3 February 2020
Why is Buenos Aires so much like Paris?
Walking through the antique cobbled streets of San Telmo, the boulevards of Palermo and the cemetery of Recoleta, the immediate impression of Buenos Aires is “this is Paris!”. A fellow traveller at our guesthouse had the best response to the belle epoque chateaux and art nouveau shopping arcades – “that’s the point.”
Buenos Aires emerged late in South American history. Unlike other capitals built on indigenous empires or colonial fiefdoms, the port city of Buenos Aires was founded on the mouth of the Rio Plata to export silver mined up-river in Bolivia. This successful commercial foundation led to a vigorous and confident city that – despite periodic economic ruin – remains the case today.
Barrios of Buenos Aires
Choose your barrio carefully in Buenos Aires. We stayed in the bohemian quarter of San Telmo and were treated to evenings of tango on Plaza Dorrigo, a delightful parade of restaurants and bars along Avenue Defensa and an antique bric-a-brac market every Sunday. We always felt secure. We then moved across to Avenue 25 de Mayo in the Centro and the streets were grimy and unsafe and the restaurants unsavoury. Go to Palermo during the day for beautiful gardens and shopping, and in the evening for trendy bars and restaurants; go to Recoleta to glimpse how the super-wealthy live (and get buried) and the best museums; and go to Puerto Madero for some maritime history, open space and more good restaurants.
Opera in Argentina
Teatro Colon is considered to be the best opera house in South America and to have one of the best acoustics in the world. On a tour of the theatre we had the pleasure of hearing a member of the group, a British mezzo-soprano, sing for us and the sound was rich and crystal clear. Theatre Colon was built in the 1920s, later than many of the grand public buildings in Buenos Aires. Because of this, the theatre’s eclectic mix of neo-classical French, Italian Renaissance and rococo embellishments had a feeling of gluttonous ersatz that, like the Vienna Opera House, is completely forgiven when feasting on the magnificent, theatrical result. Highlights included the theatre dome, the grand staircase, a hidden gallery for widows to hear the opera unseen, busts of the great composers and the most comfortable theatre seats ever.