It’s been an absolutely lovely weekend–mid-60s and sunny both days. Also, apparently the “give-it-a-week-to-feel-comfortable” advice was dead-on. While it’s still certainly overwhelming (and I’m still not being understood very well), I love the city. I’ve been walking around for two days straight and I’ve had such a great time. (Note: I have been walking so much that my feet smell. My feet haven’t really smelled since I worked at this restaurant that had a leak behind the bar, so we ran around in slush and beer all night. My feet smell worse now than they did then.)
Yesterday was devoted to Palermo and Palermo Viejo (old Palermo), which are two of the more fashionable neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Palermo Viejo felt a little like walking down M Street in Georgetown, if I’m being totally honest, except prettier and the popped-collar frat boys were replaced with mind-blowingly good looking model types, all in scarves and sunglasses. I left my apartment pretty early and got down to Palermo as all of the vendors were setting up in Plazoleta Cortazar, a little circle where they hold this weekly fair. There is, for some unknown-to-me reason, a huge Armenian population in this neighborhood, so I stopped and got a coffee at a cool little Armenian café, and sat outside and read for a bit. After wandering up and down the street and through the fair, I eventually walked down to a Parilla and got lunch—a slab of beef and a plate of vegetables big enough to feed approximately 45 people—for about $4.50. At the next table was this girl with a plastic grocery bag tucked under the collar of her sweater. The whole time she was eating she just kept adjusting and readjusting it so that the handle edges stuck out right by her ear. Other than the bag, she looked completely normal.
On my way back home, I stopped at the Plaza Italia, a really pretty park with a monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi in the center. (Garibaldi was an Italian military explorer who also spent some time fighting in South America.) Just next to the plaza is the Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays, a beautiful, free botanical garden with hundreds of stray cats sleeping in the sun. Both the plaza and the garden were very big and very pretty and very filled with homeless people, none of whom really ask for money, which was a nice treat.
So the best thing about travel, any travel, is the surprises. People say this all the time, but they say it because it’s true. I am a compulsive guidebook reader. When alone, I map out most of my days in terms of things to see, places to eat, and parks in which I can sit and read. This is all great, and generally works well for me, but I am constantly surprised by what comes up in between. Once, three years ago when I was in Italy with my friend Katie, we headed out from our hostel to see the Coliseum, and randomly came across this building (the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, a monument to the first king of Italy) with these gorgeous statues of horses in mid-trot at the edge of the roof, as if they were just about to leap off. We stood there for a long time wondering how such an amazing building didn’t even appear on our map. This is how my entire day has been.
Today I decided to head to San Telmo, this really amazing little neighborhood in the western part of the city. Back in the day (way back, like the 1600s and 1700s), it was considered the ritzy neighborhood, with massive, ornate houses and the (still standing) oldest church in town. Then, in the 1870s, the neighborhood saw a mass exodus due to cholera and yellow fever epidemics, and all of these huge places became, essentially, tenements, with entire families living in, say, one of the bedrooms, or one of the sitting rooms. Apparently it was a pretty dangerous neighborhood then for, oh, about a hundred years, but in the 1970s, the city of Buenos Aires decided that the old buildings were probably worth preserving, so they started throwing some money back into it.
On my way there, I walked down to the Obelisk, and when I was a few blocks from it, I heard this loud, fantastic Latin music blasting. As I got closer, I could see hundreds and hundreds of people in the middle of Avenida Corrientes (the huge street which houses the Obelisco). Traffic had been blocked off and there was this big, makeshift stage with massive speakers beside it, and a couple on stage was dancing and leading all of these random people over microphones. It was a dance lesson. Tiny old couples and hot young couples and little kids all paired up and—for an hour—danced in the street in the middle of the day. This would never happen in America. Can you imagine if someone stood in the middle of Constitution Avenue and tried to teach people how to do a new dance? He’d be tackled. People would throw snow globes with tiny White Houses inside at him. But here, almost every single group that walked by just joined in and started dancing.
After watching for a long time, I started walking again and made it down to San Telmo. It’s a great walk, with lots of little cobblestone side streets and really amazing, if somewhat dilapidated, buildings. I’d read that the Sunday (Domingo!) antiques fair is huge, but I really wasn’t prepared for how big it really was. As I’ve said before, Sunday in Buenos Aires is pretty quiet, especially in my neighborhood. Apparently, everyone is in San Telmo. I came up a side street that was building-to-building vendors and shoppers—and we were still three blocks away from the actual square where the market officially takes place. There were people selling everything from handmade leather wallets and purses and jewelry to antique dresses and used tango shoes. As I made my way through, I came up to this beautiful church with its doors open, so I walked up the steps. Mass was just letting out, but the choir was still singing, so I walked in and sat down as everyone filed out. It’s not even in either of my books about Buenos Aires, but this place was just incredible. There were little monuments and statues everywhere, and the building itself looked hand-carved from the come to the (oddly, very 1970s-looking) floor.
When I finally made it to the Plaza Dorrego, where the market is held, it was a little overwhelming. (Theme of the city: So. Many. People.) I walked around for a while, stopping to listen to a few different musicians, watch a puppeteer, and see a few dancers practicing in a doorway. Also, I got to witness another passion of mine: People who paint themselves and stand very still. They’re everywhere, you know? Silver guys in Times Square up on a crate, the all-white guys in New Orleans . . . sometime they act like robots, and other times they just stand eerily still as their eyes follow you and make you want to scream a little. Anyway, I love them, and apparently they have them in Buenos Aires as well. Another big thumbs up.
Eventually, I walked into Bar Plaza Dorrego, an ancient little café, and had lunch and a capirhinia. (Okay, yes, the capirhinia is, in fact, Brazillian, not Argentinean, but this is the closest I’ve ever been to Brazil and I wanted something a little stronger than wine.) After getting a little tipsy, I walked around for another hour or so and then made the long walk home.
Lastly, in other news, the “bums” I’ve seen every night on my street pushing most enormous, overflowing carts? Yeah, not bums: Trash collectors.