Joined February 2018 Message
  • Day20

    Recoleta Cemetary

    March 7, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    It seems fitting that our last stop on our BA adventure is the Recoleta Cemetery, where dozens of Argentinian aristocrats rest in piece. The cemetery, which is 4 blocks square in the middle of BA, was established more than 200 years ago. Each mausoleum is a family—owned piece of real estate, which is maintained by the family. The tombs vary in size, but the general principle stays the same — bodies are first interned on the top level, and are visible through the door or a grate. Over time, the disintegrated remains are transferred to smaller caskets, and are transferred to the below ground levels. A family is free to sell their plot. But, many plots are abandoned and have fallen into disrepair, with cracked windows, collapsed ceilings, and piles of dust and debris. The entire cemetery is both beautiful and sad.

    Although the cemetery is only 4 square blocks, the number of family plots is overwhelming. We walked around for over an hour, looking at the tombs, and peeking inside, and didn’t even begin to see everything. The style of each tomb differs, although the most common style is Art Deco, as that corresponds with the largest growth in building. Some of the tombs are in active use, with markers indicating that someone had been interned in the last few years, and fresh flowers or plants inside. But the vast majority look like no one has visited for decades.

    After strolling around, we headed back to the apartment, packed our bags and went to the airport. We bid goodbye to Kelly, who was flying back to Flagstaff, and we went to catch our plane to SFO. Much to my surprise, Arie had snagged an upgrade of our seats, and we traveled home by business class. I must admit, a girl could get used to this type of travel.
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  • Day20

    Return to La Boca

    March 7, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    In La Boca is a modern art museum — PROA — which had an exhibit of art and installations created by the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei. Since Kelly lives in Flagstaff, she figured that her chances of seeing an Ai Wei Wei exhibit were slim, so we headed back to see it.

    Although I had seen two Ai Wei Wei pieces before, I had never seen an entire exhibition. It was fantastically interesting. Ai Wei Wei is a Chinese activist who uses art to explore issues relating to oppression, exclusion from society, and the reach of communism in China. As Kelly pointed out, much of his work is extremely difficult to understand without explanations. However, with the explanations, the work is fascinating. In one series, Ai Wei Wei photographed himself while he destroyed a piece of invaluable piece of pottery from the Ming Dynasty, then he converted the photos into life-size “pictures” made out of legos. According to the explanations, he was exploring issues of heritage, the fragility of history and modernity. My favorite piece is a monumental installation of a “carpet” of “sunflower seeds.” This piece was originally installed in the Tate Museum in London. The carpet of seeds covered most of the large exhibit hall in London, and a sizable room in PROA. The seeds were spread approximately 6 inches in depth, and covered the entire floor. When in London, there were 150 tons of seeds. Each seed was supposed to represent the Chinese citizens who were bowed by communism. What was not apparent when you first looked at the seeds, is that they were not actually sunflower seeds, but pieces of clay that had been molded into the shape of seeds, painted, cleaned and polished. A crew of 1600 individuals in China worked for months in creating these seeds, and then they were transported to London, where they were installed in the Tate Museum. Fortunately, the exhibition was accompanied by a film and photos of the process. Super cool.

    After the museum, we wandered around La Boca and had lunch at a parilla, where we sat outside. What a wonderful last meal in Argentina.
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    Hope Ratner

    I’ve seen several Ai Wei Wei exhibitions, including the original sunflower seed installation at the Tate Modern. He’s a master with a very interesting back story, which includes him living on the Lower East Side of NYC years ago, and his father being a high level communist party official who then was imprisoned. There’s are great film about it.

  • Day19

    El Zanjon

    March 6, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    As I was getting ready for my trip to BA, my pal Jean Hyams told me that I “must visit” El Zanjon in San Telmo. She described it as a house, in which there had been archeological excavations, revealing tunnels underneath. While this description is 150% correct, I don’t think that I really understand what she meant. But, confident in her recommendation, we put it on the agenda.

