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