What’s New Buenos Aires – Buenos Aires, Argentina

What’s New, Buenos Aires?
Buenos Aires, Argentina

The deals were advertised. Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America, offered great prices for exclusive hotels, fantastic food and great wine. Although their economy had suffered a severe setback, the porteños were now hoping that an influx of tourists with their money would help them recover. It’s a long way to travel for a bargain dinner, but I was all for it. However, when my airliner’s wheels cracked the surface of the runway I thought for a moment that it was all over. Ominous clouds stretched to the ground and I mistakenly believed the sound and shudders were from a bolt of lightening and not from the rough landing. Fortunately, my luck cleared before the weather.

The driver of my “radio” cab (one of the city’s safe ones) was a transplanted resident from Poland, who had also lived in Germany and Switzerland. He loved to call Argentina his home and went out of his way to give me the mini tour of Buenos Aires enroute to my hotel in the Recoleta District. My first impression held true to Marlene Dietrich’s view that “Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil they throw flowers at you. In Argentina they throw themselves.” They were not only beautiful and sexy but their passionate charm made you fall in love. I now understood why my daughter who frequents Buenos Aires for business always seems to return home with a new boyfriend. I stayed at the delightful Park Plaza Kempinski, a small boutique hotel in a secluded and quiet neighborhood with easy access to great shopping, restaurants and superb assistance from the front desk staff.

In Front of the Casa Rosa
In Front of the Casa Rosa
One of the tourist attractions taking place only on Sunday is the market in San Telmo, where street musicians, dancers and entertainers grace the side streets adjoining the antique dealers in the square. The tango was predominant with the pros offering lessons to the willing and paying participants. My favorite was a lady, much older than I, who was dressed in sexy fishnet stockings, revealing dress and stage make-up of a dancer. I did feel bad for her as she was only capable of slightly moving within a one foot locale. Another was a woman of the same age who played music with a contraption of paper cups that sounded similar to a kazoo!

The highlight of the afternoon was dinner at a local restaurant in the same neighborhood called La Brigada, highly recommended by the hotel’s manager. I stopped by early to inquire about a time (no reservations can be made ahead of time); my name was written in a little book and I was told to return by 3 p.m. I had time to take a cheap and quick taxi ride to La Boca, the colorful but poor neighborhood, and still make it back in time to join the crowd that now extended into the street in front of my restaurant with a guard in front of the closed door. Every once in a while the maitre-de would pop his long curly haired head out and call a name or two. There appeared to be no formula as to how people were chosen and there was usually some disgruntlement with those left on the outside after each door closing.

The customers were now talking to one another, complaining, and comparing wait time. Some of the names were in one book and others on a piece of paper, sometimes large groups alighting from a taxi were heralded in without waiting at all. I watched while some of the dissatisfied would go in and come out again with no success. The minutes stretched into an hour and now I wondered if the restaurant would close before I was fed. I was reminded of the Soup Nazi on the Seinfeld TV show. I just smiled and stood there patiently, just hoping that I would “charm” him enough to be selected! The numbers in the street were diminishing along with the hours until closing. Why I was still waiting?

I guess it was my intrinsic gambler, certain that I would be called next. What a way to increase your appetite. By the time I was seated I ordered the largest fattest steak I could see on the menu, along with the papas fritas, a salad and a full sized bottle of good malbec! The place was abuzz. Waiters were flying around with sizzling platters, busboys were clearing tables and setting up new ones, the maitre-de was now forgiven by everyone inside and he was basking in the glory of the satisfied eaters. Beto, my waiter, was as delightful as the brilliant fare. Including tip I only spent $25.

Besides the standard touring of the historical sites like the cemetery, the teatro, the plazas, the monuments, the Pink House, and the churches, I also took time to shop. Indeed, fashion grew faster than any other economic sector in Argentina last year. The savings one makes on the leather purses, jackets and shoes are well-worth the price of the trip!

At the Estancia on a Horse
At the Estancia on a Horse
Another day I had to choose between trips offered outside of the city. I elected to visit one of the many working estancias (ranches) that open their doors to tourists to enjoy activities such as horse-back riding, eating, drinking, singing, dancing and horse racing. Joining a small tourist bus of 11 others, I headed out to the Don Silvano Estancia an hour north of the city. What an eclectic and multi-national crowd we were. The host greeted us with empanadas and wine from Mendoza. After a brief history and tour of the various buildings including the main house which had been converted into a bed and breakfast, our group mounted the horses and explored the property.

The next few hours were spent in the dining hall where we enjoyed the typical meal with grilled sausages, vegetable salads, bread, chicken and steak. Bottles of wine were placed and replaced when ever they ran out. During this feast we were regaled with music from each of the areas of Argentina sung by our host Roberto Paz and amused by dancers performing all the national favorites from folk to tango. Roberto then sang a song from each of the countries represented in the audience and invited us to join him. In my group we had citizens from Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, England, Argentina, Peru as well as yours truly, from the U.S.A. The Latinos love to sing loudly and we had incredible fun. I declined an invitation to go up on stage with him as he sang, “When the Saints Go Marching In’. The Englishman and I laughed when the entire crowd crooned “Let it Be” by the Beatles. Before long, we were all up and trying the tango dance steps. The afternoon closed with a special horse racing event called “la Sortija” an old courtship ritual. Argentina courted me successfully on this trip and I can’t wait to go back! Que bárbaro es este país!