Friday, February 22, 2008

Remembering Buenos Aires

I didn't watch the debate last night. From all accounts, Obama and Mrs. Clinton comported themselves amicably. The morning paper did mention that she was booed upon attempting to make hay out of that phony plagiarism charge against Obama. This, from a partisan crowd in the most liberal city in Texas. You might say that the firewall has been breached.

Instead, my wife and I attended a production of Evita. What great fun. No, this wasn't exactly Broadway, but the performing arts center at our local university has consistently attracted some pretty impressive touring companies, or least for a community our size.

My only disappointment was not with the play, but in the receptiveness of the audience. Most of the theater-goers were older (old, of course, being anyone older than me). Listening to the conversations during the intermission and afterwards, it dawned on me that this lukewarmness stemmed from a general unfamiliarity with the story. How could anyone of a certain age not know about Juan and Eva Peron? Theirs is one of the great melodramas of the 20th century, involving, along the way, the ruination of a once great nation. Simply put, it is one helluva story.

Film clips of 1940s Buenos Aires served as a backdrop to several of the scenes, which served to put me in fond remembrance of the city. Almost 9 years have passed since I was there. And what a city! First of all, it is very European. In fact, these days it is probably more so than many cities in Europe. You will see no headscarves or burkhas. You will see Italian fashions. Architecturally, Buenos Aires may be one of the most significant cities in the world. There's plenty of soulless, modern ugliness, to be sure. But the greater part of the city was constructed during the first few decades of the 20th century, when Argentina was one of the world's richest countries. The streets are chock-a-block with magnificent, soaring beaux arts and art deco buildings.

My memories of the city came flooding back: the Plaza San Martin, the Cafe Tortino, Casa Rosada, Avenida Pacifica, the flea market at San Telmo, the tango show, the bar at the Plaza Hotel, tea at the Alvear Palace, an Argentine steak supper, the Circulo Militar, the horse races, exquisite Argentine Malbec served in beer-sized bottles with your meal, the taxi drivers, Palermo, the macabre Recoleto Cemetery, the Opera House, our friends Julio and Peter.

Buenos Aires is laid out in the grand style, with many wide avenues (the Avenida 9 de Julio reputedly the widest in the world), but it is definitely a city for walking, and of course, doing what Portenos enjoy most--talking and people-watching. The venue of choice is the coffee shop. It is a rare block that is not anchored with a coffee shop at each end, and perhaps one in the middle for good measure. Many of these establishments were grand art deco affairs, with plate-glass windows along the street, white-jacketed waiters, and even mezzanine seating.

We found countless opportunities to stop and cool our heals a bit, and watch the parade of handsome humanity pass outside our window. Invariably, we would have a cafe con leche and a plate of medialunas ("half-moons," for the Spanish-impaired). These medialunas are small glazed croissants--oh, they were so good!

And that has become my most cherished memory of Buenos Aires--not the tango shows or the architecture, but rather a good cup of coffee, a bit of sweet bread, and a simple savoring of the natural rhythm of life. Political enthusiasms usually come to a bad, or at least a disappointing end, whether it be Evita or Obama. There are more important things. Like a good medialuna.


Mary said...

A kindred soul...of the many fond memories concerning my two trips abroad, the ones at the top of the list are centered around not the sights and the museums, but the food and the people. ; )

Anonymous said...

I really must apply for a passport...