|The main hallway|
|They mainly specialize in furniture|
|Also light fixtures|
From time to time in my travels I come across events or things of interest that require a bit more explanation
than can be given in captions on the photographs etc. I decided to try and expand on those little write-ups
by intiating this blog site. As time passes I will add to it and provide references to the various photo
galleries that pertain.
If you scroll down to the bottom of the page - left side, you can line select any
previous blog entry that may stir your curiosity.
Back in the old days, I mean really "the old days", the gauchos (cowboys) from the surrounding ranch lands used to bring the cattle into the outskirts of Buenos Aires just as you might imagine they would .... in huge herds all walking from the finca (ranch) to the processing yards. As time passed, the trucks and trains began taking over that job. Little by little, the old way of life disappeared and was replaced by the newer and more modern ways of processing.
As this was happening, the city of Buenos Aires was growing. New housing and more factories spread out and eventually engulfed the area where the beef processing took place. That area became known as the barrio of Mataderos. A lot has changed since the old days and with that in mind, a few people decided that it would be a shame to lose the history and traditions surrounding one of Argentina's most prized resources, that being the growing and processing of good beef.
In 1986 these folks put together the "Feria de Mataderos". Now ... literally translated, it means Fair of Slaughter .. but to regard it as only that would be a dis-service. It is much more. The traditions, folks songs and dances, as well as the handicrafts and art work of the rural people in Argentina are very special and need to be preserved and kept alive. The Feria allows that to happen. Every year, on Sundays, the fair opens its doors (or should I say closes the streets to traffic) and invites everyone to the party. There averages some 300 stalls and booths selling the arts and crafts. There is a stage set up and bands play, groups sing old songs, and people dance in the streets. At various times during the afternoon and evening the gauchos appear with their horses and provide displays of riding prowess as well as demonstrations of the variety of skills that they need for working on the average cattle ranch.
Surprisingly, Gouchos are still employed on these ranches in the old tradition although do they augment the horse work and old methods with newer tractors and jeeps for use around the farm. They are very proud of their heritage and taking a day to go out into the pampas and watch the men at work tending to the requirements of the finca is an education in itself. A number of ranches make themselves available for visitations by tourist groups, as well as visits by local Argentinians who may be out for a day in the country.
We went to this weeks grand opening of the Feria for the 2012 season. There were a lot more stalls and vendors than when we were at the fair last year. However, the parillas (barbeques) were marvellous, the dancing great and this year the museum is open, having been refurbished during the off season. Very educational. For those who might be contemplating a visit to B.A., try to make it during a time when the Feria is open. It's closed mid December through to the end of March.
note: Cruise ships come in mostly on Sundays, and the fair is open on Sundays. Great fit for those who are interested.
For more photos go to http://globalodyssey.ca/p979078641
For those of you who think we exaggerate when we say traffic in BA is outrageous...
here you go ........ 21 buses in 1 min 15 sec.
I slipped "rico" into the title to this piece because, in truth, Recoleta is the rich and well-to-do area in Buenos Aires. This part of the city lies between Palermo chico and the central section of town that starts at Plaza San Martin. It's not a large barrio but it is the cleanest, neatest and most well kept barrio in the entire capital region. Along side a number of foreign embassies (the French embassy in particular) is one street corner that is now a shrine to the bombing of the Israeli embassy a couple of decades ago, as well as the residence of the Papal Nuncio (the Pope's representative) here in all of South America.
There are so many of the top of the line shops here that you can buy anything of first class quality, any of the top brand names, that you may want. And on nearly every block there is a shop specializing in Polo or riding gear. In these shops they also sell hand-made saddles, bit and tackle for the horsey set plus the required mallets etc for the polo players. I will not bother to mention the prices of all these commodities ... I'd have to work forever to afford just one day of shopping in this barrio.
Additional to this example of extreme "largesse" and retailing is the abundance of the best hotels in the Americas. There are a number of newer "boutique" hotels, as well as some of the grandest name places that date back to the mid 1850's. All have been refurbished and are prime examples of European architecture and opulence. I will not bother to mention also the standard of service all these shops, restaurants and hotels offer ... just bear in mind that it is commensurate with the wealth of the area and leave it at that. You have to know that this is a special area simply because there are more police cars cruising around Recoleta than in the entire rest of the city. The streets are pristine clean (no dog dirt on the sidewalks here) and streets cleaners are in evidence on every corner. I am told that only the wealthiest of foreigners and Argentines live here, as well as most of the government "power elite". They pay high taxes but they also get what they want .. which is a great place to live.
Recolata is also known for it's main attraction, the cemetery. This "dead centre of town" is impressive to walk through, to say the least. The entire history of Argentina can be experienced through the reading of the names on the crypts, family vaults and tombstones inside the walls. The church next door is small but really quaint and dates back a couple of centuries as well. The entire complex is well maintained and walking through the place seems like a fairly nice way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
The big drawing card for tourists to the Recoleta cemetery is the family crypt where the remains of Eva Peron are interred. After years of having her remains shipped all over hells half acre (she was originally buried in Italy at one point) she was finally returned to Argentina and placed in the family vault. But don't go looking for the Peron vault. Her original name was Duarte and she is in the Duarte family crypt. Hawkers at the entrance to the cemetery sell maps so the tourists can find their way but there are a myriad number of other names on that map whose headstones should be visited as well ... as I said, the entire history of Argentina wrapped up in one graveyard.
After a day in the tombs, you might want to go have a coffee at the outdoor patio of La Biela, one of the oldest coffee emporiums in the city. It rivals Tortoni's in popularity and is the outdoor version of Tortoni's indoor excellence. On Sundays, the hillside just outside the cemetery (Plaza Francia) hosts some 50 - 75 sidewalk stalls and booths where they sell arts and crafts made by local entrepreneurs. On a sunny afternoon, walking through Recoleta is well worth the effort. To quote (kind of) "Max" in the "Sound of Music" ... "I love rich people, I love how rich people live .. and I love how I live when I'm with rich people".
