Monday, April 26, 2010

Little Surprises

It's fall here and the days and evenings are getting cooler. David and I realize we've got to get jackets, or something to keep us warm, so we go to Calle Florida, BA's pedestrian-only shopping mecca. Though we don't find anything to buy, we do notice a rather unremarkable mini-mall with a banner that reads “Galeria Guemes” and decide to go in.

We are caught off guard when we quickly realize it's not the shops but the architectural detail that makes this so remarkable. The interior is a mix of Art Nouveau, Gothic and neoclassical, and we're astounded by what we see.

It's only later that we learn its history...for almost 75 years, the building was allowed to deteriorate. Then, in 2005, it went through major restorations; the 2 glass domes, once covered with concrete, were restored...

layers of varnish were removed from the Italian marble...

and the bronze bas-reliefs over each elevator bank were polished.

We give up shopping and decide to head home, which is about a 30 minute walk. On the way, we wander into the Hotel Panamericano lobby in search of restrooms, only to find another unexpected photo op...a vast expanse of black and white marble flooring, gold leaf mirrors and art deco lounges.

Not surprisingly, after all this eye candy, it's the giant sign, maybe 6 stories high, on the Avenida de Mayo, the widest and most traveled street in the city (16 lanes), that predictably makes me roll my eyes and shake my head. There, big enough for everyone to see, is “Rey Charlie Sheen” (King of Comedy). Go figure!!

We've been here 3 months, and it's time I have my hair cut...the first time ever while in BA. I make an appointment with Gaston, who's come highly recommended, but when I get to the saloon on the appointed day, I'm told that his brother Mauro is the only cutter available. Ugh! the good news is he speaks some English and says he understands that all I want is a trim...keep the length, snip the ends. The not-so-good news...Mauro, who I now refer to as Edward Scissorhands, decides I need an updated hairdo and, before I know it, 2+ inches of my hair is on the floor. I'm initially skeptical about the cut, but it's ultimately proven to be one the best I've ever had. Nice job Mauro!

And, not only does Mauro cut my hair, but he also “suggests” I “invest” in a good hairdryer, so I go to buy one. The shopkeeper has difficulty answering my questions (she speaks no English), so she starts canvasing customers to see who speaks both Spanish and English. No one...until Silvia walks in, proceeds to translate, and we spend the next 20 minutes or so chatting away.

We form an instant connection and find we relate on so many's like we've known each other for years. Since our first meeting, we've met for coffee...which in Argentina means sitting and talking for hours (in this case, 4 hours)...

and together shared the ultimate splurge...high tea at L'Orangerie at the Alvear Palace Hotel...

the Argentinian equivalent of tea at the Ritz.

David and I, and any of our friends who want to join us, also start the “tours and museum circuit” we've always meant to take; museums we've heard a lot about. Together with Kirk and Jim, we go to the Museo de Armas de la Nacion, which houses a sizable collection of arms, including rifles and machine guns...

bombs, artillery and mortar shells,

gas masks for people, dogs and horses,


dueling guns and David's favorite...a procedure manual for conducting a duel!

You name it, it's there...not to mention the requisite bust of General San Martin, the Liberator, whose face can be found most everywhere in the city!

So many guns, so little time!

Next day, a bunch of us tour the Palacio Paz...

a former private residence and the largest in the city.

It was designed and built between 1902 and 1914 for Jose Paz, founder of the Argentine daily newspaper La Prensa. The conservative paper was at one time ranked among the most widely circulated dailies in Argentina; however, it declined in popularity due to competition and the election of populist leader Juan Peron.

It is said that Paz, whose dream it was to become President of Argentina, built this palace to serve as the presidential residency. Unfortunately for him, he died 2 years before the palace was completed. Fortunately for us, much of the palace is now open to the public.

Room after grand room...

the reception salon...

the ballroom...

the gardens.

Interestingly, a section of the palace currently houses the Circulo Militar, an army officer's club...and because of Argentina's troubling past and the connection with the military, many Argentines have never gone near the palace, though its size, grandeur and central location within the city cannot be missed.

Next day, David and friend Michael take the bus to the Club de Pescadores for lunch. A building of historic significance on a pier overlooking the Rio de la Plata, it was built in 1937 and declared a national monument some years ago.

That brings you up to date. Stay tuned for our next outing, when we head out of town to the city to La Plata.


  1. You both have outdone yourself on this installment! I really loved the pictures of the architecture in the mall and the palace. Also, being a former sailor, I did get a kick out of all the "arms" at the museum. However, they didn't have my ships 16" shells! Thanks again for the great descriptions...

  2. You give great tours. Thanks so much. I love being transported. Sorry I've been a bad correpondent this year. Been a busy time. Glad to hear you're coming back here. Hope to see you soon. Love, annette