Argentina

If you cut me now I'd bleed Malbec - Bye Bye Buenos Aires.

My final weekend in Buenos Aires is spent in a whirl of smoke...( – yes i'm smoking again when drunk - an ominously titled brand of cigarettes called "Next" - Next what? Next stop the cancer ward?)... Steak and wine. 

My skin is finally staging a protest at the cow, caramel and carb diet. The whole of my lower chin feels like its hardening into one big spot. Nice. Its time to ship on out and get somewhere hot for a detox. 

Nico and I go to the Feria again at San Telmo – the antiques fair that happens every Sunday and have Choripan. It's another Argentinian speciality - a large bbq'd Chorizo style sausage served sizzling in a bap - delicious. We go to La Poesia one last time and then back to the room.

It's all unbearably sad - saying goodbye. I wasn't expecting to fall for anyone so soon into such a long trip. We are staying at AyresPortenos - on Peru and Chile in San Telmo. Another hostel - but mainly frequented by South Americans. It's pretty - in the communal areas they have decorated the walls with the old fashioned illustrative art style of B.A Fileteado. Its another type of street art - that uses bright colours, enamels and motifs such as scrolls and flowers. Like Tango it was developed by Italian immigrants and is used to decorate everything from vehicles to street signs. It looks a bit like the font and art style used in fairgrounds...They also have some 3d La Boca -esque caricatures hanging off the walls. 

La Poesia

 


In the room there is a little balcony with shutters overlooking the street lamps and cobble stones of San Telmo. Its very romantic if it weren't for the fact that the room smells of dead bodies. I cut an orange in half to use as a makeshift air freshener (yup that's right - survival skills Ray Mears would be jealous of) but unsuprisingly it doesn't work. I request a room change the next night from the earnestly bearded Receptionist Izkiel. 

Nico announces he won't kiss me anymore because he doesn't want to think that every kiss may be the last. (Very Latin American...) And then – an hour before he has said he will leave, he goes. It happens so quickly I'm taken completely unawares and even though he does come back – for one final kiss and to tell me that I "need to go show the world how beautiful I am" - it is still so sudden I fell in shock. I go onto facebook and write– "if you cut me now i'd bleed Malbec." 



I've tried to read a little of Argentina's most famous author - Jose Luis Borges - although the selection available in translation for Kindle is limited. But this particular quote resonates right now: 

Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time... 

Then I make pasta and sleep for three hours in a cold room and a big, empty bed.

Soho, Santa Fe and so long Surfer Host, B.A Argentina

Wake and must find both vegetables and fruit before my internal organs shut down. I feel a little guilty but I leave Mattias to his own devices and discover a cafe on Corrientes that does a Carribbean breakfast of fruit and yoghurt – bliss! The cafe (and indeed the city) is filled with impeccably dressed little old couples holding hands. The men are in suits and hats, the ladies with pristine blowdries and make up. I think of my dear Susan – who I can imagine growing old with her lovely husband Martin, tottering around the city in fashionable good taste. 

Suddenly an eggy wave comes over to me and I suspect the old couple in front of me of farting. Hmmm suddenly they seem a little less sweet! 

Later that evening Mattias and I do a little walking tour of Palermo Soho. Like Soho's everywhere its one of the most lively, fashionable and touristy parts of the city. The main plaza is called Cortaza after the poet and filled with market stalls. Its circumference is surrounded by little clothes shops, bars and restaurants with the main street that leads up to it – Jorges Luis Borges. 

By 8pm i'm absolutely famished but of course its still too early for Mattias so we go on another long walk down to Santa Fe and finally make it back to an iItalian restaurant around 10pm. I have home made orrchiete and its good. We sit and discuss politics once more and he shows me a youtube footage of the Bolivian president playing a friendly game of football and kicking the mayor in the shins. We talk about Venzuela's President Chavez and how mad he is. He has gone on air to say that eating chicken pumped with hormones can turn you gay – and that capitalism is responsible for wiping out life on mars. 

Extraordinary....and i thought David Cameron was bad... 

I pop out for a drink with a guy who has contacted me via Couchsurfing. He's sweet but coming up to breast level he looks a helluva lot older and shorter than his profile. We share anotherr Picadie of cheese, ham and other non vegetable based carbs... 

