Author Archives: Demetria

January 2013 from my southern home

Sunday lunch, Leda's patio

Sunday lunch, Leda’s patio

Back in Buenos Aires, January 2013

     It’s wonderful to be able to spend another summer in Buenos Aires and escape Chicago’s winter—however warm, snowless or cold it may be there!  Though the calendar says I’ve been here nearly a month, I feel like I only recently arrived.  Yet here I am in late January with temperatures in the mid-90’s all week!  Welcome back to my southern home.  A few new museums have opened since I was last here, and I’ll review them as soon as I can get to them all.

      Meanwhile, good food, good friends and good conversation have been my favorite trio for a long time, so it is delightful to be the guest at my “welcome dinners” with friends here, like this outdoor Sunday lunch with homemade pasta and lots of local treats.  

Nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than being stopped on the street by an Argentinian asking ME for directions. So I had a double smile yesterday as not one, but two different women, one in her 20’s, the other in her mid-forties, stopped to ask me for directions. As satisfying for me was actually being able to give them the information they wanted! Such moments make me really feel like a porteña (a local here)!

The amount and variety of free music here is wonderful. The city of Buenos Aires sponsors free music in what are called the “Bares Notables”, local bar-restaurants that are more than 100 years old. It’s a great way to support these places and the musicians that play in them.  Each weekend a local park offers milongas, with music, singing and dancing—all free. Another free music “find” was at an outdoor photo exhibit of the early years of the city’s famous Teatro Colon Opera House. There, speakers are positioned in the garden where opera music is played continually. Last Sunday as my friend Grizelda and I strolled through the park we viewed the photos while enjoying the music. Nearby in the park a group of young drummers and dancers practiced their routines, no doubt preparing for a murga, or marching parade of drum and dance clubs or groups. Such groups are common sights in various barrios during summer months, this one no doubt preparing for the upcoming two days of Carnaval to be celebrated Feb. 11-12.

Not so common–actually pretty rare I expect–is the sound of bagpipes here.  But that’s what I happened on to yesterday.  Imagine my surprise as I followed the sounds of “O come all ye faithful” played on bagpipes to discover a young Argentinian practicing away! My curiosity compelled me to talk with him, and I learned that he, Andres, a porteño, has been playing for 3 years on a set of Scottish bagpipes given to him by his Irish grandmother! Must be my karma–two days later as I rode a city bus we passed another bagpiper playing away on the street in the middle of the day.Bagpiper, Recoleta Mall

And yes, there is always tango to listen to, as I did with friends last Saturday, over dinner in a neighborhood spot in Boedo, La Cuarenta, where the owners, a couple, sang classic tangos and invited the diners to join them, adding another woman and 2 men to perform solos. Fun!

Lastly, I just have to share my photo of this car re-purposed as a travelling library that I’ve seen around the city.  Looking like a small tank, the sign on it reads “arm of massive instruction”! What a wonderful use for military tanks, don’t you think?  If only we could re-purpose all the weapons of mass destruction to be like this one.

arma de instruccion masiva1

Peace to you in 2013.

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Buenos Aires

Museum Afternoons

While I’ve visited Buenos Aires many times during the past 10 years, I’ve yet to see all the museums here. This summer I returned to my favorite ones—MALBA (The Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires), to the Museo de Evita and to the Museo Eduardo de Sivori, all three located in the Palermo neighborhood.  These three have been well described in most of the travel guide books, but some of the newer ones haven’t been widely written about thus far.  Let me introduce you to a few I’d never seen prior to this year.

Come with me to the Cerveceria Munich (Munich Beer House) located in Puerto Madero, the not-to-be-missed historical Museo del Bicentenario, a new museum located just behind the Casa Rosada, the Casa Nacional del Bicentenario in Recoleta and the Museo de la Ciudad in San Telmo.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because of these museum visits, along with a private tour my Argentine friend Daniel, an architect, gave me, I have been learning more about the history, architecture, and culture of the city and the country. I learned that the Casa Rosada was once two separate buildings (the presidential palace and the post office—joined together) and the Cabildo, across the Plaza de Mayo from the Pink House, was reduced in size from its full 12-arch length and shortened and slightly relocated for better visual harmony between the Plaza and the Obelisco, a panoramic view revealing the strong Parisian architectural influence at the time.

Some of the museums are noteworthy for the structures themselves, as is the Munich Beer House, while others shine more because of the specific exhibits on display, like the Museo de la Ciudad and the Casa Nacional del Bicentenario.  And the Museo del Bicentenario has it all—an impressive space on the 1580-1855 site of the former Forte de Buenos Aires (located behind the Casa Rosada), as well as its impressive exhibits.

