The International Writers Magazine
: South American Way

The Paris of South America
Susan Fogwell

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires, the sprawling cosmopolitan capital where Pedro de Mendoza first settled his colonists in 1536, is a century older than Boston.

There are a few surprising echoes of Paris and Milan in the architecture, making Buenos Aires unique from its sister cities in South America. With the collapse of the Argentine economy three years ago, the exchange rate is three to one for Americans. Everything is amazingly affordable from high-end hotels and restaurants to quality leather and silver.

San Telmo
Buenos Aires is a city that truly never sleeps. With the dinner hour just beginning at 9 pm, night clubs open all night, and a thriving theatre scene, you won’t ever run out of things to do. It’s a city of forty eight distinguishing barrios. San Telmo, characterized as an artist’s colony where the tango is mostly identified, is one of the most visited barrios.

On Sundays, along the cobblestone streets and belle-époque architecture is a large outdoor antique market. While meandering through the many booths, I came across everything from antique maps from the 1700’s to well worn cowbells. Couples dancing the tango near the market drew crowds of tourists and locals. The tango remains a daily presence in the lives of the Portenos, as the locals are called. It’s common to come upon an impromptu dance in the streets closed off to traffic. Reserve one night for a tango show, they range from modest to extravagant productions. I went to Senor Tango, a dinner show in one of the southerly barrios. It was impressive, with horses opening the show on a smoke filled rotating stage. Dancers executed intricate steps to the melancholy compositions of Anibal Troilo and Astor Piazzola.

On a Friday afternoon, Calle Florida Street is bustling, the main commercial shopping district in downtown Buenos Aires. The intense southern summer heat in early March might slow your pace, as you peruse the endless windows of leather shops. Throngs of people from Portenos, to cell phone toting businessmen and shoeless children begging for pesos populate this area. This is just the place to purchase leather goods, from jackets, purses, hats and boots. Artisan’s crafts made in the Northern provinces as well as silver are sold in abundance. Head over to the elegant Avenida Alvear in the Recoleta barrio where the best known designers are located, like Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani.

Restaurants are plentiful in the fashionable Puerto Madero, a string of fine eateries are housed in renovated riverside docks with outdoor seating. You’ll find some of the best pampas grass-fed beef at Cabana Las Lilas where it’s most celebrated.

On a weekend night I found the restaurants to be empty at 7:00 p.m. By 9:30 p.m. there were lines spilling out of most of the restaurants. This is a popular area to dine where the main sport appears to be people watching. But for the best dining, the Recoleta barrio is exceptional. It is one of the capital’s prime dining and nightlife areas. For fabulous Argentine food, try Munich Recoleta, a faux German beer house.

Buenos Aires is a great walking city. There is no need to rent a car. Metered taxis will take you anywhere in the city. "Radio Taxis" can be seen all over and in great numbers. The alternative is to hire a remise, a private taxi from your hotel. They are not metered and charge an agreed upon rate. Hiring a remise from the "Ezeiza" Airport to the city, about a forty minute drive, is generally 48 pesos or $ 16.00. For an average of seven pesos, a taxi will take you to any of the distinctive barrios where you can explore on foot.

Set aside an afternoon for the internationally known Cementerio de la Recoleta. This miniature city of decadent marble mausoleums is the resting place of Argentina’s tycoons and many of its first presidents. Ask a caretaker, and you can find Evita’s too.

The theatre season is from April to early December. The ornate Teatro Colon fitted with Verona and Carrara marble, plush red velvet seats and gilt boxes. The 2,500 seat house was 30 years in the making before its 1908 opening with a performance of Verdi’s, "Aida." Until recently, the world’s most gifted performers graced its stage; now exceptional local talent performs over 200 events a year.

Leave a day for a respite from the city. Only an hour away by hydrofoil across the Rio de la Plata is the charming town of Colonia, Uruguay. All of the sights are within the colonial historic barrio where you’ll find many shops selling local artisan’s wares. Todo Uruguay, sells everything from ceramics to mates, the traditional South American tea served in a carved out gourd. For the best workout, climb the 118 stairs up the Faro de Colonia, a 19th century lighthouse. On a clear day Buenos Aires can be seen in the distance.

© Susan Fogwell September 2005

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