It is time to bid farewell to Mattias. He has to leave early for work and I must negotiate and navigate my backpack -or The Bastard as its now affectionately known on rush hour buses and the Subte – the Metro. Only problem is – I can't find my knickers. Somewhere in Mattias flat is a dirty pair of knickers. Oh god – how cringeworthy. I scour the living room and bed area. Finally I rush back into the bathroom and see them lying, slightly sodden on the bidet. I have a feeling he has put them there. For the second time I think...AWKWARD!

Congress, Divine Comedy and Palacio Barolo in Buenos Aires

That evening I meet up with Nico again and we go look at the Congress - where parliament convene. A beautiful and intricate wedding cake of a building. Then we decide to descent Palacio Barolo on Avenida de Mayo – a neo gothic building based on Dante's Divine Comedy. The entrance hallway is supposed to represent hell with its stucco dragons keeping guard. 

After six flights of stairs which leave us both wheezing we get to the rooftop and sit inside the lighthouse whilst the tour guide (in brown fedora and white shirt) explains the mechanics and its representation of God and Salvation. We are able to move out onto the stone balconies and see the views over Buenos Aires. The sun is just setting casting the sky a delicious cherry pink.

In the distance Avenida de Mayo lights up a runway to the Casa Rosada where the government reside. The building also bright pink - it used to have flesh coloured walls from the paint they used that was mixed with animal blood. Now they light up the building a bright hot pink at night so it looks more like a gay discotheque. I don't know why they don't just go the whole hog and add a mirror ball. 



Somehow I can't imagine Cameron agreeing to stay in a building that looks like Barbie's boudoir. 

We also pay a visit to the second most beautiful bookshop in the world (as nominated by The Guardian.)

It's been created on the site of an old theatre and has two semi circles of books and shelves lit up. Nico is disappointed – thinks it looks better in the photos -but I like it. What's not to like about a pretty bookshop... 



At around 7.30 we go to a cafe. “what are you eating?” I ask Nico. 

“i don't know maybe a croissant “he says. I think – that's very light for dinner...then it clicks. We aren't having dinner yet – we are having a pre dinner meal to tide us over until about 11pm when we will sit down properly to eat. Oh God. At about 9pm We go for steak and wine and have a traditional asado (argentinian bbq) ... 

"do you want to share any vegetables?" I ask. 

"No" 

"What are you having with your meat?" 

"Meat. When i'm eating meat, i'm eating meat." 

It's a wonder any one lives past thirty in this city. 

Later in the cab he looks so sad I say – you are a typical Porteno aren't you...malbec,...malborough...malaise. We are a sad city he says. Nostalgia....tango....he just looks like the saddest song that hasn't been sung.

The next morning and I wake up thinking about my moral compass. Its in perfectly good working order I decide..its just happens to have different settings to everyone else right now... 

I rush out at lunchtime to find a tango lesson with a teacher that has contacted me via facebook. I arrive at Palace Barcae at 2pm and realise I have got the time wrong – the lesson is this evening with real live orchestra followed by a Milonga – (where the class ends and you can stay and wait to be asked to dance by a man) - in a lovely old fashioned dance hall. 

I wander around the palace anyway as the building is beautiful and cool and dark. Low slung chandeliers and deep recessed fireplaces and a leafy shady courtard just off Avenue Cordoba. 



I go get a manicure and ask for the only colour I know how to say in Spanish – Rojo. 

Back at the hostel I meet Tracy – a very laid back New Yorker. "Vegetable Gate" has reached crisis point – if I don't eat something green soon I think i'll contract scurvy. Together we go in search of supermarkets and the little vegetable and fruit shops that line the road. We make a salad together. It is the best salad i've ever tasted in my life. 



I meet Nico at around 10 and we go to see a local band play. He's a music journalist for the newspaper Clarin and has recently interviewed The Ting Tings who are also playing tonight -however they've only sent him one ticket rather than two – because - he thinks – they didn't like his review. So we go see a band in a local music club which features the drummer from La Bomba- a percussionist and drumming performance piece that's popular with locals and tourists and takes place every Monday night. 

We eat empanadas, drink red wine out of tumblers and kiss. Its perfect

Les Jardins Botanical, its B.A Bitch! and a kiss.

