Politics, Tango and Paris in Buenos Aires - Day 437 & 438
Here we are in Buenos Aires, a city renowned for its volatile politics, its Tango and its European influence. Hang on a minute. this looks like Paris!
Our journey from Iguazu to Buenos Aires was OK, apart from having to pay extra to put Tim’s case in the hold; the carry-on weight was a mere 5kg! Luckily it was only an extra £20. Our taxi driver from the Airport to the Airbnb was hilarious. A young lady with groovy tattoos and a great sense of humour; she thought Tim’s Spanish was cute, and when we asked her where she learnt such good English, she said it wasn't English, she learnt American at school – words like “bullshit” and “f@ck off”. Haha. We kept her details – a very entertaining ride.
Day 438, here we are in Buenos Aires. When we arrive at a new city, we like to go on a walking tour to give us an understanding of the layout, history and culture of the place. That was our plan for today.
We waited in the shade by the Congress Building, and soon two men in orange t-shirts arrived. Gradually more and more people turned up, and the crowd were split into two, Spanish to the right, English to the left.
What a great three hours. Our guide Fernando was very good; amusing, interesting and knowledgeable and gave us a great understanding of the history of Argentina and the culture. The city is a hotchpotch of European influence. Interestingly, despite the Spanish invading the country and then the English muscling in for a short period, Buenos Aires is heavily influenced by Italian and French architecture. The long boulevards, street lamps and art deco entrances to the Subte (which means ‘Underground’, ok, that’s an English influence!) are like replicas to Parisian ones. There was even had a competition for a French monument to celebrate the centennial of the 1810 independence from Spain!
As we walked down the grand boulevard of Avenida de Mayo with such a mix of architecture, one that stood out was the Palacio Barolo, a large white building which is based on the 14th-century poem “Divine Comedy” by Dante. Our guide explained that the building’s 22 floors reflect the number of stanzas in the poem, and the building takes the visitor on a journey through hell, purgatory and paradise as they climb to the top where there is a working lighthouse. Perhaps if we have time, we will go and explore this fascinating place more.
Argentina is known for its dictators, revolutions and unstable politics. We heard about the terrible financial mistakes leading to the bankruptcy of the banks and country, causing the December 2001 riots, where the president, Fernando de la Rúa, escaped the Federal Government Office (known as the Pink House) via a helicopter! There was a state of extreme instability for the next 12 days with quite a few Presidents being elected and resigning, sometimes in a matter of hours!
And of course, the history of Argentina cannot be given without Evita Perón being mentioned. We all sat around the edge of an empty fountain which overlooked a building with a massive mural of this lady while Fernando shared the story of her. Born in poverty, she moved to the capital to become an actress. At a charity event, Evita met Juan Perón and married the following year. When he was elected President, she involved herself in supporting children, women, the elderly and health, also building a good relationship with the trade unions. Evita became a powerful woman who the working-class loved. The people wanted her to become the vice-president and couldn’t understand why she kept declining. Eventually, she gave an emotional speech to a packed audience outside the Pink Government House, announcing her declining health, and she shortly died of cancer at 33.
We also heard of the mothers who marched in solidarity wearing white headscarves to symbolise the nappies of their children who had been stolen during the Dirty War, holding the government accountable for the human rights violations they committed during their time in power. And we saw the white scarves of the mothers painted on the ground in the Plaza de Mayo.
What a history this country has had and continues to have. The inflation rate rose to a whopping 47.1% last month! I think we need to watch the exchange rate carefully while we are here.
After the fascinating tour, we walked down to the San Telmo market. Despite it being late afternoon, the stalls were still trading their wares, with many artisans selling knitted ponchos, jewellery, leather goods and other stalls with antiques, such as old phones, knives and figurines. We were walking down with Nicole, a lady we met on our tour, I say walking, but it was more like a march; she was on a mission. Earlier she had seen that there was a demonstration at part of the San Telmo market where the council want to move the artist away. At one section of the street, police were standing around, and artists were sitting with placards saying “let us be free”. It’s a shame that we didn’t see more of the market. Mind you, we wouldn’t buy anything anyway!
We reached the main square and Nicole decided to go to have a rest and a shower. We had a beer and then I heard music and went to investigate. Wonderful – tango dancing. We sat and admired the two professional dancers synchronised with their steps, the occasional flip of the leg, moving gracefully across the floor. It was a joy to watch. Once they had finished their performance, the lady went and breastfed her tiny baby. Crikey, all that dancing after just giving birth!
The sun died down, lights went on and it was a free for all to get up and Tango. Tim and I did have a few Tango Lessons back home, but Tim didn’t want to play. I did ask another man if he would dance with me, but he refused. Hey ho!
Sitting next to us was an elderly couple, Don and Marge. They are from Chicago and over here for just a few days. We got chatting. What an inspiring couple! They go away for a week most months around the world, often taking a tiny tent and roll mat in their hand luggage and go camping. Don is 80! We ended up going for dinner with them, and while Tim was talking politics and careers with Don, I was picking Marge’s brain as to places they have visited and how they get around. What a delightful time we had. They were so easy to chat to and enjoyed a laugh. A wonderful end to another fascinating day.