I found the Museo del Bicentenario to be a perfect complement to Daniel’s architectural walking tour.  The museum, opened in May, 2011, celebrates 200 yrs of Argentine history (1810-2010)  in the remains of a the former fort of Buenos Aires and the original Customs House, through a series of audio-visual presentations that take the viewer through various periods in Argentina’s history.  All the video material and descriptions of objects are only available in Spanish, the videos displaying the physical changes in the city over this 200 year period, and video from the Dirty War (1976-83) are well worth a visit to history buffs in any language!  The contrast between the museum space itself and the brick-and-mortar (and cannon guns) remaining from the old fort provide quite the contrast.  A mural by the Mexican artist Siquieros, which had been boxed up for years, is on display.

At the Casa Nacional del Bicentenario, its building constructed in 1913, I saw two exhibits, the permanent “Many Voices, One History: Argentina 1810-2010” and the temporary exhibit “Mercedes Sosa, Un Pueblo en mi voz” (A town in my voice).   “Many voices” is a video installation that takes the viewer through eight stages of the country’s historical, social, political, economic and cultural development through a series of mostly still photos, with quotes, narration and background music.  An interesting exhibit, but not as well constructed and informative for me as were the video clips at the Museo del Bicentenario.

The Mercedes Sosa exhibit showcases the life of this wonderful Argentine folksinger from Tucuman who was known as “La Negra.” A wonderful video with interviews of some of the artists she worked with, along with clips of some of her performances plays repeatedly sending her voice and music through the exhibit room, as you follow a timeline of her life and performance highlights.

Cerveceria Munich was empty the afternoon I visited except for me, two other visitors and a few staff members scattered throughout this former German Beer House along the southern coast of the Rio de la Plata, which operated from 1927 and 1957 as a central gathering place for middle class and well-to-do Porteños.  From its wonderful art deco style and exquisite stained glass windows, sculptured columns, water nymphs statues in the outdoor garden, to the late 19th century ambience inside, Cerveceria Munch is visually fascinating.  Built in 4 months in 1927, the building had the refrigeration capacity to cool and transport three thousand barrels every day via a series of pipes tunneled throughout the building.  A rich photo exhibit of old Quilmes posters added an additional turn-of-the-century flair.  Though alone, I could hear the music of the people and musicians that filled the cerveceria on weekend afternoons.    If only, I thought, if only I could sit down and enjoy a beer here—perhaps after the current restorative efforts have been completed in the coming year.  This definitely is a place I want to come back to again! Currently it houses the administrative office for the city’s museums, but I hope they have plans to re-open the main hall; it’s a marvelous space!

An exhibit of children’s toys from the early 19th century was one of three exhibits currently on display at the Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City), in the heart of the San Telmo barrio.  Here I learned that what I knew as an Erector Set was called Meccano in Spanish and it was very popular, too, in Argentina, during the 50’s and 60’s.  Replicas of early tin, wood, and metal toys, bikes, cars, dolls, and games from as far back as 1840, playfully filled the gallery, with early metal sand pails hanging above.  Another gallery showcased doors—wooden, marble, iron, glass—and the third gallery a display of an early Argentine magazine series.  There is no space for a permanent exhibit, so you can be assured you will encounter new objects with every visit!  Lunch with my friend Maria Teresa, at a restaurant on nearby Avenida de Mayo, followed by a quick visit to the Casa de la Cultura’s tienda, housed in an amazing building, rounded out one of my museum afternoons.

2 Comments

Filed under Buenos Aires, Museums in Buenos Aires, Travel in Argentina

Visiting Mendoza: Argentina’s wine country

Along with some friends visiting from Chicago, I spent a wonderful 5 days visiting the wine country of Argentina during Vendimia, the national grape harvest festival held at the beginning of March each year.  Between the city of Mendoza where the festival is held, and Maipu, a nearby city, there are more than 1,300 wineries and vineyards here, in what is considered to be Argentina’s wine capitol.  Alongside the high Andes mountain range is Mr. Aconcágua (22,841 feet), the highest peak in all of the Americas (North, Central and South), which we saw by bus and on foot, hiking one of its paths (4,000 ft above sea level) near Laguna Espejo, (Mirror Lake), one of the small glacial lakes set in this colorful mountain range.

Read on now, or view the photos on the link below and return to the text.  Whatever–I hope you enjoy it all. For the photos, click the blue link :

Visiting Mendoza, Argentina

About 2,800 ft. above sea level, we stopped to see the Puente del Inca, (The Inca’s Bridge) a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Rio Vacas, and the hot springs nearby, with an interesting natural formation that formed over time as falling snow, dust and rocks carved a path for the sulfurous water and petrified the surface.  Once the site of a hot springs resort, the erosion along the bridge has caused its closing, but now the area is protected and off-limits to tourists and continue damage that occurs with extensive use.