For more photos of Recoleta go to http://globalodyssey.ca/p1032724888 or http://globalodyssey.ca/p644098577
Tigre is not really a "barrio" like you would think. Most barrios are sections of the city, with housing and apartment buildings like you see in most other cities or like here in Buenos Aires. Most barrios are localized, with their own sports teams, favourite bars, etc. etc. Tigre is different. Tigre (pronounced "teegrey") is an entity unto it's own, primarily because of it's location and life style.
Tigre is the part of the greater Buenos Aires regional district but sits alongside and part of the Delta region of the Rio de la Plata. The town itself is on the edge of the city, at the confluence of the Rio Lujan and Rio Tigre, both of which flow into the Rio de la Plata. It is the northernmost section of the city of B.A. and from where we live (Palermo) it is a one hour ride by bus (fascinating way to travel) to get there. The bus driver on one occasion (we've been to Tigre a few times) asked us why we didn't take the train, as it is so much faster. I told him we had taken the train to Tigre once, but found we could see much more of the city and the people by taking the bus. He agreed and thought what we were doing was a good idea.
In Tigre, there are some interesting sights. They have a number of river-side rowing clubs, a full fledged casino/hotel complex and a couple of fairly nice coffee shops and restaurants. However, the big draw is the river delta area. On the various islands in the delta they have a wide variety of hostels, spas, B&B's, as well as some people's permanent homes. The folks from downtown come here for weekend "getaways", business events (at the conference centres on the various islands) or to vacation at their own little cottage.
To cater to all of these activities there has to be some mode of transport to get people from point A to point B .... and there is. In Tigre proper, alongside the Rio Tigre, there is a complex of wharves, docks, and jetties, and an entire system of river-taxis to service the islands. I have spent the better part of a couple of hours just sitting at the main pier watching people loading up their "goodies" onto the water taxi, getting ready for the ride home. Most of the taxi services also offer tourists rides through the delta and it is by far the most economical and enjoyable way to see the area. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the loading process, the dogs on the roof, the myriad water bottles, the food bags and luggage, plus people crammed into the interior of the boat, it all makes for a really interesting experience. What amazes me is that the boatmen know all the residents of the delta and where they live. As you wander your way through the river channels and side streams, they invariable pick just the right jetty to cozy-on up to and off load a couple of people coming home.
I spoke with one of the boat fella's and we had a nice chat. Seems that there are a lot of places on the delta that are owned by "town folk" from Buenos Aires. He didn't have too much good to say about them, as he thinks they are mostly '"transients". They may come for a weekend or a couple of weeks in the summer but for the most part their cabins or homes in the delta are empty. What a waste. Mind you, having seen the area myself and realizing how cool it can get in the winter months, I imagine that living in the delta year round is an experience you would only want to do once. As for me, I'd live there all summer and for part of the spring and fall ...... only coming off to visit the local golf course on the odd occasion.
They do have their own set of problems though. In some months of the year the tidal waters from the River Plate raise the level of the delta waters to the point that everything floods. All the docks that belong to the delta residences are water-borne, meaning they float. When the water rises, so do the docks. A local told me that it is not unusual that you go shopping in Tigre, take the water-taxi home, climb off onto you own jetty, then slosh through 2 feet of water along the path to get to your house. Which probably accounts for the fact that most houses in the delta are built on stilts.
I am also told that there are times when the power to the islands fails .. and it can be off for as many as 5 days at a time. In the summer heat and humidity, the last thing you need is no air conditioning for a week at a time. Very uncomfortable and you can trust me on that score .... been there, done that !
And one last thought ... what about garbage? They do have septic systems or chemical toilettes in all of the islands, and garbage collection is, once again, by boat.
In any case, taking a bus to Tigre and a boat trip through the delta is one of those experiences that you will remember for a long long time. Well worth the minimal cost (.50 cents for the bus & 8 dollars for the round trip ticket through the delta on the water taxi).
For a more comprehensive look-see at http://globalodyssey.ca/p883583327 or http://globalodyssey.ca/p421891063
It seems I have inadvertently started a string of blogs describing the various barrios in Buenos Aires (see San Telmo). I've had good feedback from people telling me they would like to see/hear more ... so I suppose it's "on with the show"
When I first contemplated coming for an extended period to Buenos Aires, I had no real idea of where I would like to be. I have stayed in "El Centro", near the downtown city centre, and in my other life (before retirement) was most familiar with Echeveria (the airport area) on the south west side. After much investigation, it turned out that Palermo Nuevo suited us the best. It has a plentitude of shops, green spaces and parks all over the place and best of all, is quite near the golf course. Perfect for us. We did the internet search exercise and found a place for 3 months last year and a different apartment (again in Palermo Nuevo) for 4 months this year. Obviously we like it here.
Palermo is one of the largest barrios in what is known as the Federal Capital Region and also in the province of Buenos Aires. The city is of the same name, which you already know, so you can imagine the "politicking" that goes on around here. In any case, Palermo is large enough that locals refer to various places in the barrio by location or description. There is Palermo Viejo (old Palermo) also known as Palermo Soho. There is Palermo Chico (little Palermo), Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Nuevo (new Palermo), and last but not least, Alto Palermo (high Palermo, also known quite simply as "Shopping") - the main shopping district with the Alto Palermo shopping centre (like Surrey Centre in Vancouver or Eaton's centre in Toronto) as the main attraction.
Palermo Viejo is a really neat area. There you can find a goodly number of furnished apartments for rent short term. There is also quite a number of youth hostels and B&B's advertized, so there is no lack of accommodation. The streets are all tree lined, the roads and lane-ways cobblestone in many places, and the number of good restaurants and bars in this area boggles the mind. There are also some of the best night clubs here as well, although many newer ones have opened recently in Palermo Hollywood.
Needless to say this area attracts the party goers, the younger travellers, and some folks like us who refuse to acknowledge our age or the passage of time.
