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The Surprising Generosity of Porteños

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Hostels in Buenos Aires

A grimy destitute man enters the bar and begins to approach tables, selling that homeless-person newspaper. Due to both habit and a hardness of heart from years spent living in cities, I wave him off before he even begins his pitch, keeping my eyes firmly locked on my book. But as he moves throughout the restaurant, I notice something startling. Most of the other people are purchasing a copy, and even engaging him in conversation.

Argentinian Pesos

Where Jürgen and I come from, the USA and Germany, such a scene would never occur. A flutist playing inside a Berlin train would receive nothing more than looks of scorn. But here, people generously dig into their coin purses. Dirty old homeless women asking for cigarettes will nearly always be ignored in Boston, but here they frequently meet with success.

Buenos Aires is the only city I’ve ever visited in South America, so I have no idea if this spirit of generosity extends to the rest of continent. But it’s definitely more pronounced than in the USA or Europe. And it’s nice to see. The other day on the train, a group of rowdy and obviously affluent teenagers quieted down while a indigenous group played guitar and sang, and then gave copiously when the hat was passed around.

I probably shouldn’t draw wide-ranging conclusions, but it’s hard to imagine that Argentina’s recent financial troubles aren’t related to what I’ve observed. In the 1991 crash, middle-class families became poor overnight, and the poor became destitute. Perhaps Argentinians have a stronger appreciation for the fact that poverty can happen to anyone; and those who are fortunate enough to have spare cash should help out whenever they can.

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March 31, 2011 at 5:31 pm Comments (8)

Fileteado Porteño with Alfredo Genovese

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Filete Porteño Books

Swirling, symmetrical lines and bright colors are the primary elements of fileteado, the most porteño of all arts. The decorative style can be seen everywhere in the capital, from store fronts to city buses, and is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. We met one of Buenos Aires’ most famous filete artists, Alfredo Genovese, at his studio in the barrio of Paternal.

Alfredo Genovese

Alfredo has been painting fileteado for 25 years, perfecting his skill. He’s also dedicated himself to learning about the history of the style, even writing a couple books on the subject. Fileteado first began to appear in the capital’s streets in the 19th century as simple decoration for horse carts. Designs became ever more intricate and, soon enough, every cart in the city was pimped out, usually with the vendor’s name written in Parisian lettering in the center.

Filete spread from horse carts to store fronts, street signs and city buses, but was never truly appreciated as “art” among porteño society. As Buenos Aires became more cosmopolitan and less focused on romanticizing the past, the style was on the verge of being forgotten forever. Luckily, that trend has been reversed. Thanks to the tireless work of artists like Alfredo, it has established a strong foothold in the Argentine conscience.

Alfredo’s studio itself was a thing of beauty, blanketed in samples of his work. When we showed up, he took a break from painting a greeting sign for a family home in Tigre, in order to show us some of his favorite pieces. One was a skateboard design painted for an Argentinian athlete living in LA, which proved so popular, it was mass-produced. Another, and possibly the most well-known example of filete outside of Argentina, is Alfredo’s cover to Mike Doughty’s album Haughty Melodic.

Filete Dragon

We also got a crash course in the basic concepts of filete… Alfredo pointed out the floral designs, and three-dimensional illusion, as well as some of the symbols that often appear. The sun, usually the one in the Argentine flag, represents prosperity. Both real and mythical creatures appear, such as a dragon, which usually signifies corruption. And almost always, a phrase or a portrait can be found in the center — 85% of the time it seems to be Carlos Gardel.

Alfredo is most interested in pushing the boundaries of the art style. He works a lot with body painting, and has introduced some non-traditional elements into his pieces. For those interested in learning about the style, he offers courses in his studio. We had a lot of fun meeting him and learning more about the style, which is so ubiquitous in Buenos Aires, and completely unknown everywhere else.

Alfredo Genovese’s Website
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Filete Porteño Studio
Filete Porteño Classes
Filete Art
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March 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm Comments (4)

Iglesia del Santísimo Sacramento

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Travel Tea Bag

Near the Plaza de San Martín in Retiro, the skinny Iglesia del Santísimo Sacremento is not as famous or conspicuous as so many other landmarks close nearby. But as long as you’re in the area, it’s worth taking a quick walk through one of Buenos Aires’ prettiest places of worship.

