Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Surprises in Buenos Aires

Whenever friends go to a new place or a relative comes to New York for the first time, my favorite question to ask is "What surprised you about what you saw?"

I’ve decided to ask this of myself about my recent trip to Buenos Aires. First, I should say that I took this trip to get a better sense of the setting for my next book. I had not been to BA, as everyone there calls it, for over twenty years. The trip fulfilled all my hopes and more. And gave me some really pleasant surprises to boot:

In the “Paris of the South,” corner restaurants that look like tourist joints from the outside very often turn out to be lovely, with white tablecloths and excellent food. You could have fooled me. The buildings are almost always curved at the entrance and often have huge Coca-Cola signs over the front doors — nothing at all like the charming little mid-block bistros and trattorias I was seeking and would have easily found in the real Paris or Rome or even London, for that matter. There were none of those little places that I ever discovered. What we did find when looking for a good lunch were huge eateries that seemed as if they belonged in Times Square. But — we ate very well at most of the ones we visited and in one, near the subway stop for Plaza Italia, we had Brochette de Lomo (filet mignon en brochette) that was spectacularly good and would have cost $34 all by itself for one person in NYC. In BA, it was $30 for two and included good salads, desserts, and two glasses of very nice wine.

Almost as delightful was the male pulchritude that was on display almost everywhere. There are more good-looking men by percentage of the population in BA than in any other city I have visited, except for Reggio di Calabria. (ALL the men in my next book are going to be handsome—maybe even the murderer.) I spent a little while trying to figure out why this might be, but then I realized it was way too much of distraction from the task at hand. I went back to looking at the buildings, the statuary, and the trees. Except for the occasional sidelong glance.

My biggest surprise actually began in New York. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we walked out of our building onto 11th Street and saw a woman looking at a map. She was accompanied by a girl in her late teens. As is our wont when we encounter lost tourists, we asked if we could help her. During the ensuing conversation, we found out that she was from BA, told her we were going to visit there in a few weeks, and exchanged email addresses so we might have a coffee together while when we arrived.

After a warm correspondence in the intervening weeks, she offered to pick us up in her car at 8 one evening. (Eight PM is way too early for dinner in BA.) She came for us and showed us the university where she is a professor of hydrology. We then had dinner together on the Costanera, and then she took us for a midnight drive through the city all lit up and looking absolutely gorgeous.

Upon hearing of my interest in seeing the villas miserias — the slum towns where PerĂ³n’s descamisados lived, she arranged to pick us up on Sunday morning and take us through them. The hovels are still there and still occupied by the poor. The factories are abandoned shells for the most part. I cannot imagine that I would have gone there on my own. What a gift! Now I can say, not only that I have seen Buenos Aires, but that I have a dear friend who lives there!

Annamaria Alfieri


  1. Annamaria, you make dear friends everywhere you go.

  2. Do you think your restaurant does air mail take-out for the Brochette de Lomo?
    T. Straw

  3. You're naturally inquisitive, that's why luck courts you.
    Bob K.