Thursday, March 14, 2013

Buenos Aires continued

George who knew so much
     After walking the city neighborhoods we ventured out to the island city of Tigre by train, accompanied by George an American/ Argentine, who found us in the Recoleta cemetery and has been very helpful in many a way since with info and ideas. He booked us a tango show, but about that adventure a bit later.
train interior on a quiet day
     We boarded a train that was looking dilapidated and in need of paint, but we found it pleasantly air conditioned. The one hour train trip would have cost 6 pesos per return ticket, but as George mentioned because he uses a preloaded government issued card the cost was now only 3.6 pesos. (or 21 US cents). He intimated that the government pushed this discount system, because in that way the government could trace movements of the people (the big brother watching you scenario).
     In Buenos Aires pedestrians are the least protected class of all the traffic categories, so crossing a road is as dangerous as roaming the forest during hunting season. But when we arrived in Tigre 35 km away from BA, we found that pedestrians here are the top category, put a foot off the walkway onto the street and cars come to a screeching halt.      
     We were told that the city was so safe, compliments of the very popular mayor, that a kind of housing boom has occurred in Tigre, where the best schools are found in the country and where the city is one big wifi free zone all over town.
     The lure of Tigre for tourists are the "Islas" at the confluence of 5 rivers coming from the pampas into the Rio de la Plata, the BA estuary into the ocean, creating a silt plateau of thousands of little islands, dotted with modest weekend homes to mansions occupied by people like Madonna.
gas station for boats
water ambulance
grocery boat
jump on board for school
     This maze of 250 sq km's spider webbed waterways, hosts schools and rowing clubs, union vacation complexes, churches and boat ambulances and water taxis as well as garbage collection barges and grocery boats that ply the waters surrounding this community of "isolationists". 
restaurant on an island
     Tigre gets its name from being the hunting grounds of jaguars in the early days. It is the source of timber. It is also a fruit port as many orchards were or are found on the islands.
     The first habitation of the islands occurred when wealthy Buenos Aires residents or portenos fled the city during an outbreak of yellow fever in 1877.
cane canapes
     We had a 2 hour water taxi ride, that George organized seeking out very narrow water inlets with a few feet of depths for our boat to traverse, where cane plants made a canapĂ© of shadows for us to glide under. Eels, otters and 

quiet shallow waters with eels galore
beavers habitat these waters and silence is omnipotent.

     We had an all you can eat buffet in the casino for $13 each and saw again first hand, how the elderly waste their pensions on slot machines owned by the politicos in this country of graft and greed.
accordion and viola
these did not need high splits
     You cannot visit Buenos Aires without seeing a Tango show. Tango originated here in the late 1900's with accordion and nostalgic songs, a repetitive beat, a strong 2 by 4 rhythm almost flamenco styled, with dancers in a chest to chest embrace in high speed, knees brushing each other as they throw up their legs. Women have high split dresses so that they can go places with their legs that almost seem impossible.
fast and furious
     We were collected from our respective hotels or homes and brought back afterwards. We were fed a three course acceptable dinner, while watching a film on the history of tango and its unchallenged master singer Carlos Gardel. When he died in a plane crash in the late 1920's, women, who never met him, all over Latin America committed suicide.

you can see we arrived
early at the wine club
     Since wine is the other notable element of Argentina, we visited a wine tasting event hosted by a wine club, whose owners hoped to ship us some cases of wine as a result of a very informative lecture and wine sipping sessions with paired foods.
Malbec is well known around the world. We learned also to appreciate white wine by the name of Torrontes and got to hear about the different wine regions.
     Meeting some other tourists at our table was a pleasant extra, allowing the sharing of stories and eventually the sharing of emails. All in all we will remember BA fondly.

