Where Am I?

October 2011

Our friend David Manning sent a Facebook message saying that he wants me to quit enjoying Buenos Aires and get busy posting about it so he can enjoy it too. Others are prodding me to send information and pictures, so I will succumb to pressure and get on with it.  For the record, I resent it.  I’d much rather walk and gawk, which is pretty much what we have been doing since our arrival on October 6.

Along the Avenida de Mayo.
A plaza scene.

The first few days we wondered constantly “where ARE we?”.  Buenos Aires is not a culture shock, it’s a culture BLAST.  The city feels Italian/French/New York West Village/Madrid, familiar and utterly foreign, too.  If you let yourself relax into it you can imagine yourself in any number of the world’s great cities.

Sunday Afternoon in San Telmo

The people in Buenos Aires are not Latinos, yet when they speak it’s in rapid Spanish.  It’s disconcerting.  Even more confusing, the pronunciation  is entirely different from the Mexican version of Spanish, with which I have a nodding acquaintance. There’s a lot of “shhhhh” going on which makes even basic words unintelligible to my unpracticed ear.  The word street, which in Spanish is “calle,” is pronounced “cai yeah” in Mexico.  In Argentina it’s “cah- shea,” Porteños (literally the people of the port) speak Spanish with an Italian accent, so half the time I have no earthly idea what is being said.  When I speak most people look at me as if I’ve just fallen off a pasta truck.  It makes every transaction from dealing with the laundry across the street to purchasing an emery board at the drug store a big challenge.  Tim actually gets along better than I because he’s not even trying to interpret the Spanish.  He’s just getting the gist of what the person is saying and he’s generally correct, which I find extremely irritating.

The apartment is exactly as advertised and we are very comfortable, except for the construction going on next door.  The good news is that the workmen don’t start banging until 9:00 AM.  That’s because everyone except the Martins goes to bed in the small hours of the morning.

View from our balcony.
Life goes on – and grocery
shopping is a worldwide activit

Palermo, our neighborhood, reminds us of the West side of New York.  We’re on the fifth floor with a tiny balcony (everyone has a balcony in this city) so we are privy to the action on our tree-lined street.  The flower vendor on the corner opposite the news stand does a flourishing business and there are sidewalk cafes and pastry and pasta places on almost every block. Surprisingly, considering our recent  pastoral settings, we became almost immediately accustomed to the city sounds of traffic, dogs barking, occasional sirens, voices below our balcony and neighbors coming and going.  Although we take our linens and larger pieces to the laundry across the street, we learned quickly that it’s not considered tacky to hang out undies and t-shirts on the balcony on a sunny day.

Since we will be in Argentina for two months we feel that we are allowed to squander a little time just hanging out.  The absence of pressure is a great luxury for a traveler.  We have enjoyed mundane chores like finding our local market, and buying a little rolling hand cart to carry our purchases. We now meander along tugging our groceries pretending to be bonafide porteños.  Let me tell you now that ravioli purchased at the local market is not in any way related to the Contadina stuff at Albertson’s or Ralph’s.

Along the avenue.
Coffee at 5 PM

The locals appear to eat and drink constantly, yet most people are slim in comparison to lots of people at home.  Our theory is that, like the French, they can eat what they please without the consequences of girth because they walk all the time.  Along with the best pasta this side of Tuscany there’s  a bakery/coffee shop on almost every corner, a chocolatier every few blocks, and wine stores abound with vast, delicious selections..  To add to the foodie  dream, the meat is almost always delicious and flaky empanadas with any filling you could desire are as handy to grab as McDonalds in the US.   We may have to give up sleeping so we can walk enough to counter the effects of our dining excesses.

At Violeta’s with a small selection of malbec
as the background!

Can we discuss malbec?  It’s Argentina’s famous wine from Mendoza and it is my personal challenge to taste as many varieties and vintages as possible.  The generous pours in every restaurant and bar and the huge number of choices keep me very busy.

To date we have conquered the subway system, which is simple to use, fast, and cheap.  We have  walked countless miles, visited an American sports bar which is situated in a fabulous old mansion but offers little in the way of compatriot companionship, made a department store purchase, which was intimidating and complicated event, learned to have cappuccino and pastry at 5:00 PM, which pushes dinner to a late hour, gawked at Evita’s palace, the opera house, the widest street in South America, and the fabulous French buildings along Avenida de Mayo.  We’ve strolled through a small portion of the famed Recoleta Cementario where Evita Peron and many powerful, well heeled people, some of whom were, shall we say, shady, are interred in elaborate mausoleums, and visited the only shopping mall I have ever seen which features stained glass and enormous century old murals.  The Museo de Bellas Artes was breathtaking, offering  a choice European collection and a stunning introduction to Argentinian art.  A simple stroll to the corner drugstore invariably offers a new insight into this terrific city and we have so much more to explore.

A street in Recoleta
Cemetery.
Juan and Evita’s Digs.
Violeta’s Cafe
At lunch in San Telmo.
Not so fast food!
So David, I promise that I’ll be less selfish and post more in the coming days.   Soon we’ll be going to Le Tigre, which is the Argentine delta. A short trip to Uruguay is definitely on the agenda and here in Buenos Aires we’re looking forward to visiting the gorgeous parks, the zoo, the Boca, the port, and more.  You can be sure that we’ll  sample as many restaurants as possible along the way and I will continue with my scientific research of the past, present and future of the Argentinian wine culture.

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