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buenos aires

ARGENTINA: BUENOS AIRES

I’m a confirmed city agoraphobe but certain metropolises have an undeniable allure and Buenos Aires just happens to be one of them. It has charm. Undeniable charm.

HOTEL VICTORIA

And the charm starts right in my chosen Buenos Aires abode. The Hotel Victoria is a rambling five story building, with 70 rooms, that has been a residential hotel for over 80 years. I’m not sure if it has gone up or down in the world during that time but currently it is jam packed with an eccentric collection of people from all over Latin America. A Colombian guy tells me he is here in Buenos Aires studying circus skills. He came to study economics, he goes on, but somehow he has ended up learning to juggle on a five metre high unicycle instead.*

Carlos Gardel, one of tango's greatest romantic heroes, watches over my door.

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It's a bit chilly to make the most of the plant filled courtyard...

... but it charms me, nonetheless.

And the hotel phones are priceless.

IS THAT A BIKE LANE?

A lot of people get around Buenos Aires on bikes and there are over 150 kilometres of bikes lanes throughout the city, I am told.

This one doesn't impress me much, though.

BOOKSHOPS: THE GLORIOUS

I don’t know if this makes me odd or not but I’m a person who prefers to explore a city through its bookshops. Sydney, Sao Paulo, New York, Chicago, London, Prague, if you want to know, I can tell you where the best bookshops are.

In Buenos Aires, I am facilitated in this quest by the advice of Jodie, an Australian friend – who I first met in Mexico – who spent a decade or so living in various Latin America countries and is a fellow bibliophile. She emails me a list of bookshops that I must visit in Buenos Aires.

The grandest of the bookshops I find myself browsing in, is the Liberia El Ateneo which is housed...

...in a disused theatre. The boxes are fitted out with armchairs where you can while away an afternoon reading in comfort...

... and those that miss out on a chair find other places to relax.

RECOLETA CEMETERY

Cemeteries also feature high on my list of places to visit in getting to know a city and Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery doesn’t disappoint.

Recoleta Cemetery on a grey day is a moody atmospheric place to visit.

There are histrionic heroes...

... and histrionic heroines.

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HEROES

Outside the cemetery gates more histrionics of a different flavour.

Argentina's footfall heroes look a little undersized and distinctly unheroic, from my unsympathetic point of view.

MURALS

Murals are another way to get a hint of the contents of a city’s soul.

This one is a bit baffling. I think it's a hippo, or, maybe, a horse...?

These are the mean streets of La Boca - the part that isn't all painted pretty for the tourists.

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A DOG’S LIFE

La Boca is a somewhat seedy wharf-side neighbourhood which I visit in search of another bookshop on my list.

A couple of blocks near the famous football stadium have been painted pleasing colours. The streets are cluttered with tawdry souvenir shops and overpriced eateries and populated by restaurant touts and bored tango dancers in fishnet stockings shivering in the cutting wind. Tourists are bused in to gawp and photograph while police stand around making sure there is no trouble.

And trouble isn’t so hard to find. When I wander outside this invisibly cordoned area in search of my bookshop, I am quickly accosted by two young men on a motor bike. The lad on the back of the bike dismounts, opens his jacket and shows me a gun, and then demands my backpack. My first instinct is not self-preservation.

“Piss off!”

The guy takes an uncertain step backwards as my insults become more vociferous and, as the would-be muggers realise that things aren’t going quite as simply they had hoped, the man jumps back on the motorbike and they flee. But I guess this story could have ended quite differently and I am lucky.

Dogs enjoying life in the tourist area of La Boca.

BOOKSHOPS: ARTISANAL AND ANARCHIST

Eloisa Cartonera**, which eventually, I locate, more or less unscathed, is an independent publishing collective, in La Boca, that produces handmade books from cardboard. The collective started in 2003 in the aftermath of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis with a number of objectives that are probably best described by their own website.

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MEMORIES

Argentina’s dark past is on display in the city.

This mural graces a wall near a permanent encampment in Buenos Aires famous Plaza de Mayo which houses disaffected veterans of the disastrous Falklands conflict. Most of the Argentinian soldiers sent to the islands, by the generals of the military dictatorship of the day, were still teenagers and miserably badly equipped. They, quite rightly, see themselves as pawns in an ugly game.

