Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Buenos Aires Dec. 2007

Buenos Aires Dec. 2007

One of the most visited areas of Buenos Aires is La Boca. Set along the side of the river, it is a busy port. When a plague hit the area, those that could afford to move did, leaving only the poor. Gradually the area attracted artists, writers and musicians. The metal-roofed houses were painted with bright colors creating a 3 dimensional painting not on canvas but on an area of a city. Today the houses contain shops, restaurants and tango schools. Market stalls in the street sell all sorts of tourist items.

In front of an old church, a large group of musicians set up with chairs and an old upright piano and performed for a crowd. Another group of five, wildly dressed musicians with metal drums banged their way through the tourists.

We left the tourist streets and walked along the streets in the non tourist areas where they have a large soccer stadium. There, several residents warned us about going on the side streets because of robbers. That was the only place in Buenos Aires where we have been concerned.

We waited for the Christmas decorations to go up. A few lights in store windows appeared. Some displays sprinkled faux snow. One resident hung Santa from the balcony. The walking street, Florida, put up a few lights in the shape of Christmas trees. But certainly nothing like the Christmas decorations that we’ve seen in India or Europe. It seemed that Christmas might not be such a big thing here. Christmas Eve was quiet. Until 12:00 pm. Then the sky lit up with fireworks, kids set off rockets from the intersections and the reverberating shock waves sounded like the city was being invaded! That went on until about 3:00 am.

We continued to walk the streets, marveling at the old buildings and the new. New Years Eve came and went with only a few firecrackers. We visited the Brazilian Consulate to see about getting a visa. Many South American countries are retaliating against the visa restrictions of the U.S. An example, Chile charges U.S. citizens a $100 retaliation fee when flying in. At the Rio airport, U.S. citizens pay an additional fee of $100 on top of the visa fee of $110. These visa costs are the most expensive we’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world.

Next we visited the Paraguay Consulate. This is a small, dirty and crowded room on a side street near the center of the city. We had read that Paraguay is one of the poorest and least populated countries in South America. Judging by the consulate, we can believe it. An unlimited visa, good for 10 years, cost $65 and took one day.

One day we rode the train to Tigre, about 1 hour, and a 30 cent ticket, from Buenos Aires. Here, people catch the ferry to Uruguay. Others have beautiful homes along the Rio Parana. Boat tours pass the lovely homes and swimming holes. One house completely covered under glass to prevent deterioration was the summer home of General Sarmiento who had been president in the 1870s. The Parana delta is made up of dozens of islands and all are exquisitely manicured with lawns, trees, and ornamental shrubbery. Besides the private houses, some of which are quite elaborate, the islands contain numerous campgrounds, hotels and resorts. This is the weekend and summer playground for the wealthy elite of Buenos Aires but the poor folks can also come here and take advantage of many public beaches.

Another day we visited the city’s largest park, the Parque Tres de Febrero, named for the day that the then General Sarmiento vanquished his arch rival, a cruel and ruthless dictator, making Argentina safe for democracy, for awhile anyway. The park covers some 62 acres in Palermo, the city’s largest single neighborhood consisting of lots of green spaces and monuments, as well as the wealthiest homes and apartment buildings. A large lake is the park’s single main attraction and both pedal boats and rowboats are available for rental. The park was laid out in the 1870s, inspired by the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, and there’s a lovely old footbridge which crosses the lake at its narrowest point leading to a large rose garden and a section of statuary with busts of some of the world’s greatest literary figures. On weekends, the roads are closed to traffic and food vendors of all kinds set up booths. We enjoyed a lunch of the most delicious beef, cut into thin strips and served on a bun.

Now as we’re getting ready to leave Buenos Aires for a trip to Brazil, here are some observations we’ve noticed. The meat is incredible. However, there are no fresh herbs for cooking to be found in the grocery stores. There are some dried ones, but limited in variety. There are wonderful cheeses and sausages. Vegetables are available but not the variety found in Asia and Africa. Fruits are limited to oranges, apples, plums, apricots, and chiquita type bananas.. There is only one brand of yogurt with fruit ( three kinds), all in small containers, while the choice of yogurt drinks fill shelves 20 feet long. Saturday afternoon and Sundays, all shops are closed and the parks are full of families enjoying the hundreds of green spaces in the city.

Many citizens have pet dogs. Professional dog walkers with up to 15 dogs ply the sidewalks. Every neighborhood has a pet shop.

Every block has at least one restaurant with sidewalk tables and chairs. Most have more.

Sidewalks in prosperous neighborhoods are well kept, even and clean. In poorer ones, uneven and unsafe. Traffic lights are long but many people run across on the red light.

The city is basically clean, quiet, and modern with lots of wonderful old buildings and a delight to visit.