domingo, 29 de marzo de 2009

Buenos Aires Trip Report

El Ateneo Grand Splendid: a bookstore situated in a magnificent old theater
(photo: longhorndave, used here with Creative Commons permission)

Dear Lurkers:

Since I just got back from a wonderful two-week trip to Argentina, I thought I'd share some of my adventures with you, my beloved public, while memories of all those book-buying binges and empanadas-eating rampages are still fairly fresh in my mind. I intend to update this post over the next week or so, so check back here from time to time if anything catches your eye.



Sat, March 14: My wife ("C") and my father-in-law ("R") met me at the airport after I arrived from my 11-hour overnight flight from Boston to NYC to Buenos Aires (C's family is from Buenos Aires, so she had gone down a few weeks before I did to spend some extra time with them). Back in their home in Burzaco (a smallish working class city on the southern outskirts of la capital), my mother-in-law ("A") had prepared a "typical" Argentine lunch for us: a big plump chorizo del campo grilled to perfection, ñokis with meat sauce, a simple salad, etc. Delicious! Later on that evening, R took me to see a soccer match between his team, Banfield, and nearby rivals, San Lorenzo, a much anticipated thrill for me since I'd never seen a partido (game) live at the cancha (soccer field) in Argentina before. Although the stadium was only half-full due to threatening rains that never arrived in full force, the fans on both sides were as energetic as I would have expected: I got to see a pro-Banfield moshpit spontaneously erupt in one of the tunnels leading into the stands before the game, and during the match both teams' hinchadas (groups of rowdy fans) engaged in nonstop chanting and singing along with their respective bands, also hurling insults at each other and at the referees as often as possible ("la concha de tu madre," a staple expletive of Argentinean cinema, naturally was the epithet of choice!). We stopped for some great empanadas de carne y de jamón y queso (I had two meat and one ham-and-cheese turnovers) at Pizza Ranch in Adrogué (another nearby city in the provincia of Buenos Aires away from the city's core) on the way back, ending the day the way it'd started with some more of that great food that I love so much. Somewhere along the way, I also saw a great name for a carnicería (butcher's shop): Tu majestad, la vaca (Your Majesty, the Cow). Argentina, a vegetarian's nightmare!

Sun, March 15: Argentineans often have some combination of bread, toast, dulce de leche, and/or fiambres (cold cuts) for breakfast along with coffee, tea and/or mate, and today we had all of the above along with some Sunday mini facturas (mini-pastries). I was beginning to remember why so many consider the country a foodie's paradise! After breakfast, R drove everybody into the city (Burzaco is part of the provincia of Buenos Aires but not part of the city itself), where we walked around a mostly-deserted Plaza de Mayo and similarly quiet Calle Lavalle--both frenzied places during the week--downtown (more or less the Montserrat and San Nicolás barrios on the map above, but almost everybody just refers to the area as the microcentro). In the afternoon, R and I took in a late afternoon walking tour at the Cementerio de la Recoleta while C and A looked at arts and crafts on the Paseo de Recoleta in the upscale neighborhood. I had passed up a visit to the cementery on my only previous trip to Argentina since I didn't want to see all of the typical tourist sites, but I quickly realized what an idiot I had been when I saw all the wonderful statuary and mausoleum art in "este museo de los cuerpos" (museum of bodies). Historian Eduardo Lazzari, a radio show host and president of the Junta de Estudios Históricos del Buen Ayre, gave a great open-air lecture at the graves of various luminaries from 19th-century Buenos Aires history, focusing on the political wars between the federales and unitarios for a mere 15 pesos (~$4 U.S.). This turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the trip due to Lazzari's storytelling skills, obvious command of the material, and easy sense of humor. Even R, who's not a big history buff, walked away impressed. If you know Spanish and are considering a tour of the cementery, you shoud definitely think about taking in one of Lazzari's paseos históricos (the link I had for this doesn't work, but the talk was advertised in one of the Sunday newspapers). He drew about 50-75 people for this one, and many people practically mobbed him afterward to thank him for his efforts.

Mon, March 16: Is it too soon to talk about food again? After sleeping in late and playing with my in-laws' three totally lovable dogs, C and I shared some leftover sándwiches/sánguches de miga with my sister-in-law ("M-V")for lunch. We had bought 30 of these crustless sandwiches and two pre-fab pizzas from Sandwichería Espora in Adrogué the night before, and the 92 peso purchase (~$27 U.S.) was enough to feed several people for a few days in a row. I'm not sure I can explain what makes these predominantly white bread sandwiches so tasty, but they are moister than their U.S. counterparts and come in an astounding variety of styles: olives and egg (my favorite), salame, Roquefort cheese, palmitos (hearts of palm), etc. A must-try for any visitor to Argentina and a local comfort food with many vegetarian options. After M-V returned to work, C's parents took us to Quilmes, a city of about 250,000 also in Buenos Aires province, where C and her mom had some errands to do. I had passed up a chance to visit la capital on my own that day in order to to see what it was like in this smaller city, a tactical error of sorts since I'm not sure I'd really care to return to it. One interesting thing was seeing how many people were out and about at night in Quilmes' main peatonal (outdoor walking mall), an obvious difference from many U.S. cities where people seem to go into hiding as soon as it gets dark. Besides being famous for producing Argentina's most popular beer, Quilmes also boasts an old pizzeria, Pizza Los Maestros, which has been dishing out rustic pizzas for years and years. I tried an empanada gallega, a stuffed pizza featuring tuna, olives, and something spicy, and a strange-looking ham and hard-cooked egg slice that turned out to be super tasty. The cashier and at least one patron killed part of my pizza buzz by smoking in the restaurant while we ate, the first of a couple of times on the trip where the capital's no-smoking laws were ignored elsewhere in the province. Next up: my day in Palermo Soho. Still to come: book buying excesses in Bs.As. and a sunburn in Mar del Plata!

7 comentarios:

  1. CHORIZO!!!! I love that stuff. I debated weather I could smuggle it into the US last time we went to Spain...I figured the dogs would smell it :(

    They do sell it here in the US, but it really has nothing to do with the stuff they make in Spain.

  2. ps, I want to see some of the proof of those book buying binges!! (ie photos of piles of books??? :)

    Or I guess tons and tons of Argentinian book reviews would do too!

  3. Bethany: Until proven otherwise, Argentina and Spain are definitely the world champs of grilled chorizo (with all due apologies to Mexico, who make a fine breakfast chorizo that has nothing to do with the other types)! And "proof" of the book-buying binges will come shortly!!

  4. walking streets. Are you trying to make me homesick??

    I agree! when we came to the US and drove around at 9pm looking for a place to "pasear" we couldn't find anyone out! We were so astonished and couldn't figure out what everyone was doing in their houses and why they didn't go walking at night. In Zamora there is an excellent walking street bordered with stores and families walk along it greeting their friends and family and talking and eating "pipas"(sunflower seeds) the whole way.

    Oh, the days :)

    It is so fun to hear of your Argentinian adventures!

  5. Bethany, thanks for your comments! It's hard to explain it to people who haven't traveled to countries like these, but there's something invigorating about seeing entire families (adults and kids) walking about at all hours of the night. I imagine Italy's similar, but the paseo's one of the things I love most about Spain and Argentina for sure!

  6. Pizza Ranch Adrogue ( Av. Espora 1050 ) desde la Argentina agradece su deferencia.

  7. Estimados amigos de Pizza Ranch: ¡Hola! y gracias por comentar. Qué lástima que no haya una Pizza Ranch en EE.UU para comer ricas empanadas argentinas y tomar cervezas bajo un ciel albiceleste. ¡Saludos!