Stop: Buenos Aires by Elliott Hester
on photos for more images of Argentina
a race car screeching away from the pit at Indy, my taxi vacated
the curb at Buenos Aires' Aeropuerto Internacional and rocketed
toward the death-defying autopista. Though I wasn't in a hurry to
reach my hotel, and tried, in ruptured Spanish, to make my driver
aware of this fact, he gunned the engine, shot between two cars
attempting to converge on our lane, then broke left behind a bus
that bathed us in a current of thick black exhaust. As if Argentine
taxi tips are based upon the number of times a driver changes lanes
and the proximity upon which disaster is averted, he then weaved
the car through a clash of highway traffic, his head whipping ceaselessly
from side to side, lips pursed, brow creased, eyes gleaming with
40 minutes later, after we leapt on an off ramp and cruised toward
the metropolis, I managed to breathe again. No thanks to the atmosphere,
mind you. Although Buenos Aires literally means "Good Air'"
there is precious little of it on steamy summer days like the one
on which I arrived. Because the taxi's air-conditioning had malfunctioned,
I felt compelled to open the window and join 13 million denizens
who simmered in a broth of heat, humidity and auto exhaust.
Buenos Aires has a stately European charm. We drove along wide,
spacious avenues lined with ornate 19th century buildings that reminded
me of Paris and Madrid. I half-expected to see hordes of people
blocking the intersections, shouting for justice and banging pots
and pans. Such political protests, or cacerolazos, occurred on a
daily basis last year during Argentina's worst economic disaster.
December, 2001, after the government slashed jobs, commandeered
pensions and devalued the peso in a futile attempt at balancing
an enormous foreign debt, rioters took to the streets. Dozens were
injured and at least 20 lost their lives. But during my month-long
stay, the city seemed relatively calm. The only grim reminders were
long bank queues where hundreds waited patiently each day to trade
pesos for dollars.
stumbling from the taxi in the prestigious neighborhood of Belgrano,
I checked into Caseron Porteno (www.caseronporteno.com), an immaculate
4-room guesthouse owned by Argentine tango lovers Daniel and Cinthia.
The couple met a few years earlier at a melonga (dance). They tangoed
all night, fell in love and later opened Caseron Porteno which caters
to foreign tango enthusiasts.
property's centerpiece is a flowery courtyard, at the back of which
lies an open-air dance studio where guests are given free tango
lessons. I took just one lesson with Cinthia. Having stepped on
her feet repeatedly, I hung up my tango shoes and left the floor
to the professionals.
such pro was Gerda Milpacher, a pink-haired German dance producer
who occupied the guest room next to mine. Gerda had come to audition
tango dancers for "Latino Classics'" an annual summer
extravaganza in Berlin.
two days I sat in the courtyard sipping tea and watching Gerda audition
dozens of Argentina's finest Tango prospects. The female dancers
wore high heels and sultry black skirts with the traditional split
up one side. The men donned black suits and wore their hair slicked
back. Compelled by the rhythms of dramatic tango music, one couple,
Johana Copes and Maximiliano Avila, flung each other around the
studio like exasperated lovers. They spun away, embraced, displayed
a flurry of rapid between-the-leg kicks, then looked into each other's
eyes as if life itself depended on their next move.
is the daughter of Juan Carlos Copes, a world-famous Argentine tango
dancer and choreographer. His soon-to-be famous daughter eventually
got the part and will be performing with her partner in Germany
few nights later I met with Sandra Suppa. A friend of a friend,
Sandra introduced me to another Argentine pastime: asado (barbeque).
with 15 of her friends, I dined at Ramona, a legendary steak house.
In 1996, when Madonna came to town to film "Evita'" she
asked the owner to close the restaurant and accommodate her entourage
for one night. The owner refused. At Ramona, regulars like Sandra
carry as much weight at music divas.
are dedicated carnivores and consume, per-person, about 130 pounds
of meat annually. We exceeded the national average, beginning with
beef empanadas and progressing to chorizo (grilled sausage), cordero
(lamb), chivito (goat), lech'n (suckling pig) and ternera (veal).
Between sips of merlot from Mendoza, Argentina's wine region, we
graduated to more exotic pieces like mojella (thymus gland), riones
(kidneys) and morcilla (blood sausage) which has a sweet gummy taste.
The bill for 17, including appetizers and drinks, came to only $180
next afternoon we attended Argentina's most coveted sporting event:
a soccer match between hated rivals, Boca Juniors and River Plate.
As Sandra and I approached the stadium, it seemed as though we had
bought tickets to a riot instead of a soccer game. Fifty thousand
fans streamed toward the gates and were scrutinized by a phalanx
of policemen on horses. Police helicopters flew overhead. We were
eyed by hundreds of policemen with dogs, tear gas launchers and
shotgunsa testament to the violence that has marred nearly
every meeting of these two teams.
heart hammered against my chest as we entered the packed stadium.
A sea of red and white-clad River fans let out a deafening roar
from across the field. Uniformly dressed in blue and gold, thousands
of nearby Boca fans countered with the earsplitting cry of "Boca!
Boca! Boca!" Fifty thousand voices suddenly became one, charging
the arena with an electricity the likes of which I've never experienced.
took my seat, watched the players spill upon the field and fell
in love with soccer.
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stop: Papeete, French Polynesia.
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