Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Step Aside, New York ... THIS is the City that Never Sleeps!

Buenos Aires.  BA.  Paris of the South.  Call it what you will, this city of 13 million people is a complex and overwhelming place.  After four days back in urban territory, I'm right back to being as wound up and impatient type-A as I ever was in Toronto.  I need to get out of here before I completely lose my hard-won peace of mind!

That doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed it, though, because I have.  It's just a little much to take in large doses, after time spent wandering around the largely empty land of Patagonia.

I got back on Saturday, May 1st, early in the morning, dropped my bags at the hostel (the same one I'd stayed at before -- can't beat the location!) and headed back out the door, determined to spend a day seeing the sight of Palermo, one of the trendiest neighbourhoods of BA.  Well, I'd forgotten what May 1st means in Latin America -- it's the "Dia del Trabajo" (Labour Day) and nearly everything is shut.  Including grocery stores, which meant no cooking myself dinner that night unless I wanted to eat only plain rice.

But it's a pretty, green, leafy neighbourhood with huge parks, so I wandered a while and breathed in the relatively fresh air.   And I had a deliciously yummy burger in the park, so ticked off one of the 3 things you must do in BA (well, sort of - the 3 things are eat steak, tango and watch football.  I'm counting a burger as #1, since I'm not a big fan of red meat except in this form.).  To my surprise, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (more easily referred to as MALBA) was open, so I went in and had a look around; it's kind of BA's answer to MOMA in New York, and has an impressive collection of mostly modern art by Latin American artists.

I got to #2 and #3 on the Buenos Aires "must do" list, too; #2 with a trek to San Telmo on Sunday to browse the famous Sunday market and have lunch at El Balcon, where I also saw a music-and-tango show.  Donation tango shows were also on offer in the plaza; these are "free" outdoor performances to recorded or live music, with a hat passed around the crowd afterward to make a contribution.  Delightful day -- San Telmo is just south of the center, and is a lovely old neighbourhood of cobblestoned streets and pastel colonial buildings.

#3 -- football -- came Sunday night.  You may have already read my previous blog post about this; if not, go back and have a read!  It's an experience quite unlike any other soccer game to see one in Argentina; the fans are legendary for their passion.

So I've done the "must do's" of Buenos Aires (if you'll allow me to count the burger) and am heading onwards with a sense of mission accomplished.  Having earned a little break, I took yesterday to go to Colonia, Uruguay on the very convenient (but slow) ferry from BA's Puerto Madero neighbourhood (akin to London's Docklands).  So nice to have a little breathing room, a break from the urban insanity of BA -- Colonia del Sacramento is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its historic centre that dates back to the late 17th century.  At various times, it's been Spanish and Portuguese and back again, as the two colonial powers in this part of the world struggled for dominance over its key strategic location.  Nowadays, though, it's a sleepy and peaceful little place; I ambled around the town for a while, and then found a spot to just sit and drink in the atmosphere, listening to a Uruguayan guitarist with a warm baritone voice serenade us.

For today, my last in BA (I leave at 8 pm tonight), I headed back to Palermo for the Museo Evita and the Museo Xul Solar. The first isn't so much a museum as it is a shrine to Saint Eva Peron; I left with the impression that she was sort of the Princess Di of her day, beloved by the nation and famous for her stylish wardrobe. A good chunk of the latter is preserved in the museum; she had very good taste in shoes, I'll give her that.

Xul Solar was an Argentine artist from the early part of the 20th century -- among other things, Argentine painter, sculptor, writer, inventor of imaginary languages, and student of astrology and the Kabbalah -- and the museum in his name houses a collection of his work. It's quirky and colourful and quite appealing -- I don't know quite what "style" you'd call it, but think Paul Klee, or Kandinsky.

And now I must start packing up and head back out to Retiro bus station, to try to find my bus to Mendoza in the bewildering array of 75 platforms.  Wine country, here I come ... I promise to have a glass or two of Malbec for you when I'm in a vineyard somewhere.

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