The streets of Buenos Aires are dotted with other reminders of the murderous excesses of the regime, this time against their own people. This series of plaques forms part of the pavement...

...outside a university building. The pencil embedded among the coloured tiles strike a particularly poignant note. The memorials are underfoot...

... on what seems like just about every street.

And, of course, nobody has ever been able to forget Evita.

CITY LIFE

The Puerto Madero area of Buenos Aires has been super gentrified and is now the most expensive real estate in the city.

You know you're in a real city when you're on the Metro.

*I later meet with someone who cynically exclaims, “Typical Colombian! They are all children of narco-traffickers!”… I wonder.

**A cartonero is someone who makes their living collecting cardboard and other recyclable material off the street.

{ 9 } Comments

  1. Peter Mac | August 4, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Hello,
    banditos, banditos….poor buggers have obviously never encountered a tough Ozzie sheila before. (Tom Cruise had the same feeling I’m sure when he first met Miss Kidman..??). Glad that they did you no harm.
    I have been enchanted by your epic adventure for a while now and this current Argentinian leg is amazing. You are able to show the results of what actually happens when outside political manipulation, via devious economic destruction enters one’s country. Have you read Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrain”..???
    Such a mysterious country that I hope to visit one day.
    You have been rewarded for your efforts with what appears to be some unique insight. I hope you have many more so as I/we can be further informed.
    Best wishes to you and many more happy miles for your future.
    Life is wonderful.
    Peter.

  2. anna | August 4, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Fortunately, they really weren’t very threatening banditos. Probably shouting at people with a gun isn’t advisable, though. I think the recommended strategy is to hand your stuff over quietly.

    But I’ve had a lifelong resentment towards bullying that I seem unable to overcome.

    (I have such an aversion to those celebrities that you mention that it was all that I could do, in my god like position of blog administrator, not to edit them out of your comment. But aside from that, thanks for your remarks ;-))

  3. TJC | August 4, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    I liked the dogs. As for the City…well, I don’t do cities well. But it looks spectacular, and it looks like it would take a lifetime or two to understand Argentina.

    Bookstores! I remember books…

    tj

  4. Sarah | August 5, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    That’s our Anna, someone threatens you with a gun and you shout at them! Glad you are ok. Exploring a city by bookshops does not make you odd it makes you the member of a select club (-; Stay safe, please. Though secretly I’m glad you stand up to bullies.

  5. Michael | August 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Nice Anna,
    that is what you learn in several months of biking in South A.
    Piss off!!$&**&…
    what lies ahead, back up trough Brasil? or across the ocean?

  6. Mike Howarth | August 13, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Now its time for me to peek at your BsAs photos!

    Wow looks so different to the 40 degree sweat fest whilst I was there.

    Such a great city. I need to go back there some day!

  7. Cesca | August 17, 2014 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    Gosh, Anna, you must have felt shaken after that attempted mugging. You certainly reacted bravely though. Glad you came out unscathed. Thank goodness kindness and hospitality have been your main travel companions.

  8. anna | August 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Micheal, I wish a cutting insult had come out in Spanish but the whole process was pretty unconscious and “Piss off!” was what happened to emerge. And yes, I’m on my way to Brazil, now!

    Mike, I could have done with a bit of 40 degree sweat-festing. It’s been a long time since I’ve been properly warm.

    Cesca, actually, it kind of made my day! (That sounds a bit Clint Eastwood-ish, doesn’t it?) I’m not sure if bravery or stupidity was responsible for my response — as I said, it was all pretty unconscious. I wasn’t aware of making any decisions about it. And yes, kindness and hospitality is far more common than even petty thievery, let alone armed muggings.

  9. julie begg | August 24, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Just caught up with this latest blog. Wow, Anna, you are a tough one! And brave!! Any bandit would be a fool to mess with you!! I’m glad though that it went your way. Paul Gibson had a similar unpleasant encounter in a restaurant (in Peru? I think) where the owner pulled a gun when he questioned the bill. I think he caved in and paid what was asked. I’ll ask Jenny who is coming to stay for a couple of days next week. Maybe give us a call???

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