Friday, March 21, 2008

Buenos Aires, Argentina-April '04

We are in route to Malawi, Africa and we must go through Johannesburg (Joburg), which can be reached in direct flights from Frankfort, GER or Sao Paulo, BRA. We find out that for about $100 more, we can fly direct to Buenos Aires instead of Sao Paulo, staying two days going and one day returning then make the jump from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo to Joburg to Lilongwe. Visas are not required nor are immunity shots into Buenos Aires, whereas a vista is required to leave the Sao Paulo airport into Brazil and you must have a Yellow Fever shot to re-enter Brazil.

We are leaving just before Good Friday and all business class upgrades were not available into Frankfort. So, all in all, Buenos Aires was a logical choice, and for good measure, Argentina is still recovering from an economic crisis and the prices are very reasonable.

The time difference between Chicago and Buenos Aires is 3 hours. Yes, it's that far further East. We board Chicago late evening and sleep in the comfort of Business Class and wake up in the morning a 11AM, race through customs and arrive at our hotel by 1PM in the heart of Buenos Aires. Total time was 12 hours.

We stay at the Alvear Palace Hotel, built in 1928. It is expensive, old world elegant, and is rated the 2nd best in South America and 18th best in the world. Our room is nothing special in terms of size, but a dozen fresh roses and a plate of fruit await us. I must say the shower was fantastic. Also included were Hermes toiletries and Egyptian cotton sheets. Any world leader or rock star visiting Argentina would likely stay here. The hotel is located in the La Rocoleta district which is very upscale, with European style architecture and streets lined with boutiques and designer shops. It's kind of a Rodeo Drive and not a place for middle class shopping. The Alvear Palace is within walking distance of one of the most impressive cemeteries in the world, the La Recoleta Cemetery. It is our first shop.

On the way we encounter a huge outdoor art market complete with entertainment and after strolling around to see the art, most of which have a tango theme, we visit one of the city's most popular churches, the Basilica del Pilar, built in 1732. It features six German built Baroque-style altars. The city's elite get married here. Below is a photo of mostly young people enjoying a live concert. The cemetery seems like a city of the dead. Mausoleums line the streets and alleys and a complete who's who of Argentina are buried here including the famous (infamous depending on your politics in Argentina) Evita. I highly recommend that you rent the DVD "Evita" to begin to understand what Evita meant to the rich and to the poor, which were vastly different things.

The entrance to the La Recoleta cemetery.
The temperature is a very pleasant 76 or so degrees and we have lunch on a sidewalk cafe. In the evening we walk 4 blocks to a hidden little French restaurant, recommended by the hotel concierge. The food and service were very good, but we found the atmosphere a little deary.
Saturday we went on a 3 hour tour of the city in a mini-van with an English speaking guide and 2 people from Minneapolis, 2 from South Carolina, 2 from London and a Canadian. Out first stop was Plaza de Mayo (May Square) dating to 1580. The square has been the stage for many of the country's important events including the uprising against Spanish rule on May 25, 1810. It is here that the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the May Square) have marched silently for more than two decades, every Thursday at 3:30 to demand justice for the disappearance of the young people during the military reign from 1976 to 1983.
Just off the square is the Casa Rosa (Pink House), named for its external color and it houses the executive branch of government. There is also another important Cathedral on the square, the Cathedral Metropolitana that houses the remains of Jose de San Martin, who I am sure you remember from your South American history studies. No?
Next we visited the San Telmo district a short distance away. It is considered the home of the tango and many tango establishments still exist there, frequented by both tourists and locals alike. The tango grew from the common folk and was disapproved by the elite until the tango became popular in Paris. "Well, if the snooty French like it, maybe we should take another look", said the elite, and it caught on BIG.

That night we went to one of the tango entertainment restaurants, although not in San Telmo. We saw some fantastic dancing. During one of the segments, the women dancers came into the audience and grabbed some males from the audience including me. As an Arthur Murray dance instructor in 1957, I was considered to have some good tango skills then. But try as I may, I could only remember about 10 steps and my really good stuff has been lost in time somewhere along the way. But, compared to any other selectee, I was good. I was. My partner said,"Muy bien, gracias senor" as she parted and a second dancer came over immediately and asked me to dance. I must admit that I had thoughts of again getting involved in tango when I got home. Chicago has many tango classes going on all the time. I can really get pumped up when I get into an atmosphere where good dancers are around and wanting to dance. And it wouldn't take me long to return to my former glory. Sigh!

But I digress. We went to the Boca District which is a highly colorful area, literally. This is the home of the boca football (soccer) team, the finest in Argentina (that is what they said), but more importantly, it is an area where lower/middle class people live. Italian emigrant sailors lived in the area near the docks and in the early days, they painted their houses with whatever paint was left over from painting the ships. The tradition of brightly colored houses continues today. Anyone visting Buenos Aires should consider a visit to this area. It's a must!
Judith and I doing the tango in Boca. Color her callipygeous. (Look it up)

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

That last picture cracks me up!