A variety of tours abound in the Mendoza province, including the winery and vineyards tours, as well as kayaking, horseback riding, rafting, and bicycling opportunities at high and low price ranges.  For 200-240 pesos per day (US $50-60) we were picked up in our hotel lobby and taken around in vans and small touring buses to our destinations.  Along the way, our tour guide told us about the area in both Spanish and English—the two most frequently spoken languages among the tourists.  We met fascinating people from Lithuania, Sicily, Canada, Brazil, and India (which claims the largest number of wineries world-wide, in its nascent industry!), chatting about other tours and travels we’ve made, sharing wine, restaurant recommendations and stories, and snapping photos for one another.  Everyone was so friendly—even before the wine tastings began and definitely more so afterwards!

A highlight of the trip for me was discovering Historias y Sabores, an artesanal factory located in a 100 year-old house close to the bodegas Trapiche and La Rural, which Mary Pat and I found while pedaling our rented bicycles around the Maipu area one lovely morning.  For 20 pesos ($5 US) the owner, Argentine Alejandro Prieto, offered us a tasting of his locally made liqueurs, chocolates, jams, olive oils and olive tapenades, in a lovely patio setting with grapes growing all around us.  Our bikes ($25 pesos or US $6 for the day) came from Mr. Hugo’s, one of a number of bicycling rentals located in Maipu, a 30-minute,  $1.80 pesos (42 cents US) bus ride from Mendoza.  Hugo provides a small map, helmet, bike, and water bottle—with complementary wine when you return.

Naturally we did some wine tastings too!  We visited a total of 5 vineyards/wineries in 2-1/2 days on various tours.  We toured a large industrial size winery, Bodega Lopez, which exports only 1% of its production world-wide.  The other 99% is consumed inside Argentina.  We visited a much smaller, new boutique winery, Vistantes, which exports to the US among other places.  At Bodega La Rural we explored the Museum of Wines, which had lots of early artifacts of wine making in the 1880’s Argentina.  It was a walk through time to see the various machines, barrels and other wine-processing equipment at the museum and be able to compare it with the contemporary wineries!  One guide told me Argentines consume about 90 liters of wine per person, per year, or more than 102 bottles each—on average!

On the tours guides walked us through the grape to wine process, beginning in the vineyards and moving through the various rooms and equipment used to transform the grapes into wine.  At the conclusion of the tour we sampled 2-3 varieties of wines:  malbec, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, champagnes, rosé wines as well.

An olive oil factory visit was on another tour we took in Mendoza.  Since 1920, Pasrai, an Olivicola Boutique, has been making olive oils, and a variety of tapenades, fruit jams, and other olive-oil based products like soaps and lotions.   Yum.  Locally made extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) with ájo (garlic), or oregano, or by itself, el clasico—with bits of bread–olive tapenades and raisins were included in the flavorful tasting we had here.  I couldn’t leave without buying some olive oil soap, and a small bottle of the delicious EVOO con ájo to enjoy back in Buenos Aires.

Local restaurant fare for us included one dinner at what is called a “Tenedor Libre” restaurant in Mendoza—an all-you-can eat buffet with parrilla.  Tenedor Libre, literally, translates to “Free fork” — the perfect name for a buffet style restaurant, no?  Mateo, the chef at the parrilla there, was delighted to pose with me and his work-in-progress display of grilled meats!

Two parades, the official “Carrusel de Vendimia” a morning parade on the first Saturday in March in the main streets of the city, includes floats representing the various departments (regions) of the Mendoza Province.  The floats show grape harvest motifs, the candidates for the title of the “Queen”(Reina) del Vendimia, and also include gauchos dressed in typical clothing on their horses.  The other was an anti-government protest parade, in streets nearby the official Carrusel parade route, where local citizen groups protested the government’s support for the use more than 100 million liters of water per day to benefit the development of the mega-mines and disregard the contamination and harm these mines bring to the people and the entire natural world, damaging mountains and towns forever.  “El agua vale + que el Oro” was the message displayed on banners, t-shirts, signs, chants and pamphlets throughout the route.   Sobering!

2 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza

People to meet, places to go, food to eat

Atlantída, Uruguay

I continue deepening friendships I’ve made in past years here, and through them I am making new ones as well.  With friends old and new I spent a delightfully tranquil week in Atlantída, Uruguay at a lovely riverside resort where we rented a bungalow and waited out some of BA’s hottest days this summer!  Thanks to Delia, a Uruguayan friend, I met two of her friends who live in Montevideo.  Off to their country place for the weekend, they joined us for a swim in the pool and helped prepare a homemade parrilla (barbecue) complete with provoleto, a delicious grilled provolone choose dressed with oregano and olive oil,  along with our colita de cuadril cut of beef cooked just right,  and two kinds of sausages–morcilla (blood sausage) and italian sausage– on the grill too, complimented by a green salad, excellent bread, and, of course, lots of good Argentinian malbec wine to drink.

