Malls, Steaks, and Nice People – A Hodgepodge of Buenos Aires Stuff

We put Maggie on a plane the other day and after three really terrific weeks with my mother and/or our daughter, we have now returned to normal programming, if you can call traipsing around the world normal.

Back in Buenos Aires after a week in Uruguay, our first order of business was to go…to the mall. It seems that Knucklehead Jones left a small pile of clothes in a dresser drawer at our last stop, and I was down a number of vital pieces of clothing. One of them was my new favorite shirt, made by the same nice people who make my special undies – Ex Officio. Another, alas, was a pair of those undies. I’m down to four.

The big tragedy was losing that shirt. It dries fast, doesn’t (er, didn’t) wrinkle, and it just looked snazzy. And there it sits, lonely, scared, and abandoned, in a dresser drawer in Uruguay. (The owner of the apartment, bless him, said he’d send the stuff home to the States, but a fat lot of good that does me here.)

With my favorite people (and my favorite shirt)

With my favorite people (and my favorite shirt)

I hate losing stuff (especially snazzy wrinkle-free shirts), I hate shopping, I really hate buying clothes, and I hate malls. I was full of hateful hate. After several hours of scouring the mall for overpriced pale imitations of my beloved shirt, among other lamented items, I was able to procure some replacement duds, but the experience was like a bladder exam, only not as fun.

The mall of hateful hate notwithstanding, I liked Buenos Aires a lot. It’s a cosmopolitan, peppy, fun, tango-y place. People eat, they drink, and they dance. I cannot think of a single person we encountered who wasn’t cheerful and friendly. Can you imagine that? Cabdrivers were honest and efficient (although once, when I was going out to the airport to meet my mother, one cabbie asked if we could stop at McDonald’s for coffee – I explained that her flight had already landed, which he took in stride). Shopkeepers were gracious, even on the rare occasions when we didn’t buy anything. Waiters seemed genuinely glad to see us. People were amazingly patient with our infantile Spanish. This is easy travel, and it’s a jumping off point to places like Patagonia and Iquazu Falls that we’ll return to someday, I hope.

If you like steak, it’s a particularly good town. After a few culinary misses, we decided to play to the place’s strength – meat. We wandered into a relatively pedestrian-looking steakhouse and did what you’re supposed to do – we ordered some salad, a steak, some fries, and some Malbec – and life was mighty fine. Today, we hit the jackpot at an absolutely charming place called Gran Parrilla del Plata with almost the same format. We had a simply perfect meal of skirt steak, a salad of lettuce, tomato, carrots, and beets, a plate of fries, a morcilla sausage (made from blood – Janine was not nearly as happy about it as I was), and a 500 cl bottle of simply smashing Malbec. When the waiter couldn’t interest us in dessert or coffee, he brought us a round of sparkling wine on the house anyway. The bill came to thirty bucks. It was all waaaayyy too much fun for a Tuesday afternoon, and I almost felt guilty, but not quite.

Does this meal rival the chivito?

Does this meal rival the chivito?

On our return from Uruguay we repositioned ourselves closer to downtown in the neighborhood called San Telmo. Our new apartment was just a short walk to a great weekend flea market, but more than that, I think it’s good to have a chance just to try different parts of town on for size. These extended visits give us that luxury. We arrive in town, suss the place out a bit, wander out of town for a spell, then resume the visit in a different neighborhood.

Janine does love a flea market.

Janine does love a flea market.

If Palermo Viejo was Soho (New York’s Soho), with cafes and boutiques, San Telmo was the West Village (um, with cafes and boutiques). Today, we also wandered through Recoleto, which could easily stand in for the Upper East Side, complete with dainty dowagers and older gentlemen in summer suits and ties. The Upper East Side does not have the gravesite of Eva Peron, however. Wander the streets of Buenos Aires and you could be in New York, Madrid, Paris, Barcelona, or even Rome, but remarkably free of the attitude.

We also took in an actual tango show. Mind you, we didn’t dig deep for the fancy pants tango bar extravaganzas, which will run you at least a couple hundred bucks before the night is out. No, cheapskate Eric lobbied for the intravaganza presented by the non-profit Borges Cultural Center, which, if you ask me, put on a perfectly fine tango show for twenty bucks. There were men and woman, they wore fedoras, they danced, they twirled their legs in that Argentinean way, and it looked like tango to us. There was also this earnest young fellow who repeatedly crooned at us (while the tangoers changed costumes) and who made up for in passion what he lacked in subtlety. Next time, though, we’ll go to a milonga, which is basically a neighborhood dance hall that starts at midnight and goes until dawn. They usually start with a tango lesson and then let people loose on the dance floor. To do this, though, you need to take a disco nap at around eight, and then drink a pot of coffee chased by a couple of Red Bulls. If you do all this you might be able to pull it off, but then again, maybe not.

Finally, we made yet another visit to a famous theatre without actually seeing a performance in it. The Teatro Colon is said to be one of the finest acoustic opera houses in the world. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful theatres I’ve seen. I would spend a month shopping for socks in malls to see an opera here.