Palermo Hollywood got it's name from the fact that it hosted a number of movie studios back in the early days. It too has it's fair share of restaurants, night cubs and tapas bars. It shares its unofficial border with Palermo Viejo and it's totally acceptable if you start the night out in Viejo and end it in Hollywood. All part of the fun & games.
Palermo Chico is the closest part of Palermo to the downtown city centre. By heading south out of Palermo you get into the barrio of Recoleta, which I will keep for another "spiel". In "Chico" there are many very posh apartment buildings, wide streets and what seems like wide sidewalks to match. The Japanese Zen garden is here, there are a couple of additional parks to wander through and one of the nicest golf driving-range complexes I've ever seen. Which figures I suppose. It is a wealthy area and hosts quite a number of foreign embassies, each in it's own what looks like a very old, majestic and imposing building. Except the Canadian embassy (of course). Very modest building, not big by usual standards, and as a citizen of Canada, getting in to see someone is nearly impossible. We tried. Ended up talking to a secretary on an internal embassy phone line. But I digress.
My Palermo is Palermo Nuevo (I mentioned that earlier) and I can't think of a nicer place to be. We have a huge park, with a lake, a large rose garden, walking tracks, all within a two blocks of our flat. There is also the Cancha de Golf Municipal de Palermo (the golf course), the Hippodrome (they have horse races on Mondays and Saturdays), and the main Polo grounds for the Argentine Polo Association (we started the 2012 season this month - games every weekend). There is a shopping centre (Jumbo) and a number of other stores and bodegas within a three block radius of where we are, plus a number of fairly reasonable restaurants along the streets surrounding our building. And to add to the ambiance, if you wish to go anywhere, the #34 bus line has a stop right outside our front door.
Palermo also plays host to the city zoo and a botanical garden that doubles as the central meeting place for all the stray cats in the city. They tell me there are more than a 1000 of them, and park visitors regularly feed them .. some cats even get to go to a vet if required. As I've said ... they really love their "mascotas" here.
There are many other barrios in B.A. Each has it's own personality and flavour ... but for total enjoyment and ambiance, I love San Telmo but prefer to live in Palermo. It is another of my favourites.
To see more of Palermo, go to http://globalodyssey.ca/p1031749601 or http://globalodyssey.ca/p937587588
As many of you may know, our apartment this year isn't quite what we expected it to be. That is worth an entire article on it's own but for now be content to understand that the front of our apartment faces another building about 30 yrds across the abyss and right between us is a new apartment building under construction ... which is where my story begins.
The methodology whereby apartment buildings get built in this city is somewhat different from other places. For one thing, they build entirely out of cement. Yes ... the outer walls, the inner walls, the entire building is made of cement. To hang a picture on the wall of your bedroom takes a mini jack-hammer and a cement strength nail.
The interesting thing is that all the water pipes and electrical conduits are buried in the walls. They literally carve out lines in the cement to install the water and electrical lines, then patch back over to make the walls flat. A plasterer will then come in and, by hand, completely plaster all the walls and ceiling to a flat surface, suitable for painting. The floors are cement as well (I know .. it's obvious they would be) and the norm is that they use floating floors made from manufactured flooring as the surface you walk on. Very hard on the feet I might add.
The building next to us has been in the process for at least 6 months and will be for another 6-7 months, according to the workers out front that I spoke with. They were very busy today, bringing in the water tanks that are installed on the flat roof of the building. They use small pumps to fill these tanks and the height above the apartments is used to give the water the pressure that is needed to service the individual apartments. Sometimes these pumps fail and there is no water pressure. Or, as in our case last week, the fill valve failed and the tank over-filled. We had water running down the stairwell from the 26th floor and I noticed it when I put out the garbage in the centre stairwell. We're on the 7th floor by the way. It flooded the elevators from above and all of them were shorted out for two days. It's been a week and the last of them are still not repaired. They had to rewire all the circuitry on top of all the elevators. We're just glad we don't live on the 23rd floor.
Anyway, back to next door. Today they were bringing in the empty water tanks for placing on the top floor. In North America, they would have brought in a huge crane and mounted it on the top floor. Hoisting up the three tanks would have taken an hour and it would have been duck soup.
Not here! Manpower works ! They arranged a series of ropes over the side of the building, had men pulling and towing and literally hoisted the tanks up the side of the building by muscle power alone. I had to hand it to them ... it worked. But they were sure tired when the last tank was finally up on the top floor.
I spent 10 minutes this morning just looking at the front of the building and watching while one of the workers was using a chisel to chip away part of the cement around what will be the garage gate opening. They are now going to put a "distressed brick" facade on the cement walls around the gate. I asked the fellow why they just didn't leave that part of the gate structure empty until they could use brick to fill it, and he didn't know why .. but that was just what the boss told him to do...so he was doing it. Go figure.
Having traveled to Argentina off and on since the mid '70's I learned a long time ago that things here aren't always what they seem. It is true that there was a military dictatorship back in those days and as often as I walked the streets of B.A. at that time, I had no idea that some of the worst atrocities since the Second World War were taking place right under my nose. Since those days, there has been a return to democratic rule, a war over the Falkland Islands (British held territory a few hundred miles off the coast) and a recession unlike anything experienced by any country since the great depression. Talk about a place of extremes. Argentina has gone through a hellish recent history .. not one I would care to live through.
I recently read a great book, entitled The Money Kept Rolling In (And Out) by Paul Blustein.
Here is what the reviewers said about his book.
