Raising the steaks. Buenos Aires, Argentina

October 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm 2 comments

It’s 2pm on a Sunday afternoon and Buenos Aires is waking up to room-spins and a killer hangover. The kind of hangover that most people only ever dream about. The kind of hangover you get from staying out until 10am in the morning and watching the sunrise from inside the world-famous nightclub Pacha. Upstairs the VIPs tip their diamond-encrusted sunglasses onto their noses and studiously ignore each other as the morning sunlight bounces off their bleached hair. Downstairs there is no room for studied indifference. Hell, there is hardly enough room to raise a glass to your mouth. Barely enough space to dance as if no-one in the world is watching you – although it will take a lot more than an elbow in the ribs to stop the hundreds of patrons from trying.

Or maybe its a quieter sort of hangover. The sort that comes after a long night of moving from one painfully trendy bar in the Palermo neighbourhood to another and another and another. Watching a new indie band perform in a gutted bar and lifting jugs of beer off huge concrete tables.

It was a good night for sure but now there is serious business to be dealt with. After all, what is a night out if you don’t follow it up with breakfast and a long gossip the next day? Cue the hardest part of being a porteňo (person from Buenos Aires) – deciding what to do on a Sunday afternoon.

In Recoleta the cafés are calling. Over tiny coffees in tiny porcelain cups gossiping Argentines will be only vaguely aware of the stream of notes coming from a nearby band who – using a cello, violin and a drum – are giving classical music an entirely new, entirely unclassical face. As the crescendo rises and the violinist starts to sweat profusely from overexertion and the strong afternoon sun, they will drop their cups back in their saucers, leave a generous tip for the waiter and head to Recoleta cemetery.

Recoleta is a pretty exlusive neighbourhood – full of designer boutiques, sculptures, sprawling parks and the most spectacular theatre-cum-bookshop. The area smacks of privelege so why should the cemetery be any different? A casual wander reveals the crypts of Buenos Aires’s most elite families including the much loved Eva (Evita) Peron. Some are old and uncared for – doors squeaking open to reveal cracked tiles, smashed dome windows and stacks of weathered coffins. Some are brand new, built from the finest granite and fitted with heavy steel doors that will never bang in the breeze. The best are a mix of the two – old and cut out of white stone but as grand as any church with their wrought iron doors, stained glass windows and guardian angel statues. Although visitors are in good company it is hard not to be mildly terrified when a door suddenly swings open, a glimpse through a window reveals a morbid pile of boxes or something rustles a little too loudly nearby. Still, the sheer size and unusual nature of the place makes for one of Buenos Aires’s most popular and memorable afternoon strolls.

Across town a much more colourful afternoon is in full swing. Lining a few of La Boca’s cobbled alleys are corrugated iron houses, once home to Argentina’s artists. Stacked in the most precarious manner in the most unusual lines, they are a testament to their owners’ creativity. Each wall is a different shade of aquamarine, ruby, mustard and mango – a colour chart even Dulux wouldn’t touch. How could a place like this not be lively?

Two of the streets meet at a 45 degree angle – one is lined with painters and photographers flogging their wares and the other with restaurants. In front of every coloured restaurant there is a small stage where experienced tango dancers strut their stuff. The crowd gasps appreciatively when the man tilts his partner back dramatically. As her long hair brushes the floor she lifts her leg slowly and deliberately so that it points over his ear, the split in her tight pencil skirt exposing long slim legs. The camera shutters snap and diners look up from their chorripans with critical eyes. The tourists will lap up any half-hearted tango but they have seen a thousand tangos and a thousand smooth legs. Still the right dancers never fail to raise a grudging smile and a twinkle in the men’s eyes. Such incredible elegance, poise and skill. And such strong legs…

Then there are the Sunday markets. San Telmo is home to the weekly antiques market many of whose wares are antiques only in the loosest sense of the word. In a big warehouse dusty records, mottled fur coats, ancient stamps, vintage sunglasses, porcelain dolls with only one leering eye and tarnished antique telephones that once took calls from Bell himself jockey for attention. For any afficionado there is a long day’s work to be done picking through the debris to find unlikely treasures.

For those more interested in a market’s atmosphere than its products, Feria de Mataderos (The Cowboy Market) holds the trump card. And since the sun is shining today the recovering porteňos are out in force. After swallowing down a reviving meal of fresh chicken empanadas and barbequed sausage sandwiches they head for the square where a band are playing some lively traditional tunes. In front of the stage a dozen partners appear to be performing some kind of traditional set dance – stepping in wooden circles around each other, waving coloured hankys (blue for one, white for the other) and laughing gamely. Elderly couples gaze at each other with humour and tenderness while the twenty-somethings beside them feign rigid formality before collapsing in giggles.

And its not just the average folk that are out. It’s not called The Cowboy Market for nothing afterall. In stalls draped with blue tarpaulin real life cowboys display leather lasoos, whips, saddles and handcrafted satchels. They are decked out to the nines in boots, trousers that balloon at the thighs, shirts, red cravats and flat caps. Towards the evening they gather in huddles over a Spanish guitar and croon, at least one person breaking into dance. Nearby, comedians thrill crowds on the grass area as kids run around with candied apples, popcorn, candyfloss and grass-stained knees. Shoppers clambour for the freshly churned artisan cheese and all manner of delicate trinkets. Everyone is smiling, stopping to chat to a neighbour or stranger or bending over to pet a dog. At times like this how could  porteňos not be head-over-heels in love with their city?

The only non-negotiable ingredient of any perfect Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires is the steak. The best steak in the city changes depending on who you are asking. For us, Miranda’s in Palermo Viejo was the hands-down winner. In fact, Miranda’s is so good that it rendered us all speechless for a full ten minutes. At one point I glanced at Alan who was sitting opposite me in complete silence with his eyes closed, a goofy look on his face and his fork hovering dreamily around his mouth.

With as much headspace as floorspace, the small restaurant is a lively, cavernous place at the centre of which ridiculously attractive staff members shake cocktails and decant wine at the bar. All exposed brickwork and chisled jaws, Miranda’s looks almost as good as it tastes.

There are more photos from Buenos Aires available in the gallery

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Katherina  |  November 3, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Hello there, I love your blog! I had been in Buenos Aires only for a weekend (unfortunately!) and I also hope to find time to go back… it’s one of my favorite cities in the World – O hope you enjoy it! :)

    Reply
  • [...] 3. Buenos Aires, Argentina Since we’ve been home people have asked us time and time again where did we like best. Now we don’t like to play favourites but if we were to pick just one place where we could stay suspended in time for ever and ever, it would be Buenos Aires. Maybe it was because we had a reunion with a long-missed friend or maybe it was just because Buenos Aires really is just that good. It has tango dancing in the streets, steak you can cut with a spoon, a nightlife that never seems to stop, real life cowboy markets, a cemetery you could easily build a home in and so much to do that you could never get bored here. Buenos Aires is all that and a bag of chips. [...]

    Reply

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