on the Subte for the Once neighborhood. Once is another big commuter train station, currently under renovation. The area around it is basic middle class shopping. Great bargains, and lots of street stalls to capture the Saturday shoppers. We should have come shopping here before we packed Walked back toward the Congress on Avenida Rivadavia, making some final leather purchases. Caught the Subte back to Centro where we met our friends Brett, Ira, and Bill. They had just arrived for their own vacation. We went for lunch, briefed them on everything we could think of, helped them change money, introduced them to the Gallerias Pacifico, and then to the Subte. Back to Belgrano, where we went to Le Redonda and the crafts market. Over to the Museo de Arte Espanol Enrique Larreta. This was one of the museums we’d tried to hit on Election Day. An amazing house, and not a bad collection of Spanish religious art. Heavy for all our tastes, but the gardens made it worthwhile.
We dropped the boys off at the Obelisk. Had our farewell dinner in the Pacifico food court, where Michael got to say goodbye to his favorite parilla. Back to the hotel, got a cab to Ezeiza, and flew United overnight back to Dulles.
Two weeks in Buenos Aires? Definitely worth it: for the people, the food, the buildings, the prices. There are other parts of Argentina (wine country, Patagonia, winter sports in Bariloche, the Chaco desert) that sound amazing. We may be back.