This dramatic, definitive account of the most spectacular economic meltdown of modern times exposes the dangerous flaws of the global financial system In the 1990s, few countries were more lionized than Argentina for its efforts to join the club of wealthy nations. Argentina's policies drew enthusiastic applause from the IMF, the World Bank and Wall Street. But the club has a disturbing propensity to turn its back on arrivistes and cast them out. That was what happened in 2001 when Argentina suffered one of the most spectacular crashes in modern history. With it came appalling social and political chaos, a collapse of the peso and a wrenching downturn that threw millions into poverty and left nearly one-quarter of the workforce unemployed. Paul Blustein, whose book about the IMF, The Chastening, was called 'gripping, often frightening' by The Economist now gets right inside Argentina's rise and fall in a dramatic account based on hundreds of interviews with top policymakers and financial market players as well as reams of internal documents. He shows how the IMF turned a blind eye to the vulnerabilities of its star pupil, and exposes the conduct of global financial market players in Argentina as redolent of the scandals - like those at Enron and WorldCom - that rocked Wall Street in recent years. By going behind the scenes of Argentina's debacle, Blustein shows with unmistakable clarity how sadly elusive the path of hope and progress remains to the great bulk of humanity still mired in poverty and underdevelopment.
Everything that has happened here since those days has to be taken with due consideration to the "melt-down' that occurred back then.
Argentina now has the modern day version of Eva Peron, in the form of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, running the government. At the moment, the Fed is spending more on its public programs and social reforms than it has money coming in. So what is the government doing about it?
In the last three months, the government has enacted a number of laws limiting the access or use of foreign currency (read as being U.S. dollars) such that the Central bank retains the reserves in U.S.$'s that it needs to carry on business. So yesterday the Congress enacted a revision of the Bank Act that now gives the Federal govt greater access to the Central Banks reserves. In this way the Federal govt can spend the money in the reserve to maintain their social services and stay in the good graces of the lower middle class and lower class folks (of which the overwhelming majority of Argentines are).
Along with this little fiasco, the Feds, who used to be responsible for the subsidies to the bus services and train services around the country, have pawned off (by act of Congress mind you) the bus and train service here in the Federal Capital region, to the city. The city mayor has already had to assume the responsibility for the subway because of a similar rule change by the Feds going back to last month. As a result, the fares for the train will probably go up 125%, the bus fares from 1peso 25 to 2pesos 75, and the subway is still an unknown .. they haven't quite figured it out yet. At last count, the mayor has approached the Supreme Court here for an order to stop the transfer .. as he knows it's just a way for the Feds to sluff off the financial responsibilities for maintaining that transportation system to someone else.
The Feds have also started a program of reducing imports by requiring a special clearance to import any foreign made goods. Licensing is required. All this to protect the manufacturing industry here in the country. Sounds like a plan, except that the locally manufactured goods (of any sort) are of lousy quality and even the local Argentines don't want to buy them .. they much prefer imports, even at greatly inflated prices ... which, of course, leads to inflation. The consensus seems to be "buy it now .. you may not be able to find it in the future". So there is a bit of a push by the average guy to spend more than he should on things he might not be able to get down the road. And for good measure, the banks are now starting to offer mortgages ... at over 9.5% interest. Private consulting firms have pegged the annual inflation rate at over 28% ... so the govt decided to fine those private consulting firms upward of 500,000 pesos ($125,000 U.S.) if they issue reports that differ from the govt report stating inflation at 9%. How sweet does it get?
Again mind you .. most people here don't have loans or mortgages. They have such a distrust of banks (since 2001) that most transactions are done in cash ... which is usually in U.S. cash I might add. Not all of it is declared. I was recently made aware of the fact (by an American who sold his apartment here) that even the banks are involved in somewhat risky (read illegal) money exchange programs. The govt's Internal Revenue Service (the AFIP) has a separate Bureau de Denuncias with it's own private phone number and you can make your worst enemies' life a private hell for the next 5 years by phoning in an anonymous complaint that he is taking payment in American dollars but not declaring it. Additionally, if you are an Argentine travelling abroad and wish to use your bank card to access local currency, you have to have an American dollar account here in Argentina to effect the exchange or your card won't work. That way the govt can keep tabs on how much in the dollar reserve cash fund is actually leaving the country. I was also told that the fellow selling his apartment made an additional $15,000 U.S. on the sale, having done the money exchange under the table.
If you read back to the events of 2001/2002 and before, you can see the gist of that history happening all over again. Too much government spending to fund social programs (so it can stay in power), not enough revenue coming in to fund the programs, dipping into the countries financial reserves to keep those social programs going, money restrictions to keep the foreign currency reserves that it needs to gain loans from outside sources, assets fleeing the country via underground methods (vast amounts of money and company offices are moving to other parts of the world), the list goes on. And pretty soon they'll be needing the help of the foreign banks to keep themselves afloat in the sea of debt.
But this time, no one will help, not if they're smart. And eventually the events of 2001 will repeat themselves. It has to happen . It's destiny.
I've spoken with a number of locals, both the wealthy and those who are not so much so, and they all say the same thing. You get used to it. Every 10 years or so the country goes through a massive financial upheaval, then things get better, then things get worse .. it's a cycle that everyone is aware of and that everyone seems to take for granted. As this "formula" works it's way through the various levels of " governmental non-performance" the rich get richer .... and do it on the backs of the poor and disadvantaged. Totally unfair ... but what's the alternative? I have no idea ... maybe a benevolent dictatorship ... but they tried that and it was a disaster. Perhaps finding a few good men for government offices, ones that aren't corruptible and who can't be bought off ... that might work. But go ahead ... find one. I dare you. In a land where family honour and reputation seem to be of ultimate importance I can't fathom how there can be so much corruption in the government ranks. It boggles my mind.
So what are we left with? Next year it will be worse than it is this year. And this year is worse than last year by a long shot. I will not be returning to Argentina for next winter. I know if I come back it will be more costly, more things will be harder to come by and more people will be unhappy. More strikes for higher wages, more social unrest and possibly more military interference to maintain law and order .. sound familiar? History repeating itself.
it just bothers the soul out of me to see such a wonderful country, that has so much to offer, being raped and pillaged with such regularity by people who have more money than god and still want more ... and are willing to get it by ruining the lives of so many others.
But this is just my opinion ..... and, as always ...... I could be wrong.
For anyone who might be interested, I thought I'd put in a few words (well ... maybe more than just a few) about food shopping here in Buenos Aires.