Iglesia del Santísmo Sacramento

At the turn of the 20th century, Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena had risen to the heights of Porteño society. Also known as (take a deep breath), Countess Pontificate Maria de las Mercedes Luisa Castellanos of the Church, she had the Palacio San Martín built as her family’s primary residence. The sumptuous living quarters must have nagged at her conscience; in 1908 she declared that, “If I live in a palace, then so should God!”, and ordered construction of the Iglesia del Santísimo Sacremento. Not bad. Someday, I’d like to be wealthy enough to condescend to God.

The great dame spared no expense. She hired French architects who outfitted the new church with Carraran marble, the world’s most expensive, three Venetian maiolicas in the altar, blue and white granite, and a group of statues carved from white marble. Stained glass windows display miracles throughout Christian history and the church’s crypt, which can be visited on request, holds the countess’s mortal remains. Apparently, she wanted to be God’s roomie.

Santísimo Sacramento is still known among porteño high society as the place to get married in the city. Little wonder: it would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful catwalk (or gangplank, depending on your point of view) than the church’s narrow and richly ornamented nave.

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March 29, 2011 at 8:26 pm Comments (2)

Palermo Hostel: Kapake

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Great Hotel in Buenos Aires: Babel

Hostel Palermo

If the working class vibe of San Telmo isn’t your thing, and you’re looking for a hostel in the more upscale Palermo, check out Kapaké. Found in the relatively quiet neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood, it’s got a great location, near the parks and the subway station. Fitting in perfectly with Palermo, the Kapaké Hostel is fashionable and cool; a comfortable little spot which prides itself on cleanliness and safety.

  • Open 24 hours
  • Laundry Service
  • 24 hours hot water
  • Security Systems and Lockers
  • Free Medical Emergency Service
  • 24/7 Telephone, Fax, PC and Wifi (3Mbs)
  • Heating and Air-conditioning in every room
  • Breakfast

Book your stay here: Kapake Hostel
Location on our Buenos Aires Map
A great hostel in San Telmo

Kapake Hostel
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March 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm Comments (0)

Dadá – Artsy Eating in Retiro

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For a restaurant named after a 1920s anti-art movement, Dadá turns out to be remarkably unpretentious. There’s a lot to love about this little place on Calle San Martín in Retiro: the decoration, the friendliness of the staff and, of course, the food.

Dadá Buenos Aires

Everything inside Dadá is beautiful to look at, from the paintings hanging on the walls, to the brightly tiled bar. There’s definitely a Parisian flair to the place. A huge mural inspired by Roy Lichtenstein hovered above our table, where we had sat down for lunch. Looking at the menu, I was mainly surprised by how affordable everything was. Dining in a artsy, hip bistro usually comes with a hefty price tag.

Our waitress took the time to explain all the plates, and offer suggestions. Great service is one of the most-praised attributes of Dadá in online reviews, and certainly was the case for us. More than just pleasant, our waitress was laughing and good-natured, and seemed genuinely happy that we were there. And when the food came out, a great experience got even better. The lomo steak was huge and perfectly cooked. All the portions were absolutely generous, and we left full and happy.

Check out Dadá if you find yourself in need of a great meal, around Plaza San Martín. They’re open for lunch, dinner and evening drinks every day except Sunday. Given the size of the place, it’s probably best to call ahead for dinner reservations.

San Martín 941
Tel: 4314-4787
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March 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm Comments (0)

Retiro Train Station

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Buenos Aires Style: Exteriors, Interiors, Details

The most important train station in Buenos Aires in the Estación Retiro, found within walking distance of Plaza San Martín. Three train lines converge here, taking passengers to destinations like Tigre, Tucumán and Córdoba.

Estacion Retiro

Buenos Aires in the early 20th century must have been the world’s most exciting city, awash in wealth and optimism. All over town, buildings of astounding elegance were sprouting up, from the Teatro Colón to the Palacio Paz, and in 1909, construction began on a train station in Retiro. With French stylings and a steel frame built in Liverpool, the Estación Retiro was representative of Buenos Aires’ European obsession. The iron roof was the largest of its kind and, upon completion, the station was considered the world’s most beautiful.