    We arrived at 2:45, for a 3 pm tour. We rang the bell. A few minutes later, someone cracked the door open and told us to return at 2:55. Really? It seemed a little odd, and made me think of the Wizard of Oz turning away Dorothy and her pals. But, ok. So, we strolled around for 10 minutes, bought some candy that we were told was yummy, and returned at 2:55. At that point, there were about ten people gathered for the tour. The door opened, and we stepped inside to a large brick structure. We paid for tickets and waited for our guide.

    At 3:05, a guide arrived and began telling us the history of El Zanjon.

    The land originally sat just off the port, but had routine problems with flooding. To remedy the problems, the owners of the property on which the mansion was built, and the owners of the adjacent properties, built a series of tunnels and cisterns below the properties, into which the water collected. Over these tunnels and cisterns, huge mansions were built.

    The house called El Zanjon was one of these mansions — two stories, with high ceilings, and plenty of space for family and servants. The house was occupied by a single family from the mid 1800s until the late 1800s, when the family left to escape the cholera and yellow fever epidemics that spread across BA at that time. After the family left, the house became a conventillo, in which approximately 200 people lived with two bathrooms and a single kitchen. The structure continued as a conventillo until the 1960s, when it was abandoned due to crumbling.

    The structure sat abandoned until the 1990s, when a local wealthy businessman (whose family had made millions through owning a tannery) decided to buy it and renovate the building for a restaurant. At the time, San Telmo was still a poor neighborhood, but there were hopes for its resurgence. The restaurant would have been part of this move to gentrify the neighborhood. As the rebuilding of the structure began, the tunnels and cistern were discovered. Eventually, the gentleman who bought the building decided not to build the restaurant, but to instead engage in a private archeological dig, which would allow exploration of the history of El Zanjon and the surrounding area. Obviously, this project has taken decades, and has probably cost millions of dollars. The result is one of the first privately owned archeological dig, which has given us a fascinating look at the history of BA, not to mention a gorgeous building in which to wander. We all really enjoyed the tour.

    For our last evening in BA, we went to a much lauded restaurant called El Banquero. The chef, who worked at El Bulli in Spain, favors molecular gastronomy, in which each dish showcases the marriage of cooking and science. While the results were sometimes confusing, and never straightforward, many of the dishes were fantastically interesting. The first course was a trio of bites, which included a gyoza filled with alligator. One of the courses featured stewed llama meat, on a bed of three kinds of crispy quinoa — this was Arie’s favorite. My favorite was a riff on prosciutto and melon, where the prosciutto was made from cured llama meat and the melon was actually a sorbet. For one of the dessert courses we were presented with a “beet” on a bed of chocolate dirt. You used a spoon to crack the beet, and inside was a beet sorbet and creme fraiche — the taste was ok, but the presentation was fantastic. (I even got them to tell me how it was made, which involves using beet juice which is used to coat the inside of a balloon. Once it solidifies, the balloon is removed and through a hole in the bottom the chef inserts the sorbet and creme fraiche.). Kelly was a super good sport, as the meal — even for Arie and I — was at the edge, and we all got a great story and good meal.

    Hard to believe that we leave tomorrow.
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  • Day19

    La Boca

    March 6, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Another day, another neighborhood . . .

    Today we went to La Boca, which is the neighborhood near the old port. As is often the case in the housing closest to the port, the neighborhood was settled by immigrants who arrived by boat. Many of these immigrants were lured by promises of free land. But, after they arrived the President rescinded the offer and these immigrants were penniless. They quickly moved into old mansions that had dozens of people in each room, or they threw up new structures called “conventillos.” The name referred to the fact that the individual rooms, which were often occupied by people who slept in shifts, were the size of the cells that monks or nuns lived in at a convent! To protect the shacks from the rain and elements, men who worked on the docks brought home nearly empty cans of paint and used whatever was left in the bottom to paint a portion of the wall. This resulted in buildings whose walls were brightly colored patchworks. (The traditions continues today, although the coloration is undoubtedly brighter and more uniform than in early years.). Despite the splashes of color on the walls, these conventillos were true slums, filled with tremendous poverty and disease.