To begin with ... it is not true that you can't find a lot of things from North America or Europe. If you know where to go you can buy anything that you want. It's the finding where it is that can be trying at times. So I'll start at the local level and go bigger and better as you read on.
There are an abundance of small local corner stores (or mid block stores) where you can shop locally for groceries. They sell the usual "in season" produce, basic canned goods, paper products & cleaning supplies (toilet tissue, kleenex, ... that sort of thing) and a few hardware items - batteries, plasticware, etc. The stores are usually operated by non-Argentines and are not particularly friendly or clean places to shop ... but they are certainly handy and you can't go a block without running into one. They are open at all times of the day and night, and every now and then you can find a real bargain price-wise or some very rare thing that you couldn't locate anywhere else. Prices reflect their convenience factor ... higher than many other types of stores.
Along with these "corner stores" there are quite a few small produce stores as well. They are run by local Argentines who have the connections with the outlying farms and they offer all manner of vegetables that you already know about and some you may not be familiar with. When you go to these places, most will not let you actually pick the item you want. You have to tell the server what you want .. and he/she will pick it out of the basket/barrel/box for you. In our experience, this means, along with the good stuff you may get a couple of whatever you asked for (carrots, onions, beans, etc) that are rotten or unripe or "buggy" .. and you end up throwing some away when you get home.
They do have the most wonderful "juice" oranges here that you'll find anywhere. They are sizeable and really sweet. A couple of fresh squeezed oranges will fill a glass and really set up your breakfast. During the day, if and when you go downtown, you can see street vendors with their little pushcarts that have a press mounted on the front and they sell plastic glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice to passers-by. 5 pesos ($1.25) buys a nice tall glass .. and in the middle of a hot afternoon, it's great.
Moving up a notch in the scheme of things, there are also a few "chain-stores" that are similar to the Max stores or 7/11 that you know about. SuperMercado and Maxi-Kiosco are two of the more well known names. They are similar to the "corner stores" I spoke of above, but most are clean, neat and tidy, well laid out and the service is better. They are a little pricier, but they too have the odd deal if you know what to look for.
Something to note. Every store ... from the corner store to the most expensive and largest brand name places (we'll get there) all have huge wine and liqour section. All stores sell booze over the counter ... no govt outlets here. And some of the wines (especially the Malbecs, Merlots and Cab/Sauv's from Mendoza region are really cheap but really good. Imported alcohol is outrageously expensive but liqour made in Argentina is cheap. A locally produced 750 ml bottle of Vodka is 19 pesos ($4.74) vs $23 in Vancouver, not to mention the $200 bottle of a decent single malt scotch ($60 in the liqour store in White Rock).
Now we come to full-fledged grocery stores. DISCO and COTO are a major names here in Argentina and they do a phenomenal business. The COTO we go to seems to be always very very busy. That is not hard to understand, as their prices are usually reasonable and they let you actually do the "touchy-feely" thing with the produce .... so you know you're not getting ripped off. They have yoghurt here that is really good as well, seems creamier than most I've had before, and one of those little containers (breakfast sized) costs about .50 cents. The only draw-back with any of these stores is that, on any given day, they may not have the one or two items that you really want. Inventory isn't a high priority and people just put up with the fact that the store may not have something today ... but maybe tomorrow ?? We'll have to see.
And now for the full-meal deal - the big box stores - JUMBO and EASY. You usually find them together, in the same big building, and it appears they are the combination of WalMart and Home Depot, on a slightly smaller scale. They are definitely not Costco. You can see from the photos the difference here from other stores.... and the prices reflect that change. We mentioned to an acquaintance one day that we had to get something at Jumbo and the reaction was "oh .. thats where the rich folks shop". Maybe so ... but they have virtually everything and their booze department makes any liqour store in Vancouver look like a poor cousin. EASY is the associated hardware store but not quite the same as a Home Depot. EASY doesn't sell a lot of what you'd expect. You can't buy a standard household extension cord for the living room .. or a kitchen knife sharpener. They will sell you a blow-up air mattress though, but they don't sell batteries for flashlights. Odd ?
We have made two discoveries since we've been down here. The first actually came from last years visit. We found a bodega under the train overpass near our place that has an amazing stock of deli style canned and packaged goods plus an equally amazing wine cellar. We buy our wine here. They offer all the major brands and some others that don't travel at well but are still marvellous. We've been buying a brand of Malbec called Atilo Avena. It costs 24 pesos a bottle and is excellent ... as good as some of the 40-50 peso wines. At this bodega the deal is .. if you buy 6 or more bottles you get 25% discount. That brings the price down to less than $5 a bottle. It would be very easy to become an alcoholic if you weren't careful.
We've also found a store in our local Chinatown that has the freshest fish you can imagine. Argentina doesn't have a sizeable fishing industry (no real continental shelf large enough where fish can live) so they import the fish for this store from Chile. The Pacific Salmon is wild and wonderful, and the prices are a bit higher than at home, but lower than most other places.
We have discovered that under certain circumstances, paying the higher price at JUMBO or COTO is worth it .. if only to reduce the frustration by not having to go to 6 stores to find 4 things you might need .. time is money and my time is important to me. I don't want to waste it hoofing it from place to place looking for something when I know where I can get it .. even if it is slightly more expensive. And knowing your prices is definitely mandatory. On any given day, the prices at every store will fluctuate and various items go on sale as loss-leaders. We've found some excellent price reductions simply because we know what we're looking for and how much it costs elsewhere.
COTO and JUMBO by the way offer home delivery for your groceries. Provided you buy more than about 150 pesos worth (+/- $40) you can have them deliver your bags to your house or apartment. The cost in most places is a mere 15 pesos ($4) but for really big loads, they charge more. How much bigger a load has to be I don't know but I have seen people in the line in front of me spend 700 - 800 pesos ($200) for two full shopping carts and the store charged them the same 15 pesos for delivery.
