|Monday, January 31, 2011
Petite Silvana will be our guide for Buenos Aires (good air, or fair wind) starting with a half-day city coach tour. She went through neighborhoods starting with the Pradino where transportation is centered. A huge bus station dominates the area with buses designed for long distance travel, plus taxis, city buses and subways. The buildings were designed by the British who had a major influence on shipping.
Monuments honor General José de San Martin who gained Argentina independence; the Falkland War; an obelisk marking the site of the first settlement is in the center of Plaza de Mayo where every Thursday mothers in white headscarves parade in silence asking for the return of their children lost during the years of military oppression. Workers are remembered with a huge bronze piece of workers moving a boulder.
The City Center is dominated by Casa Rosada,
a pinkish presidential building where Evita Perón gave passionate speeches from the balcony.
Metropolitan Cathedral, other government buildings, business and banking buildings and museums are also located here.
It started to rain as we made our first stop at La Boca, an area of artists and brightly colored shops selling handcrafted items and antiques. Balconies and façades serve as backdrops for an open-air theatre.
We dodged raindrops in the cemetery that was mostly streets of mausoleums, elegant crypts of a stone city for the dead.
The mausoleums were for members of high society, where ironically the “champion of the working class” Eva Peron of the “Familia Duarte” is buried. Fresh flowers are still placed at the crypt after 59 years.
Next to the cemetery is Our Lady of Pilar Basilica,
beautifully ornate, with an adjoining convent for Franciscan monks. A guide pointed out the original features of the cloister, including windows made of alabaster.
Then it was time to rest back on the ship until our evening of the tango.
We met Silvana at 6:30 pm for our trip to Almacen, a restaurant with a theatre across the street. Silvana called this the cathedral of the tango; obviously the city thought so to when Almacen was honored on a postage stamp.
The tango originated in Argentina with men, mostly immigrants living in slums, dancing in bars, sharing the loneliness of exiles. Women added sensuality to the dance with provocative movements. The dance didn’t become popular until it reached Europe and ballroom dances became the rage, with Rudolph Valentino popularizing the tango in the US. Today it is one of the biggest attractions in Argentina.
We gathered in the theatre with our chairs around a small dance floor. Two couples would demonstrate and teach us the basic steps. We were not going to be a passive audience, but right at the start were invited to try. Christine didn’t hesitate,
and started dancing with one of the men, with more of us joining in. The teacher was very precise and the professional men were encouraging. The Road Scholar men were doing a pretty presentable attempt also.
At the conclusion, each of us received a personalized certificate of our accomplishments.
Next we went across the street to the restaurant with the most amusing waiter. Plenty of wine (another Argentine product) accompanied our empanadas, entrees of steak, chicken or fish and a flan dessert.
Then it was across the street again to the theatre, where our reserved seats were in the first two rows next to the raised stage. Our previous dancing partners, plus two other couples, put on a dazzling performance. The women’s costumes clung to their bodies emphasizing every move they made. The men controlled their partners with absolute grace, and their sensual countenances made the dance all the more dramatic. The steps that we learned earlier were a blur as they added flourishes, kicks and twists; I think we need a few more lessons! The dancers were accompanied by about six musicians who also performed as a group, plus a solo male singer and a solo concertina player. The performance ended at midnight, with all of us truly enjoying the evening.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Today we had another taste of Argentinean culture with gauchos, the “men on horseback”. A two-hour ride to the Pampas, or low country, was the “Estancia” (Ranch) for our gaucho party. On the way Silvana served mate for anyone caring to sample it. She gave us the same etiquette than Renaldo mentioned: passing the cup without wiping the metal straw. This is a drink savored by gauchos and gauchos are not concerned with germs. But one does not indiscriminately share the mate cup with just anyone. It is usually a trusted friend, or member of the family (excluding children because of the caffeine) and new friends. It was originally drunk at a time of hunger because the high caffeine would take away the pangs of hunger. Mate has a strong tea taste, slightly bitter.
We were greeted at the estancia with a beverage and empanada before going for a carriage ride, about eight at a time. The day was beautiful: sunny, breezy and about 75° . There were shaded areas with chairs scattered around the grounds to sit and relax, visit the gift shop, museum, or take a horseback ride. There were other bus groups on the grounds so the wait for a horseback ride was pretty long, but some Road Scholars were able to get on horses.
We had lunch at about 1:15 pm with food served at our tables with beer, wine or a soft drink plus water. We were able to see the meat being prepared beforehand over a large wood-fired pit. There were two kinds of sausage, beef and chicken, accompanied by various cold vegetable dishes and the crustiest Italian bread.
Following lunch dancers performed a tango, and some other traditional dances in the dining room. Afterward we went outdoors to watch gauchos manage their horses with the help of a dog, that looked like a border collie. They were able to move a number of horses into a straight line. Another stunt they did was to pick off a small round object with a metal rod from a wire going at full gallop. If they were successful, they gave the object to some pretty girl in exchange for a kiss.
The day was full of fun and relaxation. We got back with ample time for us to be “All on Board” at 5:30 pm as we sail to Puerto Madryn, Argentina.