    In the squalor of these slums, the music and dance of tango grew. We were told that the dance was originally done by men, as a way to show off for the prostitutes and battle for their favor. The steps where the leg of one dancer winds around that of another dancer was a way for one man to trip the other, showing off his prowess. The music to which the tango was danced was also a product of La Boca. The music was created through an amalgam of musical instruments that the immigrants brought with them. The primary instrument was a German accordion called a “bandoneon” which is at the heart of all tango music. Today, the bandoneon is no longer played or manufactured in Germany, but is frequently used in Argentina. We had the pleasure of listening to an old fellow play the bandoneon. (I’m going to try and upload the video . . . .)

    As we continued to walk through La Boca, we got to see some tango dancers on a small stage near a restaurant. Although the dance was obviously being done for the tourists, it was fascinating to watch — very stylized, and elegant, all at the same time. As we watched, we learned about the history of tango, learned the names of a few famous dancers, and generally enjoyed the neighborhood.

    Our next few stops were a series of murals. One set showed the local firefighters, who are a volunteer battalion. A second set showed the “mothers” who are still searching for the disappeared, and the last set was all about the Republic of La Boca. It seems that in the 1930s, there was a clash between the stringent policies laid down by the current fascist government, and the more progressive people living in La Boca. So, the neighborhood rebelled, and claimed to be a separate republic, creating a new flag and government. The Republic of La Boca lasted for all of three days, before the rebellion was put down. But, there is still a fondness for the history, and the neighborhood still has a strong identity.

    The last stop was the “Bombonera” which is the stadium in which La Boca Juniors play — the futbol team that is beloved by the working class in BA. (The more affluent residents tend to root for the rival team, River Plate.). The team is owned by the people, and there is an elected president who runs the team. The current President of the country of Argentina got his start in politics as the president of La Boca Juniors! The fans are maniacs and the construction of stadium is such that the fans are super close to the pitch and when they yell and stomp the whole stadium shakes. We did not have a chance to go to a game, but I understand that it is quite an experience. (Honestly, it sounded a bit frightening, but I suppose that if you are sports fan it is quite thrilling.)

    At the end of the tour, we stopped for a quick bite to eat and decided to come visit again, the next day. Just a charming neighborhood.
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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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    wow.. hard core going to a Milonga after Midnight! respect!

    Grace Benveniste

    Try Mission Swing where Leah went. The Instructor seemed really good...Leah liked him....and he runs a series for beginners

  • Day17


    March 4, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    We had a lazy day, as we were tired and were changing apartments —moving from Palermo to Recoleta, so that we could have an experience in another part of BA. Given that our apartments in Palermo was spacious and clean, I think that we were all having some misgivings about our earlier decision to pack up and move. But, the rental period was up and off we went.

    Our new digs are located in a building that was probably constructed in the 1930s. The lobby is pretty unassuming, and the elevator is tiny — more like a small closet (so small that the three of us and our luggage could not fit in one trip). We went upstairs and found a charming 2 bedroom, two bathroom apartment. At the time that the apartment was built, this must have been considered a very luxurious apartment. Why? First, when you get off the elevator on your floor, there is a small entry and only one door, for one apartment. Second, there are two entrances to the apartment — a front one for residents and guests, and a back one, which must have been for the maid. This is pretty funny, given that the entire apartment is probably no more than 400 square feet! Third, there are two sinks in the kitchen — one for dishes and the other for laundry, etc. We settled in and set out to have a bite to eat and to explore San Telmo Market.

    We had a lovely lunch, with some tasty empanadas near San Telmo. Every guidebook that we read made it clear that going to San Telmo for the Sunday market/street fair was required. We read that it was filled with antique vendors, and craftsmen. Well, you can’t always believe what you read. The market was filled with lots of old junk, and the handcrafts were tourist novelties. But, committed to making the best of the situation, we found ourselves some fun.

    Kelly spied some tango dancers in a square. While they weren’t fantastic, it was fun to see some regular folks — including a man of about 70 — dancing in the square.