Our backyard parrilla in Atlantída

It just looks like breaking and entering!

Waiting to get back into the bungalow that afternoon so we could start preparing this wonderful dinner, we discovered we didn’t have the only key to open the front door.  But thanks to Susana’s ingenuity we discovered an open bedroom window, and so I entered the bungalow cautiously, though that’s not what it looked like in one of the photos we captured in the moment.

I met Dani, Romina and Liz through my friend Gri, who was their English teacher.  They have generously included me in their recent gatherings, and Dani, an architect, is planning to take us on an architectural tour of the city!  I’ve also been seeing some North American friends who have travelled here, like my Chicago friends Angie, Pat, Roberta & Mary, who visited here briefly at the end of their South American cruise, and Mary Pat and her friends from Chicago, with whom I will travel next week to the northern city of Mendoza, the wine capitol of Argentina, and with whom I’ve been romping around the city again this past week.

Some of my new friends are Chris, from Oregon, his partner Jingzi, from China, and their delightful daughter Audrey, age 2-1/2. Audrey speaks English, Spanish and Chinese! She and I have had a few fun times together, but I was surprised to realize our preferred language together was Spanish! She, like my little friends Colette and Simon in Chicago, was fascinated to create pictures and make music on my ipad.

Rooftop dining with Gri, Liz, Romina and Daniel

El Caminito in La Boca

With friends from Chicago visiting I feel so much “at home”here. For three days in late January, Angie, Pat, Roberta and I toured the city by van, with our own driver who followed the route I mapped out for him. Since R & M were only here for one day, I planned what I call the “drive by day in BA.” I met them at the port where their cruise ship docked, sporting my homemade “Bienvenidos” (welcome) sign. Over the following 6+ hrs we went sightseeing, with stops like these:

  • Puerto Madero and photos at The Women’s Bridge (Puente de la Mujer) by the Spaniard architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the marvelous Milwaukee Art Museum)
  • La Boca, walking along the colorful Caminito and enjoying a cold drink atop the Fundacion Próa Museum
  • a drive to Plaza Dorrego through the San Telmo barrio, site of the ever-expanding Sunday antiques, arts and crafts fair, including fruit and vegetable stands like this one inside the old Mercado de San Telmo,

    Mercado San Telmo

    and the bizarre Barbies display of one local vendor (see above)

  • a stop to pick up our tango show tickets at the historic Cafe Tortoni (disappointing show unfortunately!)
  • adjacent to each other, we visited the famous Casa Rosada, the Cathedral, the Plaza de Mayo, the Obelisco monument on the 14-lane wide Avenida 9 de Julio

Symbol of the Mothers of the Disappeared at the Plaza de Mayo

  • passing through my barrio, Recoleta with the famous Cementario de Recoleta;
  • winding through Palermo to our excellent lunch at one of my favorite parrillas, La Cabrera Norte Restaurant, then back to the port and their cruise ship for the evening.

Similar to the personalized tour I set up for them is the city-sponsored touring bus—Bus Turistico— with 12 hop-on and hop-off stops throughout the city. It gives a good overview of the top sights and notable places in Buenos Aires at a reasonable price ($67 pesos or about $16 US). It’s a good way to help you decide which of the sights you want to return to at a later time. That’s what other visitors from Chicago have been doing since they arrived here.

I’m starting to really enjoy guiding Chicago tourists around Buenos Aires, now that I know the language and culture of both world class cities! Everyone has been generous to me as well, buying lunches, teas and dinners and giving me positive feedback on the solutions and suggestions I’m providing them.  I’ve been treated so many times in the past few weeks I’ve considered wearing a sign reading, “Will work for food!”

Liz prepares the parrilla

Mary Pat and Beau posing in La Boca

The classic  Argentine parrilla (barbecue) comes in many shapes and forms, but one thing is constant: the parrilla is a Buenos Aires must! The parrilla is a thing–a barbecue heat source, the meat cooked there, restaurants that specialize in grilling meats this way — all of these are what is called una parrilla.  There are restaurants that specialize in the parrilla, where meats are cooked using wood as the heat source, rather than the charcoal we are used to in the states, but also a wide variety of home parrillas. In January a new friend, Liz, invited me and others to a parrilla dinner on her rooftop deck. We had a feast with at least 3-4 different cuts of beef as well as morcilla (blood sausage) and chorizos. Oh yeah, and then there was that parrilla dinner at Restaurant Don Julio in Palermo and one at La Payúca in Recoleta, and our homemade version in Atlantída, and well, I’m sure there are at least a few more—parrillas and new friends– waiting for me here during the coming days and weeks!

