The fall of the spreading Ombú tree

Enrique Rodríguez Larreta was a prominent Argentine writer, academic and prolific collector of early Hispanic art and Ambassador to France. We popped into his rather lovely Spanish-Colonial house today in Belgrano which was (surprise, surprise) gifted to him and his newly minted wife by his mother-in-law, the formidable (afore-mentioned) Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena (of the Kavanagh revenge story in an earlier post) on their wedding day in 1903. Nice wedding present.

The house, now Museo Larreta has a large Andalusian walled garden with mature box-hedged labyrinthine paths, tinkling Moorish fountains and an abundance of large exotic trees including mature ginkgo biloba, flowering palo barracho aka silk floss trees, old-vine wisteria, cypress, giant palms and beds of gorgeous flowering ginger – tranquilidad, as they say here.

Sadly, the ancient and enormously spreading Ombú tree (native to the Argentine Pampa) that once dominated the garden has, in recent months, fallen foul of a nasty fungus and has had to be distressingly and alarmingly hacked back to its bare bones – see the attached before and after shots. Fingers crossed that after perhaps 100 or so years of life, it can make a thriving comeback, for in full health it would have provided welcome shade not just from the sun but also from the leering apartment balconies that now surround the garden.

I do love Ombú trees and there are many fine examples in this city – so I’ll go hunt them down and report in another post.

We took the Subte to Juramento in Belgrano, almost the extent of the network and second to last stop on the D Line – so on reflection, this is no London Tube, but impressive nonetheless and one of the oldest in South America.

The Subte here is wonderfully efficient. It’s safe, incredibly CHEAP, fast and on time. It’s always air conditioned, super clean and has the most inventive of on-board entertainment options I’ve encountered, from wandering minstrels and micro-bands (who passengers always applaud and tip generously) to garrulous hawkers who trawl the train from end-to-end trustingly placing their offerings in your lap then moments later returning to retrieve. Pop socks, post-it-notes, pens and notebooks, chewing gum to mini (handy) Subte maps and everything else you can imagine are declined with a polite no gracias por favor or, if the mood takes you, a few pesos in exchange, they’ll take anything.

Actually, I can’t imagine this happening to the extent that it does here on a subway anywhere else that I know (oh, perhaps in Valparaiso which we’ve seen), but certainly NOT in London or any other European or North American city.

Belgrano reminds me of the Upper West Side of NYC. Leafy and prosperous with an elegant well-to-do residential air about it. Lots of rich older folks mooching around the many cafes, restaurants and stores that line its streets with plenty of ‘ladies who lunch’ decked out in their weekend finery sipping lattes and / or chilled glasses of Champers. Belgrano is also one of BA’s sprawling barrios that spans from the riverside area of Parque Norte and rides over the north-western corner of Palermo. Just like Palermo the barrio is now defined by areas such as Belgrano R, Belgrano C, central Belgrano and Belgrano Bajo.

Belgrano is also home to Barrio Chino (Belgrano C), BA’s small China Town. We often crave Asian food so occasionally we ride the Subte up to Barrio C and have lunch in one of the (maybe seven) Chinese restaurants. It’s not bad but as previously mentioned in a post, it’s no Golden Century. That’ll be one of the first places we head for when we get back to Sydney!

After lunch we took a cab back to San Telmo – in part because it’s cheap to do so, less than A$10 for what is 11.1ks, but also for the thrill of the ride. Traffic flows pretty well in this city, when there’s no manifestation (demonstration) that is, blocking a key arterial, so we can bomb down one of the many straight-as-a-die avenidas such as Corrientes, Santa Fe or Libertador that are often 10 lanes wide, lined with endless residential towers and shops, large imposing palacios (now often embassies) and intersected with sprawling green parks such as Bosque Palermo, Parque Norte (with its riverside swimming pools) and pockets of smaller green spaces with art galleries and the odd enormous sprawling Ombú tree completely dominating the space, providing welcome shade in a blistering BA summer.

We love this particular taxi ride as it really gives a sense of the impressive scale and thriving modern density of Buenos Aires, and when you finally turn off Paseo Colon into the cobbled maze of San Telmo you really do appreciate this city of contrasts, the ever-expanding new and the fading glory of the old.

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