And a last comment about prices. Inflation here has been around 28% over the past year. Every time you to go into a store, things are more expensive. Prices change weekly. Generally speaking, you can find fairly good groceries for a fairly reasonable price .. some things are totally unreasonable. Fruit is quite a bit higher cost than in Vancouver. Some vegetables are a lot cheaper, and meat is usually a good buy as well. Bread products are right up there and dairy (milk, cream, cheese) is also a high cost item. Soap, toilette paper and kleenex are also all more expensive. Our best guess estimate is that it costs somewhere around 20 % more to do the grocery shopping here than in Canada.
We were in town today. Went to the Air Canada ticket office to buy some tickets on LAN airlines. Turns out you can't do that here. You have to buy them outside the country or buy directly from LAN, at a much inflated price. Wouldn't have mattered anyway .... as the gal we spoke with explained .. the company gave the office a brand new computer system that is the state of the art machinery. No printer to go with it. The old printer won't print the ticket stock anymore as the interface is all wrong. They're back to hand writing tickets for the time being. So much for progress.
But I digress. On the way to that office we ran into a huge traffic jam. Absolutely chaotic! .. and with no end in site. We ended up walking and came to a major intersection in the Av 9 Julio. Seems there were some 5-6 groups of protesters there, with placards, drums, chanting, marching and generally being a pain in the butt to everyone. They stopped traffic and humanly barricaded the main street in town and wouldn't let any vehicles pass. The police were there and just left the protesters alone do their thing.
I looked around and it seems that one group was protesting how long it took to recover the last dead body (3 days ... a young man in a rear car) from the train wreck at the Once train station last Wednesday. 51 people died and over 650 people injured when the train ran into the barricade at the end of the track in the station. Seems the train failed to slow down and each of the cars imbedded itself into the car ahead - like an accordion I guess you could say.
The teachers here are on strike now, protesting the low salaries and poor working conditions. In most cases they are justified, especially when you consider that the parliament (congresso) just voted themselves a 100% raise and won't offer anything more than an 18% uplift to the teachers - and with inflation reaching 28% as well.
And of course there is the army. Seems during the war over the Falklands (Malvinas) Islands the real army was sent to do battle and they conscripted a lot of men into the army to replace those that went to fight. The conscripts who stayed in Argentina, never went to war and were released immediately after the end of hostilities are now demanding the same degree of medical/retirement compensation as those regular force men who actually fought and stayed in the service for a career. The govt is telling these guys to pound sand .. so they are protesting.
The protesters seem to gather numbers like wind gathering leaves. When the word goes out that there will a protest, everyone makes a day of it .. they bring the kids, Dad takes a day off work, Mom makes a picnic lunch and they all go to the event. It's party time for the most part .. as long as it doesn't get out of hand.
Eventually this will all blow over, but then there will something else for people to get upset about and protest and rally and block traffic etc. etc. etc. There always seems to be a tempest in a tea pot brewing somewhere.
As Rose-Ann Rosannadana used to say ... "There's something ....... there's always something"!
I went to the Polo grounds this afternoon. In fact, the polo grounds are a block and a half away from where I'm living. It's a huge complex ... hosted the world championships last fall ..... teams came from all over.
I knew nothing about polo until this week. I did know that Prince Phillip played it at one time, as did Prince Charles. I'm told that neither of them were really any good at it. I was not aware that, of the worlds best players, the top 7 come from Argentina. I suppose they can be critical if they want to ... experts usually are.
I was also made aware of the fact that some of the best horses in polo are bred here. They throw crosses between Thoroughbreds and the local Criollo blood lines or Thoroughbreds and derivatives of the American Standard quarterhorse ... although the Argentine Criollo seems the preferred choice. There is also a big debate on where the Arab comes into the breeding picture .... but this was all news to me ....?
For those who might wish to know, Polo is a team sport. Four players a side, they play 6 "chukkers" of 7 minutes each. There is a short break between each chukker and a slightly longer one after the third (mid game). The object of the exercise is for each team to use their mallets to drive a white plastic ball (originally made of wood - but the wooden ones split up all the time) between the goal markers of the opposing team. Highest score at the end of the game wins.
Sounds simple. Not !!!
There is a finally honed set of rules that also seem simple in their explanation because there are so few of them ... but they are hard to follow. For example, a rider can hit the ball forward or back and the line of travel of the ball becomes what you might call the line of pursuit. The player hitting or pursuing the ball must keep the line on his right and no other player can ride over that line in front of the player pursuing that ball. A following player can ride off the pursuing player by having his horse push the pursuing rider to the side (something like boarding in hockey) but can only approach the pursuing rider at less than a 45 degree angle.
With all 8 riders and horses milling about the field, and pushing and shoving each other around, you can imagine how hard it is to actually play within the rules, ... and the rule above is only one of a number of rules that they have to know.
Each rider has a menagerie of horses, I counted 8 for one rider this afternoon. You can tell which horse belongs to which rider from the colour of the leg wraps (protective wrapping around the lower leg area).Each rider has his own colour for each match. These horses have to be the 100 meter dash experts of the horse world. They start and stop on a dime, rush forward at an incredible speed then come to a grinding halt in less than 15 feet. They pivot, spiral, back up, move directly sideways, all by the touch of the riders knees and heels. It's amazing to watch. But in the afternoon heat (it was low 30's today) it's not long before the ponies get overheated or winded.
As soon as a rider senses his horse is tiring he immediately heads for the sidelines (no time is called....play continues) and he will do a quick swap with a groom holding his "stand-by" horse. The remount is already exercised and warmed up to go into the game so there is a minimum of lost time for the player. A player will go through all of his horses in 3-4 chukkers and needs to ride with the knowledge that he has to preserve the horses for the last half of the game. It's all very technical ... and watching the grooms and trainers prep each horse in turn and have it ready for when the player needs it is watching poetry in motion. It is a finely organized ballet, quite similar to the pit crews in a formula 1 race, only these guys do it with horse flesh.
