Friday, December 30, 2016

Buenos Aires day 1 – from muzzarella to l'chaim

I had been wanting to visit Argentina for a really long time. My habibi had visited already once right before we met, and he had told me stories about his trip there. Unfortunately, Buenos Aires is pretty far, especially since my last decade or so I've been living in the Middle East, Asia and the very north of North America!

But now, we're based in Mexico City, a "mere" 9-10 hours from Buenos Aires on a direct flight, and I had unknowingly accumulated a lot of air miles so, after a brief stop in Panama, we finally arrived to this remote city I had been wanting to see so badly!

We spent 8 nights there. We saw a lot. Did a lot. Ate a lot. Loved the place. I can't find a way to talk about the trip but chronologically, with impressions about certain things. So, here we go, with the night we arrived and our first full day in the city!

What's that smell?

You won't believe it, but the first thing we noticed on a short walk around our airbnb – located in a nice area called Palermo – was a strange smell. We couldn't place it, and it was like in the area we were walking in. We figured Buenos Aires just had a weird smell to it and that was that. And then, we came to this basic restaurant – we were famished, it was already very late! – and ordered a very simple item: pizza margarita, with nothing but tomato sauce, arugula and... muzzarella! (they call it muzzarella there), the source of the smell! What we had noticed was the aroma of real good authentic muzzarella wafting down the street! hahaha! Anyhow, the pizza was delicious in its simplicity, and we washed it down with my first taste ever of Quilmes, an Argentinean beer. 

Coffee, parks, Evita...

I loved breakfasts in Buenos Aires. Espresso is so ubiquitous you simply ask for "café" and you get a delicious, properly made espresso. And, if you want the "other" kind, you say americano! And you traditionally accompany it with heavy, rich, sweet "medialunas" (croissants, but unlike any I had tasted). Oh, and coffee is always served with some sparkling water. What's not to love? 

At this place we went – Café del Botánico, near the botanical gardens – a guy sat down and he set on the table his helmet: a work of art with traditional Buenos Aires painting called fileteado, with tango scenes and the Che Guevara! How cool!  

Afterward, a delicious walk around the beautiful botanical gardens, enjoying the sun and the flowers (including gigantic magnolias)... Because, remember, this was summer down south!

And, something you can't miss, the Evita museum. I don't think I need to tell anybody about the strength of the image of this woman. They even wanted to make her a saint! But her rather fun life before marrying Perón prevented that, of course. The museum is full of paraphernalia like dresses, shoes, photos, items she used, items from social institutions she created or led... Wow. 

To finish this part of the tour, and in faithful attention to our guidebook's instructions, we had a "dulce de leche granizado" ice-cream at Un'Altra Volta. This really was dulce the leche made ice-cream! It was delicious, but so heavy! We loved it, and immediately vowed not to have that ever again! LOL

Art and architecture

In that same area was the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), a nice modern building with few exhibitions, but good ones! We saw plenty of Latin-American contemporary art and sculpture, including a video exhibition on queer, religious and political themes. Very cool.

And after the museum, and during all our stay, we marvelled at the architecture and the presence of old shops, pharmacies and whatnot. In the early 20th century Argentina was one of the ten wealthiest nations, and it shows in the architecture of the time – tall, majestic, EXPENSIVE buildings everywhere. Crazy attention to detail and adornments in the interiors... People sometimes say – and usually as a joke – that Argentina (and Buenos Aires in particular) was the Europe of America. But honestly, there are streets and whole areas that do look like you could be in Europe!

A full stomach and a Christmas tradition

Part of our explorations had to do with Jewish Buenos Aires. After all, the Jewish population of Argentina ranks third in size in the continent (after the US and Canada) and is about five to six times bigger that Mexico City's, a city that is about six times bigger than Buenos Aires!

Anyhow, we had heard that Tuesdays the Centro Comunitario Guesher offered buffet dinners with lots of authentic, mostly Sephardi, cuisine. So after braving terrible traffic caused by the closing of the subway due to an accident, we made it to the community centre. And we proceeded to enjoy a night of too much food, most of it familiar but peculiar in very specific ways: the kebbe were longer and thinner and paler than the ones in Lebanon; the hummus was sweetened with some sugar... There were filled veggies, rice with vermicelli (also very common in Lebanon), stuffed grape leaves (they called them niños envueltos here)... Oh, and at the end? Maamoul (an ultra-sweet pastry that is consumed in Lebanon during Easter!) and perfect Turkish coffee. 

Besides the happiness of enjoying home-made Middle Eastern Jewish food (by the way, for the main dishes, you simply walked into the kitchen and helped yourself!), we had conversations with the owner and some of our other dining companions. By the way, the owner behaved in an almost Woody-Allenesque way in a movie – every time we made a comment on how something reminded us of a Lebanese dish, but was a bit different, he became all defensive! "Oh, so it's not good? But that's how it's made!" "No, no, it's delicious! It's a nice surprise to see how you make it different!" "But you like it? I mean, these are all authentic recipes! Why don't you like it? it's good! and home-made" "No, we DO like it, it's very good! Really!!!". LOL    

We finished our very long day with a walk to try to digest that enormous dinner – which had also introduced us to the economic reality of the country, with devaluation and inflation, as the price of the dinner was over twice what we had seen online! But that was about to become a constant – no price we ever saw online or on very recent guidebooks could keep pace with reality. 

Anyhow, we ended up at the Obelisco de Buenos Aires, an iconic obelisk that celebrates the foundation of the city and that stands in the middle of the city's broadest avenue, 9 de Julio. Hell, I read this is the world's broadest avenue! A total of 14 lanes plus 4 parallel ones! It was a nice night, and it just so happened that there were many Colombians in small groups, with candles. They were celebrating some Colombian Christmas tradition a colleague had briefly told me about.  

After that and a quick glance of Teatro Colón we were done and ready to take the bus home and prepare for our second day!

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