Just another beautiful theatre without a performance. (Photo courtesy of Janine, who graciously agreed to let me use it.)

Just another beautiful theatre without a performance. (Photo courtesy of Janine, who graciously agreed to let me use it.)

On the other hand, while the acoustics may be nearly perfect, whoever designed the men’s room needs to find another line of work.

I swear I took this photo in the Teatro Colon and didn't crib it from somebody's PowerPoint presentation on failure.

I swear I took this photo in the Teatro Colon and didn’t crib it from somebody’s PowerPoint presentation on failure.

We are now off to South Africa and Kruger National Park. We may or may not have internet access, so if I go quiet for a while, please don’t be alarmed. After that, we’re off to New Zealand and Australia, about which we have done ZERO research. Any recommendations about where to go or what to do will be most welcome. See you in the funny papers.

14 thoughts on “Malls, Steaks, and Nice People – A Hodgepodge of Buenos Aires Stuff

  1. I am impressed that you can do your travelling in such a natural relaxed way. I always would be tempted to go into overdrive. But you seem to be born travellers who know how to keep the Balance between dolce fa niente and to experience yet another wonder of this planet.
    Kruger must be a great place to go picture hunting. In Australie the Great Barrier Reef must be something to see. And in New Sealand there should be good places for golfing, I assume.

    • In other words, we’re lazy. Actually, in order to be able to last for eight months, we’ve found that we have to take days off – sometimes a few in a row – from sightseeing. It’s just too tiring otherwise. I write this from a particularly grueling transfer, from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo to Johannesburg, that involves a 14 hour layover.

  2. The Kruger is a remarkable way to see Africa’s big game. Hope you have lots of space on your camera. You will need it. Be sure to look to the heavens at night. With no ambient light, you will see the Southern Cross and other star clusters like you’ve never seen before. You will even see satellites tracking across the night sky. If you get a chance, go north and see Victoria Falls, another magical place. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the historic Victoria Falls Hotel is the home of Mr. Stanley’s bar. A great spot for a nightcap and the opportunity to try on Mr. Stanley’s hat.

    The Sidney Fish Market is a great place to get black crab, an Australian specialty, served on a paper plate. I recommend eating it on the wharf accompanied by a cold beer. Out of Sydney harbor, you can take a whale watching trip. Check with someone in the know to find out if the southern ocean migration is on. If so, I recommend a small sailboat (30 t0 50 feet) rather than the big tourist boats. When we went out, we got so close to a mother and calf that we felt their spray.

    Cook Inlet on the northern island of New Zealand is a breathtaking photo op. Get out in the country side and away from the big city. The rural sites are glorious.

    Can’t wait until your next post.

  3. Love the shopping (or the need-for-shopping) description and the steak looks great! Do I have your permission to use “intravaganza?” I’m sure the need for that word will come up at some point …

    Looks like you guys are having a great time. Keep it up!

  4. Hi Guys. Did you make the trek to Antarctica? I missed a few posts, so I might have missed it. I will put together a few fun things we discovered in NZ, the group we used to swim with dolphins in open ocean (but the water was so choppy, everyone barfed, no one swam :-(. But it had great potential. ), the tastiest dish we discovered at a run of the mill Chinese takeout place, the satay burger, and the most fun, the tour at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Dunedin. Best 18 NZ$ we spent (which was $9 us when we were there)!!!

  5. When you’re ready to hit New Zealand, let me know. I’m sure my brother and sister-in-law (and my adorable one-year-old nephew) would love to meet you if possible. New Zealand packs a lot into a very small country–you’ll need help prioritizing. Consider a camper van rental. Drink lots of wine.

      • Ya know, once you’re outside of the major metropolitan areas, the real danger is hitting a sheep. However, it is good campervan etiquette to lift a your hand or a friendly finger (not THAT finger) off the steering wheel in greeting to each vehicle that you pass. The sheep don’t care if you greet them in passing. You are also encouraged to run over any Australian possums you may come across, as they are an invasive species. New Zealand is the opposite of Australia. Evidently, everything in Australia will try to kill you while almost nothing in New Zealand will–it has zero harmful things, except for humans. It’s also a non-tipping country, which I appreciated. And the campground restrooms were really, really clean. Basically, New Zealand is Minnesota if it were picked up and dropped into the middle of the South Pacific. If you fly into Auckland or are up in the North Island, let me know. My family lives about an hour from Auckland. You’ll want to buy greenstone jewelry. And drink wine. And eat meat–especially lamb. Oh, and Anchor butter.

  6. If you can possibly get to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling and/or diving, go. It was so beautiful that the coral alone was worth it–even if we never saw a fish (which of course we saw lots of). And the rain forest is amazing as well.

  7. I almost ran into you (kind of). I’m on my way to Santiago on Friday for a month to visit my daughter. We’ll be in and out of the city as we visit places like Valparaiso and Patagonia. After your latest post, maybe I’ll talk her into going to Argentina! BTW, last time I passed your old homestead, the Magnolia tree and front garden seemed intact…no changes yet! Enjoying your posts….Mary Ann

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