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  • Day18


    March 5, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Today we tackled the most upscale neighborhood in BA — Recoleta. This neighborhood is also home to the most famous cemetery in all of South America — the Recoleta Cemetery.

    We joined another walking tour led by Buenos Aires walks — a group that I highly recommend. Our guide was Mariano, who grew up here in BA. With 70 of our closest friends, we spent 3 hours engrossed in stories of the aristocracy in BA.

    Recoleta was settled in the late 1860s, following two cholera and one yellow fever outbreak in San Telmo (the part of the city that was closest to the river, and which had stagnant water that bred mosquitos). To escape illness, the wealthy residents of San Telmo fled to their “estaciones” (landed estates), and established new homes. Since this period of movement coincided with a tremendous growth in affluence in Argentina, these wealthy landowners built mansions, typically in the French style. It was due to this period of building that Buenos Aires was given the nickname of the “Paris of South America.” (Apparently, Portenos — as residents of BA are called —hate this nickname.). As you walk through Recoleta, you see one huge mansion after another. Although a few of the mansions are still privately owned, most have been converted into hotels (the Four Seasons), and embassies (the French embassy is in a particularly beautiful mansion, which the French saved from destruction when the Argentine government planned to demolish it to install a new freeway.). One of the main streets — Alvear — is like the Rodeo Drive of BA, filled with fancy boutiques, perfumeries and gorgeous hotels. Many of the buildings have gorgeous ironwork on the doors and balconies. The streets are lined with beautiful old trees and there are lots of parks with monuments. The area is just stunning. Honestly, I could have walked for hours in the neighborhood.

    We ended the tour at the Recoleta Cemetery, where the aristocracy of BA rests for an eternity. Since we were famished, we decided to save the cemetery for another day, and headed to a lovely French cafe named Roux, where the service was lousy but the food was yummy.

    After lunch, Arie and Kelly headed back to the apartment for a nap, while I wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood. Just walking around gave me the sense of the vibrant life of BA. I also enjoyed watching people pick up their kids from school. Here, the children are in school from around 9am, to at least 4 pm, and sometimes as late as 6pm. A fair number of the children go to private, parochial schools, and wear uniforms. The children who go to public schools also wear a type of uniform — a white coat (like a small version of what a doctor wears) or a pinafore (for the youngest children). We were told that the wearing of these coats/jumpers were meant to level class distinctions. It doesn’t appear to have worked, as you can still see the children’s clothing, but the tradition has lingered. I laughed as I watched the kids peel out of their “coats” as soon as they left school, stuffing the discarded items into backpacks or thrusting them into the hands of their parents.

    For dinner, we went to an old school parilla — Pena Parilla — which has been open for decades. We ate delicious steaks, and French fries. I swear that I’ve eaten more red meat since arriving in this country than I have in the past 12 months.

    We had arranged to have a very late dinner (10 pm), so that we could go to a Milonga afterwards. A Milonga is essentially a dancehall for tango. This is NOT a show with professional dancers. Instead, it is a hall in which regular people go to dance. Some people arrive with partners, or with groups of friends, but many people (women and men) go alone, just for the joy of dancing. There are over 300 Milongas in BA, and they are open every night of the week. We went to Milonga Parakultural, which is open on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. Classes for novices are held from 9-11pm. Afterwards, the dance floor is open to anyone.

    We arrived at the Milonga around 11:15. We paid 150 pesos per person to get in (which is $7.50) and we were seated at a table one row back from the dance floor. We ordered a drink, and started watching the dancers. The dancers were all ages, shapes and sizes. The women were more dressed up then the men, but some of the men sported jackets or vests. Some of the couples only danced with each other, but most people seemed to change partners every few dances. Some of the dancers were great, and some were so-so, but they all seemed to be having great fun. The thing that was surprising was that the number of dancers grew and grew, as the evening wore on. (We had read this in articles about the milongas, but it is hard to believe that this actually would happen on a Monday evening.). So, when we arrived at 11:15, there were people on the floor, but plenty of room to dance. By the time that we left at 1am, the dance floor was packed, and people were still arriving. Apparently, the best dancers don’t show up until 2 am or 3 am at some of the more popular Milongas. Watching the people dance was delightful. While I can’t imagine mastering the tango, perhaps Arie and I try out some swing dancing when we get home.
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