Sunday, April 8, 2012

Visiting the Casa Rosada and Seeing a Boca Juniors Game

We began the day with another visit to calle Florida, this time to find a travel agency recommended by our hotel where we could buy tickets for the Flechabus bus to take us from Salta to Cafayate later in our trip.  I had tried repeatedly to buy the tickets online back home , but for some reason the reservation would never go through.  I think I was entering some document numbers incorrectly.  The agent had no trouble getting that done.  The Schramms had come along, and while I was buying tickets Mike went off to buy some more Cuban cigars.

The travel agent told me that the Casa Rosada was open for tours, even though our guidebook suggested that was closed on Saturdays, so we opted to spend our morning visiting there.  The initial rooms were filled with paintings of historically important leaders, not only major Argentine figures like the Peron's but revolutionary leaders from Mexico, Central America and South America. 

Juan and Eva Peron portraits in Casa Rosada

Portraits of Oscar Romero and Che Guevara in Casa Rosada
Many had familiar names but many were new to me.  Then our tour began.  Although the lecture during the tour made it seem as if this was more a ceremonial than a working building, we were told that this building is actually where the President of Argentina works, just not on the weekends.  Perhaps because the president lives elsewhere, and helicopters in every morning, we were able to see much more of the building than we could have done during a White House tour.

The paperweight struck me as an apt motto for a presidential assistant

Holding forth from the same portico whence Juan and Eva Peron spoke to their supporters

Nancy had decided not to come to the Boca Juniors game, so she went off for lunch with the Schramms, who were also not coming because they were taking the boat back to Uruguay that afternoon to get ready for the beginning of school next week.  I took the subway to the appointed meeting place with Vamos de la Cancha, the tour operator with whom I had arranged to go to the game.  Not only the guidebooks but everybody to whom I had talked back home with experience in Buenos Aires said that you are unwise to try to go to a Boca Juniors game on your own because it can be a rough experience; either hook up with a local whom you really trust, or go with a guide company despite the extra expense.  I could not line up a trusted local (I certainly tried), so I went with a company and Vamos de la Cancha was cheaper than Tangol.

The subway ride to the meeting point provided an extra treat: the cars on the subway were the old-fashioned kind with wooden interiors.
Old subway car on the Plaza de Mayo line
(An aside about the Buenos Aires metro -- it was hard to get used to the trains going right to left instead of left to right; not sure I have experienced that in any other subway system or indeed any other train system). 

I got to the appointed meeting place and chatted with some of the folks who had gathered.  In the end, there were two or three van loads from Vamos de la Cancha, 12 to 14 people in each van, each with its own guide.  On our van there were a group of German fellows, a retired Swedish couple, three young Chicagoans visiting Buenos Aires on an assignment as internal auditors for Motorola, a couple of British women from Leeds, and a couple from Ireland and England visiting South America on their way home from work as headhunters in Australia.

The van arrived in time to pick us up, but waited around for late arrivals and then wound its way through the city to pick up a few passengers who had managed to agree to get the company to pick them up at their hotels (which the company had refused to do for me; I was annoyed).  Then into La Boca.  We stopped a few blocks from the stadium, and Santiago, our guide, explained that only club members could get through the police barricades and into the stadium.  He handed out the cards of club members who had, presumably, rented out their access for the day; I was to go in as Leandro Jose Rojas. 

And it worked, although not without difficulty.  At another of the police barricades, just before he frisked me, an officer looked at my card and asked my name.  I remembered the Rojas, but he was plainly not happy; but then he looked around and saw that I was coming in with the group, and he waved me past.  Santiago explained that they have a "friendly" relationship.  

We got throught the first couple of check points and headed into a small storefront where we had a choice of Coke or beer and  hamburgers or choripan -- chorizo on a hot-dog-bun shaped roll.    I bought a Boca Juniors shirt for about $13.  I am not particularly supportive of Boca (I confess I rooted for River Plate when I was watching Argentine soccer regularly on TV) but the price was right, I needed an additional short sleeved shirt for the trip, having left my Barcelona jersey back at the Schramms' in Montevideo, and heck it is a good souvenir of the game.

Then into the stadium.  I had assumed, especially given the price of the tour, that we would be seated in one of the more expensive parts of the stadium on safety grounds, but I was pleased to find that we were in one of the supporters' sections, which are located behind each of the goals.  The section across the field was plainly the stronger section, because it was festooned with long yellow banners that ran vertically from the upper deck to the fence in front of the lower seats (thus partly blocking the view of the fans sitting behind them); the central yellow one was labeled "La 12," a reference to the home fans' role as the 12th man that helps propel the entire team to victory. 

