Week 3: 6 – 12 February
After a couple of low-key weeks, this week turned out to be busy, with lots of mileage on our matching Garmin watches!
Art & architecture…
Buenos Aires is a unique place. It has the amazing buildings and art of colonialism – in the early 1900s Argentina was the 7th wealthiest nation in the world – through to the extensive street art and graffiti that is a sign of its rebellious nature, past and present. And somehow it all melds together in a single melting pot.
Each time we walk down a street, we seem to notice something new. And often things are not as they seem. In many instances, there seems to be a desire to create an air of mystery and surprise, often painting a façade in a very different way to what one would expect. Around the corner from our apartment is one of Buenos Aires top restaurants, world renowned for its 10 course degustation, and one is hard pressed to make out its name on the black door, let alone know there’s an exquisite interior hiding behind the colourful walls.
Having seen the striking outside of the Galerías Pacífico Shopping Mall not far from our hotel before we boarded the cruise ship, and knowing it was meant to have a dramatic interior, we were keen to pay it a visit. Rather than walk, we chose to have our first metro experience, paying a little over 1AUD for the trip for both of us. As we walked up Calle Florida, a popular pedestrianised shopping street (a bit like Sydney’s Pitt Street or Brisbane’s Queen Street mall multiplied by 10), we wondered into some of the arcades and shops along the way. Some were stunning old buildings whilst other were more modern architectural masterpieces.
We did make sure we saved plenty of time and energy for our visit to Galerias Pacifico. Housed in a lovely Beaux Arts building, it was originally constructed in the 1890s as the BA headquarters for the Parisian department store, Le Bon Marche.
It was modelled after the great Italian arcade Gallerias Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, and whilst we could see some of the similarity and it is stunning, it does not have the same scale and grandeur. And after having spent so much time admiring the paintings of the Italian masters, the central murals painted by five of Argentina’s greatest artists at the time, could not compare.
Apparently, Le Bon Marche never occupied the entire building, as it struggled to compete with the English store Harrods just down the block. Ironically, the Harrods building now lays empty, after closing over fourteen years ago.
Over time, other companies and stores occupied parts of the Galerías. It was the first home of the National Museum of Fine Arts, a hotel moved into one corner (now the luxurious Esplendor Buenos Aires), and the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway converted some of the building into offices.
Like many other beautiful sites in Buenos Aires, the history of the Galerias is tainted with the stain of the last military dictatorship. In the late 1980’s, a film crew ventured into the basements of the mall, and one of the cameramen recognized the space as the site where he was held and tortured as an ex-desaparecido in 1976. The basement still bore ghastly evidence of torture, such as markings made by the imprisoned, including dates and pleas for help. The building was declared a National Historic Monument in 1989.
After lying abandoned for a while, the galleries were converted into a shopping mall in the 1990’s, while Argentina was experiencing an economic boom. Today, the stores are basically the same ones you can find in other malls throughout the city, with foreign brands among the many Argentine brands.
While we were there, we visited the adjacent Centro Cultural Borges (Borges Cultural Centre), which houses an array of exhibits and most were free.
Dancing the night away…
If truth be told, we were eating and drinking the night away whilst others did the hard work. We had decided that it was time to do something touristy and booked ourselves tickets to a recommended tango show and dinner. As it was in San Telmo – a less salubrious part of town and quite far from us – we opted to go by taxi in lieu of walking or metro. With 40,000 taxis in Buenos Aires, it’s not difficult to get one and they’re pretty cheap.
On arrival at the venue, we were checked in and at our table without much fuss. Having been to a dinner and show in Paris, where we’d been seated at huge tables and the venue was huge, we were pleasantly surprised and pleased by the intimate setting. We had a table for 2 just next to the stage and our allocated servers were pleasant and efficient. The food was tasty and plentiful and the bottle of Malbec went down a treat. By the time the musicians and dancers climbed on the stage a couple of hours later, we were well-fed and very relaxed.