    Then, we walked down a side street, and Kelly saw a shop that had Fileteado art. It took us some sleuthing to find the entrance, but when we did we were delighted to meet a young artist who was working in the studio. He told us that this style of art developed in the 1920s and 1930s, and began as decorations for carriages. Over time, the art was used to create signs that advertised bars, cafes, and tango dances. The art fell out of favor, and has been revived by some young artists. Some of the pieces that were on display were not for sale, as they are part of an upcoming exhibition (sadly, as Kelly had her eye on a piece), others were for sale. I snagged two small signs to hang at the River.

    Our next stop was the Museum of Modern Art. When we walked in, we were surprised to learn that admission was free. We soon found out why; the building is being remodeled and there was only one exhibit. But, what an interesting exhibit. The artist is Tomas Saraceno, who is an Argentinian. For a reason that was lost in translation, he is fascinated with the art created by spiders (aka, spiderwebs). Apparently, he has spent more than a decade studying spiders and working with scientists who study arachnids. He and a team spent months gathering 17 colonies of spiders to create a large installation. These are all “social” spiders, who work collaboratively and creating spider webs. (Fortunately, after we say the exhibit, we also got to see a film demonstrating the process and while it was in Spanish, we could get the general idea.). The installation is in a very large room — 190 sq meters. The walls, floor and ceiling are painted black. In the center are wire/metal frames. The artist and his team gathered 7000 spiders, and introduced them into the exhibition space. Over a period of 6 weeks, the spiders spun a series of webs that stretch and hang over the frames. Spot lights highlight the webs. You walk around the edge, so that you don’t disturb the webs. (The spiders were removed, but no one at the museum could explain how that occurred and I couldn’t find any explanation on the internet.). Pictures really don’t do the exhibit justice. Honestly, it was just wild.

    From now on, when I run into yet another spiderweb at the River, I’ll simply call it art and walk around the side.
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    Loved that museum! The cafe is superb.


    Oops it’s me, Jean


    So fun that Kelly is with you. I didn't realize she was coming!

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  • Day16

    Graffiti, Argentine style

    March 3, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Despite the sweltering heat, this afternoon Arie, Kelly and I headed to the far edge of Palermo for a Graffiti tour. Our guide, Luisa from Graffitimundo, was unbelievably energetic, given that we were all wilting and constantly looking for “the shadows” (aka, shade) in which to stand. Over a three hour period, during which we walked many, many blocks, Luisa taught us all about graffiti and its place in contemporary BA culture.

    Not too surprisingly, the street art is generally located in the less affluent neighborhoods (none in tony Recolata, for example). The graffiti can be small (part or all of a wall) or immense (the side of a multi-story building). It can consist of tags or murals. And, while it is technically illegal, as long as the building owner does not object, the art can stay. Often, the building owners commission the art, sometimes for commercial reasons (like a portrait of Jazz musician painted on the side of a recording studio) and sometimes for aesthetic reasons (to get rid of tags). And, of course, lots of time the work is overtly political (a turtle whose shell is a military helmet, pulling a “bubble” with children inside). Typically, the art is done quite quickly— one day is really fast, and two weeks is definitely on the longer side. The artists can be individuals, or “crews” composed of many artists. And, some of the artists are extremely well-known (like Blu, who paints huge murals which are typically criticism of capitalism). I was awestruck by both the diversity of themes, and the quality of much of the art.

    A couple of stories were of particular interest to me. There is a local artist who goes by the name of “Primo.” This artist is a white male, but he is very interested in the lack of Argentinians of African descent — both in terms of sheer numbers and in representation in art. It seems that Argentina, like much of the world, has a tragic history of racism. Most Blacks were brought to Argentina as slaves. During the various military battles, they were placed on the front lines, leading to huge casualties. And, during the economic dislocations, the poorest in society, including many Blacks, were crushed, resulted in many leaving whenever possible. Primo wants to bring attention to both the history and the current under representation of Blacks in Argentinian culture, so he has painted a series of murals, all of which portray Blacks. The murals are all beautiful, both in terms of artistic skill and execution of the technique. Also, his style is pretty unique, so it is easy to recognize them. We really enjoyed seeing them.

