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The National Museum of Fine Arts

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We confidently strode up the stairs of an impressive neoclassical building, convinced that it was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Passing between the massive gray Doric columns, a guard brusquely informed us that we were actually at the University’s Law School. He shoved us off toward a nearby clump of dark red clay, which had been been molded into the form of a building.

Museu-Nacional-de-Bellas-Art.

In this neighborhood of refined elegance, the museum definitely stands out. It was built in 1870 as a drainage pumping station, and converted for use as a museum in 1933. The building’s age is evident; inside, paint is peeling off the walls and the air is impregnated with the unmistakable atmosphere of slow decay. Exhibits were poorly lit, trash was strewn carelessly about the floor, and the visitors, laughing loudly and using cell phones, weren’t treating the place with any respect. Overall, it was a far cry from what we expected of the country’s premier fine arts museum.

Still, the museum holds an astounding collection, which we spent a couple hours taking in. The first floor features masters from all over the world, including Cezanne, Rembrandt, Guaguin, Van Gogh and Monet. But we most enjoyed the upper floor, which serves as an excellent primer to the history of Argentine art. There was a healthy blend of the classic and modern, featuring artists mostly unknown outside of the continent. We loved Guillermo Kutica’s mattresses made of maps, and were puzzled by the mystical, post-modern works of Xul Solar.

By the end of our visit, any complaints we’d had about the building had faded from memory. It helped that entrance to the museum is completely free, making it difficult to gripe at all. Still, once the city has a little extra cash on-hand, another round of refurbishment for this otherwise excellent museum might be in order.

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April 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm Comment (1)

Floralis Genérica

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I can count on exactly one finger the number of times I’ve stood before a flower sculpture and thought to myself, “Now that is really fucking cool”.

Floralis Generica Buenos Aires

The Floralis Genérica was a 2002 gift to the Argentine people from Eduardo Catalano, an architect best known for his audacious home in Raleigh, NC: one of the few modern structures to earn the praise of Frank Lloyd Wright. Catalano’s 28-meter steel and aluminum flower, planted in Recoleta’s Plaza de las Naciones Unidas, opens its petals every morning at 8am, and closes again at dusk.

Meant to represent all the flowers of earth, thus the name Genérica, the daily opening also symbolizes the eternal rebirth of hope; especially poignant considering that the statue was unveiled just one year after Argentina’s devastating economic crisis. It’s stunningly beautiful. Placed in the middle of a small pond, the light shimmers and reflects from the water onto the steel. Hills and paths lead around the flower, offering views from various angles.

I would be willing to bet ten grand that nobody with a functioning camera has ever visited the Floralis Genérica and walked away without taking a picture. Considered it, but then thought to themselves, “Nah”. That seems impossible.

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April 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm Comments (0)

El Sanjuanino – A Rustic Recoleta Escape

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Immediately surrounding the Recoleta Cemetery, there are any number of restaurants with conspicuous English-language signs and inflated prices. Do yourself a favor and resist the bait. Instead, take a short five-minute walk to Restaurante El Sanjuanino on Calle Posadas, a classic in the area, with incredible food and excellent prices.

Argentinian Wine

We ate here shortly before visiting the cemetery, having done our research with the indispensable Guia Óleo: a popular restaurant guide for BsAs. I honestly doubt that better empanadas exist in the city. I doubt they could. There may be some just as good, but “better” isn’t possible. Emapanada-making, it seems, is an art that can be perfected.

In this well-bred, exclusive rincón of Buenos Aires, El Sanjuanino is an appreciated change of pace. It’s all wooden interiors, and you almost feel as though you’re visiting your grandparents out in the woods. There was a healthy mix of locals and tourists when we went, and the service was perfect: friendly but not hovering. Besides the flawless empanadas, freshly baked and enormous, we had homemade raviolis and matambre, a delicious rolled flank steak with vegetables and cheese. Locros and tamales are also favorites on the menu.

If you’re in the area and hungry for an excellent, filling and affordable lunch, El Sanjuanino has what you need.

El Sanjuanino’s Website
Posadas 1515
Tel: 4804-2909
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March 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm Comments (13)

Recoleta Cemetery

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Other great cemeteries we have visited: Bonaventure and Laurel Grove

One of Buenos Aires’ most beautiful neighborhoods is also one of its most exclusive. They won’t let just anyone move in, so if you’re looking for a new home here, there are a couple of inflexible prerequisites: you must be rich, and you must be dead. Being famous helps.

Recoleta

One of the world’s most gorgeous cemeteries, Recoleta Cemetery is the final resting place of the city’s richest and most powerful citizens, and a wonderful spot for us plebes to do some gawking. They’re serious about that admittance policy. Not many are “good enough” for Recoleta. My politics are strongly populist, and the notion of a cemetery which exclusively houses the wealthy would normally disgust me, but in this case, I’m willing to disregard my inner socialist. Even in death, rich people are eager to show each other up, and the results of the rampant egotism are astonishing: every crypt is more beautiful, more ostentatious than the next.