This afternoon I decide to find some greenery to sooth my troubled soul. I visit the Jardin Botanical – its lovely, shaded and cool. I'm dying to know the names of these trees. Its so peaceful in amongst all the dirt and diesel of the city - a tranquil little oasis scented of wooded earth and deep dark green ponds with long limbed white statues. I like the statue of a girl in the middle of one such long pond. I think its because (and i'm fully aware how ridiculous this sounds...) she reminds me just a little bit of me.... 

I wander back up Jorges Luis Borges to the Plaza Seranno (or Square of ham - or Cortaza the main square of Palermo Soho) and finally find a clothes shop with some decent fashion (south america is a little behind London - actually the more i travel the more i think that London is at the forefront.) Its called B.A Bitch and I find a pair of black /jeggingy leggings ( a travel essential.) 
 


Somehow along the way the sticker attaches itself to my arse – I am officially the B,A bitch! 

Later Nico and I meet up with the group of British guys again and we go for steak and wine and then more wine. I find myself comparing myself to other younger women. Its sad and exhausting. Although maybe a by product of seeming to only date men under thirty! 

I shake the malaise and later when we kiss he says: Its like a multi sensory experience, when I kiss you its your scent, your perfume, the way you feel, the way you look - all of it combines to make a multi sensory experience. I suspect Argentinian men may be slightly better at the language of lurve than the Brits. From past experience I think the English equivalent of that is: You smell nice tonight love. 

At the hostel we say good night (its 4.30 in the morning) and later he reveals he waited outside for another half and hour to see if I will come out on the terrace...to wave to him. I don't have the heart to tell him that at pushing 40 I ain't no Juliet. Its verging on stalkery – like those guys that you find out have been watching you sleep all night...but hey its also kind of romantic....so I go with it. 

Another 3 hour sleep and I am woken by a 19 year old Chilean girl heffalumping around the room. What is wrong with the youth of today!? Whey don't they want to lie in. You know that saying – you never regret the sleep that you didn't get...well I bloody will! It earned me the nickname Teen Sleeper from my ex boyfriend as I need to have on average the same as an 18 year old boy – at last 10 hours a night. 

I remember that i'm supposed to be meeting up with Nico to go to the zoo today – whoops. It turns out he has waited for an hour oustide – not the most romantically smelling of places. I run to a cab and we go for salad and green tea – its the best meal i've had since I was there. 

I think being with him as reminded me of some of the principles and opinions I had when I was younger that I gradually lost sight of along the way. It feels like i'm connecting back to the adult I was becoming when I was 16. 

We go for dessert somewhere else and he orders waffles with dulce de leche, dulce de leche sauce chocolate ice cream and chocolate pieces. To say people in this town have sweet tooth would be an understatement. We go for a walk around some of the bigger parks lined by those great big dark feathery trees and rows of old fashioned street lamps. The sky is turning rose and the lake is lit up like a great milky shimmering sea , its cold that so he gives me his coat and we kiss. 



He stays with me in the hostel and the next day rolls over and says - its 1030 you need to be up in half an hour. I think of the Adele line – I want to wake up to see your face in the morning sun. He seems remarkably untroubled by seeing my face in the morning light. Oh well. I'm also reminded of the Professor Green line “ I don't like spooning unless it leads to forking.” 

He has a radio show today (he does one every sunday with his friend on current bands.) It has led to some fans setting up a facebook hate page in his name which I find amusing) so we go our separate ways and I find myself back in La Poesia drinking coffee and eating medialunas and feeling morose. 

I wonder if I have ever really been in love? I think – maybe I've only ever been in need up until now. I think about sex and think...I don't think I have ever made love to anyone in my life. A big fat tear of self pity rolls down my cheek again. This is the kind of city that could make you feel sad....etc ad infinitum.

 

Argentinian tango - It takes two baby!

Spanish class is good and today I start my 8 hours of tango lessons. What I wasn't counting on was the fact that it would just be me, the teacher and 8 intensive hours of dancing....AWKWARD!... 

He reminds me of an old (and when I say old I mean OLD...) ex called Laurence. A forty year old director who I went out with for 10 months when I was 24 and who lied about his age compulsively going from 32 to 35 to 37 to 39 in the space of the ten months i was with him. 