All these horses are raised and living on "estancias" out in the pampas region of Argentina. Bred specifically for polo, they are trained by professional trainers and as their training progresses, so does their value. It takes nearly 10 years to "finish" a horse, that is .. have the horse fully schooled in all the things his rider needs him to do to play the game with any hope of showing well.
As you can well imagine, this sport is expensive. I play golf .. new clubs can be pricey. I used to ski ... new skis can be pricey, but the expense for "doing polo" requires an entirely different set of financial numbers. A separate income based on owning a few oil wells would probably help. Just the salaries for grooms, stock men, trainers, drivers for the horse trailers ... the list goes on .. is immense. Add to that the cost of stables, tack, farm and grazing land, run-ins and corrals, etc .etc. Well ... it adds up.The afternoon I spent at the polo grounds was among people who have more money than god !! And they looked the part. There is a lot of money here ... old money ... from families that have been part of the power structure for generations. And they are the ones who, for the most part, support the sport here in Argentina. There are quite a lot of very recognizable sponsors as well, so money for the sport doesn't seem to be a problem.
For more photos regarding my "visitation" to a world I can never be part of please see
For more on the sport of polo please refer to the American web site
It's in English and gives a good description of what's what with the game.
“If Buenos Aires was once Paris, the Palacio Paz is the clearest example of this.” This is the quote on the homepage for the Palacion Paz, and is a perfect description for this beautiful palace. It was built by the Argentine diplomat José C. Paz, who lived in Paris for a number of years. The designs came from French architect Louis Sortais, and most of the building materials were imported from Europe, and the result is that the looks as though it were taken right out of Paris and transported to Buenos Aires.
The palace is quite stunning inside, and still contains all the original furnishings. It is definitely worth a tour if you have time while visiting Buenos Aires. Tours are about about 1 hour long, and are offered in both English and Spanish, though the English tours are only twice a week. The tour goes through the major rooms, explaining what they were used for, and you will also learn about some of the art. The tours are very well-done, and it gives you a fascinating glimpse into life of the upper class Argentines in the early 20th century. There are not self-guided tours allowed.
Bottom Line: Definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in seeing one of the most ornate palaces in Buenos Aires, and learning some Argentine history while your at it.
Palacio Paz Circo Militar (Plaza San Martin), Retiro Av. Santa Fe 750 Consultas 4311-1071 /79 int. 147 [email protected]
An amazing place. It reminds me very much of the Palace of Versailles outside Paris.
The palace here was given up by the family (the Le Paz family) in the late 1930's because it became too expensive to maintain and operate. They had over 60 people as servants and maintenance workers ... to keep a family of maybe 8-9 people (the family members) in the throws of absolute luxury. The association of retired military officers bought the place and have maintained it for the last 80 yrs. There are apartments for the retired military folks (daily rental - like a mens club actually) plus they also allow rental of the other areas of the palace for weddings, family reunions, etc. etc. The tours also play a part in generating revenue to offset maintenance costs.
I have walked by this place on many an occasion in the last two years but had no idea of what was inside. I thought it was owned by the Federal government and was some sort of military office set-up ??
Anyway, here are just a few photos from todays excursion.
Here in Buenos Aires people have a love affair going on with their "mascotas", aka family pet (dogs). Everyone has one, and living in such a "high-rise" dense area is not a deterrent. I've seen everything from a St. Bernard to a Chihuahua coming out the side door of apartment buildings. In fact, most buildings in BA have rules that you must use only the freight elevator if you are taking your dog in or out of the building.
You would think that somewhere along the way, with people having to work so hard to earn a living, that the dogs social life would suffer. Not So!
When the local economy went down the toilet in 2002, some enterprising young folks started to offer their services as professional "dog walkers". Here they are called "Paseadores de Perros" and in the last 10 years they have elevated the job to a prestigious art form. Having a dog walker take your pet out on a daily basis is not only good for the dog but has definite "snob appeal" for the owners, and that too is important as most of the folks in this area are upper middle class and fairly "class conscious".
The walker will come by to pick up your pet in the morning (and leaves the remainder of the pack tied up down stairs while he's doing that). He will comb the neighbourhood for all 10 - 15 dogs in his list and then scoot them off to the local park for a couple of hours. The dogs get to run free or are tied up to a favourite tree while the walker commiserates with all his dog-walker friends. At the noon hour he returns the dogs to their homes and sets out to gather up the afternoon group for a repeat of the morning session. Some "walkers" are doing so well that they can afford mini-vans, which they use to carry the dogs to and from the parks.
In all the times I've watched this process happen, I have never noticed any pack of dogs fighting amongst themselves or offering any resistance to the walker or passers-by. 99% of the dogs seem quite well adjusted and socialized. Mind you, I love dogs .. and the dogs know this, ergo I've never had a problem with any dog ... so maybe my observation in this regard is biased.
Walkers do good business, all things considered. I had to ask to find out and was told that a good walker can get 20-30 clients a week and will charge upwards of 500 pesos a dog for a months worth of walking. They walk each dog once a day, usually work 2 - 3 shifts a day, with weekends and holidays off. 20 dogs a day works out to be 10,000 pesos a month. That works out to about $2500 a month U.S. (and they will gladly accept payment in U.S. dollars preferred).
People take their dogs with them everywhere. These two were waiting very patiently for their owner to come out of the local COTO grocery store and take them home.
They paid no mind to anyone else, in spite of the fact that they were blocking the main entrance and customers had to step over them both coming and going.
One of the great things around Buenos Aires is the "coffee shop" life style.
They have a variety of coffee shops on every block, usually occupying
the corners of most streets .. you could compare them to British style pubs as they are so numerous ... and they do serve alcoholic beverages if you ask for one.
Usually asking for a coffee at 11a.m. or 1:30 p.m. is enough. They'll bring out the nicest smelling espresso (or a "cafe double" if you want a bigger cup) and then add on as part of the service a couple of small glasses of water and a plate of these little sweet "nibblies". It's hard to describe them but they usually compliment the coffee quite well. The ones at the side are called "media lunas". They're actually mini-croissants with a sweet honey type coating.
