Buenos Aires beckoned 10 years ago because there were great prices for exclusive hotels, fantastic food and great wine. What more can one ask for? 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.
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.
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 fish net 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.
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 ask 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 3PM.
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 about how people were chosen and there was usually some disgruntlement with those left on the outside after each door closing.
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.
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 on dinner.
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!
Another day I decided 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, 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’.
All in all, a wonderful time.
Argentina courted me successfully on this trip and I can’t wait to go back!
Que bárbaro es este país!