Paris Aires – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Paris Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buildings on Avenida de Mayo
Buildings on Avenida de Mayo
It seems like any great city of the world will, without fail, be compared to Paris as a means to boast its beauty, its culture, and its art. And so it is with Buenos Aires. Anyone heading to this fair city will undoubtedly hear the reference to old gai Paris: the flare of its European arcades and façades; the elegant splendor of its cherished Teatro Colón; the wealth of cafés serving up espresso to a people who share thoughts on the country’s politics and arts. This city is European by anyone’s standards. But is it the Paris of South America? I think it is fair to say that if you put this question to the residents of Buenos Aires they would have only one objection – one of formula. They would explain, unequivocally, that their city is far, far greater than Paris. This is a bold claim not tendered by most citizens of the world, but perhaps this too is a part of their charm. And besides, they just might be right. (Don’t ever agree with them though; they like their arrogant claims to be brazen.)

La Belleza

Just take a stroll down Avenida Alvear in Recoleta and you will see the exquisite beauty of European architecture offered to the town’s affluent residents, including the 1920’s French building, the Alvear Palace Hotel. This is just a taste of what’s in store for anyone spending an afternoon in the most posh neighborhood in town. Recoleta is also home to the opulent Cementerio de la Recoleta, one of the world’s finest necropolises where you’ll find Argentine luminaries like Eva Perón and high-profile presidents buried in ornate Italian marble mausoleums (and trust me, Evita gets way more love here than Parisians ever gave to Jim). The decadence of this walled-in graveyard exemplifies the grand elegance this city so unceasingly aspires to.

Then of course there are the people, who also tend to be a part of the beautiful scenery. To walk the streets of Buenos Aires is like ambling down any great promenade of the world’s great cities, except that porteños glide down their avenues in chic dress and a sassy self-possession unequalled in any other. To the sportily dressed sightseer, this may seem daunting, but have no fear. They don’t look so good for no reason; BA has miles and miles of city streets lined with shops that sell great clothing from independent designers to department stores. Abasto, built from an old produce market, is perhaps the most interesting of all the shopping centers. There are also a plethora of other malls located within a few miles of the city center, including Alto Palermo in Barrio Norte and Patio Bullrich in Recoleta, but a great alternative is in Palermo, a trendy new area with over 300 shops, restaurants and bars that is loaded with independent designers. When it comes to dressing and nourishing the city’s à la mode, this area is definitely King.

La Cultura

Evita's Grave
Evita’s Grave
Buenos Aires is a city rich in culture. To me, the first thing that comes to mind after visiting there, is the copious amounts of great coffee and pastries. Porteños love to socialize, and they find no better place to do it than in one of the street-side cafés. Head into one of these for a dulce de leche pastry and stiff cup of java any time of day and you will yourself surrounded by locals deeply enmeshed in their melodic conversation. If you like books with your coffee, try Ateneo, a beautifully renovated movie house turned into the largest bookstore in Latin America. In a city with a long history of corrupt officials and political dealings, these people hold their writers in high regard. Behind the draped velvet curtain is the stage where yet another coffee house has found a corner in the city. Located on 1860 Avenida Santa Fe, this is truly a unique place to take in some stimulating works of literature – and coffee. Another huge piece of the cultural pie is film. Today, it is one of the most popular majors in college and in 2003 Argentina released 53 of its own feature films. There is a cinema in each neighborhood, so if you speak Spanish, head out and take in a new film with the locals. If not, plenty of Hollywood blockbusters are also listed on the marquee. Though, I’m not sure I can guarantee the cultural significance of these.

One might not normally consider dinner a cultural experience. But for many, dining out in Buenos Aires will be like eating a fourth scheduled meal. Most don’t eat dinner before 8:30 and if it is a weekend, change that start time to 9:30. Some of the best steakhouses and Italian eateries abound here, so for westerners eating well will be a true pleasure rather than a challenge in this city. All of the neighborhoods offer fantastic spaces to dine in, with Puerto Madero and Las Cañitas being the most modern and recently built. Most of my favorites were in Barrio Norte and Palermo, but I think wherever you go, you are bound to find your own. And if you are planning on hitting the nightlife afterward, don’t show up before midnight or you will be drinking alone. The peak hours should be between 1:30 and 3:00 a.m. and continue well into the early morning on Friday and Saturday. Palermo Hollywood is home to many of these hip spaces, but so are Montserrat and some others. Going out for late-night revelry is not the only cultural option though. I think most porteños would be quite upset with me for not at least mentioning the energy of the fans at a Boca Juniors soccer match or the intense passion of tango dancers.

El Arte

Teatro Colon
Teatro Colon
In terms of museums, the Constantini collection of Latin American artwork inside the Malba is perhaps one of the best groupings of its kind. For a more traditional selection of international artists from Europe and around the world, check out the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. There is also a great multitude of galleries and museums dedicated to more specific interests like sculpture and decoration that may catch your attention throughout the city. Some of the buildings in Recoleta previously mentioned are great examples of the architectural delight to be had in Buenos Aires, but the city is awash with several others splendid structures. Teatro Colón on Tribunales is one of the world’s greatest opera houses for its acoustics and beauty and the wide Avenida de Mayo with its political structures such as the Palacio Del Congreso and the Casa Rosada still glimmers with fine architectural details.

Alas, there is no Eiffel Tower here – just a 223 foot pearly-white needle called the Obelisco that towers above the famous 20 lanes of BA’s widest avenue. This is more of a signature or landmark of the city than anything else. But then again, who really likes the Eiffel Tower beyond this same status anyway? Maybe they are right. Maybe B.A. is better.