We had a great night out, and after a quick taxi ride home, were ready for bed. It’s not often that we’re out well after midnight these days!
An active day…
Given there are a few big roads to cross (and in BA big means BIG!), Saturdays are the best time to do a longer run. Whilst long used to be 30km, these days, anything over 10km counts! This particular Saturday, we ventured out past the Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo (racecourse) towards the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club and around a lake that we hadn’t been to before. It was nice and quiet as most people haven’t climbed out of bed at 8m on a weekend morning. In order to ensure that it was long enough, we backtracked and finished off with our “standard” loop around the Rosedal (Rose Garden). We almost managed City2Surf, with a final distance of 13km.
But then there’s more! One of the reasons we’d run where we did was to do a recce on the tennis club. The Argentina Open was starting that day, and we wanted to go and take in some of the matches and atmosphere of a local event.
But before doing so, we needed to load up on some calories and caffeine after our run. So we strolled up to Salvaje (Wild) Bakery for a slice of carrot cake (Glenda), banana bread (Walter) and a HUGE flat white (we normally have a little cortado – like a piccolo).
On the way to watch the tennis, we were quite excited to come across a polo match being played in Campo Argentino de Polo del Palermo, popularly known as the Cathedral of Polo. Neither of us had ever seen a live game and it was even more exhilarating to see it in Argentina, now considered globally as the capital of polo.
We arrived at the tennis centre soon after the opening around 11:30am and it was starting to fill up.
It was going to be a 35degree+ day and they still took our water bottles away, forcing us to spend an exorbitant amount to buy some new ones inside – double what we’d pay elsewhere! No wonder a young girl fainted when we were sitting in the stands watching the match.
After a brief wait in line, we entered the main court, named after Guillermo Vilas, the Argentinian tennis player from the 1970s. It was fun to see a match on clay, another first for us. The thing that confused us was why it is called the Lawn Tennis Club when all the courts are red clay!
We watched an Argentinian play a Swede and have never known such a biased tennis crowd. Needless to say, we had to go all out to support the Swede – and he won! We were glad to be able to walk home under the canopies of the avenues of trees that are prevalent in the city and have a break from the hot sun.
As if we hadn’t put on enough mileage that day, we decided to take a walk after dinner that evening to check out one of the Carnaval activities currently taking place. By the time we got back home, we had covered more than 30km for the day and were very happy to hop into a bath and bed.
Carnaval in Buenos Aires
The Argentina Carnaval dances began in closed premises from the year 1771 . At first they were organized in private homes and then moved to neighbourhood clubs. In 1869 the first parade took place, and over time, floats, masks, music and picturesque costumes have been added. Until the end of the 1960s the carnivals in Argentina were sexually demure, although very funny (there were practically no acts of violence) and, in the City of Buenos Aires, the Corsicans (carnival parades) were celebrated with luxurious floats on Avenida de Mayo or main avenues of the district of Flores under rains of paper of many colours, confetti and streamers to the sounds of whistles, horns and rattles.
Currently, groups participate in itinerant parades through the different neighbourhoods of the city during all the weekends of the month of February.
As residents of Palermo, we ventured to see our local group dressed in their colourful outfits, playing music, singing and dancing around the sports courts where they were preparing for the main event at the beginning of March (the beginning of Lent). Not only did we enjoy the energy of the performers, but we loved the Saturday night buzz around the city. The nightlife is such fun and truly remarkable.
Happy birthday to Rick Warren…
The festivities were on at Saddleback Church this week with a celebration of founding pastor Rick Warren’s 65th Birthday.
In reality, his birthday was 2 weeks prior, but with the time taken for videos and translations, the Buenos Aires campus was behind. Rick got to have 2 birthdays! In lieu of the standard sermon, one of the members did an interview with Rick and it was interesting to get additional insights into the man behind the Saddleback Church. Neither of us realised that when he and Kay, his wife, planted the church, he was only 26 years old.