The cemetery occupies an enormous amount of space and truly is a little city unto itself. It’s even organized into blocks. Strolling aimlessly about its streets is an overwhelming visual experience. Cypress trees sprouting up around mausoleums, feral cats slinking noiselessly across cracked tombs, sunlight filtered through stained glass throwing colorful shadows upon the ground. Make sure to have your camera with you.

Irigoyen

Established in 1822, Recoleta was the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires, without any kind of preferential policies. In fact, one of its first inhabitants was a young freed slave by the name of Juan Benito. But in the 1870s, a yellow fever epidemic drove the city’s elite out of the city center and into the neighborhood of Recoleta. They wasted no time in claiming the cemetery as their own.

Many of Argentina’s presidents are buried within its walls, but the cemetery’s most famous resident is undoubtedly Eva Peron. Surprisingly, her tomb is difficult to find and not nearly as impressive as those which surround it. Members of the oligarchy had fought for years against her being buried here, since she worked so hard to destroy their grip on power, but they eventually relented. Juan Perón, though, was a different story. He’s buried in the Chacarita Cemetery, west of Palermo.

Entrance is free, and it’s one of the absolutely must-see attractions for any visit to Buenos Aires. Recoleta is easily the most amazing cemetery I’ve ever been to.

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February 28, 2011 at 11:43 pm Comments (9)

El Cuartito – Pizza & Empanadas

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The Art of Making Pizza

Step into a time warp and a grab a table at El Cuartito: one of Buenos Aires’ oldest and most popular pizzerias. With vintage boxing and football posters covering the walls, a frantic waiter running around the tables to take orders and deliver food, and the most delicious pizza I’ve eaten in quite some time, this incredible restaurant is one of the city’s best.

Pizza Waiter

El Cuartito has been in business since 1934. Found in Recoleta, it’s a busy place during lunch; you can either order at the counter or sit down for service. Well you’ll get service if you can grab the waiter, which isn’t so easy. And once you do get his attention, don’t expect him to patiently answer all the questions you may have about the menu. While taking our order, he didn’t even pause at our table, just slowed down his pace a bit as he passed by.

The prices at El Cuartito are great and the pizza is out of this world. At least, it is if you like cheese, mounds of heavy cheese dripping off every slice. A lot of people might turn their noses up at this style of pie, but I was in heaven. We ordered the medium size (“chico”), which came with six slices. You can combine different styles of pizza, and try out a variety; we went with the Atómica and the Cuartito. The empanadas are another house specialty, and we got one filled with spicy beef. We noticed that a lot of locals were skipping on pizza entirely and had a meal of two or three empanadas.

Dessert was a silly idea. My stomach was already full to the breaking point, but when we saw the dish served to a guy at a nearby table, we couldn’t resist. “Eso! Lo quiero también!” I shouted at the waiter as he zipped by. Minutes later a rich portion of flan, with a side of sweet, carmelly dulce de leche was set in front of us.

El Cuartito instantly vaulted itself onto my list of favorite places, and I would have to return. But there were so many other pizzerias to try! Suffice to say, weight maintenance was a constant struggle during our time in Buenos Aires. If you’ve got some restaurant tips, leave a comment or let us know!

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Pizza in Asturias

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February 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm Comments (14)

The Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

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Link: We just published our first Travel Book

Argentinians are a famously literary people. In coffee shops, parks, on the bus and even while walking down city streets, their heads are often buried in a book. So it’s only fitting that Buenos Aires can lay claim to one of the world’s most incredible book stores: the Ateneo Grand Splendid.

Ateneo Grand Splendid

Soon after we arrived, Jürgen asked what I wanted to do first in Buenos Aires. “ATENEO ATENEO!” I squealed instantly, clapping my hands and making a mess in my pants. Then the squealing again. A guidebook photograph of the theater-turned-bookstore had lodged itself in my heart, and I was determined to visit as soon as possible.

First, let’s admire that name. There’s no pretense of modesty in christening your theater the Grand Splendid. Built in 1919 by an Italian architect in the eclectic style, the theater entertained Buenos Aires for a decade with top-tier tango concerts, before it was converted into a popular cinema. In 2000, the building was leased by a publishing house and found new life as a bookstore.

The conversion from theater to bookshop has proved nothing short of magnificent. The painted ceiling, detailed balconies, and stage are all intact. The private boxes are now small reading rooms. The stage is a café, where you can sit and peruse the books you’re considering buying. And though it occupies three floors, there’s not an overwhelming selection. The shelves fit perfectly around the theater’s original shape, and comfortable chairs are scattered throughout.

The Ateneo Grand Splendid is a bookstore in which to spend a leisurely couple hours. Choose a couple books and get cozy in a theater box. And if you get weary of reading, just look around; there’s plenty to feast your eyes on.

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February 9, 2011 at 12:23 am Comments (29)
The National Museum of Fine Arts
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