Buenos Aires was a very European city, boasting the largest street in the world (16 lanes!), along with some wonderful Tango shows and restaurants. As is popular to do in Buenos Aires, we rented an apartment for the week with 3 bedrooms and a great kitchen. Although the website described it with much imagination, it was still a very comfortable place to spend a week and was in a great location. The Bauers rented an apartment not too far from ours. We stayed in the Recoletta neighborhood, which reminded us a lot of the Upper East Side, especially with all the beautiful golden retrievers walking around and the classy stores and restaurants.
As is usual with Gutmann travel, much of what we saw and experienced in Buenos Aires was about food, and dominating lots of conversation: what we had eaten and where we were going to eat next. If there is any city to eat your way through, Buenos Aires is certainly the one. We ate at some wonderful places all over the city that were recommended. The food was very creative and fresh and we never got bored of the variety of restaurants. One of our favorites was Casa Cruz, a swanky and dim restaurant in Palermo Viejo. Most of our party enjoyed their steaks, while some went with the poached oysters with caviar, gnocchi with black pudding and champagne sauce, or foie gras with peaches. The most amazing part was certainly the desert which consisted of an earl grey souflee with pomegranate sauce. We also had one incredibly awesome night in celebration of Cheryl's 60th birthday where the whole Gutmann and Bauer crew were picked up in the party van and dropped off at the Faenna Universe. The hotel itself was incredible and to quote a friend of Laurie's from Chicago, “it feels like you have stepped into Stanley Kubrick film with screenplay by Lewis Carroll.” The small theater where they had the Tango show was a sultry and intimate space that was quickly filled with the sexy rhythm of the talented musicians and the even sexier movements of the dancers. Arriving and leaving in the party bus contributed even more to the good times had by all.
We spent a few days walking around the neighborhoods and seeing the sights, like where Evita gave her famous speech and various other important buildings like the Opera House (unfortunately, it was under construction at the time) and the Bella Artes Museo. This jaw-dropping museum held some important works from artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet, and an entire room of a private collection donated from the Hirschberg family. The art ranged from the 17th century to modern times.
The Recoletta cemetery was an eerie and interesting site and we really wished that we had a little more time to meander the lanes lined with mausoleums, but we did have a chance to see Evita's burial place and the tomb of the girl who was mistakenly buried alive. The 19th century story goes that she was in a coma but the people didn't realize that; they just thought she was dead. Apparently, they heard her screaming and tried to get her out but by the time they got to her, she was really dead this time and they saw scratches on the inside of her coffin and all over her body. Her mausoleum was quite eerie with a life size statue of the girl Laurie, Michelle, and Cheryl also went to the Evita Museum which they said was extremely educational and interesting.
We also spent one rainy afternoon visiting the neighborhood of La Boca. Here, we wandered around the colorful storefronts with tango dancers filling the doorways and ate at the amazing and authentic steak house, El Obrero. None of us knew just what we ordered, but no one was disappointed with the feast that arrived. Although we were warned of the dangers of the neighborhood, we are very glad that we went. I especially took interest in the graffiti that was spray-painted on many walls. It was usually of a socio-political nature, though I couldn't understand most of it due to my lack of Spanish skills. I could still tell that it was political of some nature. There were fascist (and anti), socialist comments, and comments about the economistas and about equality for the people.
For the two days that we had alone, we went to some great places. First off, I found the oldest chess hall in Buenos Aires (and I assume South America as well). I have been trying to locate some halls wherever we've gone, but in Asia I had no luck at all. Buenos Aires, though, had several. Of course, I chose the oldest one, the one I assumed would be dripping with tradition. Deb and Laurie accompanied me to visit it on Saturday evening, and they toughed out a rain storm on the way over there. The tradition of the place was in fact dripping from the old and stained walls. Or that may have just been the rain. Either way, the pictures of all 12 World Champions adorned one wall, while old photos of important tournaments lay on others. One of the most famous Grandmasters of all time, Jose Raul Capablanca, claimed this hall as his home field and played many important matches here. The hall was home to some of the most important matches in the world dating back to 1904. It's one of the most famous in the world. All the greats have played there.
I knew a little about this and tried to tell Deb and Laurie some old stories that I had heard. Given that I had just finished a book by Garry Kasparov, it was fun to see a young picture of him from when he beat Karpov to take the title from him in their legendary match. We saw lots of old photos, lots of chess, not a lot of talking but a few flare-ups that were quickly quieted. So, we snooped around the hall and observed some intense games while we were there. In my shattered Spanish, I tried to see if it was possible for me to play there given that I wasn't a member. I saw there was a tournament on Sunday evening and tried to communicate with the club director about the possibility of my playing in it. I thought he said it was possible. I should just show up 15 minutes before it started to register. The next day I was excited to get there and play, as I had been suffering a bit of withdrawal for the last few months.
The tournament was set up for 7 rounds of 15min games, which means 15 minutes for each player and would probably run about 4 hours in total. In my first game, I was destroyed, only to find out a few minutes later that I had lost to the club champ, rated about 2300 (very nearly the level of an International Master). So I didn't feel so bad about that one, but I proceeded to lose more games though I played okay. I did realize that these guys were serious players, probably some of the best that Buenos Aires (and therefore Argentina, and therefore South America) had to offer. I also realized that I'm somewhat out of practice. So after I had made enough justifications and excuses for myself, I started to play better and with more discipline. A crushing defeat came at the hands of a 10 year old. Yes, a 10 year old. He was a brash young kid whose games were observed by most people if they had finished theirs already. After losing to him, I went over to the tournament director to tell him ashamedly that I had lost yet again, but the director reassured me that the kid was very good and in fact was Argentina's champion for 10 and under and who had beaten many adults and who was on his way to a bit of chess fame if he continued progressing. Again, I felt a little better but still somewhat humiliated; I let him dictate the play and played his speed, which was very quick, instead of trying to slow down the game and make him play patiently which would seem to go against his young persona. But I didn't and I lost. My last three games were much stronger despite a bad headache coming on and I would've won 2 of the last 3 if not blundering away my queen when solidly ahead in one the game. But I decisively won my last game waiting for my opponent to resign, giving myself some sense of accomplishment. And at the very least, I could get out of there with my head up (and throbbing) so we could get some food and get to bed. The tournament ended up lasting 5 and a half hours, which gave Laurie just enough time to read an entire novel.
The last great place we went to in Buenos Aires was the Jorge Luis Borges Cultural Center. It was free to enter and see the exhibits and we were in luck: there were two exhibits that we were psyched to see: one about Miro and one about Rene Burrie, the famed photo journalist who had taken many famous photographs but mostly about Che Guevara. He got some great photos of Che and other potent figures and war scenes that were extremely moving and poignant. The Miro exhibit was interesting as well with his prints and several of his socio-political quotes juxtaposing the minimalist images.
All in all, we found Buenos Aires a lively and cosmopolitan city and we could understand why there were so many ex-pats living there. The neighborhoods were all very different and in an effort to describe them, please forgive our New York City references. Recoletta was pretty upmarket and (as mentioned above) reminded many of us of the Upper East Side. Palermo Viejo was very trendy with its designer boutiques and resto-bars, so much so that we often felt like we were in the Village. I know that the ladies really enjoyed the shopping there. Laurie and I only had the chance to stay two extra nights after our tearful goodbyes with our family, but we do hope to return to this awesome city one day.