29 February 2016
This is our first leap year while on the road, so it seems like an important date. Or just an extra day to even out the calendar.
We continue to find interesting buildings, lots of shops, and of course places to eat. My new favorite spot is El Athenea bookstore, with this beautiful marble stairway and intricate bronze railing. The store has marble pillars on two levels with ornate capitals, ornamental plaster work on the ceilings, and huge picture windows overlooking Florida Street. It seems as if many of the buildings were originally homes of wealthy business owners, so that the lower levels are decorative and, well, genteel is a word that springs to mind.
We've been enjoying our time in Buenos Aires, which is a huge cosmopolitan center. The city itself has nearly three million people, although the province of the same name has almost 16 million. So it's a big city, but, like many cities, is made up of distinctive neighborhoods. We've mostly been in our neighborhood of Montserrat, the central part of the city and one of the oldest sections. But we're starting to branch out.
We tried walking to Recoleta, the more posh neighborhood, but it turned out the directions we were given were wrong, so we finally hailed a taxi. I loved the little "sidewalk tango" showing the steps directly on the sidewalk. And of course I tried to dance the steps, as did many of the people passing by. (No, the designer does not expect anyone to have three feet. One begins with feet in position #1, and moves a foot to position #2, and so on. You can see how intricate the dance becomes, with the dancers criss-crossing their steps while not tangling their legs. It's really important to move the correct foot in the correct direction, because otherwise the couple could end up in a heap on the floor. Plus the woman does little embellishments, such as positions #4 and 5, where her feet are crossed at the ankle as she stands and then steps backwards. This is usually where I stumble, it isn't easy!)
Anyway, we arrived in Recoleta, near the park and the Church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. This church was completed in 1732 by the Recollect Fathers, members of a Franciscan Order of monks who established themselves in this area at the beginning of the 18th century. They founded a monastery as well as the church, and a cemetery was attached. This area was one of the highest points in the city of Buenos Aires; in the 1870s there were deadly outbreak of yellow fever and cholera, and wealthy families moved to this part of the city to avoid the mosquitoes of the lower neighborhoods. Since then, Recoleta has been one of the most expensive and posh regions of the city.
The residential areas are some of the most sumptuous and ornate in the city, and the shops are very upscale.
But the real draw to the area is the cemetery.
Like the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the Recoleta Cemetery is known for the ornamental crypts, vaults, statues, mausoleums, sarcofogi, and funerary art. Really, these were some of the most decorative little memorials I've ever seen, with beveled glass domes and little towers, all looking like miniature cathedrals! Absolutely incredible!
Plus if one knows Argentinian arts, culture, and history, all kinds of important people are buried here. The best known, of course, is Eva Peron, and visitors pass by her grave daily, leaving flowers and other mementos of their regard.
The day we were there was a beautiful sunny day, and we didn't want to spend the afternoon wandering through a cemetery, it seemed a bit too sad. So we went to the mall across the street and went upstairs, so we could look over the brick walls and down into the cemetery. This actually afforded us a better view, and one rarely seen by visitors. It really was a much better vantage point!
There's more of the city we plan to visit. But summer vacation is over, and students are returning to school. Autumn is in the air, and before the south gets too cold, we're going to head to Patagonia and the beaches. We've rented a car, and will take a road trip for about three weeks.
And we'll see what excitement we can find along the way.