    The second story that was interesting — but far from surprising — is that relatively few graffiti artists are women. According to our guide (who is herself involved in the street art culture), less than 10% of all murals are painted by women. And, when women paint murals, they are often mocked by men who pass by, who catcall and taunt them they are engaging in “men’s work.” Sexism. Plain and simple.

    Seeing all of this art makes me want to create a mural at the River. All that is standing in the way is my extreme lack of artistic ability!!
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    Hope Ratner

    With a plate of brownies between us, we can create a mural at the River House! Xo

    Jan H

    I’m in on the mural. Hand me a brush

  • Day16

    A Morning at the Opera

    March 3, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Like all great cities, BA has an opera house. But this one — Teatro Colon — is extraordinarily beautiful, on par with the Paris Opera House, and heads and shoulders over the 1960s monstrosity of the Met. According to National Geographic, it is the third best opera house in the world. What are numbers one and two? Sydney and Copenhagen. However, I suspect that the ranking is due to sound considerations, not the splendor of the building.

    The Teatro Colon took 18 years to build and according to our charming guide, the story of the building could be an opera itself. It opened in 1908, and was completely remodeled in 2010. The remodeling took 4 years, in part because the modernization of the building negatively impacted the acoustics, requiring reversion to some earlier materials. For example, the seats were originally filled with horse hair. In the remodeling, they substituted foam. This was horrible for sound, so they had to re-do all 2600 seats, adding a year to the project.

    The entrance way, balconies and the public meeting areas are gorgeous. The golden hall is modeled on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. In the early years, people used to come at least an hour before the opera started, so that they could see and be seen in the hall. But, access to the hall was — and still is — restricted to people in the more expensive seats. If you buy a cheap seat, even today, you cannot visit the golden hall. So, a few times a year, the hall is open for free public concerts in which students at the “Academy” play chamber music.

    Inside the theater you find a spectacular, old-school concert hall, built in the traditional U-shape. The drapes are a beautiful red, as are the seats, and the walls are covered in gold leaf. We were told that the price of tickets runs from $10 USD, to $250 USD. The best seat is considered to be a box seat, on the second level, directly across from the stage. We sat in this box during the tour, and the view is amazing. There are boxes on either side of the stage that are reserved for the Mayor and the President. Sadly, the boxes generally sit empty. There are also boxes on the floor that are shielded by black grates. These boxes are no longer in use, but were built as the widows’ boxes — where widows could see the opera (but not be seen) during the mandatory two years of mourning. Apparently, widows often purchased the entire box, which had four seats, and then brought their lover with them to see the opera.

    The theater itself had some amazing innovations. From the time that it was built, there was a wooden turn table built into the stage, allowing sets to be moved easily during a production. Above the stunning chandelier, is a huge open area for musicians and people doing sound effects (up to 50 people). This area is still used today. And, below all of the seats on the main floor is a large open chamber, which improves the quality of the sound. Beneath each seat is a small grate, where the sound reverberates around.

    Our only regret was that we couldn’t actually see a production. The season doesn’t start until two weeks after we leave. What a bummer, as seeing an opera, or a ballet, would have been quite a treat. But, touring the theater was a strong second.
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    Hope Ratner

    It’s been a real treat reading your postings!


    Love the pictures. You two look marvelous!



  • Day15

    Buenos Aires: Jewish Edition

    March 2, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    This morning we were picked up at our apartment by Salito, a BA native, who is also Jewish and has been leading tours about Jewish BA for about 15 years. We spent the next four hours being regaled with stories and sights about the history of Jews in BA, and Argentina.

