It is a great relief that I booked my flight out of Buenos Aires to southern Patagonia before I had arrived in this great city. The simple reason being that if I had not, there would be a very real danger that I might never leave.
I could happily spend the entire two and a half months which I have allotted to explore South America just wandering the streets of this captivating capital. I could wile away years ambling among her tree-lined avenues, admiring her crumbling grandeur, breathing the scent of a thousand roses which adorn her luscious parks, lounging outside her bars and cafes and dining on steaks of such succulence they bring tears to the eyes.
Buenos Aires is a city to fall in love with. A city to be seduced by. She is the city that produced tango for God’s sake, need I say more. A dance so sensual, so erotic, it is the closest that thing humans have yet to sex in dance form.
Buenos Aires takes elements of all the great European capitals, Paris, Madrid, Rome and mixes them with her own distinctive South American flavour to create a city unlike any other.
Imagine Paris with palm trees.
In this way Buenos Aires is the architectural manifestation of the people who live behind her towering facades. The Argentinians are a population of self-proclaimed “immigrantes”. They came from Italy, Spain, Poland, Russia, Wales, France and more to settle the fertile land around the Rio de la Plata. Each nationality contributed their looks, ideas and cuisine to the cultural melting pot that is Argentina. While boasting a strong national identity and rightly proud of their country, most Argentinians will happily tell you how their father arrived from Poland shortly after the second world war and their mother’s parents had arrived from Italy a couple of decades before that. Many are still first or second generation immigrants.
The only group noticeably absent are the native Indians who inhabited this land before the arrival of the Spanish, who were almost entirely wiped out.
This mixture of cultures is what makes Buenos Aires so alluring. She is a city of contradictions. She combines proud tradition and high culture with a healthy irreverence. Buildings of Parisian splendor are liberally decorated with colourful street art. Tango shows are advertised in some of the city’s grandest theatres but can be seen for free on the streets. The city is peppered with imposing historic buildings and monuments and yet her history as the capital of a unified country stretches back a mere two hundred years and few buildings precede the 20th century.
Buenos Aires, despite evoking a bygone era, is actually a very young city.
Most importantly, Buenos Aires is great fun. The porteños, as her residents are called, are incredibly charming. They are cheerful and engaging and ever ready to help out a dusty traveller trying to navigate their enormous city. Just a few words of Spanish will elicit a broad smile and often spark an impassioned explanation of where to find the best “carne” in Argentina or why they still universally worship Eva Peron. I watched an elderly man break down in tears as he recounted Evita´s untimely death from cancer at the age of just 33.
They are people who are willing open their hearts to strangers and after all, why not, they have nothing to hide.