Back in Austin for two and a half weeks, I still haven’t written about my trip to Buenos Aires. How quickly the demands of routine reassert themselves. I feel called to record a few observations before memories fade into fancy and invention. One of the great cities of the world, the Argentine capital is the peer of New York, London, Paris, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Tokyo. It is a habitat, a cultural center and a vast construction one could never exhaust. I was there for five days, which qualifies my experience as myopic, rushed and superficial. Even so.
Stepping off the airplane just after 6:00 a.m. local time, by 7:30 a.m. I had deposited my suitcase at the hotel and set out to explore. I left the hotel with a specific destination, an establishment a couple miles away that one of my guidebooks reported served a palatable breakfast. The was especially important because, as far as I could tell, Porteños—as people of the city call themselves—aren’t real big on breakfast. Not only did Bar El Federal put a decent plate of huevos y papas on the table, but they also served an entirely palatable cup of black coffee. So palatable, in fact, that I had two. Thus fortified, I went out to range the neighborhoods.
My hotel, Hotel Bonito (Chile 1507, 3rd floor), was a wonderful boutique establishment in the Montserrat district. Its five, individually appointed rooms are comfortable and attractive. The staff is all more or less bilingual. Accommodations include breakfast each morning, which was important (see above). In hindsight, though, Montserrat is not (perhaps not yet), the district in which I would recommend that friends stay. Much of it is run down, and it was the only area in which I encountered people who impressed me as potential trouble. Walking from the hotel to Bar El Federal, I passed from Montserrat into the district of San Telmo. The change was obvious. San Telmo was cleaner and visibly more prosperous. I wandered the length of its famous street fair, visiting with artisans and vendors of various sorts, while trying to take in architectures of the cityscape. From San Telmo I passed through el centro, downtown, then over into Puerto Madero, the district close alongside the estuary of the Rio Plata. I estimate I walked in excess of ten miles that first day, crossing and recrossing districts as I tried to see what there was to see. A delightful discovery was that Buenos Aires is a city of cafes, of which fact I took frequent advantage as I strove to stay hydrated and take breaks from the summer sun.
The second day of my visit held my first meeting with Maria Massarini, of Español Andando. The name means, approximately, Walking Around Spanish. I learned of this enterprise through Ethical Traveler, searching the Argentina links for a short language study program. Typically, Español Andando offers four day classes in Spanish at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. The classes meet daily at a specified time and a specified place, each day a different place in a different part of the city. After a combination light meal and language lesson, the class then explores the neighborhood on foot, guided by the teacher, who simultaneously guides the ongoing language lesson to engage whatever the class encounters. My visit did not coincide with any of the scheduled classes; however, I was able to arrange to have Maria as a private teacher and guide. The move was so smart that I continue to congratulate myself. Maria is brilliant as both a guide and a teacher. Her patience—even given the torments I visit on past tenses—is unflagging, and her knowledge of the mechanics of Spanish is replete. As far as I could tell, her knowledge of the city (and of the world) was encyclopedic. To top it all off, she is engaging, sophisticated and humane, which meant that I received some of the best, most personally relevant Spanish lessons of my life from one of the coolest people it has been my privilege to meet.
Another person I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know was Fernando Moy, who has a close friend in California who is a close friend of one of my dearest friends, who thought I would enjoy having someone to contact in a strange land. Although a native Porteño, Fernando now lives outside Buenos Aires. One evening he drove into the city to take me to dinner in Recoleta, one of the more prosperous districts. A sculptor, a musician and a designer, Fernando is as interesting as he is generous. I thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely dinner and wide ranging conversation that shifted between English and Spanish, and over art, music, literature, language and consciousness. I am pleased to count Fernando, like Maria Massarini, among my friends.
About Buenos Aires generally, I advise you to go there. Much about it is familiar, as would be the case in any modern city. On the other hand, much is unique. It really is a city of cafes and tango—among other things, of course. It is a city of wide boulevards, which means that even in its center there are vistas and horizons. It is a place at once nested in its history and vibrant with life. The songbirds are all different, many of the trees, too. Literature and art burgeon from it. This visit just completed is officially my first, by no means my only. The routines of Austin may have reasserted themselves, but some particle of mind contemplates a return. After the next trip, I’ll have a basis for sharing more.