    Jewish migration to Argentina began, in earnest, around 1890. A Jewish banker and businessman, named Baron Maurice de Hersh, founded the Jewish Colonization Association, and moved Jews from Eastern Europe to Argentina. He paid their travel costs, settled them on land in the Pampas, and set them up to be farmers. After 5 years as a farmer, they were required to begin repaying the cost of travel and money expended to purchase the land. His theory was that if Jews were given land, they would become attached to their new homeland, and would settle down, rather than moving from place to place when the difficult times struck. Given the vast history of Jews as successful farmers, what could possible go wrong? While there some men who became Jewish gauchos (cowboys), the majority of the immigrants were completely unable to make it as farmers, and moved to the cities where they became tailors, cobblers, etc. Nevertheless, between 1890 and 1938, the Jewish population of BA grew to almost 500,000 people. However, in 1938, as Jews were seeking shelter from the Nazis, Argentina closed its doors to any immigrant who was being persecuted by the Third Reich (this is the language of the memo issued in 1938), and Jewish immigration came to an effective end.

    In the 1960s, as the dictatorships governed the country, Jews began to flee. Then, the tragedy of the desaparecidos (the disappeared) had a disproportionate impact upon the Jews, leading to another wave of Jews leaving. In 1992 and 1994, there were terrorist attacks on the Jewish community center, and the Israeli embassy, that left more than 100 people dead. This, of course, accelerated the flight of the Jews. And, the economic collapse of the 1990s and early 2000s, led even more Jews to leave. So, today, there are only 250,000 Jews in the entire country.

    Salito told us about his family’s emigration to the country (he is the third generation in his family to live in Argentina). Both sets of grandparents came in the early 1900s, searching for a better life. His paternal grandparents spent 6 years crossing Europe, in search of passage to the Americas. And, when they couldn’t gain entrance to NYC, they figured that anyplace in America was better than Europe, and they were convinced to go to Argentina. They started out in a village about 300 miles from BA, where his grandfather found work as a tailor, although they had to travel to BA for the brit milah for his uncle. When it was time for religious education, his grandmother decided to they needed to live in a Jewish community, and moved to BA. His stories were both fascinating and charming.

    Salito drove us around the Jewish neighborhood, pointing out Jewish stores, bookshops, bakeries, and community centers. We visited the new Jewish community center, and learned a great deal about the horrific bombing, as well as Jews in BA. Although the bombing occurred in 1994, and 85 people were killed (including many non-Jews), no one has ever been tried for the crime. Just two years earlier, the Israeli embassy was bombed, killing 29 more people. Again, no one has been brought to justice. On the 18th of each month people gather at the community center to commemorate the dead and demand justice (the bombing happened on July 18th) and each year people gather on the anniversary of the bombing of the embassy, also demanding justice. Salito shared a bunch of tragic stories about people who were killed in each of them bombing, because they had the misfortune to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    We also had a chance to visit on the of old synagogues, which was beautiful. Salito, and his father, had their bar mitzvahs in the temple. The temple, which has an aging population, is currently being led by a young rabbi, who actually invited women to leave the balconies and sit on the floor (albeit not in the first 10 rows). When some of the men complained, he told them that they could either embrace the changes, which would bring in more members, or the congregation would die. The rabbi is still around, and the congregation seems to be growing . . . .

    In the afternoon we visited a museum and wandered around a bit. After some time at the apartment decompressing (and showering as it was sweltering), we headed out to dinner. We decided to go to Don Julio, a traditional parilla, in which the highlight of the meal is a big piece of meat. We had to wait quite awhile for a table. But, as the restaurant is no stranger to big crowds, it kept us happy by feeding us empanadas and pouring us champagne, which was lovely. We finally sat down for dinner around 10 pm, and ordered a couple of steaks to share — a rib eye and a sirloin. To say that they were delicious was an understatement. Perhaps I should say that the meat was like “buttah.” It was just fantastic, and the whole experience was topped off by our being able to sit outside, in the warm night air.

    Although we were pretty full, Arie announced that another trip to Rapi Nui for ice cream was in the cards. How could we say no? We ate, we people-watched, and we headed home — full and happy.
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    wow... that's huge.

    Grace Benveniste

    That is not Arie.

