Buenos Aires is one of my favorite cities in the world: cosmopolitan, charming, with world-class hotels, restaurants and shopping. It is where South American culture meets its European roots.
Buenos Aires also offers the same cultural variety of cities like London, New York or Paris, for a fraction of the cost. The exchange rate (as of November, 2008) was 3 Argentine pesos for 1 US dollar, very favorable for Americans visiting the country. That would make dinner in a top restaurant, with a bottle of Malbec wine, less than $10 per person! The quality of the food there, specially the beef, is topnotch. And we should not forget the elegance and good looks of the Porteños, the natives of Buenos Aires, which makes visiting their city even more interesting.
With all that, it was not a surprise that Golden Bee Tours’ Tango in Buenos Aires tour was great. We arrived in the Southern Hemisphere at the end of November, end of their spring, when the hot summer days Buenos Aires is famous for had not yet started. Coming from a cold end of fall in New York, this sudden change was most welcome – coats were off right on arrival, at Ezeiza Airport.
Our hotel, The Brick Hotel (formerly known as Caesar Park) was a five-star jewel in the middle of La Recoleta, one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Surrounded by grand French-style mansions, embassies and upscale boutiques, we were also near Patio Bullrich, an international shopping center for luxury goods from Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent to the famous Argentine leather and wool.
But the main attraction of our tour was tango, and the high point of our days were dance classes in the San Telmo studio of Maria Edith, a dancer of international acclaim. She and her dedicated team of tango teachers introduced us to the dramatic sounds and movements of the dance that is the embodiment of Argentine culture. Maria Edith taught us not only tango steps, but also the philosophy behind it, like the fact that women are led by the male partner and follow his moves. A fascinating experience, to say the least…
Buenos Aires lives at night and the Portenos are a fun loving people. Dinner happens after 9, and the streets are full of people until late hours. Our group soon adjusted, and each night took us to a different restaurant. For the famous Argentine beef, we chose a traditional place in La Recova area; for local flavor we drove to La Boca – a working class neighborhood where tango was born and still rules – to dine in a place that is also a ‘shrine’ to soccer team Boca Juniors, the leading team in a city where soccer is almost a religion.
The professional tango shows we attended were fantastic! We also discovered an off-the-beaten-path orchestra, Fernadez Fierro, which is starting to attract attention the way Astor Piazzolla did once, before achieving international fame. The audience at this funky place was mostly young people and Europeans, who always seem to know where the good stuff is.
Our excellent driver was Mathias, a Porteno who knew his city well and made sure we were always safe. He took us to sophisticated Puerto Madero, hip Palermo Viejo, busy Calle Florida, the museums Evita and Malba, all along telling the history and curiosities of Buenos Aires like only a local could. He even took us to some secret addresses for the high-quality leather coats, jackets and stylish boots Argentina is famous for.
On our last day – by pure chance – we got tickets to the opening match of the Argentine Open Polo Championship, the major polo tournament in the world. The Argentines are the undisputed leaders of the ‘sport of kings’, and the opening of the polo season attracts a very worldly crowd. Nowhere in the world polo is played quite like in Argentina, Mathias explained, introducing us to some of its rules. Nothing like a driver who knows his polo, I say. Only in Buenos Aires!
Leaving the city to go back to New York, I made an ambitious note to myself: to come back to Buenos Aires soon, to learn how to dance tango like a Porteña. Tango is another world, and getting better at it is definitely on my bucket list.