You can sit outside at one of the sidewalk tables, read a book, listen to your walkman, most places now have wi-fi for your computer .. and no one asks you to leave, no matter how long you stay. It really is relaxing and a great way to spend a couple of hours in "down time"if you having nothing pressing to do. Also great if you're a people watcher.
We were in the north end of Palermo/Belgrano one day and came across this coffee shop on one of the street corners along the main drag. We sat outside and had a coffee and jamon y queso toastado (ham & cheese toasted sandwich - very thin). Was very good .. but it was the ambiance and look of this old shop that caught my eye more so than the coffee. Really old, really unique and a perfect place to spend a couple of hours.
|The main hallway|
|They mainly specialize in furniture|
|Also light fixtures|
We are into our second year here in Bs.As. and are using the local public transport service frequently. I am very pleased to tell you it is something to be experienced. In Argentina "collectivos" are actually the big city buses and how the system operates needs some explaining .. but let's start with the taxis first.
In Bs. As. there are more taxis than there are people. The city is renown for the black and yellow taxis that prowl the streets at all times of the day and night. The "radio taxis" are the certified cars and charge the correct fare on the meter. The ones that aren't "radio" are not certified so can charge different rates .. usually a lot more.
You hold up your arm and flag one down when you want one. The driver will flick his lights on and off to indicate he saw you and then pull over and stop. They have a lighted sign on the front window to tell you if they already have a fare. You tell him where you want to go, he goes there, you pay and get out. It's just that easy. Best part ..... it is cheap, cheap, cheap.
You can drive for half an hour for about $6 - $8. So far so good. The only thing is you have to get used to driving with a Formula-1 racer. These guys drive at breakneck speed, change lanes without signalling, dart into side-streets and merge at 60 mph into main thoroughfares, all without looking for any conflicting traffic. Amazing to me that more people aren't killed by these guys while they are standing on a street corner.
And they fight with the buses for the best pick-up points on every street. The bus drivers hate them, but surprisingly enough, they seem to have this "code" worked out with horn beeps that lets the other guys know who's going where and when. They actually signal each other to let the buses go first or taxis go first, and in that way seem to stay out of each others way fairly well.
There is another type of taxi that is slightly larger than the small originals. They are called "remise" and charge the same fare when you flag them down .. but they can take larger bags, more trunk space, etc. They usually use them out at the airports or main bus terminals and train stations for obvious reasons.
There must be 120 bus companies in Buenos Aires, or so it seems. These companies bid for routes within the city and outskirts. The winning companies are expected to service these routes as often as possible without losing money. If they can't do it, the route will go to the next bidder. Each bus company has it's own special colour scheme for its buses and some are quite pleasant to look at. Some are totally otherwise, especially on the inside (dirty, poorly maintained, etc). You can never tell which bus line you will get at any given stop because the city allows for 2 or 3 different companies to operate on the same routes. Competition runs rampant.
Although these different bus lines do compete for passengers, the bus stops are staggered along the way so that no one company gets the lion share of the business. And the passengers seem to know which bus line has the good buses (the air conditioned buses) and of course that's the bus stop they go to. At some point (usually toward the city outskirts) the routes the different buses follow will vary, so it basically comes down to how far you want to go and to what part of the city you're travelling.
As an interesting aside, the bus lines seem to send out two buses on the same route at the same time. The drivers play hop/skip, and each takes a turn at going first and picking up at the next stop. They swap lead enroute to the next pick-up point and in this way, as one gets full, the other bus picks up at the next stop.
When the lights turn red, all the traffic (and there is a lot of it) will cozy on up to the crosswalk lines as if they are waiting for the starters gun. The traffic lights in B.A. turn yellow before they go red like at home .. but also turn yellow before they go green, as a warning to pedestrians. The drivers know this ... so it's "gentleman start your engines". Once the lights go green, the race is one and any one not on the sidewalk by that moment better be running .. these buses wait for no man. Cars that get in the way also run the risk of being somewhat insulted by the horns and whistles of these super large racing machines.
This fellow better be running ... right now!
The buses are so many and so frequent that waiting for one is never a problem ... maybe 5 minutes at most. As you can tell, jockeying for position to get to the curb for the next stop can be a problem but these drivers seem to manage it quite well. They move in and out of traffic, block off other vehicles, dive for the bus stops at breakneck speeds, slam on the brakes or gun the engine to pull away from the curb .. it's quite the experience. The key to success as a passenger .... sitting or standing .. hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
The buses are not limited to the main roads, even the larger ones drift through the side streets with what seems to be an acrobatic capability. I have come to respect the drivers of these machines to a fairly high degree. They manoeuvre these ten ton behemoths with such skill and dexterity and all the while carry on conversations on their cell phones, listen to walk-man music or solve the nations problems with any passenger willing to engage them in conversation.
Liniers runs the local service in and around Palermo and to the west of city centre. The buses are clean, neat and tidy, the drivers seem courteous and we use his bus a lot to get to our favourite restaurants in Palermo Viejo.
OLD VETERAN OF THE MILK RUN
The Sube sign in the window is the newest form of payment system here. You have a credit type card and get it loaded (pay for a credit on the card ... like a Tim Hortons coffee card) at the local post office or other affiliated stores. When you get on the bus, you tell the driver where you're going and he puts the fare into the computer keyboard. You hold the card up to the sensor and it deducts the fare from your card total, then tells you what is left. No coin required. Dead easy !
They also have the elongated (or "extended") buses on many routes. Depends on the traffic and passenger loads.
The amazing thing about this system is that they move some 1-2 million people a day into and out of the city. The federal govt recently turned the subway system over to the city, and the city immediately announced it was increasing the fares over 125%. From 1peso10 up to 2pesos60. Riots and strikes followed the very next day. The issue has still not been resolved but the city put a hold on fare increases for Sube card holders as a concession (I think) to keep peace for the time being. The new fares come into next month so it'll be interesting to see.