Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Buenos Aires -- First Impressions

Tuesday: I arrive at the Savoy Hotel in the center of Buenos Aires, excited, jet-lagged, and hungry. So glad to be traveling with a colleague so we can negotiate these first few hours together.  

We are greeted by doormen in formal attire, and ushered into a lobby straight out of the 1930s. Chandeliers hang from highly decorated ceilings, and it is easy to imagine Argentina's glory days in the early 20th century.

Anyway, here is a photo of the hotel lounge;

My rusty Spanish serves me well for the basics, and I'm glad, because it is time to eat. And what could be more appropriate than empanadas, the national Argentine snack food. The concierge recommends a fast food place across the street (empanadas are fast food). And they are YUMMY.

Then we head out to explore Buenos Aires before our sleep deprivation catches up with us. The architecture, the cafe life, the way people themselves ... Oh, yes, the people.

The men are gorgeous ... and so are the women. everyone seems beautiful without adornment, and I want to record this first impression because, of course, almost all beautiful people get some kind of help. Men are courteous, chauvanistic in the best sense. I see Borges or Garda in their midst, a mildly macho/entitled presence that would have offended me in another time of life, but now fascinate me.

We walk down Avenida de Mayo, a wide corridor which has been the center of Argentine history since it was first inhabited by Europeans in the 1600s. Much recent history occurred at the lower end of the boulevard, at the Plaza de Mayo.

Most recently and most famously, Plaza de Mayo is the gathering place for the Madres y Abuelos de la Plaza de Mayo,  who keep alive the the tragic story of "the disappeared" -- their children and grandchildren during a dark period in Argentine history. Here is a photo of the Madre's banner:
And here is a photo of the Casa Rosada, a landmark though I'm not quite sure for what, and I think this is where Eva and Juan Peron addressed the nation so famously:

 Buenos Aires takes me back to the months I spent in Barcelona in the 1980s, and age fills me with nostalgia. I remember the cafes where male waiters in formal dress would serve coffee in a real cup and saucer. they would take your order in person, receive the bill in person, and not hurry you along to make a place for the next paying customer. Cafe's were then, in Barcelona, and now, in Buenos Aires, a place to linger ... to savor a conversation, or a solitary thought, a new insight to write about, or light the spark for a new romance.  They are generally wood paneled, linen table-clothed, soft lighted, and just about the the best atmosphere for any stirrings of the heart.

And then there are the bookstores! I almost forgot about their existence, they have so disappeared from my home base in the San Francisco Bay Area. But portenos are readers, and brick and mortar books stores are about one per block in the Congreso neighborhood where I am based.  I'm starving for paper books you can touch, and can't pull myself away from them, language notwithstanding. In case all you norteamericanos have forgotten what a bookstore looks like, here's one of the many in my neighborhood.

And so it is with the life in Buenos Aires. The Portenos (i.e. residents of B.A.) have it good in many ways, in this cosmopolitan center in the middle of nowhere. (4500 miles from Mexico City, 1200 miles from Rio de Janeiro, 4400 miles from Miami, 7300 miles from Sydney, or 3700 miles from Cape Town).

HOW AND WHY I'M IN ARGENTINA: It all happened by serendipity. Way back in March my friend and colleague Kathy mentioned the International Oral History Association meeting coming up in Buenos Aires. Would I be going? No way! It wasn't even on my radar. And I completely forgot about the conversation. Then, towards the end of July as I was winding up a really big writing project, I wanted to reward myself with a really big treat.  As I was idly considering what would be a big enough treat for myself,  I recalled my conversation with Kathy, and I thought MMmmm.... an International Conference in my own field, in a new and exotic part of the world (to me), and a chance to meet new people and experience a part of the world I would probably never come to otherwise. So, I checked the details and made the reservations and here I am!.   I publicly thank my friend Kathy for introducing me to a chance of a lifetime!!

For the flavor, listen to Madonna/Evita's Don't Cry for Me Argentina, or Carlos Gardel's Mi Buenos Aires querido.


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