Buenos Aires

     Walking through Recoleta Cemetery I realize, that on this square lot of 550,000 sq ft with more than 4,800 vaults, which are privately owned by the privileged families of Buenos Aires, (although they still need to pay their annual fee based on lot size), that unless the government gave you and your descendants the family grave, wealth is a prerequisite.
     The ones that are in default of their annual fee find the remains of the family removed and re-interned in a nameless grave. So better be sure to avoid such a shame and try to sell your vault, some of which can hold hundreds of full sized caskets, for the "modest" amount of several hundred thousand dollars to over 10 million dollars. And we talk US dollars.
     We found that if you want to buy a car or real estate, the full purchase price must be presented at closing in US dollars. There are no mortgages in Argentina. Banks have stopped changing pesos into dollars. You have to own a foreign bank account if you want to access your own dollars. The official exchange rate is 5 pesos to the dollar. But the "blue rate" an interesting word for black market transaction, is this week AR$8 plus to 1 US and if you google older documents: on January 31 it was AR$ 7.92 and in July 2012 it was AR$ 6.21 to one US dollar.
     The government declares the inflation at 11% and thus monthly adjust incomes at that pace. The real inflation runs around 25% I am told. People prefer you paying in US dollars, reason why Recoleta cemetery lots are priced in US money.
     6 Million bodies are interred here and anybody, who was anyone can be found here. The reigning government party (there are only two parties in Argentina: peronistas and radicals) is maintaining the graves of their aligned dead and ignore the graves of the other side till governments change.
     Of course we had to see Evita's grave. Our guide told us, that the military leader who exiled Juan Peron, "exported" Evita's body in secret to an anonymous grave in Italy. After Peron returned from his exile in Spain, he tortured the general till he talked and gave up the Italian location. As a gesture of "gratitude" Peron notified monthly the family where they could find a body part of the general. It took more than a year to collect all body parts.
     We saw a vault that also serves as a private chapel for the family, where they hold Sunday mass with their family priest. We saw a cupola vault with a pure golden roof, and amber vases built into the pillars as well as pearl and nacre ornamentation, held by a family that made their money in ways US capitalists can take lessons from.
     One vault had a seated husband looking high over the cemetery. With her back to him sat his widow, who had requested this particular position as "she did not wish to see the son of a bitch". Only one vault had a woman laying above all the men in the family, since she left the family in this country of machismo 11 billion US for the privilege of rubbing her place of honor into the rest of the family's pride.
     Our little apartment is on the 9th floor overlooking the cemetery, and in the vanishing light we see in the distance the cruise ship terminal. The Recoleta neighborhood is a well to do crime free area, although to cross from that neighborhood into the cruise terminal area, you would have to pass through one of the worst slums in Buenos Aires or in the world for that matter, where people kill their mother if necessary for 10 pesos to buy crack cocaine.
    For those of us, that roam the nice parts of this 14 million citizens capital, admiring the Paris-like Haussmann type buildings, the grand boulevards, seeing the hustle and bustle of dog walkers (13 dogs on 13 leashes with an experienced guy in the middle)
or a man on a stationary bike sharpening knives peddling hard to turn the sharpening stone, or watch demonstrations from unions stating "keep your dirty hands of our jobs", while demonstrating against foreigners "stealing their jobs", veterans of the Falkland Islands war, who demand pensions and war injury compensation,
 30,000 taxis roaming the city for customers, we revel in its beauty. We find queues of people waiting at buildings, where they pay their electra, gas, self employment tax or city rent.        
     All this and more sights create a sense of wonder, as we see how Argentines cope with life, high unemployment, daily changing prices, as a result of rampant inflation and still exuding pride, machismo and dignity.
     A famous saying is in answer to the question: how does an Argentine commit suicide?: "He jumps of his ego".
     The terraces are filled with coffee or ice cream consuming Argentines, as if all is well in life. It seems that every apartment has a balcony and every corner outside seating. Living is done outside with other Argentines and the stories of the day are first and foremost on everybody's  mind. (like an Argentinian Pope for example)
     All in all we enjoyed this first encounter with Buenos Aires and we look forward to the days to come. And to my Dutch friends: every Argentine we meet needs to ask us about Maxima and whether we adore her like they do for having snagged a crown prince. Many of them mention that Prince Willem married a strong woman, as if he needed one.