I woke later than in recent days and hurried myself to be out the hotel door before 9am. I wanted to get to northern Buenos Aires and use the hop on/hop off bus before my 24 hour ticket expired. Onto 3 connecting subway trains I went and eventually I came out to a blue sky and gorgeous morning. Too late I read the brochure and discovered that the part of the route I wanted to take was not reached until 10am and that was the time my ticket expired. Oh well … that’s how it is I thought and so I set off to walk from the ‘Subte’ subway station of Facultad de Derecho towards some public art galleries. Previously I thought the imposing building near the station would be one such art gallery. It has the right bones.First thing in the morning I found the massive front doors behind the columns were still closed. Meanwhile I watched a steady stream of people entering one side. In I went and walked around (without being checked) what was clearly a well-used and a long-time-since-refurbished educational institution. This imposing edifice is the Faculty of Law, one of thirteen faculties which make up the University of Buenos Aires. After that inspection I set off walking westwards along the Avenida Del Libertador.
As I passed the Floralis Generica, a simply ghastly monstrosity, coach loads of tourists were being disgorged to take their photos. Such features are the one of the reasons I try and avoid group coach tours. Oh well each to his/her own; some people would love this sculpture but its not to my taste.
Eventually I reached MALBA – the Museo de Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires – to find it did not open until midday. Thankfully I could hear lively music in the distance and found it in the nearby Plaza Peru. A festival of coffee was just getting established.On the edges were food vans but around the centre of the plaza were dozens of booths each with their own take on serving coffee and they offered an amazing array of sweet treats containing coffee in various forms. The music was great, the air temperature was warmly mild, and the sun sparkled through the trees; clearly, I had to have a coffee. I felt caught up in the moment. This is something I have been too afraid to do since the last drink of coffee I had years ago; back then drinking coffee caused a painful Trigeminal Neuralgia strike. However, my mind was made up when I saw the Café Tortini pavilion.
I entered and order a café con leche – nothing adventurous. Of course, here was another instance of my failure to stick to vegan foods. But it was worth it. No TN pain strike just a blissful smooth cup of nectar with a slightly bitter edge; a brilliant cup of coffee. Exceptional. The elderly Argentinian barista would give great Australian baristas a run for their money. Did I say exceptional. Oh – yes, I did. So, what’s with Café Tortini. Why was I excited and gave it a go? Along the street in which my hotel is located, Avenida De Mayo, is the original Café Tortini. I thought it would be a place to visit however yesterday when I saw a long queue out front snaking down the Avenue I let that idea slide. Café Tortini has been in existence in Buenos Aires for 160 years this year and continues to be much revered for its elegance and quality. And quality I can vouch for.
Time to try another museum. I walked a few blocks to the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo.True to the form of my morning this museum wasn’t open either and wouldn’t be for a couple of hours; the guide books are not so helpful or even accurate!!!! When I stepped outside the property’s elaborate gate an elderly gentleman, who had been taking photos of the building , opened a conversation with me. Tango dancing is obviously one of his loves and he was keen to steer me away from the tourist shows and towards the authentic milongas. He has given me the names and addresses of two he strongly recommends. Both would require a taxi to get me there (well the dances don’t start until after 10pm) and then I need a taxi back to my hotel. I talked about my concern about getting a taxi home (getting there would be no problem because my hotel would book a reliable taxi). He told me that two weeks ago when he hadn’t taken his gun or knife with him (should I stop writing and wait – I think John has just gone off to get his worry beads) – his taxi driver tried to charge him way in excess of the regular and expected amount. So, I have put deciding into the too hard basket for the moment – will do or not do this on one of the two nights when I get back here from Antarctica. By the way I have bought a small lightweight knife with me- a superb fold up piece that I used during the walkingthederwent experience – but I have always thought brandishing any sort of weapon means it could be used on you. Ricardo, a retired architect, told me not to expect to dance. I assured him there is no way I would dream of getting up. I will be attending to observe only – if I go. A few years ago, in Hobart, I completed a few months of classes. Through that experience I know how amazingly difficult the Argentine tango is (compared to the Hollywood tango).
I set off again this time headed for the National Museum of Fine Arts. On the way I was astounded to see the following:-This vision of men costumed for an era past, and each holding the Argentinian flag, was astonishing. Enjoy the short video.
Finally, I reached the Belles Artes Museum and it was open for business.Galleries on two levels introduced me to the historical work of Latin American artists. In addition, the Museum had a considerable collection of European historical art.
The highlight was an extraordinary work by the French artist Degas; a pair of dancers in yellow and pink – the design of this surprisingly large image seemed to me to be strikingly perfect. I had not realised this Museum owns the famous El Greco painting, Jesus in the Olive Grove. Marvellous to see it in the flesh, as it were. One gallery space was devoted to etchings and paintings by the Spanish artist Goya – all associated with the War of Independence of the early 19th century. My only reason for going to Madrid when I get to Spain is to see the work by Goya in the Prado Museum, so this was a great start. More can be read and seen on the Museum’s website. I chose not to visit the specialist exhibition of work by the English artist J M W Turner – I saw the large exhibition of his work in Melbourne not so long ago. A few cabinets with international decorative arts grabbed my attention: tortoise shell head pieces for Spanish ladies, and Japanese netsukes. Superb craftsmanship albeit at the expense of two very precious animals.
Time now to return to the Museum of Decorative Arts. I plodded back through the heating day. This weekend dozens of properties have been ‘opened’ for people to access them for free; many would not normally be accessible. As the result, I was able to enter this palace/mansion/house – call it what you will – for free. While waiting to enter I sat outside on the settee; it looked soft and had the sheen of brocade fabric but was made from concrete.Mostly the rooms displayed original 18th and 19th furniture and furnishings.
I was glad to have seen this ex-home. Walking away I reflected on the way opulence and grandness of such residences leaves me cold. They are not built to human scale and would have been frightfully constricting despite their size to live in.
The last stop for the day was a return to MALBA. Once there I lunched on a tasty and scalding hot butternut squash and apple soup before tucking into a tomato, zucchini, rocket and pine nut salad that used a locally made fresh white soft cheese – Burrata.In the gallery spaces a temporary exhibition of the work of USA artist Cindy Sherman stood out. I loved it. I had seen the occasional piece of her work but when a large collection is brought together, the imagery is startling. Have a look here for reproductions of her work. For those who revere the work of Freda Kahlo, this collection displayed a terrific 1942 painting by her.Apart from walking between 10 and 20 km in increasing heat without a hat (should be boiling when I get back from Antarctica), I was mentally fatigued from all the imagery and ideas seen and experienced today. So, I hopped on the train, missed my connecting stop but found another and returned to the hotel. Back ‘home’ I settled into the process of booking my Monday ferry trip to Colonia del Sacramento in western Uruguay and the associated research to be able to fill the day and get around, before booking my ferry to Montevideo on Tuesday. I am pleased that I did not to do this from Australia because local knowledge has helped me to select the reliable ferry service. Then I determined the locations, events and institutions which realistically might be possible to visit tomorrow. That research is completed. The blog for today’s discoveries has been written. Thanks for your likes, the comments, and the emails. Hoping all is well with you in Australia, England and Greece. Time for bed-tired but happy.