The Romance of Cuba has been left in the 1950s, circa 2008, whilst Buenos Aires beckons, with the pointed red fingernail of a porn star…
Landing in BA
My first day in BA was spent in the equivalent of landing in some dodgy hotel in Kings Cross – no, worse, maybe Aldgate East – trying to ignore a raw smell of sewage in the hotel BA had “kindly” put me up in, and wondering how I would eat anything at all in a land where Meat Reigns Supreme. Truly. Even McDonalds didn’t do fish or veggie burgers – and I did try for fear of venturing too far at night in an area full of cheap shopping deals, and cheaper women……No, “La Once” is a district even the cab driver warned me about as I ventured from the airport, wondering why on earth anyone would choose to stay there. My explanation about some free hotel deal with BA perplexed him. “I will take you to another cheaper hotel, linda (no, not a new name for me, just a word meaning beautiful and the local equivalent of saying “pet”), but one in an area – how shall I put it – less “ugly””. But, no. I stayed in La Once and at least now I can say I have experienced it, never to return there now I am safely ensconced in Palermo Viejo…
Still, there is no getting away from the fact that the flight, if comfortable, was very long indeed.When we landed at BA (most of the flight having disembarked at Sao Paulo), it felt as though I had arrived at the end of the earth – so far from everything. There was but a handful of international planes at the airport and it made me realise that BA ought to be a desolate outpost, but it somehow has pretensions beyond itself – a bit like Stockholm I think – practically at the Pole but still walking with a swagger!
Landing in BA airport felt like a culture shock after Cuba, where material goods just can’t be found. Here, I seemed to have landed in a paradise of Mamon with high class duty free being sold at you before you even collect your bags off the carousel. It was busy, thronging and with the big city feel, so different to Habana. No, this is a McDonalds land where the USA is worshipped at first glance.
The absolutely beuatiful Customs official winked at me, whistled me through as sexy as can be, even though I had incorrectly filled out my form – but that has been it so far as sexy men concenred on day one. Different from Cuba, perhaps rougher round the edges despite the air of sophistication.
So, well, today – my first full day here – has been much better. I watched some very random Anthony Hopkins film from my sewer room in the red light district last night, and then bounced up early for breakfast, which I then immediately decided against since the sewage smell was still bounding around the breakfast room. I coulnd’t understand how everyone merrily sat munching their medialunas (croissants) and cafe con leche….Still, I had to fill 7 hours until I could collect my keys for the flat in late afternoon on the other side of town.
RECOLETA AND THE SPA
So, skipping breakfast, I commandeered a taxi to take me to Recoleta which is the Knightsbridge of BA where I had booked a leisurely spa treatment at the Palacio Duhatt Hyatt which is the equivalent of the Berkeley in London. Frankly, with about 30 hours of flying across the atlantic in about 4 days, I really needed some pampering and, still working in pesos cubanos, I balked at the prices there but then began to put it in perspective. Yes, it was very expensive for BA, but this was my first day after the first bad day, and I needed some serious loving. Oh and did I mention the non stop rain since I arrived….so BA was going to need to take care of me. And, so I went to the spa, soaked my aching body in a burning hot jacuzzi and sauna, had a gentle swim in a 20m sunken marble pool, had my treatment and then wandered up to the beautiful Louis XIII lounge for coffee and lunch of divine fresh fish ceviche, with little macarroons for afters.The bill came to £10 so for one of the most pricey places here, it wasn;t too bad. Plus I sat under a 3.85m chandelier that used to belong to Tsar Nicholas II which was unbearably stunning. I sat there for 2 hours until the rain stopped and then decided to find somewhere cheap to do a pedicure since I did not think the fashionistas of Palermo Viejo would think of much of my chipped coral toe nails.
Ah. Big Mistake. Lesson One. Do Not Stay in the Red Light District of a New City, or any city come to that. Lesson Two. Think twice before paying £2 for a pedicure where there is a lot of waxed hair lying in the hot wax bucket…But, of course, I had not seen that before I agreed to the woman getting her hands on my feet, so to speak. So, when I peered over the top of my Elle Argentina edition, I was not too gratified to see metal tools digging around my cuticles, apparently unsterilised. Too late to move, I just have to hope I haven’t contracted some revolting foot disease or worse. Can’t think about it now.
Since the rain had temporairly, it gave me a chance for a stroll through the area, near the famous Cemetry where Evita Peron is buried (that is a tale I shall wait for until another day): I began to realise that these other sides of BA could grow on me, however much they aspired to the mother European continent, and before I knew it, it was time to hop in a cab, avoid the endless quest of the doorman at the rank hotel I was staying in to get me to agree to go dancing with him (otherwise I would “break his 20something heart”) and get to Palermo Viejo, the chic new area where I was supposed to spend the next month…
Ah yes. Breathe. The plan is back on track.
The flat is divine. Perfect. Luminous and white with marble floors, a lovely open plan kitchen (where I am currently rustling up some delicious aubergine and tomato dish slowly as I sip my first glass of Malbec), beautiful bathrooms, a huge table to eat and write upon and the mother of all sunny balconies. The building also houses a small rooftop swimming pool and deck, a sauna and a parrillada (an argentinian BBQ) where in due course we can shimmy shoulders with the residents of this block. I can’t see much reason to leave either the flat or the area for the next 4 weeks, though I suspect I ought to go and have a gander at the Casa Rosada.
I had a mini wander around the area, to discover a great little fruit and veg shop around the corner ( where I bought loads of everything including great big bunches of basil and parsley to decorate the kitchen for £1.50 altogether), a massive supermarket just 3 blocks away, a cool video store in front and lots of local little cafes everywhere. The flat is on the corner of Palermo Viejo, the chicest part of town but slightly outside the media-insanely-cool parts of Palermo known respectively as Palermo Hollywood and Soho. However, the flat is but a short stroll away whenever I shoudl feel the need for achingly cool bars and cafes. Apparently there is even a decent Indian restaurant somewhere in these parts..
So, as Saturday night draws in – with the portenos (as BA residents are called) beautifying themselves for a night out, as nothing starts til about 1am here, I sit with real satisfaction on my big white sofa, laptop in hand, glass of malbec on the side and dinner steaming away, hoping for a few hours’ inspiration.
This was the Buenos Aires I was looking for. The calm of my own apartment, as though I had always lived here. The vibe of a nieghbourhood, distinctive, safe and fun. Happily, I don’t stand out in the streets here and only my Spanish accent gives me away – apparently it sounds Cuban….The BA accent is an Italian-sounding soft Spanish where j/ll are pronounced as “sh”.
Shhhh. here comes the Night.