Learning tango is like learning a new language without words. The man leads and the woman follows and takes her lead from the energy and connection with the man. Its communicated silently from the pressure in the hold – sent down the mans' arms and into the womans hands and arms. 

I think – this dance will be good for me. 

Because I speak no Spanish yet and Daniel the teacher has very little English we communicate in French just to confuse matters... 

He doesn't teach steps in a routine as tango is an improvised dance. Instead we begin to dance straight away and he works on trying to correct my frame which I find incredibly difficult. Its the opposite of other Latin American dances which are all in the hips. One should keep the weight grounded in the feet whilst extending the top frame, leaning into the man and supporting everything from the core. 



Open your back, Support Your Core, Long steps, Weight in your feet, Open your shoulders, Close your Core, Long Steps, Weight in your feet becomes his mantra. He leads and shows me cues for different steps such as leading me into Ochos...when the woman twists her whole body left and right, stepping in a figure of 8 movement. 

Apparently I have a tendency to not support my core and constantly lean back and away from the man. That – I think is a metaphor for MY LIFE and relationships! 

Every now and then he stops to pour boiling water onto his mate pot. Mate is a traditional drink similar to green tea that is drunk religiously in Uruguay and Argentina. Its a rather time consuming effort of stacking up a little cauldron with tea leaves and sugar (if desired) then pouring over hot water from a kettle or flask and sucking up the liquid through a silver straw. At first on the streets of Uruguay I think it is just an old remant sold on market stalls for tourists – however people still stroll down the streets and loaf in the parks holding onto their little mate cauldrons and Daniel is no exception. 

That evening – and is if I havent had enough tango I discover a tango teacher that has got in touch via couchsurfing and is teaching at a Cafe Notable nearby. 



There are around 60 Cafe Notables in Buenos Aires and have been selected and singled out as contributing to the national culture and identity either through their architecture or because they have enjoyed the patronage of some important politicians or artists along the way. I go along to watch his lesson at La Confitera Ideal – a gorgeous elegantly faded Parisian tea room on Suipacha filled with little lined covered tables. 

Fabian is another couchsurfer who has decided to shave 5 years of his age and hasn't been entirely honest with the profile photo. He joins me for a coffee and we share a plate of pastries filled with (what else) dulce de leche and then I make my way home. I have no desire to join the class or milonga- I'm tangoed out. 2 hours of private lessons a day is intense. 

The next day i've received an email from Fabian- “ I would like to see you again, let me know if you would too..” I don't reply. The following day and i've received another email “I really want to see you again, I don't know why, just let me know...” 

I explain i'm already seeing someone in B.A and it wouldn't feel right.... 

“ You have a beautiful energy...” Daniel the Tango teacher informs me on day 2. Tango is all about the energy communicated between a man and a woman. However I cant help feeling he's not talking about the dancing any more.... 

“ I want to...how you say...Kiss you?” He says hopefully. “alright?” 

“errrrr NO!” I scream. 

As my professional poker playing friend - the Duffmeister General will tell you, I do NOT have a poker face – in fact I have the opposite whatever that may be and cannot conceal my obvious shock and disgust. Artem from "Strictly Come Dancing" he ain't. 

And i'm pissed off. I am British after all and therefore really quite repressed – we aren't known for our flamboyant displays of affection and being in touch with our passionate sexual side .Just being in a room with a man i've only known for 2 days and being held close in an intimate dance is difficult. I'm trying to open up, loosen up and now he's asking to kiss me!! He's speaking in a mixture of French, Spanish and English. I'm still not quite sure whether or not he's hitting on me or speaking about something else but I leave already formulating the complaints letter in my head. 

That night I go to a tango class that he is teaching in his studio followed by a Milonga. I suppose its good practice dancing with different men although constantly having my feet trodden on by sixty year olds who then reprimand me for not knowing “the steps” is becomig inreasingly annoying. 

"This is my place, I own it and live here” Daniel informs me. I have a feeling he's trying to impress and that I didn't misunderstand after all. 

Anyhow Nico comes to meet me and I duck out around 10.30 to go get something to eat with him. We end up having a Bondiola – pork steak sandwhich with relishes in bread from a stall near Puerto Madero then haed back to San Telmo for a drink. 