I was also surprised to note that although we had arrived only an hour before the game, the supporters section was not yet full.  But by the time the game began, the stadium seemed quite full.  The supporters began chanting and singing about 15 minutes before game time.  I did not know the songs, but although I was a neutral, I joined in as best I could.  I did recognize a close variant of the Da-le Da-le Da-le Da-le-o song that we sing at RFK, as well as another one.

The team rained blue and yellow confetti down onto the field just before the game began; it also supplied a set of cheerleaders in the typical US style skimpy costumes, of course in blue and yellow as well.

As the game began, the supporters were shocked when Argentinos Juniors, a small club from another part of Buenos Aires, scored a goal within the first two minutes:  the ball was fed into the path of an onrushing player who flicked the ball into the net, beating the keeper from a tight angle.  Boca Juniors played largely without imagination for most of the first half, with many long balls that did not help them, but they began putting pressure on the Argentinos goal in the last five minutes, and scored just before half-time in a goal-mouth scramble. 

The fans turned up the volume after that happened, but they had been loud and active for much of the first half.  I was impressed with the volume of the sound, with the simultaneous waving of arms at various points in some chants or songs, and perhaps most of all with the apparent spontaneity of the wholly uniform singing.  Back at RFK Stadium, the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava put volunteers out in front of our sections to lead particular cheers at particular times, although the fans themselves also initiate.  But if there were such cheerleaders at the Boca Juniors game, I did not notice them.  And it would have been hard to do, because our section at La Bombonera was steeper than the stands at RFK, and indeed it was elevated from the field.  There is one way in which our section at RFK can be more impressive:  in our sections, the seats and stands are built in such a way that when we jump up and down in unison, the entire sections vibrate up and down with us.   There were occasions when the Boca supporters jumped up and down, but because the sections were all concrete, they could not vibrate with us.

Boca came out more strongly in the second half, which they dominated and they deserved their next goal midway through the second half, when two attackers beat the offside trap and one of them headed the ball into the net.  An Argentinos player was dismissed shortly after that, apparently for stomping on a Boca player, and the game was decided.  Boca came close to scoring shortly before the end when they had two players bearing in on goal with only the keeper to beat, but somehow they came up short.

As the game ended, we had to wait to leave because of the tradition that the supporters must stay in their seats until at least 20 minutes to allow the visiting supporters, whose seats were in the deck just above us, to leave first (thus  avoiding nasty confrontations that could lead to violence).  I got to talking with Guillermo, a man who was sitting just in front of me with three boys, two of them his sons not too different from the ages of my own sons when I began taking them to DC United games.  (Nice to see and nice to remember).  He said that he would have been in the opposite side supporters section had he not been with children; that side is too rough for kids.  He was frustrated not to be able to leave because his wife and daughter were at home waiting to begin celebrating Easter.

Finally we were able to leave.  Unfortunately, although the other Vamos a la Cancha groups were able to take off, we were brought back to the location where we had consumed beer and choripan because our van had not arrived.  We waited and waited for the van, being consoled with beer and a televised hame between two small Argentine Clubs, Rafaela and San Martin, as the proprietors of the area worked to close up shop for the evening.  Finally we were told that the van had broken down, and that others were being secured.  After more time passed, I suggested that maybe it was time to call cabs for all of us.  Santiago said that would not be needed, because the van was on its way.  But he seemed to think better of that because a few minutes after that, one of the Vamos a la Cancha workers took four passengers home in his own car, while four others including me were offered a waiting cab which took as directly back to our hotels.

I met up with Nancy who had spent the past few hours working on her email and some work projects.  We headed off to eat at the Gran Parilla del Plata in our San Telmo neighborhood. The food was fine but in no way noteworthy; probably the most noteworthy thing about the meal was the amazingly chatty waiter.  After the meal was done, we set off to look for some live music.  We resisted the blandishments of the waiters outside Cumparsita, a music and tango venue recommended by our usually-highly-reliable Lonely Planet Buenos Aires, but even though they insisted the music would begin in 15 minutes, the place just looked empty and we did not want to risk having to wait an hour for the venue to fill up and the music to start.  So we walked back to the Plaza Dorrego and caught the last few numbers of a flamenco show in the restaurant on the corner, while drinking and eating dessert.

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