Chantale, you were correct to remind me of jet lag, but I didn’t listen – of course. My ability to retrieve memories is weak at the best of times so only after an almost non-event day today, I remembered how I started my last overseas holiday. Getting over the experience of the preparations and all that long-distance travel – of course there was jet lag. I was at Graeme’s place outside London; for two days I binged solidly on episode after episode of the remarkable series House of Cards. That was perhaps five or more years ago before Australia had Netflix! But when today started I was not remembering, and I was eager to get out there and discover Buenos Aires, regardless of what my body was suggesting.
Breakfast downstairs in the elaborate and pretty dining room offered me all my normal foods so I felt suitably fortified by rolled oats for the day. I read La Nacion newspaper to catch up on the news of the protest of the day before and learned that cars had been rolled and torched, people injured, public furniture vandalised, and others arrested. Later in the day I learned that some police took off their identifying uniforms and joined the protest marches, something that couldn’t easily happen in Australia where a public servant would lose their jobs. I also learnt there were several protest marches through this month of October; now I am pleased to say that the Congress has passed the budget legislation and so it is unlikely there will be more protests at least while I am here.
A previous hotel guest had left a card with funds on it for use on city transport and the receptionist was only too happy to give it to me. Armed with the card I walked to the nearby Subway train station and followed the blue line Linea A to the Place de Mayo then changed to the green line Linea D headed for the station of Tribunales. All went well and easily even though I was squeezed into the carriages – it was peak hour for workers. A foolish time to have travelled.
My aim was to be ready for a free walking tour scheduled for an hour later nearby. In the meantime, I planned to meander around the area, perhaps pick up a new Sim card (although I lucked out because I needed my actual passport with me not a copy) and generally discover. In the end I found everything rather dispiriting and sat in a café and had a cup of tea. The city is not dirty as in litter everywhere rather all the footpaths, road, and walls of buildings are patinated with a sheen of pollution grey. Then with the humidity I expect some mould grows on those surfaces as well. In consequence everything seems as if it needs a good scrub. I have seen both poorer and wealthier areas and the look is always the same; the visual appearances are not beautiful. There is no sparkle. No colour.
To help you get your bearings, the map below shows some of the breadth of the city of Buenos Aires – today I was in several areas/suburbs/districts but mainly in Recoleta. Can you find it below?
The tour ‘Walking through Recoleta’ was scheduled to last 3.5 hours including a break to grab something to eat and join a queue to el banos. It was very much a series of history lessons and reminded me of the deadly tour I took in Hobart after enjoying lively entertaining animated walking tours in Europe – history lessons standing in one spot for 15 minutes then walking a few metres and having another history lesson and standing was exhausting. Relentless. I left the tour at about 3 hours; couldn’t walk another step or stand a moment longer so I sat down at a gorgeous outdoor café with live music wafting from a nearby café, to enjoy another cup of tea and look around and enjoy the ambiance. It was time to study the map to see where the closest train station was. The options weren’t good, and I realised that the subway system isn’t as extensive as I would like. Sure, there are hundreds of buses on the road, but I wasn’t in the mood to end up way out at the edges of Buenos Aires.
As part of the tour, I walked some of the streets and avenues in the map below starting at Teatro Colon at the bottom and finishing near the cemetery at the top.
The walking tour started at the renowned Teatro Colon where I will return either for a concert tomorrow night (Friday) when a Prokofiev piece will be performed, or I will visit for a guided tour of the interior. Many have told me this is a must. Then we walked along Avenue 9 de Julio and heard all about the history of Argentina’s existence and independence, including the appalling practices of the dictatorships of last century – from the last one, 30000 people remain ‘disappeared’. We passed the San Martin and Independence War memorials, acknowledged Great Britain’s gift of a smaller version of its “Big Ben” clock, stopped by the site where terrorists had blown up a building full of Jews not so many years ago, learnt about the Malvinas/Falklands islands disputed sovereignty, and much more all while walking through the wealthier areas. On many corners or taking up a block were palaces which referenced 18th and 19th century French architecture. Elaborate. Originally built by the elite (silver, gold, cattle) these buildings were mostly sold off during the 1930s depression or in subsequent years. These days they are the property of foreign embassies including one by the Vatican, the Argentinian government for government departments or they operate as a high-end hotel (including one where Ricky Martin always stays when he is here to do a concert, I am reliably informed) My walking tour was to conclude at the Recoleta cemetery. Since I missed it, tomorrow I expect to return to spend time there looking for Eva Peron’s grave site amongst others.
I must give the tour guide credit. She, a history academic at the local university, knew a great deal and I learnt not only about historical situations but also about social matters associated with Buenos Aires and Argentina more broadly.
Perhaps 30 people started on the walking tour and so we were pressed together; I never took photos because in confined spaces the view was usually limited. I will have a think about it all and perhaps re-walk the area on my own over the next few days. Sorry to disappoint those who like visuals.
I had expected to take the 3.5-hour afternoon tour in a different part of the city but thought better of that idea; tomorrow will be soon enough. Instead I returned to the hotel mid-afternoon via Linea H, Linea D then Linea A – and felt comfortably familiar with using the subway. I had a snooze and never left the room. When the party started above on the roof top I realised my feet wouldn’t take me there, so I undertook further research for the activities of coming days then finished my novel before calling it a day.