San Telmo is filled with artists, musicians and antiques at the regular Feria (fair) on sundays but away from the tourists and the tango dancers its still a wonderfully atmospheric place for a drink. We go to a cafe on the corner of the main square Plaza Dorrego (Plaza Dorrego cafe) that's touristy in the day but empty tonight. Its an old timeless little bar with graffiti etched old wooden tables, shelves stacked with dusty bottles and surly bar staff. It has character by the bucket load. We drink Malbec (what else.) 

I try and practice the Spanish i've learnt so far, I concentrate hard on making my voice try and sound nice and not massacre the language with my hard edged english vowels. Nico looks at me. 

"Are you planning on setting up a phone line beause you sound a little like a porn star....?" 

OK so maybe overdoing it slightly on the sexy spanish accent. Another day he tells me I sound like Hitler so you know...i like the to run the gamut. 

We go outside, filled with cheap but great red wine and kiss on the door steps to the cafe. Fairy lights string the trees that surround the square and I can't help thinking to myself “ God I love my life...It's fucking great!”

A Lost Weekend in Buenos Aires

Due to my utter ineptitude with technology I have managed to wipe all the music from my ipod -3 weeks into a year long trip. Now all the people that said I should have got an I phone rather than a blackberry are feeling quite smug and I am facing the prospect of some long and lonely trackless night buses. Luckily the aussie couple come to the rescue and I plug my pod into their itunes and download some of their tracks. I decide to go for all new music for an all new adventure. Now I have something called Alabama Thunder pussy on my nano and officially Rock. 

That night I see the sociable side of hostels as myself and the Australian and mauritz a gangly blonde with a wry smile fond of roll ups...end up drinking massive bottles of beer and playing drunk jenga. The oz (shane – a stocky little surfer with a shaved head and backwards baseball cap and toothy grin) regales us with tales of Fiji. I've heard before how happy the Fijians are. Apparently they have only two words for everything. Somehow that seems incredibly appealing. 

I worry that i'm not going to get much sleep in a shared dorm what with the young people going back and forth. However this is because I have momentarily forgotten that i'm...well...me. 

Over the coming weekend I will get in at 4.30am and 6.30am respectively – leading the Austraian to exclaim “this is the Twilight Dorm!” as I wince and cringe from the sunshine trying to filter through the curtains. 

On the Saturday I hook up with Nico a friend of Sarah's who is from B.A that she met at a hostel in Rio and some British friends and we go out to a succession of Irish bars (seems unavoidable in pretty much every city I go to.) I bail at 4.30am which apparently is early. 



Nico suggests dinner the next day and to email if I feel like it. As i'm still suffering I really don't but see that he's messaged me asking what time he should pick me up. I think in negotation that's called an assumptive close. 

Portenos (people from Buenos Aires) appear to have the most unhealthy lifestyle on the planet. Not only does their diet consist of cow, caramel, carbs and very little else but they seem to have four meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, PRE - Dinner around 4- 5pm and then supper at around 11 o clock at night. They will head out to clubs at around 2 and get back as the sun is coming up around 5 ish just in time for a couple of hours sleep before their day begins. I think this city might kill me. 

We meet at a cafe called La Poesia on the corner of (streets) Chile and Peru. Its one of the "cafe notables" in the city famous for writers such as Jorges Luis Borges who frequented it to while away a few hours, summoning the muse whilst drinking their coffee. 

We share a Picadie – a traditional sharing platter of cold meats, cheeses, and olives. One of the cold meat's is Lengue – cow's tongue which I try for the first time. It is thinly sliced and smooth textured (no nubbly tastebuds to navigate) but the overwhelming flavour is briny as its been pickled. 

And we drink Malbec...of course.... 

 



Later we go onto another bar, he knows the bar man... and talk for a long, long time. I will later always remember him -face lost in a swirl of Marlborough -bottom ip stained by Malbec - just talking passionately about everything. 

We talk about his mother– who was a women's right activist and debate whether or not women can expect equality if they don't want to pay their way...(for someone who vehemently believes that women should he lets me pay for very little all night.) About Christina Fernandez – the president. She is popular with the working classes, in the same way Evita was, through making populist decisions such as free football for all, but has been damaging to the economy. He is proud that Argentina was one of the first countries to legalise gay marriage - believes that marriage is a right not a privelege. 

