Part 1: Argentina

Now that I’ve talked about the wonderful recent events in Chicago, I’ll resume my posts about my recent travels to South America. I spent about five days in Peru and then we flew even further south to Buenos Aires. I love the city. I find it to be like a second home for me (or third after London). Back in graduate school, I briefly lived there for a month working on my Spanish. I was glad to be back in this marvelous city and really tried to relish in all of it. I’ll spend the next few days talking about the many things that I did in Buenos Aires.

On our first day, we went to the Plaza de Mayo to go to the Casa Rosada, or the Pink House. The Plaza de Mayo is the main political square in the city. The Casa Rosada sits on side of it and is the Argentine equivalent of the White House. It’s the seat of Presidential power, though I don’t believe the president lives there. Political protests take place in the Plaza. When I was there in 2007, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo marched every Monday afternoon. At the Plaza now, black barricades shared space with protest banners. There’s a memorial to the dead from the Falklands’ War (or War of the Malvinas). It’s a fascinating place that is a must-see for all visitors to the city. Just be careful. When I was in Buenos Aires in 2007, I remember seeing police bringing in water cannon tanks for a protest.

Casa Rosada and barricades, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Casa Rosada and barricades, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Recently, the Pink House started allowing tours of the building on weekends. So naturally, on the Sunday, we ran over there to get a tour. It was worthwhile. Before the tour, you can wander around in the hall of Latin American patriots. It included famous Argentine presidents and other politicians, generals from Latin America, and more. There was Jose Marti, Che Guevara, Salvador Allende, and many others. To participate in a tour, you have to wait in one line to get a ticket, and then in another line for the tour. Since we needed some English-speaking tour guide, we actually got to jump the line. Our guide switched back and forth between English and Spanish.

The tour is fairly comprehensive. We got to see the receiving area for visitors to the Casa Rosada. It’s a beautiful blue room with paintings by Argentine painters on the wall. Later, we actually get to go into the President’s office, which is really exciting. You don’t get to do that on the White House tour. We only got to be in there for a second and sadly (though understandably) we were not permitted to take photos. The room is not huge but with wonderful wooden furniture.

It’s a fascinating building where each room has historical/political significance. One room contains artifacts from indigenous tribes in Argentina. Another room is dedicated to the gauchos. There is a cabinet containing silver gaucho paraphernalia, a giant mural of gauchos, and more. There are several hallways of famous Argentines, from sports stars and musicians to fictional characters like Mafalda.

What struck me the most was the hall of scientists. In a room next to the famous balcony where Eva Peron addressed her crowds, there are portraits of famous Argentine scientists with a brief description of their work. So cool. It impressed me since I don’t think there would ever be an equivalent here in the White House. If only. Also, it is a fairly prominent room. It’s not tucked away in a dark part of the building.

It is also really neat that the press room is dedicated to the famous women of Argentina. There are Eva Peron, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, and female writers, artists, and movie stars.

Hall of Women, Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires

Hall of Women, Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires

There is a special thrill getting to stand on the balcony facing the Plaza. It’s where Eva Peron addressed the crowds. So cool to get to be there.

There is also this incredible room called the Gold Room. It is very French inspired with gold ornate moldings, high ceilings, mirrors, and more. We learned about the Argentine coat of arms, which definitely tips its hat at France. There are two hands embracing, representing the unity of the provinces that make up Argentina. There is a stick with a little hat on it. The stick represents the strength/defense of the nation. The hat is the Phyrgian cap popular in France during the Revolution. It symbolizes freedom. Underneath the hands, stick, and hat, there is a laurel leaf represents triumph and glory. Overlooking it all is the sun from the Argentine flag.

 

Gold Room, Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires The seal is in the background.

Gold Room, Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires
The seal is in the background.

There are many myths as to why the seat of power is the Pink House. Our tour guide explained the most plausible one to him. Moisture from the Rio Plate is an issue so they used cattle fat to insulate the house. The cattle fat had blood on it which mixed with the white paint to turn the house pink.

After the tour, we decided to check out the San Telmo market. It’s only on Sundays and is located in one of the older parts of the city. I went once when I was living there and had very fond memories of it. There was a religious procession for some saint, which was really cool to see. People carried the saint on their shoulders. There were several bands playing with musicians bouncing bandleons on their knees. There was even a marching drum group. And artisans surrounded us selling their craft. This time, it was a bit disappointing. There were no processions nor musicians. There were singers but it wasn’t the same. Most of the vendors sold more touristy items. I did find some good deals but we didn’t stay long.

On weekends, there is also a wonderful market at Recoleta. The area is known for the cemetery, which is really worth going to. It is the most valued real estate in the city. Anyone who is anyone is buried here. Eva Peron is buried there but it’s a bit of a challenge to find her. To call it a city of mausoleums is not quite accurate. It’s a city of the dead where each building is its own architectural wonder. There are miniature churches, rotundas, even a pyramid.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

The market outside the cemetery is also full of artisans. It’s a better market with interesting crafts like masks, glass animals, and more. There is a hill in the middle of it where musicians, dancers and other artists perform. It’s a lovely market well worth checking out if you are in Buenos Aires on a weekend.

That’s all for now.

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