Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When Good Vegetarians Die They Go To Heaven,

When bad vegetarians die they go to Argentina. While there we decided to flip the Canada Food Guide pyramid upside down, expand the meat and protein portion and then eliminate all the other food groups, except beer and wine.

I thought that I would be better prepared for Argentina. Often while still in Canada I would visit my friend Jason for a Brazilian style barbeque. Each time he would warn me, “Don’t take too much rice or beans, save room for the meat.” I learned that everything that isn’t meat is just decoration. I thought that I was well prepared for Argentina then, for I knew that Argentina is a country that loves eating meat, often and in large quantities.

Despite this I was surprised to learn that unlike the Brazilians, the Argentinians don’t even pretend to balance the meat with vegetables or fruit. For our first, and highly anticipated, meal in Argentina we ordered the mixed parrilla for two. It was a selection of different types of barbequed meat. The meal was brought to our table on a little barbeque with coals to keep the meal warm while we ate; as for vegetables or potatoes, nowhere to be found. It was delicious.

Argentina is truly a great country. We spent several days in Buenos Aires which proved to be one of my favourite cities that I have visited. The comparison isn’t valid for obvious reasons, but what it most reminded me of is Europe fifty years ago. I mentioned this to some other travelers though and they agreed with me. The buildings are all fairly old but charming. Truth be told the streets are quite dirty and a little smelly; watch where you step because the Porteños love their dogs but not cleaning up after them. Perhaps because it is so far from the United States, there are very few international franchises in the center of Buenos Aires. I saw perhaps one or two MacDonald’s but I don’t remember seeing any Starbucks.

Or maybe another part of the reason for the lack of Starbucks is due to the fact that there are countless little cafés already, each so inviting that I desired to stop at all of them. I think that these cafés are what invoked the comparison with ´50’s Europe. Each café was different and had its own unique charm which is tough to say about Starbucks. The one thing these cafés did have in common is that they were all really cheap, which is also hard to say about Starbucks.

Actually everything in Argentina is cheap which is a plus for someone is traveling for an extended period of time. We took cab a couple of times and sometimes I was wondering if the meter was broken it would rise so slowly. From Puerto Igacu on the Brazilian border we bought bus tickets for Buenos Aires. It’s about a fifteen hour trip so splurged a little and bought tickets for the luxury bus: three commodious, fully reclining seats to a row, and includes meals all for about seventy dollars. How was it you may ask? I don’t know. We had a bit of bad luck with a time change and we missed the bus by a few minutes. We bought tickets for the next bus, losing our money and getting inferior seats. Such is life.

On our first full day in Buenos Aires we met up with some English girls that Luis had met while he was in Africa. By coincidence they happened to be in Buenos Aires at the same time as us. Our first stop was an artisan market. I was tempted by an instrument, similar to a ukulele and to a painting of a tango scene but I left with my wallet as full as before.

We then headed to the cemetery where rests Argentina’s most famous citizen, Eva Peron. The cemetery was unlike any that I had seen before. Certainly only for the rich and influencial, the tombs were like small houses. A large percentage had glass doors so people can look inside. None were identical but the majority had shelves where the coffins lay in plain site. Often there were pictures of the departed and many had steps to the basement where presumably other less important family members were kept. The doors to the tombs were locked although it was unclear whether this was an attempt to keep the living out or the dead in. Some were huge, in one I counted eighteen coffins but with shelf space for a few more. Another had a huge dome that towered at least three stories high.

After seeing these I was somewhat surprised when we came across the tomb of Evita. Much smaller and in a place of little prominence it was however, the most photographed it was the only one that I saw with fresh flowers placed reverently by the doors. We hastened our exit though since it began to rain.

We made our way to the Museo de Bellas Artes, a promising name to be sure. It didn’t disappoint. Entrance to the museum was free, as I feel all museums ought to be. Sometimes when I see works by “great” artists I wonder what makes them great. Here the opposite was often true, I would see works by some unknown artist and wonder why he hadn’t achieved greater fame although to be fair perhaps in my ignorance I was admiring works by an artist who was famous.

I myself have a fairly simple method for judging if a painting is great or not. It is great if I would like to have it in my living room and by this standard there were a lot of great paintings. There were several by the most famous of painters, Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir, Van Gough and one especially lovely painting by Monet, but then I’ve never seen a Monet that wasn’t especially lovely. The gallery was big enough that it deserved multiple visits but due to the brevity of our time in Buenos Aires we never again returned.

After leaving the gallery we stumbled across a couple of street performers. They were performing different tangos and they were great. We watched them for some time. Buenos Aires is the home of the tango and so that evening we went to a tango show. I don’t know if it was poorly advertised but there were only the four of us and then another four people watching the show. Two guys played guitar, one sang and there were a couple performing dances. Despite the small audience they all put lots of heart into the show and it was very enjoyable.

The show went late into the night. At around two in the morning we walked the girls back towards their hostel. We were speaking English and a woman overheard. She asked us where we were from and then proceeded to give us a ten minute history lesson on Argentina. I’m not sure if she was a little bit crazy or if she was just passionate about the origins of Argentina but she definitely added a little colour to the evening.

On the way back to our hostel we decided that the best way to finish the day would be to eat a steak. The nights in Buenos Aires start and end late so it was no problem to find a little restaurant that served up giant slabs of meat at two thirty in the morning. We returned to the hostel tired, full and happy. There were times after that when I didn’t feel tired, but the rest of the time in Argentina I almost always felt full and happy. I would love to return.

1 comment:

paty said...

Ótimo texto! Engraçado e interessante. Você é um bom observardor.