    Jan H

    I actually know an Argentinian Jew who’s from the pampas area. Feascinating to hear the back story

  • Day14

    History of Argentina

    March 1, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    We began our day with a walk in the neighborhood, and some pastry and cortado (coffee with a shot of milk). We went to a hipster bakery called Salvaje, where we sat outside and watched the world go by. We ate our umpteenth alfajores (two cookies with dulce de leche between) and wondered, once again, why is this cookies such a big deal? I assure you, it would never have made it onto Hermine’s cookie list! Oh well, we’ll keep trying, on the theory that we just haven’t had a good one yet!

    After strolling the streets of Palermo, we returned to the apartment to wait for Kelly, who was arriving any minute. As Arie and I planned out our activities during our time in BA, we were both buzzing with anticipation. Honestly, when she rang the bell, I was so excited that I bumped my knee on the table as I jumped for the door! So delighted to have her to share this adventure with us.

    After we fed Kelly a snack, and gave her time to wash up from her long flight, we headed to the center of town for a walking tour with Free Tours BA. The group that had assembled for the free tour was huge (nearly 75 people), but our guide had a headset and a small speaker. Since the guide works for tips at the conclusion, we decided to give it a try. Boy, am I glad that we did. For the next 2-1/2 hours our guide gave us a sweeping explanation of Argentinian history, sprinkled with charming stories about life in Argentina. He was just fantastic. Over the course of the tour we learned about Spanish conquest and the move for independence, as well as more modern history.

    I was fascinated to learn that most of BA was built over the last 120 years, with much of the building following an exposition in France in which Argentina won honors and invited people to visit, in 20 years. So, Argentinians returned home, tore down old buildings, and rebuilt the city in a French classical style. (Sadly, Argentina only recently enacted laws to protect old buildings, so in the 1960s many of the gracious old dames were torn down to make way for modern monstrosities that housed far more people.)

    We also learned that Argentina really came into its own economically during World War II, when it exported food to countries on both sides of the conflict. Exporting food brought fabulous wealth to the country, but the gap between rich and poor grew and grew, opening the gates for the rise of General Peron and his wife, Evita. Of course, both the General and Evita are still iconic in this country, with people either loving or hating them. The image of Evita graces buildings, art, and advertisements. Quite the cult of personality.

    Another interesting tidbit, is that a large percentage of the Argentinian population is of Italian extraction (some say as high as 50%). This explains the omnipresence of pizza and pasta, and the charming habit of Argentinians saying “chow” instead of adios or goodbye.

    We ended the tour with a discussion of the Argentinian economic situation, which is a complicated and ever evolving story about hyper inflation. At one point, inflation was at 3000%. From a practical perspective, this means that the prices changed so quickly that the cost could change from the moment to when you took the item off the shelf, to when you checked out at the front of the store. (According to our guide, prices were announced on the loudspeaker.). This hyper inflation has a whole series of unexpected consequences. Not only have people lost vast amounts of wealth, but there is no such thing as a mortgage. (Why? Well, the bank is not interested in lending money as the value plummets, as someone paying back the money will do it with sharply devalued currency.). As a result, all houses and apartments have to be purchased for cash!

    We finished our tour with a visit to the Pink House, which is the Presidential residence. It is actually pink, although no one knows exactly why.

    After taking an late afternoon nap, we headed out to dinner at a restaurant called ”Proper,” which is located in an old mechanics shop. While we arrived around 9, we still had to wait an hour for a table. The meal was well worth the wait. We had a series of small plates, which were all delicious. Then, we had an “off menu” item (which the “Remote Year” fellow that we met in Santiago had told us about) — a rib eye steak. The waiter asked if we wanted 500 kg, 700 kg, or 1 kilo. We opted for the smallest cut, which is a darn good thing, as it was huge (more than a pound). But it was oh so yummy. We ate every bite. Of course, we still had room for dessert, and stopped at Rapa Nui, a helado store on the way home. I had the most intense chocolate ice cream and a fantastic dulce de leche, although it was hard to believe that I had room for another bite.
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    your Alfajores looks delish!!!


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