I'm finally on my way. Three hours in, the Toronto - Santiago flight brings to mind Doctor Who's the Silence. So what does a bony-faced monster with a frozen mouth have to do with being sealed inside a flying metal can? The Silence leave no memory trace. They can plant an idea in your head, but once out of sight, all memory of them is gone. The doctor's companions mark themselves when they see a Silence (like the fellow in Memento) as a way to remember each encounter. Flying is like this; a horrible but forgettable experience.
This afternoon I arrive in Buenos Aires and take a cab to Palermo Hollywood where I've rented a 15th floor apartment. This unofficial section of Palermo is called Hollywood because of its popularity with video production companies.
I find I've rented a great apartment: modern and roomy with a nice balcony and great city views. I like the cement floors and colored and stamped cement ceiling. Even a pool and gym on the top floor.
The pictures are, of course, from the apartment.
Breakfast this morning is at the restaurant/bookstore/art gallery shown here, a couple doors down from the apartment.
Today I walk through Barrio Norte and Recoleta, to the Plaza de Mayo in Microcentro with its pink presidential palace. The 'mothers of the disappeared' march every Thursday to remind us of the disappearance of their sons and daughters during the 1976-83 dictatorship. This being Tuesday there are no mothers but there is another protest taking place and the police, while present, just observe.
As to the comparison with Paris. Some of the architecture, the feel of the apartment-lined streets, and the occasional little dividers separating street from sidewalk - posts or metal balls just big enough to trip on - bring to mind a worn, neglected Paris.
Buenos Aires' sidewalks are terrible. In all but the toniest neighborhoods the sidewalks have been torn up for construction or repair and never restored. I wondered if the sidewalks are responsibility of the government, which has no money, or of property owners, in which case there is no code enforcement. Dog poo, broken tiles, gaping holes, pipes, wood, you have to continually look down when walking the sidewalks of Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America.
Tonight I walked a few blocks to grab a late dinner - Palermo has many tempting restaurants - when I encountered forty or fifty young demonstrators on Ave. Santa Fe. The police stood back and observed as the students unfurled their long white banners. The protesters entered the street when traffic stopped, unfurled a long banner, then retreated when the traffic light changed. I don't know what the protest was about and the only word I recognized was 'fascist.'
Buenos Aires is the capital of a nation where dictatorships and revolutions are recent history. It is also a nation that saw the rise to power of a charismatic young woman who championed the sick and the poor and who worked to grant women the same rights as men. As is so often the case, our heroine died too young.
Today I visited the Cementerio de la Recoleta, Buenos Aires' most exclusive patch of real estate and the resting place of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, better known as Evita.
Evita's tomb is not the most impressive in this city of the dead, but it is the most visited. And even if this Necropolis lacked its most famous inhabitant it would still be worth a visit. Block after block, this city is composed of stone buildings of varying sizes,shapes,colors, and designs, each containing one or more caskets as well as photos, flowers, and plaques celebrating the memories of its inhabitants.
A downside to renting an apartment away from the tourist area is that few people here speak English and my Spanish is pretty much limited to 'habla usted ingles?' and 'donde esta el bano?' Hell, even writing Spanish is hard as the bloody autocorrect keeps changing what I type. I am up to Adjectives 1 in Duolingo's Spanish lessons app and autocorrect thinks pinguino should be penguin, which it is, but Duolingo wants the Spanish word so I lose lesson points.
I wonder how useful it will be to know the Spanish word for penguin?
Nevertheless, I press on with my attempts to communicate with the portenos. I plan what I need to say using a Spanish - English dictionary and Lonely Planet's Latin American Spanish phrasebook or, if I've wifi, Google translate. But often my carefully planned Spanish sentence is greeted by a response that is not one of 'si', 'no', or 'gracias'. At this point I'm screwed.
For example, after a long walk today, with temperatures in the high twenties (C) and humidity hanging in the air, I stopped at an ice cream shop to ask for an item straight from the menu, dulce de leche. Simple, eh? But no, the very polite and patient fellow behind the counter replied with a torrent of Spanish. He wanted to know the size of my order. I pointed to the large bowl. Then he wanted to know what flavors as it turns out the bowl holds three scoops and of course no one would order three scoops of the same flavor. Round and round we went, he gave me some ice cream to taste, and we eventually came to a decision that i' d have one each of chocolate, vanilla, and, what I really wanted, dulce de leche. The process is a bit embarrassing and frustrating and exhausting, but I guess that is what it takes to use a foreign language. The effort was rewarded: the dulce de leche ice cream was delicious.
As I was riding the D-line on the Subte (subway) to check out the cobblestone streets and crumbling mansions of Buenos Aires' San Telmo neighborhood, a man walked down the aisle of the subway car and placed a rubber-band-bound bundle of pencils in the lap of each seated passenger. My bundle was labelled 5 pesos, about 75 cents.This was accompanied by a non-stop narrative that I didn't understand, given my limited Spanish. Each passenger accepted the bundle and left it on their lap. Before the next stop, he walked back through the subway car, collecting his pencils as he continued his narrative.
At the next subway stop, the man was replaced by a young woman who walked down the aisle and placed a tissue pack on the lap of each seated passenger. Unlike the man, she never said a thing. Before the next stop she walked back through the car to collect her tissues.
I didn't purchase the pencils or the tissues, and now I wish I had.
My last full day in Buenos Aires. It is warm and humid and my energy level is low. I walked a different route to Plaza de Mayo, where I visited a museum I'd missed earlier. Surprised to find the Plaza largely empty, the lack of people made walking and picture-taking easier.
I don't see many camera-toting tourists. The few I see have small cameras in contrast with Europe and North America where a lot of tourists carry big Nikons and Canons. I don't know if I stand out or not, and I wish I didn't care.
My last task tonight (aside from choosing a restaurant) was to buy a better corkscrew as the one I packed is crap. I've been using a corkscrew i found in the apartment. I soon found a better corkscrew at a small Carrefour mercado on Avenue Santa Fe. I know, this is boring, but I what is interesting is that i gave the cashier two twenty-peso notes for the AR$36.99 item and he gave me a 5 peso note change. This wasn't a mistake; coins are in short supply so many businesses round.
Coin shortages are just one aspect of the problematic Argentinian economy and it impacts travel somewhat but this will have to wait for another post.
Even though I've grown accustomed to walking Buenos Aires' streets, dodging pot holes, pipes, abandoned lumber, and dog poo, I think that i am ready to head out of the city to Tilcara which should be very different.