ARGENTINA DIARY, 7th-26th March 2015, by Monty Style
Day 1 – Buenos Aires arrival
Endless flat grasslands below the 777 which floats motionless down to Ezeiza airport. After 13-and-a-bit hours’ flight we’re perfectly on time. Punctual and comfortable seats, but service- and meal-wise British Airways is not competitive at all. Dishwater coffee reminiscent of the UK 20 years ago.
Elegant all glass airport buildings. Simple immigration then formal-looking scanners gobble up and spew out all items of luggage. Nobody collects the customs declaration I carefully filled in.
Buenos Aires is at first sight an ecologist’s dream: fresh green plane trees line the streets, cedars adorn the many parks which, viewed from our taxi, are clean, cars are compact and traffic is unhectic, the sky is blue and unpolluted.
We’re living in Palermo, a leafy residential area, in a boutique guesthouse (doorway right) which our most valuable travel agent, Silvia, unearthed. Breakfast awaits us on the terrace next to a real lawn with a small pool and Alhambra-like tinkling water.
It was a 5-minute walk to an Italian restaurant run by attractive young people for a very good lunch with cold Castello beer and wine by the glass, including our first Malbec. Digestion was helped by a long, long rambling walk thru Palermo. I thought we might end up in Montevideo.
Day 1 ended with a seriously good “puerta cerrada” (“closed door”) dinner at Casa Coupage. Owner-sommelier Santiago guided us thru 3 courses (we picked different dishes) and about 16 different local wines, each with original and unexpected features eg a Muscat-like Torrontes/Riesling blend, another Torrontes with 50% early unripe grapes to provide balancing acidity. I could go on…..and will later if this diary prospers. A stunning first day. But 2 major, budget-busting [not to mention waist-busting, ED.] meals in one day, that cannot continue!
Day 2 Buenos Aires
Breakfast on the terrace at Cabrera Garden, blue sky and hot. Taxi across town heading for Cafe Tortoni, one of BA’s oldest cafés with lots of Art Nouveau features. After a few warning “pings”, our taxi runs out of gas on a 5-lane avenue. Our aged driver finds a replacement taxi and doesn’t want to accept any payment. We insist on paying and continue to Tortoni, whence we wander on to Plaza de Mayo. Surrounded by skyscrapers and a massive colonnaded church in memory of national hero General José San Martin, the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) is low, pink and insignificant. San Martin, known as El Libertador, is credited with winning independence from Spain but actually with his army of the Andes liberated Chile. He then lived in self-imposed exile for 20 years in Boulogne-sur-Mer. [Many streets throughout Argentina are named after San Martin or Boulogne-sur-Mer, improbably.]
Plaza de Mayo is famous for its “Madres”, women with faces covered by white handkerchiefs who assembled there relentlessly in great numbers protesting the unexplained disappearance of loved ones in the “Dirty War”. White hankies are painted on the ground. Large, crude banners are a fixture too, demanding certain rights and lamenting the [Falklands] invasion by the British.
After wandering thru the Sunday morning flea market on Calle Defensa we stroll in San Telmo’s covered market (cf Singapore) and watch entranced as spontaneous tango dancers emerge when a street band plays their tune.
We fetch up on the waterfront, actually 4 interconnected basins which lead out to Rio de la Plata. Both sides of the basins are very elegant modern flats, offices and restaurants partly in refurbished warehouses. All of Buenos Aires is lunching or wandering beside the brown water. We have an empanada and a beer. Then, a little footsore, an air-conditioned art gallery beckons. This fine modern building houses the diverse collection of Argentine paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries belonging to the lovely Amalia de la Cloze de Fortabat. It includes an Andy Warhol of her and a William Turner.
By now too tired even to search out gelati we retire to the peaceful Cabrera Garden. Later share a bottle of pre-dinner Semillon with our Polish host Robert. Dine on steaks at local Campo Bravo.
Day 3 Buenos Aires
Went to see Rosedal rose garden in the Parque 3 de febrero – closed on Monday, so we watched gardeners peacefully at work thru the railings. Short walk round the rather tired Japanese Garden and on to MALBA Museo de Arte Latinoamericana de Buenos Aires. Fine contemporary building white steel and glass construction. Another eclectic collection, we picked out Xul Solar’s watercolours, rotund fruit pickers by Cavaltini, both early 20th century. Light lunch on the MALBA terrace. Felt tired after doing little, perhaps due to humidity.
Evening tour of Tigre with our travel agent, Silvia, on one of umpteen rivers flowing into Rio de la Plata. Puerta Cerrada dinner in home of Veronica and Horacio: she is a foodie professional like her accomplice Sasha who did a so-called ‘modern Argentine menu for us: quinoa with Patagonian crab, grilled lamb (we must remember to ask for “rare” cuisson as Argentines don’t naturally do pink meat) etc. Drank a refreshing Sauvignon from Doña Paula and a young Bianchi Malbec which won a prize in France, deservedly. Interesting and friendly discussion on the Malvinas, consensus that it was “a big mistake by all concerned”. Argentine sovereignty claims will not vanish. For the second time a taxi driver claimed one of our 100-peso notes was fake!
Day 4 – Buenos Aires to Martindale
Promptly at 10:00 Cecilia (daughter of our hosts Horacio and Elaine) arrived in her minibus to drive us to Martindale Country Club near Pilar, which is beyond San Isidro and Tigre up the Rio de la Plata heading towards the mouth of the giant Rio Parana.
Martindale, a lightly guarded sanctuary for many species of quite noisy birds, huge plane trees, eucalyptus, cedar, willow and more, is a paradise of tranquility for Porteños (those who live in BA), whose homes range from “sensible New England (as above) with a touch of Scandinavia” to over the top Palladian mansions.
The club has at least two polo grounds, tennis and squash courts, a gym and a championship golf course. H invited me for a delightfully informal 9 holes after lunch. Even starting at 17:30 I was dripping long before the 18th.
After a delicious chicken pie and 3 varieties of homemade icecream accompanied by sparkling chardonnay+pinot noir, Sauvignon Blanc and a Malbec our most generous hosts are not offended when we head for early slumber.
Day 5 – Martindale
Sue and I set off for a pre-breakfast walk at 08:00. In increasingly powerful sun we navigated what amounts to the circumference of the golf course. We took an appealing left turn up “Royal Melbourne” road which turned out to be a huge cul de sac. Low point. Got back at 10:00 relieved and rather chuffed. Simon and I spent the morning effortlessly moving from deckchair to pool and back, while our expert asado host prepared his fire and quietly grilled lamb. Lunch guests strolled in thru the garden dressed in informal gear. Grilled lamb and conversation were very good. It all ended happily back in the pool. H and I played 6 gentle holes. Pre-dinner drinks watching Villazon, Domingo and Netrebko singing their hearts out at the outdoors Waldbühne in Berlin. Very touchy-feely.
TO BE CONTINUED!!