Thankfully we don’t have to use the original 16thCentury name, now a much snappier, Buenos Aires. And it’s glorious!
Meanwhile, it’s a rather damp and cold Sunday (but good air) here in BA so apologies for the lack of photos – but rest assured, once the sun comes out on Monday, you’ll get a good look at this wonderful city.
We’re in San Telmo, one of the oldest and most charming of BA’s barrios, with tree-lined cobblestone streets, tall and elegant Belle Époque apartment buildings, grand iron-gated mansions, cafés and bars that spill out onto the pavement and wonderful fresh organic produce stores and bakeries on every street corner. It seems a long way from rather dishevelled (but oh so charming) Valparaíso – for a starters, there are no dogs roaming (and fouling) the streets, there’s a noticeable lack of graffiti splashed across every single surface… No, this place reeks of old-money European and New World elegance. Sure, it’s faded somewhat, but you can see just how rich BA was in its heyday in the late 19thCentury and the first few decades of the 20th.
It must have been incredibly grand. It still is.
As you walk the streets you’re struck by the fusion of architecture and alternating street-scapes – it’s old Madrid and Paris blended with New York’s Upper East Side – you’ll be walking down an elegant street with row after row of imposing mansard-roofed apartment buildings, then turn a corner and (feel like) you’re on 2ndAvenue in NYC with bagel stores, bars and grocery stores. Could it get any better I wonder?
We’re somewhat cushioned in San Telmo, but – a day in – there are no obvious signs of Argentina’s current economic struggles. I mean it all appears rather affluent, but then there’s the 40% inflation, the 60% interest rates and the recent US$57.1 Billion bailout from the IMF. Though I fear that things could get a lot tighter here as even tougher austerity measures are about to kick in, but for now, there are no homeless, no begging that we’ve seen, no trash in the streets and hardly any graffiti to speak of (way less than six years ago it feels, as if there’s been a lot of rejuvenation – Ant). Again, I realise we’re in a rather well to do part of town but you’d think you’d detect something with rolling general strikes happening but there’s one definite sign of Greek-style belt-tightening and that’s the VENDE (For Sale) signs everywhere, and from what I’ve briefly looked at, big houses going for a song.
We’ve rented an apartment on Piedras. It’s in the local Casa Chorizo style, that’s one whole floor-through from street front all the way back – a long series of connecting rooms with, in the middle, a tiled outside gallery (looking into a courtyard) onto which all the bedrooms open. It’s MASSIVE – 25 feet high rooms with double glass French doors to the ceiling, a street-facing balcony, expansive wooden floors and the most impressive, elegant sweeping marble staircase (private street front entrance) with one large chandelier, oh, and a big private roof terrace garden. We have this place for 2 whole months and intend to live (and work) as much as Porteños as possible.
As I write this I can hear the increasingly loud roar and chants from La Bombonera, home of Boca Juniors, BA’s most famous soccer team, who play Colón this evening.
It’s a cold rainy night and the natives are clearly restless.