I end this post with a note of sadness in memory of the 51 people who died and the more than 700 injured in the commuter train crash in Buenos Aires, Feb. 23, 2012.

4 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza

Welcoming 2012 in Buenos Aires

Chicago, DC, Buenos Aires, Colonia–these four cities in the northern and southern hemispheres mark my travels these past two weeks.  I left Chicago Dec. 30th and arrived at my Buenos Aires destination Dec. 31st.   A long layover in DC gave me the chance to enjoy a visit and dinner with my friends Kathleen and Larra.

New Year's Eve Dinner in Boedo: Turkey, sausages, cheeses, salads, ice cream, champagne & vinto tinto

Dining with friends has been my pleasure almost every day since, as these photos show.  New Year’s Eve dinner with Leda and her family in Boedo.  Saturday night dinner in the barrio Caballito hosted by Lis on her rooftop terrace.  Dinner with friends at my favorite, Bar de Cao, where we shared a wonderful tray of cheeses, olives, ham, salamis  and vino tinto  in this family restaurant with its great old world ambience.  A surprise visit with my “amiga de cafe”, Graciela, a woman I met last year, when we each searched for a place to enjoy a light breakfast (a medialuna-croissant and tea or coffee, discussing macrobiotic stores and Argentine politics.  Lunch with Jose and Ana, beachside, along the Rio de la Plata, in Colonia, Uruguay.

On Wednesday  I sat for nearly an hour in the countryside outside of Colonia del Sacramento, in Uruguay, watching the most amazing sunset.  It was a cloudy day, for the most part, but as the sun set the sky had cleared of all but a few small cumulus clouds.  The sky appeared to be a lake, glowing red, amidst  little islands within the lake.  There I was, sitting alongside my friend Josefina, catching up on the news of our lives since our visit last February.  “This,” I thought, “this is what I do when I come to Argentina for the summer. I must tell all the people who wondered how I would spend my four months here this year!”

Puertas Abiertas (Open Door) Community Center, La Boca. Sign on the wall reads: The only valid hero is the collective hero.

There have been other experiences, of course, not as pleasant.  Much of Argentina and parts of Uruguay are experiencing a severe drought. Prices have risen dramatically since last year, and now approach those in Chicago.  At times, as I’ve begun to takedaily walks in the city, I see the effects of globalization, passing McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Staples and a rapidly expanding network of Starbuck Cafes.  Where am I anyway? Still these changes pale alongside life changes happening to friends here.  I learned a friend’s mother had died a few months earlier, and another, after facing cancer last year, has developed uremia and now goes for dialsysis treatments, three times weekly, for the rest of her life.  These certainly put my good fortune into human perspective.

"La Colina,"(The Hill), friends' country home outside Colonia, Uruguay

Changing cities, countries, seasons (from Chicago’s mild winter to a hot Buenos Aires summer, and, most significantly, changing languages and cultures–all within a few weeks.  I wonder what the coming days will bring.

10 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza

November

Jacarandas near the Casa Rosada

As November’s sunlight filters through the remaining golds, browns and reds of autumn leaves falling in Chicago, it is spring in Buenos Aires, and the lush, purple jacaranda trees are in full bloom.  I love seeing them, and the other flowering trees.  The brilliant Jacaranda trees line many avenues such as Avenida Santa Fe pictured below, and alongside the famous Casa Rosada.

Avenida Santa Fe

The trumpet-shaped flowers retain their vibrant color even as they fall and carpet  the sidewalks all month long.  Alongside the small yellow flowers of the Fica trees and the pink blossoms of the Palos  Borachos trees (literally the “drunken sticks” because of their shapes), the jacarandas create a trio of
springtime colors!

Thanks to my dear friend Cheryl in CA, I learned about a wonderful recent Wall Street Journal article by Sarah Gilbert, Journal
Concierge, an insider’s guide to Buenos Aires. 
Read it here:

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052970204644504576651081932691792-lMyQjAxMTAxMDEwMTExNDEyWj.html?mod=wsj_share_email

Gilbert shares my fascination and love of the city, its seductiveness and rich heritage. In her article, four well-known people with Argentine connections (actor Robert Duvall, married to the Argentine actress Luciana Pedraza; Narda Lepes, a  local chef, author and TV personality; Gustavo Santaolalla, Academy Award-winning composer/musician born in Buenos Aires; and pop artist Marta  Minujín) tell us what they love about BA.  After reading about their  favorite places and things, I began creating my own favorites list.

