Sunday, February 14, 2010

Buenos Aries

At the time of this piece we have been in Buenos Aries 4 of our 5 days. We’ve accepted that nobody with sense wears gold here and left our necklaces and my ring in the hotel. I’ve seen some tourists wear gold but not many of them – 2 young guys with fine gold chains and iPods and one older woman with a marvelous antique gold chain.

It’s all about security here. Men wear belly pouches under their arms and around their necks. Women clutch bags at their stomachs and backpacks are worn at the front almost 100% of the time on adults.

We have noticed a strong café culture with plenty of cafes to choose from. People sit and sip tea, coffee, latte, cappuccino and vino for hours in the day. We went to Café Tortoni, standing in line to get permission from the doorman to enter. Inside this National Heritage site the waiters are in black suits with white shirts and the proverbial towel over the arm. There are 2 rooms set up for historical preservation areas with Café’ Tortoni memorabilia and in one corner of the working area there are 3 mannequins of historical characters who once ate and talked there.

Upstairs is the National Tango academy where there are shows and lessons offered. In the café I ate a salad of tomatoes, peaches, a boiled egg and pickled palm hearts served with Balsamic vinegar and olive oil. It was great but I couldn’t finish the huge bowl of food. Rick had some marvelous hot chocolate (not thick like in Spain but milky like in the US but richer.) served with 3 sugar dusted churros.

We visited a Burger King built inside of a 18th century mansion where the pillars and ornate ceilings and doorways were preserved. We visited a bookstore built into a theater where the stage was used for the café and the balconies were lined with books and CDs and DVDs. It is ranked as the second most wonderful book store in the world and I can’t imagine what could outrank it.

We went to stand at the golden doors of city hall at 4 pm on Saturday and when the doors opened 2 guards marched out to stay at the entry for the hour that city hall is open for visitors. The city hall was expanded when the city acquired the neighboring newspaper building whose lobby was carved from oak and whose ballroom has 2 stages and is as ornate as anything in Peter Hoff in St. Petersburg. Rick and I were the only English speakers so we had a private tour.

In our visits up and down streets and in and out of subways we often see men with babies or little children. When the family is together the man pushes the stroller unless there are a few children and he has to carry one or two.

The Harrods closed 20 years ago and that building remains totally empty and dark but without the graffiti that afflicts the banks that are known to do businesses with genocidal governments.

The splendor of so many buildings is eye popping. It isn’t quite Prague or Budapest but it isn’t as old as either of those cities either. It is said to be the Paris of South America and deserves any name that recognizes its glorious architecture. We would like it just a bit more if the heat didn’t melt our bones and make us rubbery legged in the streets.

South American Hotels

We stayed at 3 hotels on this trip. In Santiago it was Hotel Orly, a tiny hotel tucked into the center of town where there was tea, coffee, water, fruit and cookies all day long in a charming café on the main floor. We arrived too early for our room but we were offered breakfast and the chance to sit and rest in the lobby or common area before we went out into the Chilean heat. Overall it was a super hotel and I would recommend it to anyone.

In Valparaiso we stayed at Hostel Morgan, a small home maintained by a woman and her daughter. They gave us a find breakfast, good sightseeing advice. I would stay there anytime and happily since Valparaiso was wonderful to walk around. The public art was everywhere to find - like searching for Easter Eggs in the grass.

Third –and another winner- was Lola House in Buenos Aries. This is run by 2 sisters who hired their brother-in-law to do the renovations to turn an 1850s family home into a Spanish style house with a courtyard and wonderful tiles. The name is in honor of their brother-in-law’s mother, Dorothy. She was Spanish( Lola is the Spanish diminutive of Dorothy.) and so that dictated the style of the home with stained glass in the ceiling and over the doorway as well as intricate tile installations glazed to show Lola’s favorite paintings and designs.

Anna and Irena couldn’t be more gracious and welcoming hostesses. Breakfast is generous; internet is free and the air conditioners make the rooms more than comfortable. Someone is on hand to let guests in around the clock and the dogs guard the patio in the night.