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At home in Buenos Aires

ARGENTINA | Monday, 15 December 2008 | Views [824]

It was a bit disorientating in the taxi at first. The street names didn't seem familiar and I had lost my sense of direction. Gradually Buenos Aires started to reveal itself as we approached our rented apartment on Rodriguez Pena and Sarmiento, near the high and somehow skinny dome of Congresso. Once the contracts were signed and check-in completed we unpacked properly for the first time in 2 months and stepped outside to explore the city that had been home 10 years ago.

The obelisk, centred at the crossing of 9 de Julio, all 28 lanes of it and Corrientes. Lavalle and Florida the pedestrianised streets with parrillas with whole sides of beef roasting away in front of the embers, tango dancing buskers and curiously a chap miming to Robbie Williams and selling CDs of “himself” singing Robbie songs. Up to Plaza San Martin with its ancient gnarled trees and view down to the Torre de los Ingleses which looks a little bit like Big Ben. There was a full moon to greet us. Of all the things I remembered about Buenos Aires: 24/7, hectic, enormous, complicated, great craic, amazing food ... the thing I seemed to forget was how beautiful it is.

The flat was great, a clean, well equipped studio, walking distance from everywhere (that's a lie, Baires is way too big for anywhere to be like that. It was “central”). It felt so refreshing to have our own keys, landline, fridge and all the trappings of domestic life such as not having to get dressed actually in the shower.

On our first morning we had some submarinos (hot milk with a stir-it-yourself bar of chocolate) in the corner cafe. Cafes are ubiquitous and always very good quality. A leisurely stroll the 40 or so blocks to San Telmo via SA Explorers to pick up a package and hang out and get informed. It was somewhat disappointing that they were moving house/office down the street and was a mess of half packed boxes and all the staff seemed to be on the internet, not half as helpful or pleasant as in Lima or Cusco. Also strange was a large halo effect around the sun as we wandered the streets, clear in the cloudless sky. We grabbed a few tasty empanadas from a kiosko and munched them sitting in Plaza Dorrego, the busker music wafting before heading north.

The Pink House is where the presidente lives, actually spending most of her time in her leafier Olivos residence. Plaza de Mayo, home to permanent protests about anything from taxes to hunger to the mothers of the disappeared who still protest their sons disappearance almost 30 years after the unmarked cars took them away. As we walked through the plaza past the casada rosada another protest was in full flight. 9 de Julio's junction with the Autopista had been blocked by truckers all morning and the city was already gridlock when yet another noisy march banged, whistled and shouted its way along the Diagonal to join its competitor. Subte drivers had gone on a wildcat strike and the heaver than usual Friday evening traffic was going nowehere. The portenos really know how to protest, another thing I had forgotten. Good job the flat was central.

Off to Palermo that night to have a drink with Holly, an old friend I had last seen in Dublin when she was backpacking around Europe. When I lived in BA before there was palermo and Palermo Viejo. Now there was Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho to contend with. Holly took a raincheck and we chatted to the locals who confirmed that it was all a bit more upmarket than 10 years before.

The 152 collectivo took us down to La Boca the next afternoon after an excellent cheap as chips pork chops and mash brunch in a place 1 block down. La Boca is the poorest neighbourhood in Capital Federal and is home to la Bombonera, Boca Junior's blue and yellow spritual home and the location of some of Maradona's most memorable football. Nearby, colourful, uber-touristy Caminito with its open air Tango resto-shows and Diego lookalikes touting comedy photos. Boca had the last game of the season the following day and I had unsurprisingly failed to get tickets so we did a stadium tour instead. Maradona has his own yellow bench in the posh boxes, all the others blue. Interesting to see the player's communal showers and tub, just a tiny bit dingier than expected. Neither of us that fanatical at being back on the tourist trail though ... dislike of oblivious holidaymakers growing.

Finally managed to meet up with Holly in the evening, at a local parrilla (of course) in Belgrano who invited us to a party.

We were expecting a house party with comfy couches and ambient jazz music. Maybe some dips. After about an hour in the car, way out into the countryside and off-road a little we walked into a very well organised rave in the woods complete with lasers and a full bar. There was a little lake nearby, Claire got totally savaged by mosquitos and we got home well after dawn after a great night. There is a an Argentenian movie set inu Buenos Aires titled “In one night anything can happen – Buenos Aires kills me”. It's true.

Predictably we had a lazy Sunday watching bootleg Prince Caspian and Quantum of Solace that I picked up for $4 each on Corrientes before struggling out to a Pizza place for hair of the dog and to watch Boca win, which meant there was a three way tie at the top of the table which would have to be decided in 3 more games.

You can buy pretty much anything you can think of wholesale in Once (on-say), called “eleven” because an important battle took place there on the the eleventh of something or other. Once got us out of the house on Monday. I picked up some souvenirs and gifts. Then we hit an internet cafe to catch up with the world and do a few chores, upload some photos, get some phone numbers. At one point Claire asked me over to her PC for a sec to help her out with something. I was away for no more than 20 seconds. Somehow, probably because I had lots of papers, cables and gadgets on the desk I didn't notice at the time but someone swiped my camera and phone from my desk while I was away. Thankfully I had just swapped out the memory card for a fresh one so didn't lose any photos which spanned lot of Brazil and all of Uruguay. The only reason the phone was on the desk was because I had topped up the credit and I had received a confirmation text. When we got home I reached into my pocket for it and realised what had happened. I ran back down to the cybercafe but of course the thief was high and dry. I'm so glad I swapped out the memory card but the ones on the phone were gone. At least we would be able to manage with Claire's camera until the insurance claim could come through.

PS there is a timelag on the blog so if you want my new number please contact me below.

Tags: apartment, old friends, protests, theft


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