Friday, December 19, 2014

[The Life of Shaun #506] Don't cry for me, it's only 40

The last leg of the birthday tour was the city of fair winds, Buenos Aires.  South America's most elegant city proudly, some might say arrogantly, compares itself to the capitals of Europe rather than those of South America.  It's an easy comparison to pull off; wandering its central streets, ignorant of location, you could guess you were in Spain's own elegant Barcelona as readily as Buenos Aires.  The buildings and people are handsome, outwardly prosperous, and very European in demeanour and aesthetic.  Other than a splash of grit across some buildings in otherwise impeccable neighbourhoods, and a very favourable "blue dollar", there is no hint of the mess that is modern Argentina.

Buenos Aires is a reserved city - it doesn't have the flash of Rio, or the energy of São Paulo.  The city takes life at its own pace, which can be challenging for someone who thrives on urban energy, but I eventually gave in.  Though rich in history, there are few must-see sights, and you cover them quickly, leaving you with an abundance of time to feel the city, lingering at any of the endless outdoor tables, in flawless weather, having one more nibble or, more likely, one more drink.

Our flat - sorry, our house - was right in the middle of Palermo, the it neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.  Our host was a sommelier, and we were across the street from a wine shop, so felt very quickly at home.  We spent our days rotating between the lounge, roof terrace, and having a nibble; our evenings rotating between the lounge, roof terrace, me having a nibble, Rachel, Darrin and Russ steak, and a gay bar or two.

When the big day came, we maintained the routine, just slightly upscaled.  Originally I had planned a dinner nearby, but during our roaming of the city we became enamoured with Recoleta, a neighbourhood that abuts Buenos Aires' poorest, but has charming, bohemian small streets, which are closed to vehicle traffic at the weekend, and opted to dine there instead.  I chose to have my birthday dinner at L'Atelier de Celine, a modest restaurant run by a French woman who studied business in America, worked in advertising, then tired of her corporate life and decided to follow her dream of being part of the gastronomy world, travelling the globe until her journey took her to Buenos Aires, which she never left.  This was a place whose spirit felt right to ring in my new decade.

We arrived at 9:00 - indecently early for the Latin world, but purposely, as we timed the evening for a leisurely, extended meal.  We were the first patrons to arrive, and were brought to the choice table on the upstairs terrace, on yet another perfect evening.  The dinner was amazing; for the first (and only) time in Argentina, I had truly delicious, satisfying vegetarian food.  The wine was divine, the service refined but engaging, and I had people with some of the deepest roots into my life with me.  

And then, that was it - I was officially 40.  Now that wasn't so bad, was it?

Our beautiful neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, like so much of the city, has dignified bones...

...which occasionally give way to the grit of a city under economic siege.

Though in the wealthy centre, you'd be hard-pressed to find signs of struggle, even if it's all the locals talk about.

We felt very welcome in our neighbourhood!

The urban art shines brightly in Palermo.

Some of it was a little less inviting - though no one was upset about accepting Yanki dollars...

How we spent our afternoons...

...and our mornings after.

Gran Gomero, a massive tree in the centre of the city.  The branches spread out for tens of metres, held above restaurants and sidewalks by supports, one statue, and one Rachel Klem.

9 de Julio Avenue, the widest avenue in the world.  The tall building at the back, adorned with her likeness, is where Eva Perón used to throw money down to the crowds.

Still not happy about how that whole Falklands thing...

La Boca, a colourful barrio turned touristy; tango shows and lessons were given to the Western visitors along with their plonk and over-cooked steak.

Don't cry for us, Argentina - in front of the Casa Rosada.

The grave everyone comes to see.

Vishnu Petroni

Buenos Aires was so kind as to hold its Gay Pride on my birthday weekend to celebrate me being in town.

Birthday dinner!

Four diners, four corks.

And the perfect birthday cake... and no cake!

Shaun H. Coley ~ Kentish Town
 ~ Camden ~ London NW5 ~ UK ~

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