Dancers at Cafe Tortoni

Best meat meal: by far is La Cabrera in the Palermo neighborhood, where huge portions of Argentina’s best grass-fed, hormone-free beef (definitely share a meat entree) is served to you accompanied  by 6-8 small dishes filled with delicious vegetable sides such as baked garlic,
zucchini, sauteed onions, baked apples, creamed spinach. Their Argentine wine  selection compliments any meal. So popular, there is a second restaurant, La Cabrera Norte, one block away.
Evening reservations are a must.

Cafe favorites: The city has many bars and cafes throughout the various neighborhoods, some selling coffee and others offering an extensive menu. Two “Bares Tradicionales de Buenos Aires,” located in the neighborhood of Boedo, which I can’t get enough of are Cafe
Margot
and Bar de Cao.

The Cao Brothers make a delicious Spanish tortilla (potato and egg omelet) among their many offerings, and the cheeses/olives/meat plates at both cafes complement their cozy, local ambience.  Off the tourist path.
On the streets:  Looking for me on a Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires?  You’re sure to find me at one of the outdoor ferias, the arts and crafts markets, especially the one held in the Recoleta barrio, at Plaza Francia, close to the famous Recoleta cemetery and Buenos Aires Diseño, a design shopping mall.  A close second is the ever-growing antiquest fair and artesans market held every Sunday in the San Telmo neighborhood.

Watching tango:  On the streets of the La Boca neighborhood,
or at local milongas (dance halls) including Torquato Tasso and Confiteria
Ideal
, where you can also take a dance lesson.  For an evening of tango music and dance, I
like the intimacy of the small salon at the rear of Café Tortoni, or the continuous entertainment at Bar Sur.

5 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza

Cycling in Buenos Aires

For more than thirty years I’ve peddled my way along Chicago’s glorious paths alongside Lake Michigan, so it seemed about time that I took to two wheels in Buenos Aires during my 2011 stay there.  It is an adventure to cycle in the city proper, especially if you do it solo.  Better to take a cycling tour with one of the bike rental agencies, like La Bicicleta Naranja, which has locations in 2-3 different neighborhoods in the city.  Even so, with all the street traffic, it can be very dangerous, unless you ride along one of the many new bicycle paths that are being created throughout the city.  As this was the first year these paths have started to be created, I am hopeful that the network of paths will grow extensively during 2011, so I can ride again in 2012.

The Parque Natural y Zona de Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur seemed like a good place for my first bicycling adventure in Buenos Aires!  The reserve, north of the Puerto Madero and San Telmo neighborhoods, encompasses four lakes, foxtail pampas grass, willows and shrubs where more than 200 species of birds live, so the guidebooks say. I only saw two species, though–some colorful parrots that flew off before I could retrieve my camera to take their pictures, and the Teru-teru bird, whose song sounds like its name.

I rented a bike from La Bicicleta Naranja about a mile south of the reserve. It was a single speed model with fat tires, a front basket to hold my things, and came with a map, helmet, lock and key–for $12 pesos ($3 US) per hour. A deal!  The map took me first to one of the growing number of bicicendas (bicycle paths) being laid out throughout Buenos Aires, then led me to the reserve.  No motorized vehicles of any kind are allowed in the reserve, so the only ways to see it are by bike or on foot, assuring me of a peaceful ride, I hoped. And it was.  I passed some joggers, hikers and a cheery young class of middle school kids and their teachers, but also the inevitable mix of noisy teenagers who made it impossible for me to get any really good photos of the Rio de la Plata, which seems as big as Lake Michigan, though it has a murky brown color unlike the beautiful blue of Lake
Michigan.  Nonetheless, stopping along the Rio for some cold water and a snack was a refreshing pause on the sunny, 82 degree
afternoon I went there last February, a spot much more desirable than the blizzard snowing under my family and friends in Chicago at the time!  Benches line some of the paths along the way, though more seemed positioned in the sun rather than in shady spots.  At a few spots I was able to see some of the tall skyscrapers of nearby Puerto Madero, and I enjoyed the peaceful solitude of a bicycle ride on a lovely summer day.

Leaving the  reserve I paused along the route to take a photo of the growing number of yachts anchored in the dock areas.  The city traffic in this area was intense–cars, taxis, and trucks rushed past me, causing me to cut short my afternoon on the bike after 2-1/2 hours.  I had planned to bike all the way to my neighborhood, Recoleta, before heading back to the bike shop, but I couldn’t
locate the yellow bicicenda markings to show me the way.  Rather than trying to ride in such chaotic and dangerous afternoon rush hour (hora pico) traffic, I wound my way slowly back to my starting point. I decided to save the bicicenda paths for another
day, or for my next trip to Buenos Aires.

6 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza

Bienvenido a Mi Querida Buenos Aires

Welcome to my dear Buenos Aires. 

I think of Buenos Aires as my second home, and love to share it with friends and family whenever I can. For 9 full days in January, 2011, I accompanied two friends from Chicago, Fran and Z, around and beyond the city.  I hope this summary of their trip whets your travel appetite!

