#1 Argentina, Jan. 29, 2005

Dear Everybody,

Here I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina! It’s a ‘European’ city although Argentina has suffered bad economic times recently so it is a bit down at the heel. I’m staying at a funky little hotel whose front door is bordered by TWO brass signs saying ‘Hotel para Caballeros y Families’, meaning ‘Hotel for men and families.’ Hmmm—obviously single women are not encouraged to stay here. Well, no one said anything to me!

I immediately met Erik from Norway and Alan from Rhode Island, sitting on the garden terrace which makes it fun and easy to meet others. Both are roughly my age. Erik has stayed here for two years previously, learning the tango, and now will stay for six months to dance! I have also met two young German/Austrian couples. My room is fine although the furniture hadn’t been dusted for a few years—but after I dusted it, all was well.

There’s a kitchen for our use where I can boil water to make yerba mate, a sort of tea that one drinks from a special cup made out of a gourd. There is a metal drinking straw with a strainer that keeps the yerba out of your mouth. Yerba is an herb and tastes sort of like hay, but people here are very big on it.

I’ve been seeing the sights—some museums, the Central Plaza, the Cathedral which has Greek columns on its facade, sort of like the Parthenon (!) and I had a tour of the wonderful Teatro Colon, a turn of the century opera house. Unfortunately there are no performances in January.

The weather has been perfect—warm but not hot—and I have been doing a lot of walking. The prices are very reasonable. The food is good—huge portions of meat, especially beef. One day I had an ‘asado’ which was brought to my table on a hot grill. It had two pieces of beef steak, a huge sausage, and ‘offal’—intestines, I think, all for about $4. A half-liter of house wine, a huge mixed salad and the tip brought the bill to about $7.50.

One morning I got up early and went to my favorite little morning cafe about 8:45 AM. Too early!! They were still delivering beer, soda, and other provisions. I see things don’t get moving around here until about 10:00. Of course they don’t eat their dinner at night until at least 9:00 and the tango shows start at 10:30 PM.

Alan and Erik have been dancing at night until 4:00 AM. It’s been tricky for them to find a place to dance as these places have all been closed down since the horrible fire a few weeks ago that killed 200 people. Since then these places have been operating illegally. Alan told me that last night a man announced that if the music stopped, everyone should rush to their chairs and sit down, as it would mean that the police were raiding the place. This happened, and then a man started reading poetry. When he finished all applauded, and then the police made them all leave. Today at 5:00 there is going to be a demonstration at the obelisk of tango dancers to try to get the government to reopen the clubs.

The Spanish is tricky—they have different words; for example ‘manteca’ for butter instead of ‘mantequilla’; they pronounce things differently, too. And since there are so many Italians here, sometimes the Spanish sounds more like Italian, just as you said it would, Ulises.

On Thursday afternoon I went down to the main plaza where the ‘Mothers’ (now grandmothers) have marched since the ’70’s wearing their babooshkas. They are protesting the disappearances of their sons and daughters during the Dirty War. I bought a tee shirt from them.

I took the subway out to the Recolleta cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. The cemeteries are like little cities with their elaborate tombs. I also visited Carlos Gardel’s grave in Chicarita Cemetery. He popularized the tango songs in the 19-teens, 20’s and 30’s worldwide, but was killed in a plane accident in 1935. There are pictures of him everywhere, including one next to my hotel room door.

All is ‘Tango’ here. They dance in the pedestrian malls and the plazas and pass the hat. They have expensive tango shows—I’ll try to get to one tonight, but even the ones in the plaza are great! I shall also buy a CD of Carlos Gardel to see why three women attempted suicide when he was killed in the plane crash.

I am heading to southern Patagonia on Monday. In the meantime I shall drink the good Argentine wine, watch tango, visit La Boca–the colorful Italian section, and hang out in the garden terrace of my hotel.

I hope you’re all fine.


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