Monday, November 23, 2009

(new) Toto we’re not in France any more.

Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America. Contrary to some people this is not because of the dog poop that litters the street. No rather, some 100 years ago, the city council was inspired by Napoleon III’s redoing of Paris and when I say inspired I mean they totally copied him and not just the layout of the streets but the architecture as well. This copying the French thing was also present in other ways: numerous cafes, croissants, wine, hatred of the English and art museums. It was this last one that we were going to embrace today.

Most museums didn’t open until noon so there was no rush to leave the hostel and since we liked our new location we didn’t mind. It also gave us time to figure out which museums to visit and how to get there. We decided to start with the MALBA (Museo del Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires, no wonder they just call it the MALBA) which was described somewhere as the must see art museum. We’d heard that before but put our cynicism aside. Unfortunately, the museum was located just out of reach of the subway line which required us to venture onto the bus system of BsAs. It had been over 8 months since I was scarred by a big city bus experience in Mexico City but with super easy instructions from the hostel (and a whole lot more Spanish), we headed out. It also provided the first opportunity for Adrian to get rid of some of his stockpiled coinage. The bus stop was just around the corner from the hostel and arrived within five minutes. Thanks to the patience of the bus driver we paid our fare, depositing the money in the coin machine behind the driver’s chair and were off. The bus took us to the front steps of the MALBA. It was super easy, exorcising my fear of city buses.

The MALBA was a brand spanking new shiny building just on the limits of posh Recoleta. We paid our $5 and began our visit. We started at the top only to find the same Andy Warhol exhibit we’d seen in Bogota. But since you can never see enough Warhol we checked it out again before heading through the rest of the museum. Even the benches were works of art and probably my favourite. The wooden slats extended past the bench and twisted and turned over the walls of the atrium and down to the next floor. And you could sit on them. Pretty and practical rather than precious, may kind of art. I had to take a couple of pictures of them which promptly got me in trouble from one of the security guards. It was a half-hearted telling off and unlike my experience in Bogota I wasn’t forced to erase anything.

We stepped outside into the blinding sun and figured it was too nice to spend it inside anymore museums. So we chose to just walk around and hopefully find some lunch. But a few blocks into the purple flower covered streets of Recoleta had us realizing that any place nearby would probably require a bank loan, or at least more than we were paying for our room thereby breaking one of my travel rules – never pay more for a meal than what you’re paying for your room. So we hopped on the bus heading back downtown getting off at the law courts for a walk around. The supreme court was a pretty building I questioned the skills of Argentinean members of the legal profession when I noticed that just outside the entrance were numerous book stalls selling legal textbooks and other reference books. A note to Argentinean criminals: if your lawyer stops to pick up a copy of the “Beginners Guide to Criminal Law” just before your trial, I suggest you find yourself another lawyer (unless you’re guilty in which case forget what I said). Also interesting to note was the area around the courts was also the theatre district – I guess the two are closely related in Argentina. But it was also the area full of after-theatre/after-court restaurants which meant no cheap food here either. So we just kept walking and taking in the sights.

We headed to the chaotic pedestrian shopping areas and in order to escape the crush of people ducking into the chichi Galerias Pacficio shopping centre. I had also read that it had an interesting food court, and by interesting I hoped that meant cheap. Galerias Pacifico is probably one of the poshest malls I’ve ever stepped foot in. It was kinda like walking into Berdorf’s – I kept expecting some security guard to ask to see our tatty shoulder bags any moment. Much like Galerias Lafayette in Paris (yet another French thing in Paris), the building outshone whatever the stores were selling (well for me), especially when we reached the atrium in our search for the food court. Above us was a giant dome covered in mosaics. Adrian was momentarily confused by the presence of a Christmas tree (photo above), until I reminded him that the holidays were only a month away. Yes, it's easy to forget about Christmas when you're walking around in shorts. As we stood there staring, a woman came rushing up to us. Uh-oh, here comes the security shakedown. Nope, it was just the buildings tourist guide offering us some pamphlet on the mosaics. I forgot, that tourists as tourists we can look like tramps and still get first class treatment.

As we looked for a place to sit and read the pamphlets, we found the food court. It was the best food court I’ve ever seen. Rather than a collection of brand name peddlers of grease in a box, each place was a variation of a parrillada. That’s right, fire grilled steak made to order at food court prices. Adrian was skeptical and went off to check the prices at the Burger King hidden in the back way out of sight. The prices of a steak and salad bar were actually cheaper than a combo. So back at the parrilladas, Adrian ordered a steak and I got half a chicken from the place with the nicest looking salad bar. Cost of dinner? About $12 for both of us. But we still needed to stop in at Burger King. Not the one in the mall but the one further down the pedestrian area. We dodged a couple tango dancing and ducked in to the fast food place. We weren’t there for food but for architecture. This particular branch was built in an old art nouveau mansion. You couldn’t tell from the street level but a little tip had told me that the upper floor revealed some of the history. Indeed it was another beautiful frescoed ceiling however after the mall it was a bit less impressive so we ducked out and continued to the Plaza de Mayo to catch the subway back to the hostel.

It was dusk when we got to the Plaza so we thought we’d hang around for a bit and wait for the lights to be turned on Argentina’s version of the white house, You may recognize the Casa Rosada from Evita - it’s the building with the balcony where Madonna sang “Don’t Cry for Argentina”. Or maybe, like me, you don’t remember that scene because you were too busy burying your head in your hands trying to block out her voice until Antonia Banderas and/or Jonathon Price came back on screen. But I digress. Their white house is actually a pink house although in the fading light it was looking a lot more brown. The lights never did come on so we left. Paris maybe the city of lights but I guess Buenos Aires is the city of saving on the light bills.

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