Sunday, December 18, 2011

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires takes some getting used to, at least it did for me. We arrived in the dark and the rain. The city is Rio's opposite. Understated, reserved, Buenos Aires is self-confident without being pretentious. There is no Corcovado to climb, no ocean beach. It is often called “the Paris of the South” because of the evident European influences – statues and French colonial architecture. But Buenos Aires is not Paris. Nor is it an imitation of Paris. The city is often used in film as a Parisian stand-in because the camera can make that sort of magic happen. In fact, we saw two separate films shoots in progress today and I don't know if the film was set in Buenos Aires or Paris. But if a director wants this city to be Paris, she's going to have to choose her location carefully. My first impression aesthetically, was that Buenos Aires is a storehouse for a couple of hundred thousand bad 1960s apartments. It could as easily be a stand in for Beirut.

Because of the rain, we went on a tour of the Theatro Colon, the opera house which is modelled on the Opera Garnier in Paris. It is not as splendid, but the tour guide mentioned a detail I found lovely. There is a massive chandelier in the centre of the performance hall and built into it are what she called “secret passages” which can, among other things, hold performers. So for certain operas, a choir of children was smuggled into the lamp to be a chorus of angels at just the right time and no one would be able to tell where the sounds were coming from.

The more time I spend here, the more I warm to the city. Buenos Aires is in the details. Tango is not just a tourist show here. Tango is to Buenos Aires as yoga is to Vancouver. And I bought a cd from a virtuoso jazz guitarist busking on a busy street. Food is excellent and inexpensive. We did, yes a little guilt, have the full Parilla. A huge platter of cooked meats and sausages arrived and just when we were stuffed, another tray of steak, and ribs was placed, Fred Flintstone style on the table. It was only the next morning at breakfast that it occurred to me that the first tray of oddly textured meat was sweetbreads. I shared my epiphany with my brother and he said that there are some cases where ignorance would be the best choice. The wine is also excellent and inexpensive and, since there is no danger of drinking cow pancreas, we'll be having more of that.

We sat at a cafe and talked with Ben, a traveller from London who had arrived in Buenos Aires a few hours earlier. He went unescorted wandering around La Boca for a few hours until he drifted onto the wrong side street. Fortunately for him, the police were watching him and made him take a cab back to the centre of town. Like any big city in the world, there are neighbourhoods one should avoid. For the most part, I've been feeling safe wherever we've been but we did get robbed this afternoon. We took the metro to Palermo because I wanted to go to the zoo. I was not disappointed either. At this zoo, maras wander the grounds freely and most of the rest of the animals are South American. Well, not the polar bear.
Riding the metro back, a man boarded with us. He drew my attention because he seemed anxious. His face was red and he looked around in what I would describe as a frantic way. The metro was busy but not stuffed and yet he pushed close to me. Instinct moved me away from him. I didn't like his energy. He rode only one stop and then got off. When we got to our station, my brother checked his pocket and realized that his cash was gone. The guy was a pickpocket and he was good at his job. The good news was that he had two hundred pesos in his pocket – about fifty dollars, and his credit cards and ID were in his camera case so those were still there. A quick trip to the bank machine and all was well again. It was a good traveller's lesson. We weren't mugged at knife point or shot, or robbed of passports and identification.

Tomorrow, this faux adventure ends. We've been having a fabulous time: tasting wine in Chile, feeling the wash of the sea at Impanema, marvelling at Iguazu falls and dancing Tango in Beunos Aires. But in a way, my trip is yet to begin. Tomorrow morning we fly to Ushuaia,


  1. Nap & Shirley RuzeskyDecember 18, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    Hi Jay & Scott:
    What a contrast of different cities and experiences you two have ejoyed over the last few days! We are relieved to hear you had the good fortune to sense the problem when it occured and both are safe - a few dollars are easily replaced. Enjoy the cruise.
    Love, Mom & Dad

  2. Jay, i am following your blog and enjoying it. I lived in South America - Cuba, Mexico and, especially, Buenos Aires, untili was 9 . Are you going back that way? La Boca is fine before dark. We ended uo in a tango bar called La Rueda and the singer was an exquisite man in his eighties called Julio - Julio - gosh, his last name escapes me. Old as he was, he could stll sing like a canary. He started out singing at intermission in the movie houses, where he worked as a projectionist and usher. Told me he has written over 200 tango songs,some published, most not. This was in 2006. He is probably gone now. I just remembered his last name. Omero. I have soe fantastic pictures of him s

  3. I planned my trip to Buenos Aires for weeks. I read a travel guide and all the websites I could find. They all told of Teatro Colón, the city's huge performing arts theater. A few scenes in Destinos, the Spanish language tutorial video series were shot there, so I thought I had an idea of what it would be like. As I spent a long, sleepless night on the plane headed south, I thought more about the old theater. Did you know about it before your trip? I got a Buenos Aires rent near it and loved to see the gothic style it has!