Buenos Aires Neighborhood Blitz

by Keith Savage · 21 comments


Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo

La Boca. San Telmo. Microcentro. Recoleta.

The neighborhoods whistled past me as Marcello crammed more sights into six hours than my jet-lagged and exhausted body was equipped to withstand. I soldiered on, determined to shake the culture shock by immersing myself in it.

Into the taxi and then out on to the Caminito, a series of pedestrian streets in La Boca girded by buildings in primary colors as if a giant painter’s palette had crashed onto the neighborhood in a beautiful accident. There was daylight, so it was safe to wander past the sizzling curbside asados and trinket vendors. Touts hustled to get us seated at their cafés where contrived Tango shows were ongoing.

The waning sunlight sent us off to San Telmo where the cobbled streets, profuse graffiti, and barred storefronts creates an atmosphere of foreboding. While it’s true that my friends witnessed a machete attack thwarted by a handgun (gun always beats knife) in Plaza Dorrego the previous week, the neighborhood has a homey essence. We hoofed it through beautiful blocks, life’s wear and tear visible in the crumbling and overgrown facades, to the presidential palace.

From the presidential palace we entered the Microcentro, a place that could have existed in any big city. Money does something to blur culture, to dull its critical imperfections. Wide streets and narrow pedestrian walkways crossed each other in the presence of swanky resto bars and ubiquitous convenience stores. Everyone walked with purpose and their goods clamped tightly to their sides. As a cool breeze blew through the streets, vendors sold wares along the sidewalks hoping to catch some trickle-down pesos.

Another taxi and we stood before the walls of the Recoleta Cemetery. I don’t understand the point of being dead in a gated community, but this city of mausoleums was striking in its grandeur. Tightly-packed and lavishly-designed stone houses were filled with the remains, in one form or another, of the city’s wealthier inhabitants. A horde of cats caught the final sun rays of the day as they languished on marble plinths and small patches of grass. A woman fed a phalanx of curiously plump cats.

With each successive neighborhood, I could sense us climbing up through the economic strata. Buenos Aires is an enormous city, but this blitz made me curious to know if the average porteño’s day-to-day life was confined to a much smaller region. The neighborhoods flickered past me like the photos in a family picture album. It was not enough to understand the innumerable buried stories and complicated social relationships, but it was plenty to pique my interest and wonder.


LauraNo Gravatar November 28, 2010 at 6:39 PM

I really want to visit Buenos Aires and have heard they have a lot of neighborhoods!

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ClaireNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 6:32 AM

So happy to read this post! Glad you are there and soaking it all in. I am especially interested in these updates-considering heading to Argentina this summer.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:41 AM

I’ve got more topics to write about than I’ve got time right now, so expect Argentina-related posts for the next three months.

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AndiNo Gravatar November 15, 2010 at 9:55 PM

Soooo which barrio was your favorite??? You didn’t visit mine! Palermo Soho 🙂

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:32 AM

I visited Palermo Soho last Thursday when we went out. Of the limited places I’ve seen, I enjoyed San Telmo the most.

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ayngelinaNo Gravatar November 15, 2010 at 8:02 AM

Wow you have packed in so much so soon, looking forward to the rest of your thoughts on Buenos Aires.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:36 AM

It’s been a busy week – no question. I need to slow it down and find a rhythm in Salta now.

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StephanieNo Gravatar November 15, 2010 at 5:25 AM

Curious plump cats = parasitic intestinal worms

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:10 AM

The thought that crossed my mind was that perhaps they were having lunch in the mausoleums…

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LeslieTravelNo Gravatar November 14, 2010 at 11:09 PM

Great photos! This post brings back memories of Buenos Aires.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:12 AM

Thanks Leslie, I’ll be putting up photo galleries when I get a faster internet connection, possibly once I return.

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The JetpackerNo Gravatar November 14, 2010 at 5:29 PM

The cities along the coast are the wealthiest. The further you move inland, the poorer it gets. Except La Boca. That’s an anomaly. A bright yet scary anomaly.

Too bad you’re missing out on all those wonderfully inexpensive steaks.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:13 AM

I’ve had my share of beef to this point. 🙂 I know I’ll be crucified for this, but the steaks haven’t blown my mind…

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Chuck ClaytonNo Gravatar November 14, 2010 at 5:01 PM

I have been to Buenos Aires twice. San Telmo is a must see. Also, if you like tango dancing, even if you don’t dance it, take in a show or two. They are incredible.

Best,

Chuck

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:20 AM

I want to get back to Buenos Aires on this trip to learn more about Tango. The people I spoke to said Tango is really just for tourists.

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Chuck ClaytonNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 10:38 PM

Keith,
The tango is really a small part of Buenos Aires, however many of the people who dance it take it very seriously. It is definitely not just for tourists.
The people who say it is just for tourists are unaware of the depth of it in the culture.
Best,

Chuck

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KenNo Gravatar November 14, 2010 at 4:56 PM

Great to see pics of the city. Sounds fascinating and worth some of the bumps along the way. Glad that you seem to be enjoying the sights and despite a hectic schedule still finding time to blog.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:26 AM

The balance between doing and blogging is tough to strike. Luckily, blogging helps me decompress so it’s actually something that I not only want to do, but need to do.

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AudreyNo Gravatar November 14, 2010 at 12:05 PM

Wow, talk about a busy first day & diving into Buenos Aires! I met for lunch with a Porteno of not very high economic status when we stayed in Buenos Aires earlier in the year. In a culture where your social status and family name still matters, she said that people are heavily judged by where they are from, their neighborhood. She explained that she had found a way to “register” herself in a more “posh” neighborhood so that employers would take her more seriously and was already noticing more positive replies from job applications. Think this is more common than not in many parts of the world…

Enjoy Salta! It’s a wonderful town. Really loved the feel of the city and found locals to be really friendly and open (more so than in BsAs).

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 7:29 AM

Very interesting story, Audrey, and it seems to backup what I’ve thought.

I’m just starting to explore Salta now!

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