Then he talks about his ex. He was about to propose, had bought engagement rings and everything and then she dropped off the face of the earth and stopped returning his calls. He was so distraught and angry he went to the river and threw them in. Then he had to move back in with his mother to pay them off. I can't decide whether its wonderfully romantic or the most stupid thing i've ever heard or perhaps both. He tells me he has searched through the Complete Works of Shakespeare to find a way to say "Fuck You" to her. But in the end sometimes just the words "Fuck you" are the simplest and the best. 

I haven't had many pre requirements with the guys i've hooked up with before - if anything my standards have been far too low - as long as they are not fucked up on drugs or blatantly homosexual they've been in with a chance. But i love the fact he at least tried to say Fuck You via the medium of Shakespeare. It might become a new standard. 

A guy's opening line to me once was “Dominique on a scale of 1 to 10 how politicised would you say you are?” 

My answer (apart from wanting to say - on a scale of 1 to 5 how much of a total penis do you think you sound?) was that I have lots of opinions that I feel very passionately about but none of the are actually supported by anything ressembling knowledge or fact. 

So we are talking about the Royal Wedding which I was entirely against. What can I say I don't like the royal family and I don't care about marriage (– which is also why I am like an alien being to my mother....) I tell him I don't support the royal family and wanted to be out of the country when it happened so I went on a yoga retreat in South West france. 

"Wow" he says. 

"That was your protest? If only Che Guevera were alive today he could learn a thing or two...what are you going to do the next time they do something you don't like...? bake cookies?" 

I can't remember a time when any guy ever took the piss out of me. I decide its good thing...so yeah then we kiss. Of course! 

On the way home he buys me an Alfajore. Its a little sponge cookie with dulce de leche in the middle and covered by chocolate. I don't have a very sweet tooth and prefer savoury foods but take it anyway. Little do I know how much my palate's going to change in a month. 

I get home at a sprightly 6.30am only to be woken by the australians packing 3 and a half hours later. 

“Why are you packing?” I moan, 

“ we have to check out at 11am” they explain. 

I have to check out today too. 

"Why what time is it now...?... 

"Quarter to.." 

Shit. I pull myself up and say i'm not moving until the forcibly evict me. Then lie down again til 12.30.

 

MALBA, Malbec and More in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Monday morning is a public holiday and Mattias wakes me up for a traditional Porteno breakfastof crackers with soft white cheese and jam. Then we go to MALBA – the Museum of Modern Latin American Art. 

The building is a beautiful, elegantly cool and light filled space. Unlike the Tate Modern or its equivalents around the world the exhibitions and floors are easily do-able in a couple of hours which makes it just the right size for my limited attention span. There is an exhibiton on – bye bye american pie – showcasing photography and artists from the Warhol era as well as some of South America's most famous artists. 

He introduces me to Antonio Berni – an artist that has created a reoccuring character in his work – Juanita Laguan - a young man that represents poverty and inequity. It is a commentary on the struggle of the poor and working classes and unusually I think he works in a variety of mediums from weird jabberwocky esque hanging sclptures to traditional acrylics. 

 




Leon Ferrari -is another hugely successful S.American artist notorious for splicing traditional religious icons and imagery with sexually explicit content. His work reminds me a little of The Chapman brothers – sometimes it works, sometimes its grotesque and pornographic shock content is the the overriding emotion that seems to dull the senses to more delicate shades of connection. 
Mattias and I stop front of a blown up image from ancient Japanese pornography of a man licking out a large vulva. Awkward! 

In the other room we hear the uncomfortable and disconcerting noise of pigs squealing and sure enough the actual display is a nightmarish assault on the senses. It is a huge three dimensional and mounted grotesque display of two animatronic George Bush models with unnaturally large heads, trousers rolled down - fucking pigs. There are other pigs on the display fucking each other. The Bush heads have motion sensors in the eyes so that as you make your way around the display their heads and eyes follow you – all the while their miniature torsos continue fucking the pigs. As a model its truly horrible, as an inditement of the Bush era and country's complicity with America its truly brilliant. Britian – I would think would be one of the pigs being fucked by Bush whilst simultaneously fucking another pig. 

Mattias studied cinema so we talk briefly about the film Deliverance – which the display reminds us of. 

Deliverance did for the banjo – what Hitler did for the moustache...i ponder idly.