Thursday, February 25, 2010
Circle South America: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dear Family and Friends,
Welcome to the fabulous city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the ninth largest city in the world. After a brief day in Punta del Este, Uruguay, we arrived in this bustling city of 8.5 million people with its rich Spanish and Italian heritage. Buenos Aires is the home of the Tango, a music and dance that is elegant, robust, athletic and sensual all at the same time. But more on that later.
Buenos Aires is a collection of over 140 different districts, each with its own unique ambiance and charm. Bohemian San Telmo with its 19th century colonial buildings, Feria de San Pedro Telmo with its busy market, the vibrant working class neighborhood and port area of La Boca, Recoleta with its palatial mansions, boutiques and cafes, and the Tigre (Tiger) River delta area with its multiple restoration shanty river front homes all combine to make Buenos Aires one of the most interesting cities in the world.
At the center of the old city, just a few blocks from the port area is where many of the country’s most significant historical events transpired around the axis of the Plaza de Mayo. Once the home of the city council, the Cabildo dates from 1765 and is the only colonial building on the Plaza. The epicenter of the May Revolution of 1810, where patriotic citizens gathered to vote against Spanish rule, the hall is one of Argentina’s national shrines. At the other end of the Plaza de Mayo is the eclectic Casa de Gobierno, better known as the Casa Rosada, or Pink House. It houses the government’s executive branch…the President works there but lives elsewhere. The pink hue is the work of past President Domingo Sarmiento, who ordered it painted pink as a symbol of unification between two warring political factions, the Federales, whose color was red, and the Unitarios, whose color was white. And it worked! Think this would work in America? Let’s see…what color comes from mixing red and blue…ugh! Look at the balcony above the arched entrance on the Casa Rosada. That is the balcony where hardnosed and controversial President Juan D. Peron and his flamboyant wife, Eva, (the famous Evita) addressed the populous in the Plaza and where she pleaded with Argentina not to cry for her…..just kidding. Eva Peron’s resting place is in the Recoleta and is the most visited memorial in the city by adoring locals and tourists alike.
Argentine men are mostly handsome and mostly fit, despite their diet which is heavy in beef and wine. Strangely, there is a low incident of heart disease amongst the Argentines. Go figure. Argentine woman are mostly lovely and definitely fit. Victoria Secret and Maidenform would have a difficult time making it in Buenos Aires as an informal research study I conducted personally indicated at least 56.4% of all women observed do not wear bras in this warm and sunny city. Not to put too fine a point on it but points are everywhere.
We took a tour the first day in Buenos Aires down to the Tigre River and boarded a catamaran for a cruise through the river delta where we saw all of the houses along the banks of the various islands. These homes ranged from run down shanties to upscale shanties to decent bungalows to small mansions, most built up on stilts to avoid the flooding which is a regular event on this river. The people are virtually isolated on these islands. They work on the islands at the paper manufacturing plants or sugar cane plantations which are hidden in the middle of each island and don’t often leave nor do they need to. There are even floating markets that come to their individual homes to provide everything from groceries to clothing to drinking water to propane to medical supplies. These “grocery boats” cruise up and down the river delivering their orders to the riverside villas with their Victorian docks and English gardens interspersed with traditional rowing and boating clubs in a world which has changed little since the 1920’s.
Now, about the Tango. Tango, both the music and the dance is an integral part of Argentine culture. In many ways, it defines the culture of these fiery and passionate people. Tango was first performed in the brothels of La Boca, which is the colorful district down by the mouth of the river at the port. Men would frequent these houses of ill repute and while waiting their turns to go upstairs would spend their time creating artistic and athletic dance steps. The music came in via an instrument called a “squeeze box”, a kind of mini-accordion which has become the standard instrument in all Tango trios or quartets, which now might include violins, bass fiddles and an occasional piano. At first the men began dancing the Tango with each other not in a sensual way but as a form of competition, each man challenging the other to come up with more complex and forceful dance steps. Later on, the ladies would come down from upstairs and Tango morphed into the graceful, athletic and sensual dance it is today. Tango professionals fling their bodies and legs around with such abandon it is a wonder sensitive body parts are not more frequently injured or lost all together.
Originally Tango was outwardly shunned by polite society, but gained rapid popularity as men and women snuck (or is it sneaked) down to La Boca to watch and participate in this exciting music and dance. Tango spilled out of the brothels and into the clubs which began to spring up all over the district. Businessmen, with briefcases still in hand, would don masks so they could not be identified and steal into the clubs at siesta time or after work. Finally, Tango spread throughout the city as well as the entire country and permeated every aspect society. We went to La Ventana, one of the most famous Tango venues for a show and my photos cannot capture the passion of this dance and certainly not the magic of this music, but trust me, it is a magical experience and a delight to hear and see.
We make our way to Punta del Este, Uruguay for a short day prior to a two day sail to Brazil and the exciting city of Rio de Janeiro! Until then, God Bless you all.
Jud and Vicki