Saturday, April 7, 2012

Recoleta, Boca, Palacio Barolo and more -- our second day in Buenos Aires

A sculpture in the MALBA
We began our day by walking north on Calle Peru, where we enjoyed looking at street murals as well as an interesting building at the corner of Peru and Avenida Belgrano.

Mural at corner of Peru and Chile, honoring a writer who was killed during the dictatorship

Former City Bank of Buenos Aires at the corner of calle Peru and avenida Belgrano
Atlas figures holding up the City Bank building
Then the Schramms continued north to Calle Florida for another morning of shopping (you can never have too many Cuban cigars), while Nancy and I took our first subway ride north to see the Botanic Gardens.  But drat -- they were closed for Good Friday, so we walked over to a square to see the monument to the Spaniards and a statue by Rodin of the  Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, an  important President of the Argentina from 1868 to 1874. 

From there we walked to the Japanese Garden, where we we admitted for free as seniors, because the folks at the gate assumed we were over 65.  What an insult!  They had us three and four years older than we are.  We enjoyed relaxing in the garden.

Then walked to MALBA (Fundaci├│n Costantini (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires).  The building itself was fun. There was a range of interesting pieces, but we were able to take photos only in the hallways.

The bench is comfortable, but also a work of art....

that winds its way around the building

A work by Oscar Bony on the theme of assassination

One thing that has struck me as we have walked about Buenos Aires is the plenitude of large parks.  I have enjoyed the parks in Washington DC, my adopted home, but by and large they consume only a city block or maybe two.  But here, many of the parks are many blocks wide and long{├▒ and even when they are just one city block, the blocks are so large that  that walking through or sitting in the park you feel divorced from the hustle and bustle around, and thus truly relaxed.

Another feature of Buenos Aires that has stood out for us, coming as we do from a diverse city like Washington, DC, is how very white this city is.  I cannot think of a European city where I have spent substantial time over the past 25 years that has so few people of color as Buenos Aires does.  To be sure, Buenos Aires is a veritable melting pot compared to Montevideo, whose population reflects the fact that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Spaniards and their European descendants in early days of Uruguayan independence engaged in a deliberate policy of massacre against the indigenous population.  In one instance, the leadership of European descent gathered together all the indigenous people into one place, on the pretense of peace, and promptly massacred them.  We learned later of a forced march of indigenous people to Buenos Aires that sounds very much like the Trail of Tears in the 19th century United States

On the way home, we stopped for a photo of this silhouette of Eva Peron in profile, on the the side of the Ministry of Health and Social Development.

We met up with the Schramms back at the hotel, and after a brief rest we walked together down to La Boca, a famous workingclass neighborhood.  The guidebooks say to stick to the tourist part of the neighborhood and not venture out, but although there were some deserted streets and one in particular with a number of burned out cars, where some of our party got nervous, it seemed to me just fine in the light of day.  We walked past a building near the Bombonera that was labeled Bombonerita, which had a fanciful children's playground next to it, and then La Bombonera, where I was planning to be the next day to watch Boca Jrs. play.

Playground in front of the Bombonerita

La Bombonera
 and then into the tourist part of town.

I am not sure what I expected to find, but I confess that I was disappointed.  It was a huge tourist crush, with many vendors of trinkets, the occasional interesting artisan work, and brightly colored small paintings of the neighborhood.  There was a Maradona impersonator with whom you could pose for photos, and large signs with holes in them in which one could stick ones head to be photographed. and open air cafes apparently filled with tourists and the occasional tango dancers taking on customers to swing them about.  I did like the brightly colored houses, which for aught that appeared were confined to the tourist area -- walk a half block out and the houses were just like any other.

It just seemed to me to be a carnival and not a neighborhood.

We took a taxi back to the hotel, and then the subway off to our main evening activity -- a tour of Palacio Barolo.   We stopped for a bite to eat along Avenida de Mayo, because dinner was going to be late.  Mike stopped off to get some more pesos, not being sure wheether credit cards would be accepted for the tour price (they were not).  Nancy told me to try too;  I thought it a waste of time but I did try and, mirabile dictu, my bank card worked.  I took out the maximum twice!.

Palacio Barolo is a fanciful building erected from 1919 to 1923 by an Italian emigre textile tycoon as an hommage to the Divine Comedy.  The tour guide, whose uncle had had his accounting office in the building, explained the many ways in which the building's feature represented the Divine Comedy -- the ground floor representnig Hell, the middle floors purgatory, and the upper floors heaven. 

Detail in the lobby of Palacio Barolo

Entrance to an office in Palacio Barolo

We stopped on various floors and then climbed the last eight stories, stopping on the 20th floor to take photographs from an observation deck.  At this point, we could see over the entire city, and watched a religious service on one of the streets below with thousands of people listening and chanting or singing along.

Looking from Palacio Barolo toward the Congress Building
religious gathering in the lower right

Then on the very top, the 22 floor,  there was a huge lighthouse light which, once the guide turned it on, slowly revolved as we ducked and shielded our eyes as the light fell on each of us. 

Finally, we enjoyed a glass of wine (not quite the wine tasting advertised on the web site) in the tour office, which was the office occupied by the guide's deceased uncle. 

The guide answered questions for some time, then the group took the elevator down.  We decided to walk, only to find the stairs barred just before the bottom.  Happily, we just summoned one of the office elevators and rode down the last couple of floors.

Finally, we took a taxi to have dinenr at La Cabrera, a place in the Palermo recommended by my colleague Mike Kirkpatrick.  There was 45 minute wait, but we were  offered champagne and hors d'oeuvres while we stood around.  The dinner was excellent.  Particularly good were the arugula and parmesan salad and the bife de chorizo with Roquefort.  I was amused that the menu had to explain "like blue cheese."  There were also a large number of tiny side dishes, mostly interesting cold vegetable combinations, and Argentine version of Korean sides.

Bife de Chorizo and collection of interesting small vegetable side dishes at La Cabrera
The taxi ride back from the restaurant to the hotel (and also the ride from Palacio Barolo to the restaurant) was a reminder of just how big a city Buenos Aires is.  The ride took well over 30 minutes and we were traveling through the city streets at full speed.  And much of the trip was on a ten-lane, one-way avenue. Not the broadest avenue in Buenos Aires, the driver informed us.  That distinction, so far as I could tell, goes to the Avenida 9 de Julio, a north-south artery that is five lanes in esch direction, plus as many as three turning lanes at major intersections, plus service roads on each side, two southbound lanes named avenida Lima and two northbound lanes named Carlos Pellegrini.

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