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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Argentina -- Santelmo,Monserrat & Centro 9.2.08


* Bar El Federal                                                            * Avenue de Mayo

* La Brigada                                                                     * Cafe Tortoni

We spent another hour dealing with our ongoing internet, land line, and local sim card problems in the morning.  All these connection issues were driving us crazy.  Were we stupid or was it just way too complicated???  It didn't seem that we were able to get clear answers from the people here.  Was it communication barriers or did we just simply not understand what they were trying to tell us?  Maybe it was not a fair assessment, but I somehow got the feeling that the accuracy of information was not valued as important here.  We seemed to be getting different pieces of information from different people.  Maybe it was just my New Yorker mentality talking.  

Finally, we started our day taking subte to San Telmo around 11:30 AM.  Much to our surprise, the subte was jam packed at this time of the day! We saw many people with office outfits on the subte.  Do people work different schedules in this part of the world?  The subway in New York would be empty after 10 AM. We got off at the San Juan stop.  As we got out of the subte station, I was a bit uneasy with this industrial area of car repair shops and homeless people under the highway.  
We walked towards the Plaza Dorrego and stopped by Bar El Federal, one of the historical bars in BA, for lunch. We enjoyed the ambiance, but the food was nothing memorable.  

After lunch, we walked along the cobblestone Defensa street heading towards Monserrat.  We passed by some beautiful blocks, stunning old buildings, and took many photos. We spotted a dog walker with a dozen or so huge dogs breezing through the street and even witnessed a protest!  There were about 20 people banging drums while marching through streets and stopped at a residential building.  They stood in front of a building for a few minutes, blowing whistles, making loud noise, and throwing fliers.  The whole process  was pretty organized and peaceful.  

We passed by Farmacia de la Estrella (a charming old pharmacy), San Ignacio (the oldest standing church),   and arrived at Plaza de Mayo.  Before the trip, I've tried to educate myself with Argentinian history, but I just could not remember all the years, events, and people!  I often find myself more interested in learning about the history after I visited the place.  Somehow, history makes more sense after I've visited the place.  So, despite several attempts to read the history portion of my guidebook, I remain pretty ignorant about it. 

At the Casa Rosada, we were trying to figure out exactly which balcony Eva Peron made her famous speech. We approached the guard at the gate to ask the question thinking he must be asked about it all the time.  Surprisingly, he was not sure! He had to ask a colleague to confirm the answer. 

We continued to walk along Avenue de Mayo from Plaza de May to Plaza del Congreso.  Casa de Cultura/La Prensa Building was a stunning building that offered tours on the weekends.  We walked inside the lobby trying to find the tour information.  h asked one of the employees at the information desk about the tours in English.  The guy looked at H and said "No Inglés".  H asked again and added hand gestures this time.  The guy replied, "Español. Argentina. No Inglés."  Wow, the response was not expected, and H was pissed.   

A few days later when we met up with M & D again, we talked about this incident.  From a tourism stand point, is it a good idea to have such a hostile attitude towards non-Spanish speaking tourists?  As a tourist, what is the proper etiquette when you don't speak the language?   Being Caucasian speaking fluent English, H could easily be mistaken as an American.  It makes me wonder if the employee would react differently if I, an Asian woman, asked the same question in English.

Seeing some of the most glorious buildings in such rundown condition, and many facades of the buildings had graffiti and traces of eggs & paint brought back the sadness I felt the first day.  I somehow sensed the anger and distrust people felt towards the Argentinian government.  Was I over thinking it? Do people still feel this way now?  I could almost imagine how glamorous Buenos Aires must've been at the turn of the century.

There were a few homeless people around the Plaza del Congreso.  A  little girl about 5 years old was playing by herself as I assume her homeless mother was sleeping on a dirty mattress nearby. 

We took subte again from Plaza del Congres to a travel agency office to book the estancia (Gaucho ranch) trip for the next day.  When we stepped into the A line train, we felt like stepping back in time. It was an old train with wooden seats, wooden panels, and lamps.  The doors could only be opened and closed by hand.   We were so enchanted by this old beautiful train that we missed our stop.

It was almost 6:00 PM after booking our estancia trip.  We headed home to nap and freshen up for a whole night ahead of us.  
At 8:10 PM,  We arrived at La Brigada in San Telmo.  The restaurant was quite full when we walked in.  We shared molleja and Ojo de Bife.  I did not know that molleja (sweetbread) was NOT sweet bread.  (I thought it was grilled animal heart, but it was acutally thymus gland of the cow - thanks to Andromache's info. ) 

It tasted a bit gamy, but again, I would try almost everything once. Ojo de Bife was H's favorite part of beef.  H was so impressed with how our waiter cut the meat with a spoon.  The meat was tender and juicy, much better than what we had in Don Julio.  Perhaps it was not fair to compare the restaurants when we ordered two different types of beef. 

By the time I got out of the restaurant, I was drunk and happy.  We walked to Cafe Tortoni for our 10 PM tango show (reservation needed). On the way to Cafe Tortoni, we saw many homeless people picking through the trash to find recyclable waste.  Some brought their young children along.  It was a harsh sight to see.  I thought about what our driver in Iguazu said: How he liked the US government being protective of it's children.  Do these people have shelter to go to?  Do these children go to school for education?  Is there any assistance they can receive from the government?
(Thanks to Scarlett, a local expert, I learned that these people were Cartoneros who come into town to sell the recyclables they gather from the trash to make a living.) 


Once inside of Tortoni, it brought us back to another era.  Opened in 1858, Cafe Tortoni is the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires.  I suppose it is one of those landmarks that you simply have to go to say "I've visited Buenos Aires". 

Okay, I must confess again.  With all the stereotype of Tango dances we saw on TVs & Movies, H and I always associated tango with sleazy dirty old men who were swingers.  The dance seemed...just too much for our taste.  Knowing neither one of us were big fan of tango, I did not want to invest tones of money to see those huge production Hollywood type tango shows.  Cafe Tortoni offered 3 to 4 performances every night for 70 pesos per person.  The show last about one hour.  I thought it would be an easy introduction for us. 

Turned out, We really really enjoyed the show.  The singing and the music were so moving.  The dance portion of the performance was awesome!  We thought it was too short and wish we could have seen more. 


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