We toured a number of barrios(neighborhoods) in the city: Recoleta, Barrio Norte, San Telmo, La Boca, Congreso, Palermo (in all of its variations–Palermo Viejo, Chico, Soho, and Hollywood), as well as places outside the city, such as Tigre, and Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay.  Z got to fulfill her desire to take a tango class, go to a milonga (local dance hall) to see local people dance it, and we spent an evening at the intimate Bar Sur where we experienced tango in all its variations—played, sung, and danced.

We shopped our way through the ferias (outdoor markets) in the San Telmo neighborhood (the largest of the ferias these days) alongside countless antique shops, in Recoleta (my personal favorite), and in La Boca.  We toured the Japanese  Gardens, visited the Museum of Latin American Art (MALBA) in Palermo and the Museo de Quinquella Martin in La Boca.

I helped them choose the apartment they rented for their trip; it was a convenient 5 blocks away from my apartment.  It
offered them a unique view of the Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita Peron’s grave is located, with its marvelously old tombs.
One day Z captured this wonderful photo of a double rainbow, from their patio overlooking the cemetery. Their more-affordable-than-a-hotel-room apartment had AC, a washer/dryer, cable TV, wi-fi access, and a great view of the cemetery.

[Photo: Carol Zmuda]

We had a full agenda. We walked–a lot–took taxis (Okay so I had a little misunderstanding with a taxi driver one
day!), road the high speed ferry boat to and from Uruguay, also rode a smaller aquatic colectivo (water bus) on the river, and rode the colectivo bus system.  We ate great meat, fresh pasta, empanadas, had our share of ice cream cones at Freddo’s, and drank a variety of excellent Argentine wines.  We spent some of our downtimes (ok a few siestas too) playing Scrabble and Angry Birds.

A home version of a parrilla (barbecue grill).

All of us, but especially Fran, worked on improving her knowledge of Spanish (Castellano as the Argentines say)
by watching American TV and reading the Spanish subtitles.  She learned so much, so quickly.  It was impressive! She proudly used all that she learned the following days. In their search for the perfect chandelier they took me to the Mercado de las Pulgas (literally the flea market), an outdoor junker’s heaven and a place I’d never visited before, but sure will return to next year.  [Later another friend introduced me to the local Ejército de Salvacíon (Salvation Army), but that’s a story for another post.]

Antonito’s Fruits and Vegetables in Palermo

What I enjoyed most was being able to have these friends from Chicago meet my friends from Buenos Aires.  Everyone was so welcoming, gracious, generous and fun. Visiting Jose and Ana at their country home outside of Colonia, Uruguay, was a special day for us!  They welcomed us into their lovely place, shared their beautiful gardens, fruit and olive trees and swimming pool with us, along with offering us delicious food and Argentine wine.  We walked along the Rio de la Plata, talked and together watched the sun set, with the city of Buenos Aires in the background–laughing and chatting in English, Spanish, and Spanglish — Castellano style, of course.

We spent a Saturday evening with Grizelda, an Argentine friend of mine, who teaches English at the University.  She generously hosted a welcome dinner for all three of us.  There I met some new people and renewed friendships with others, widening and deepening my circle of friends here.

Fabiana, a friend who used to drive a taxi, guided us to Tigre, a small town at the mouth of the Paraná Delta, 17 miles north of BA for a day-long excursion on the Paraná River. There we rode a big Seacat boat along the river, stopping at a small parrillada restaurant, with an outdoor barbecue (parrilla) along the shore, passing homes built on stilts along the river.  After a  long, relaxing lunch on a smaller island there, we headed back via the water colectivo to Tigre, where we walked around the old Puerto de las Frutas outdoor market.  Oh, yeah, and Fran and I peeked inside the Trilium Casino there, too, but only long enough to use a restroom and take in the usual casino slot machine madness.  And we didn’t wager anything, really.

The week passed too quickly, I think, even though I counted each day and night separately– as my Dad recommended, since, he claimed, one uses time on vacations more wisely—filling each with daytime and nighttime activities separated by an afternoon siesta (which we took, religiously, every afternoon during the hot January days). So while their visit to Buenos Aires
lasted only nine calendar days, using Dad’s method of counting, we expanded their vacation time to eighteen!  And in
some ways, their vacation was timeless–as all good vacations ought to be.   Come see for yourself!

2 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza

On language, culture and friendship

I am so proud of my growing bilingual abilities.  I started learning to speak Spanish in my 50’s, taking classes, working with a tutor here and there, and spending time each year immersing myself in the language and culture of Buenos Aires.  I was reminded of how my Spanish skills have grown when I visited with my friend Maria Teresa back in January ’11, and we ate lunch in her apartment.

