Staying in the hip and stylish Palermo neighbourhood, much of my last week has revolved around exploring the shops, cafes and bars on offer. Working my way through a list from my friend Sophia (and honorary local) I’ve been eating extravagantly and multi-culturally for just about every meal; the budgeting and dieting can wait! On top of gastronomical extravagance, as in any big city, has been a lot of alcoholic indulgence. Porteños party hard; so, when in Rome!
Owing to the lateness of all evening activities, our entire hostel became nocturnal. 7pm saw everyone surface from their slumber, debrief what had happened the night before, have some food and start all over again; the red wine flowed, the fernet stung the back of your throat and we didn’t head out to a club until 2am, at the earliest! However, I was repeatedly woken up in the mornings by the housekeeping staff, nudging me and reminding me to check out. I began to live in a perpetual state of ‘uno noche mas’; one more couldn’t hurt right?!
Thus I was determined, despite heading to bed around 8am, to make the most of those days I was “gifted” by my wake-up call. However, too fragile to achieve anything of substance, we did a lot of aimless wander-exploring around Palermo. There are multiple parks, each one with a glamorous landscaping theme: the rose garden, sheltered under pergolas and between fountains, and the Japanese gardens, walled in behind a 70 peso entrance-way (that we refused to pay on principle.) Unfortunately, they fail to create any kind of ‘inner city oasis’ vibe, owing to the impossibly wide avenues that surround; perfect for drag racing I’d imagine, not so good for pedestrian crossings!
Wandering around made me realise pretty quickly how comfortably I could live here. The nocturnalness aside, I like the rhythm and the combination of South American and western styles; like Paris, but with more attitude.
The city further won me over with a visit to El Ateneo, the world’s most glorious book shop. Housed in a glamorous ex-theatre, it is a shiny beacon to celebrate the arts. Everywhere there is space, you’ll find someone perched with their head in a book; so, naturally, I followed suit and attempted to teach myself some Spanish!
I then tried to jump on the subway home, but instead found myself caught up in one of the biggest, most raucous protest marches I’ve ever witnessed. Whilst they do take any excuse for a strike or political action, this one seemed to have a legitimate point; as far as I could fathom, amongst waving flags and pounding drums, they were rallying against the privatisation of eduction: “no vende, se defiende!”
Branching out beyond the comfortable local realms, our gringo group jumped on a bus to the opposite side of town, to check out the famous La Boca caminito. Arriving in the shithole neighbourhood at the mouth of the river, we were immediately ushered towards the tourist bubble. Just a few square blocks in size, suddenly we were transported back in time and into the mind of a colourful (and sometimes slightly grotesque) artist. What had clearly once been a particularly run down, dodgy area had been entirely transformed: with several licks of paint, scary alleyways now populated with accordionists and mystery staircases to quaint art galleries, they had created a ready-made tourist hotspot. In order to exploit this newfound gringo clientele, the bunting-lined streets were filled with an abundance of tacky souvenir shops and infinite numbers of average restaurants; each with tango dancers performing uncomfortably close to the tables!
Somewhat bizarrely, another huge tourist draw is the Recoleta cemetery; the size of an entire neighbourhood, solely housing the deceased. Labyrinthine pathways are lined with mausoleums, ranging from ancient, dilapidated ones to super sleek modern marble ones, that bear an unsettling resemblance to a designer shop front. Huge gothic monstrosities are larger and more ornate than some churches I’ve seen on my trip (and I’ve seen a LOT of churches!) I got lost amidst the morbidity for a long time and never saw the same thing twice. However, what did strike me was the lack of flowers, not a petal anywhere; that was until I found Eva Peron’s family tomb, which had been heavily florally adorned by tourists and fans alike. Perhaps not for everyone, but for someone writing their thesis on death, I thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by the looming tombs.
In order to make my wandering somewhat less aimless, my first sojourn into the historic downtown was with the guidance of a free walking tour. Our guide enthused about the history of the country and how it contributed to the mixing pot of architecture visible in the city. Classical French juxtaposes ugly 1970s spacesavers, and some older buildings are simply cut in half, to make way for the ridiculously wide roads (so wide, they warrant two mentions in one blog post!) We explored from the fantastically columned Congress building, down past Evita’s memorial and all the way to the hot pink governmental building, complete with tacky night lights. The history lesson was interrupted by some pomp and ceremony from the grenadier guards; I was particularly amused when, despite all their synchronised movements and somber attitude, they lowered the flag and simply bundled it up like dirty washing to take it back indoors. A strange custom indeed.
I feel it would be an unfair testament to this wild city if I didn’t attempt to illustrate at least one night out. Luckily, it’s not all just beers and Bieber; the most authentic, memorable night out came unexpectedly on a Monday. La Bomba de Tiempo is a hugely popular, and entirely improvised, drumming and percussion performance, in a trendy warehouse space filled with tourists and locals alike. Boundless energy exuded from the twenty-odd musicians (in matching dorky red tracksuits) and permeated through the crowd. So much vigorous dancing to adrenaline-fuelled melodic surprises. Even the neglected percussion instruments, like the “cheese grater” or “ball wrapped in beads” got the party going.
When no one was ready for the party to end, the drumming flowed out into the streets. Hemmed in by street vendors and ferried by the moving musicians, we found ourselves in part of a procession to a night club- hopeless to resist this most genius marketing tactic! So, the moral of the story: in BA, whether you’re indoors or on a street corner, on a Monday through Sunday, there’s always a fiesta to explore! Hence, I’m staying put…