Monday, September 24, 2007

South America Part III: Buenos Aires

Another useful word I have learned in Spanish is demorado, which means delayed (as in, airplane).

My husband and I arrived in Buenos Aires on Saturday afternoon. What a difference from Montevideo, which is a relatively small city of about a million and a half people. This amounts to half of the population of Uruguay. Buenos Aires is absolutely sprawling, with about eleven million inhabitants. On the way in from the airport, row after row of apartment buildings cantilever over the expressway. Heaven forbid your cat should fall from the balcony. While both cities have their share of dodgy neighborhoods, crumbling buildings, and sidewalks made treacherous by missing tiles, we felt concern for Montevideo. Lacking BA’s tourist trade, it appears to be losing ground. However, we enjoyed the people and the food was excellent. Inexpensive, too, relative to US prices.

Yesterday we walked from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. First we went aboard the Frigate A.R.A. Presidente Sarmiento.
Built in 1897 as a training ship for the Argentine Navy, it’s now a museum.

Then we walked around both the San Telmo and La Boca districts. On Sundays in San Telmo an open air market stretches for many blocks. The streets are filled with shoppers and wanderers who are looking for bargains and treasures. You can live without most of what’s for sale, but in this area you’ll also find antiques shops and some specialty shops. It’s probably best if you’re on a mission to find a specific item. Since we had no agenda we simply strolled, took pictures, and enjoyed the tango dancers and the music.

Our two favorite experiences occurred at the same street intersection. The first was listening to a group named Trio Gotico, who played the most beautiful music on acoustic guitar. We bought two CDs from them, which turned out to be the only purchase we made that day with the exception of a pair of Cokes. The second wonderful thing was a street mime. We’ve seen street mimes before in other cities, but this one was charming. Dressed like an old-fashioned lady, she is clad completely in gold, down to her false eyelashes. She stands perfectly still until someone drops a coin into the can at her feet and then she comes to life. She is especially wonderful with children, bending down to tenderly stroke their cheek or their hair.

She’ll give the men a pretend kiss for the camera. For the ladies and children, she places a tiny pink heart in your hand.

La Boca is unabashedly touristy with its colorful corrugated tin buildings and street vendors with their assortment of merchandise, food, and street tango dancers. Lots of fun.

We’ve had two incidences of attempted theft in BA. The first occurred when someone unzipped my backpack. Fortunately, they didn’t get lucky because the backpack was too deep to reach anything. The second incidence occurred when a young couple came up to us exclaiming that we had something all over the back of our clothes. Indeed, some kind of gray mud had been mysteriously splashed on us. This “helpful” couple came to our rescue by blotting us down with Kleenex, front and back. Those fast fingers were searching for stuff to poach. Once again, we lost nothing. I’ve learned to leave my backpack at the hotel and zip money, etc. inside my jacket. Later, we decided probably a third person had squirted us. Nice try, kids.

I am disheartened by the large number of stray dogs in this city. They survive by rooting through garbage bags, which pile up along the curbs. Many of these dogs appear to be distant relatives of the German shepherd dog. One was a car chaser. (You have to imagine the amount of the traffic in this city. One street has sixteen lanes!) This dog lowered his head and actually waited for a car whiz by. Then he ran like hell, barking and biting at the tires. A wonder he's survived this long. Some of the strays simply stand in the street to watch the world go by. Or sleep in a sunny corner.

Tonight we’re going to a tango show. OlĂ©, baby.

For now,
Besos y abrazos.

(Thanks, Laura)