When I was introduced to her in August, 2002, I understood less than ten percent of what she said. She speaks quickly, has a very thick Argentinian accent, and uses lots of colloquial phrases that even other non-Porteños like me may not know either. Despite my almost non-existent Castellano (how Spanish is referred to here) Maria Teresa reached out to me. We spent an afternoon going to a museum and for a coffee in a well-known, very old Buenos Aires cafe, El Gato Negro. We both struggled to understand what each other was saying, and we both persevered.

Over the past nine years we’ve been to a wonderful Rep exhibit at MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires, to a sculpture exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts, to countless lunches and dinners together at Leda’s and both of our apartments. We’ve made pizzas together–she’s an excellent cook!–and traded recipes, her pizza dough with my mother’s sage stuffing for turkey. I cooked her first-ever North American thanksgiving dinner, my Christmas Eve menu of calamari and spaghetti and shrimp cocktail. We saw performances of tango musicians and of a classic tango singer in some of the Cafes and Bares Notables (government-sponsored cafes and bars that are more than 100 years old), drinking a beer or a coffee or glass of vino tinto (red wine) and eating cheese and olives.

Maria Teresa has been my “go-to” person when I wanted information on how to get some place in the city. She gave me her personally-guided tour taking me beyond El Caminito and into the streets of La Boca where the locals live, and where she worked as a social worker many years ago. She explained the conventillos, apartment-style buildings formerly situated in this barrio. Just yesterday she told me about the Parque de la Memoria, a sculpture park created in 1998 to honor the more than 30,000 killed during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina during what is called “The Dirty War” from 1976-1983. I want to see this place, with its monument to the victims of state terrorism–the desaparecidos–including the statue of Pablo Miguez, the14-year-old boy thought to be the youngest of them, which stands in the river itself, the Rio de la Plata, a common dumping place for the bodies of the junta’s victims. 

 We also talked about her recently deceased mother, about the current mayor and his policies and projects, about food (okay we both enjoy food, cooking and eating it), about the weather, the well-being of our common friends, about what buses I could take and where to board them to return to my apartment. We confirmed our plan to see a new sculptural exhibition when the Kosice Museum reopens in two weeks. We laughed. We talked. For two and a half hours. In Castellano.

6 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza

Tango Energy

Tango stirs my spirit.

Video of Argentinian tango dancers at La Viruta, a local milonga (dance hall) setting for tango lessons and dancing!

While I’m not a tango dancer, I am a tango lover.  I am energized by listening to the music and the vocalists, and watching the dancers weave their bodies in and around one another.  I especially love listening to and seeing the bandoneon being played, its melancholic sounds stirring me.  I think my love affair with the bandoneon actually began when I was 14 and I studied the accordion.  Although that phase of my life only lasted a few years–it was uncool to play the accordion in high school–I always liked the way the instrument felt and sounded.  But the bandoneon!  That love affair has just begun.

Bandoneon

I first saw professional tango in August, 2002 at the famous Confiteria Ideal, a bar-dance hall-restaurant where even today tango classes happen most evenings.  My introduction, however, was listening to live music with a beautiful singer, dressed in a long black sequined gown with over-the-elbow white gloves, and wearing a long black feather boa.  A sultry passionate performance
welcomed me to this uniquely Argentine musical genre.  I was soon to learn that in addition to tango, the dance form and musical genre, is the related “milonga”—itself a musical genre similar to tango and also the name of the place or event where
people dance to both tango and milonga music.

Since that first experience, I’ve seen tango on a big theatrical stage, in the intimate setting of the Alfonsina Salon in the famous
Buenos Aires Café Tortoni, on the streets of the La Boca and San Telmo neighborhoods.  I’ve been to tango lessons at the milonga La Viruta, at the Torquato Tasso Café, and I listen to the all-tango radio station whenever my soul longs for tango.

My favorite is electronic tango, a fusion of electronic elements on top of a tango groove.  There are a number of groups that have terrific CDs of electronic tango, including Tanghetto, Carlos Libedinsky, Gotan Project, Bajofondo Tango Club or my favorite group, Otros Aires.

I’m inspired every August in Chicago because that’s when tango comes to town!  The Sixth International Chicago Tango Fest’s Tango on the Town is set for August 24-28, 2011.  Two free events coming up are especially fun to attend.  The Tango on the Town Festival features the Argentine group Tangata, in concert at The Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., on Wednesday, August 24 at 8:30 pm.  This is a free ticketed event.  $5 suggested donation. Chicago SummerDance will also host Tangata on Thursday, August 25th , starting with a tango dance lesson at 6:00 pm, with the group’s classical tango concert to follow.

Visit   www.chicagotangofest.com for more details.

2 Comments

Filed under Visiting Mendoza