The northern side of Estación Retiro is a serious no-go zone. For some reason, the city’s most infamous shantytowns, its villas miserías have risen up here. We’ve been tempted to explore them, some amazing and heartbreaking photographs are sure to be had, but every porteño we’ve floated the idea by has suggested, and even made us promise, that we would stay away.

Estacion Retiro on our Buenos Aires Map
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March 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm Comments (7)

The Plaza de Mayo

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The History of Argentina

With the Casa Rosada to the west and the city hall to the east, the Plaza de Mayo is undoubtedly the political nexus of Argentina. From famous speeches to white-hooded mothers united in a call for justice, the plaza has long been the focal point of the country’s most compelling dramas.

Buenos Aires

One of the more famous scenes was the massive October 17th, 1945 demonstration of the descamisados, organized by Evita and the CGT Workers’ Union to demand the release of Juan Peron from prison. After decades of misrule by military juntas, the people finally demanded to be heard. And they were.

Ten years later, the plaza became the blood-soaked scene of the most devastating attack ever to occur on Argentine soil. Juan Peron was still in office, empowering workers, and the country’s military leaders didn’t like that… not one little bit. As the opening salvo in an attempted coup d’etat, the country’s army and air force flew over the Plaza de Mayo and bombed a rally being held to support Peron. 355 died, and damage from the shrapnel is still visible today.

But the plaza’s most enduring image is that of the weekly Thursday vigils of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. During the Dirty War (1976-1983), the conservative government kidnapped, murdered and disappeared the remains of tens of thousands of young, liberal Argentinian men and women. Families were given no information as to the fate of their children, and in the face of government indifference, a group of mothers banded together in a call for justice. They donned white shawls and marched every Thursday around the Plaza de Mayo, silently pressing the government for answers.

It’s difficult to overestimate the bravery of these women. They congregated in full view of their children’s assassins, comfortably seated in the Casa Rosada, tacitly daring them to either arrest or murder a group of peaceful women. And in fact, their gamble wasn’t without consequence. Government operatives would occasionally sneak into the group, and a few mothers were disappeared themselves.

Every visitor to Buenos Aires is going to find themselves in the Plaza de Mayo at some point. On a sunny day, and especially at dusk when the setting sun illuminates the Casa Rosada, it can be beautiful. The country’s turbulent history may darken that beauty, but also makes it richer.

Plaza de Mayo on our Buenos Aires Map
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March 23, 2011 at 8:31 pm Comments (4)

A Tour through Barracas

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In the 19th century, the wealthiest corner of Buenos Aires wasn’t Retiro or Recoleta, but Barracas. Over the decades, this southern neighborhood lost its former glamor but recently has been showing signs of a resurgence in popularity.

Lsa Palmas
Yellow Fever

In 1871, a yellow fever epidemic devastated Buenos Aires. Eight percent of the city’s population fell to the disease, and the southern end of the city was particularly hard-hit. The upper-classes abandoned Barracas in droves, resettling in the north of the city and leaving the neighborhood to the European immigrants, still arriving from Italy and Spain by the boatload. The wealthy families generally held onto their properties as landlords, and slowly allowed them to fall into decay.

Las Palmas
Lsa Palmas

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we set out to uncover the best the barrio has to offer. We stepped out of the bus at the strangely quiet Parque España, and made a beeline for Pizzería Las Palmas. Pizza was our first mission of the day, as it nearly always is. Las Palmas is a very cool, unpretentious restaurant with cheap prices and delicious food. With its neon lights and casual vibe, it felt like a place right out of 1950s Midwest America. I turned around every time I heard the door open, to check if the Fonz had just come in.

Calle Lanín
Calle Lanin

Full on cheese and grease, we headed south along Calle Brandsen, past a creepy neuropsychiatric hospital and onto Calle Lanín, a street which has been turned into an amazing open-air art gallery; kind of an answer to Boca’s Caminito. Every house on Lanín is covered with colored tiles, in swirling, mesmerizing patterns. The project, by local artist Marino Santa María, debuted over 10 years ago and has lost none of its brightness or vitality. And the amazing thing is, on a Sunday afternoon when thousands of tourists are crammed into El Caminito, Calle Lanín was absolutely desolate.

