You are not long in Buenos Aires before the seductive sounds of Tango are tingling in your ears. Walking the wide avenues and cobble stoned streets, I couldn’t help but experience a sense of de ja vue. So much of this city feels like Europe, bringing reason to why this South American mecca is known as the ‘Paris of South America’. The sidewalks are dotted with Italian restaurants, French architecture blanketing the skyline while the buskers serenade the crowds with an operatic arias from Aida and the Marriage of Figaro.
Buenos Aires is a mosaic of cultures, born from a long history of colonisation, evangelisation and national identification, but it only makes it all the more tantalising. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the glorious underbelly of this city. Known all over the world for its delicious cuisine, wine, arts and rich culture and iconic architecture, Buenos Aires has an endless supply of fun and adventure ready for me.
Buenos Aires, like most major capitals in the world, is made up of several districts, each with their particular flavour.
I was staying in the Micro Central District, which is a combination of the CBD, Puerto Madero and Retiro. I know what you are thinking…staying in the Business district must be really culturally fulfilling….well honestly, it is. This district, whilst being home of the administrative and dull financial world, is also home to some of the most impressive architecture of the 19th and 20th Century. One of my favourite building is the Teatro Colon, or the Colon Theatre. The Colon Theatre is the biggest opera house in all of Argentina and one of the top three opera houses in the world. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why this building would be so acclaimed. Several stories of balconies, grand chandeliers, and a divine ceiling fresco has you in complete awe….and that is before the artist has even reached the stage. Walking the streets of this district provides you with a view of the old and the new, harmoniously coexisting whilst also being serenaded by the romantic sounds of ‘Cambio’…which means ‘Change’…referring to currency change vendors. Ok, so it isn’t all that romantic, but I have heard it at least one million times while I have been here, and you cannot walk down Florida without a Currency vendor touting it at you.
Not far from where I rest my head is La Boca. La Boca is the colourful hideaway of Buenos Aires, not just politically but also aesthetically. Most tourists flock here, like I did, to catch a glimpse of the colourful buildings of La Caminita, or marvel at the football stadium, La Bombenera, however the real attraction for me was the history of this district. Founded as an impoverished area of Buenos Aires, the district was predominantly populated by working class dock workers, or struggling artists and musicians. In 1882, La Boca succeeded from Argentina and politically, separated themselves from their national identity. This didn’t last and the president of the time withdrew the flag and forced unity once more. Evidence of the rebellious nature of this area is ever present in the murals that adorn the streets, which unsuccessfully masks the underlying poverty that surrounds the tourist rich zone.
It is not surprising, but Buenos Aires, like a lot of major cities in the world, has a large transient population. People whose livelihoods have found them stranded, without a roof over their heads. Evidence of their hardships are not hidden, and Argentina appears to be working towards supporting the improvement of the condition of this population, with programs to ensure greater access to health services, and financial assistance for children upon confirmation of enrolment into a school. Small initiatives like this aside, I have also witnessed the charitable nature of the Buenos Aires community, through distribution of food and clothing. These may be comparatively small steps, but it is refreshing to see steps taken to help disrupt the cycle of poverty that is crippling future generations.
I am a lover of nature, and so it should be no surprise that I gravitated towards the suburb of Palermo. Palermo is one of the largest of Buenos Aires districts. So much so that it is fragmented into a number of subdistricts. Despite its size, this district is jam packed with great restaurants, bars, shops and wineries and to my great pleasure, botanical gardens and parks. Home to some of the rich and famous of Argentina, you can see that this place was designed with beauty in mind. Green leafy streets bordered by colonial terraces, botanical gardens, aristocratic monuments and the Buenos Aires Zoo. It is an escape from the hustle and the bustle of the Microbusiness district for sure. It is also a great vantage point to people watch.
Buenos Aires has a certain tempo, a rhythm. Like the dance that they are so famous for, the people on the street twist and weave to its inherent melody. I sit here drinking my coffee and watch the world of Argentina play out before my eyes, sucking in the sweet scent of the spring and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. Nearby two young lovers sit on a park bench, the girl pouting and deterrent to his advancing affection. Clearly he has said or done something that she is disapproving of. Undeterred by her resistance, he continues to panda to her petulance in an attempt to break through the wall. This couple, is closely spied on by the trio of wise elderly women who speak no words, but say so much with their eyes. Their years of experience showing disapproval of their public display of intimacy. But still they do not turn, they do not avert their eyes. Like a prime time novella, these elderly ladies are enthralled by the drama. The chatter from the elderly gentlemen on the table to my right draws my attention. They are oblivious to the novella like drama unfolding in their presence and are more attentive to their hilarious banter. A waiter exits the café and at a great pace, and with a tray in hand, is off to deliver a coffee to a local coffee aficionado with an accompanied empanada. Like the sweet smell of the caramelised peanuts from the vendor on the corner, a distant melody from the tangoing duo embroiled in a battle for power and passion filters through the café. An appropriate soundtrack to the young lovers dual.
How this ends? I do not know. Unfortunately, it is time for me to go as I have Spanish class to get to.