The Israeli Temple & Society of Light
Sociedad Luz

In fact, everything was so eerily quiet that we were becoming convinced that nobody actually lived in Barracas. But that changed upon crossing Avenida Montes de Oca, where the neighborhood burst noisily into life with shops, restaurants, dog poop, galleries, buses and traffic, and cleaning ladies dumping buckets of water out onto the sidewalk. As we wandered around Barracas’ eastern side, we came across some incredible buildings. A gorgeous Arabesque building on Calle Brandsen turned out, strangely, to be the Israeli Temple. According a group of older Jewish Argentinians standing outside, it has an amazing interior patio (the temple was unfortunately closed when we arrived). Nearby, we found the neoclassical Sociedad Luz building, a stronghold of 19th-century socialists who founded the university to promote scientific learning among the working classes. Today, the building continues its educative purpose as a public library.

Iglesia de Santa Felicitas
Angel

But Barracas’ most impressive building is the Iglesia de Santa Felicitas. This massive religious complex was inaugurated in 1876, and named in honor of Felicitas Guerrero, who enjoyed fame as the most beautiful noblewoman in Buenos Aires. As a teenager, she had been married off to a rich and much-older landowner, who died soon after the union, leaving his young widow incredibly rich. Felicitas had youth, wealth and beauty… it’s no surprise that she became the desire of numerous suitors, among them Enrique Ocampo, who had been obsessed with her for years. When he learned that she’d fallen for a rival, Ocampo lost it. Following her onto her estate in Barracas, he confronted her with a pistol. “You’ll marry me, or you’ll marry no one!” When she tried to escape, he shot her in the back then committed suicide. (Or was shot by Felicitas’ father, who had quickly arrived on the scene; it’s never been satisfactorily resolved). Both the widow and her assassin were buried in Recoleta Cemetery on the same day.

Barracas was once the scene of the noble class’s exploits, but has spent the last century as a forgotten corner left to poor workers. The richness of its history is evident in every corner, and it’s a fascinating neighborhood in which to spend a day. Warned off by overly cautious guidebooks and well-meaning locals, tourists generally avoid the area, and that’s a shame. Barracas has a lot to offer… but get there quick if you want to be ahead of the curve, because the neighborhood is already at work shaking off its rough image. Check out the rest of our images, of this incredible and still relatively unknown section of the city.

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Short Term Stay in Buenos Aires

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Barracas
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March 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm Comment (1)

Il Matterello – Italian Dining in La Boca

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Incredible Pasta Recipes

Calle Martín Rodriguez in La Boca is the rough-and-tumble kind of street you’d normally want to avoid after sunset. But there’s one very good reason to set those concerns aside for one night: Il Matterello.

Italian Family

When you take your table, it’s hard to believe you’re in the middle of a working-class neighborhood. Il Matterello is all elegance, but manages to retain a casual atmosphere. The staff is friendly, and goes out of their way to make you feel like family. Before leading us to our seats, the greeter asked where we were from, and took us over to a huge map of Italy to point out Matterello (it’s near Venice). The restaurant has become an institution in La Boca, well-respected by critics and popular with the locals.

The food was outstanding. I had spinach raviolis stuffed with herbs and Juergen had the tagliatelle verdi, following a beautiful salad. All the plates were excellent; the pasta is prepared fresh in Il Matterello’s open kitchen, and the sauces were rich and delicious. With a long list of sauces to choose from, you can mix and match them with whatever pasta you want… I just asked the waiter for his recommendation. We saved room at the end for homemade tiramisu.

Il Matterello is just a couple blocks away from the Boca Juniors stadium. The dining area is small, so reservations are recommended on most nights. If you’re in La Boca and looking for a great meal away from the tourist-oriented taverns of El Caminito, you won’t be disappointed with Il Matterello.

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March 21, 2011 at 8:35 pm Comment (1)

Metropolitan Buenos Aires

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Metropolis Buenos Aires

Groups of shouting Brazilians, skyscraper window cleaners, gallery-worthy graffiti, costumed kings and queens roaming the streets… you never know what picture opportunities are going to present themselves when you step out. Now that fall has begun, Buenos Aires has changed a little. Kids are back to school, and people are back to work… luckily for us, the city’s compelling beauty stays the same!

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March 19, 2011 at 11:54 pm Comments (6)

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The Surprising Generosity of Porteos
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