Tag Archives: La Boca

Overwhelmed by Buenos Aires

Thursday 14 March 2024 – Bloody hell, Buenos Aires!  We’ve had a whistle stop tour which took five hours and done a couple of other things and I am completely overwhelmed by the place, and not always in a good way.  We’ve seen a huge amount in a very short space of time and I’m struggling to piece together a coherent story, so please bear with me as I flit from topic to topic in a disorganised way.  For a city which has only been in existence for 200 years, there’s an awful lot of history and culture to take in, and I’m not sure my brain’s up to it.  This will be a loooong post, with lots of pictures. Be warned.

By the way, this is just the city tour.  We also did Other Stuff, which I shall expatiate upon, probably at length, in at least one separate post.

Our guide for our whistle-stop tour was Mariana, who (you remember, of course) had greeted us on our first arrival three weeks ago and who was looking after us for our time here.  We discussed our overall schedule for a few minutes and then went out – in the rain, which still hadn’t really abated after several days of persistent pissing down – to get in to our car with driver Eduardo.

The car had seen many, many better days. There was a crack from left to right across the windscreen, the fuel filler flap was missing, and the SERVICE light was illuminated on the dashboard. Every so often the car would make the special Citroën alarm noises with which I’m so familiar, since I own one at home.  However, mine only complains when there’s something legit to complain about; Eduardo’s would bleep away and he would fiddle with door locks and other controls to try to make it shut up.  However, it got us to where we needed to go, which felt like it was was all over the bloody place but was actually only in about four areas, while Mariana pointed out government buildings, university buildings, churches, embassies and other points of interest while maintaining a stream of comments about Buenos Aires’s history and culture which was very difficult to keep up with.  But now, for example, I know that most citizens in Buenos Aires are into psychoanalysis and most go to a therapist, to the point where if you don’t, people think you’re a bit odd.


The basic geography:  BA is divided into 48 neighbourhoods, or barrios.

Our hotel is in Recoleta, a nice neighbourhood.  We also spent a lot of time in Palermo, which is also nice – most countries appear to have their embassies there. We also visited San Telmo (there was no fire there) and La Boca, the last of which is jolly fun during the day but, we are told, is not a place to visit in the evenings. There is also a downtown area, around Retiro and San Nicolas, also Not Safe After Dark, reportedly.

The city is one of contrasts – fine buildings in Nice Areas and clearly griding poverty and homelessness in others. With the ridiculous levels of inflation that the country is undergoing it was never clear to me how to get any local currency (it’s best, apparently, to go to a money changer recommended by someone you respect) and so whenever I was Out And About I felt exposed. I had no clue about the geography or distances and would have been exceedingly reluctant to take a taxi anywhere for fear of being ripped off or worse. It’s a shame that I never really felt relaxed here, and that contributed to the overall sense of being overwhelmed by the place.

Our first stop, which kind of summed up my image of Buenos Aires and Argentina, was “Floralis Genérica“, a gift to the city by the Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano. Catalano once said that the flower “is a synthesis of all the flowers and, at the same time, a hope reborn every day at opening.” It was created in 2002. The aluminium sculpture, a thing of beauty, was designed to move, closing its petals in the evening and opening them in the morning.

Sadly, it’s fucked.

The electronics employed in opening and closing the flower were disabled in 2010 to prevent damaging the sculpture, and it remained permanently open until 2015. One of the petals was incorrectly installed during its assembly, as noted by Catalano himself. The company responsible for its construction, Lockheed Martin Aircraft Argentina, provided a 25-year warranty, but as the company was nationalised in 2009, its repair was delayed. The mechanism was functional again by June 2015. In the early hours of December 17, 2023, parts of the sculpture (including a main petal) fell due to a strong storm. And now there’s (a) no money, expertise or political will to repair it and (b) because of the parlous state of the area’s economy, people keep stealing bits of it to sell illegally. Such a shame; it must have been a thing of joy in its time – something once rich and fine, now in decline, matching my view of the city and country.

Our next stop was at a statue of General San Martin, who is regarded as a national hero of Argentina, Chile and Peru and one of the liberators of Spanish South America.  He (and a couple of his mates) liberated Argentina from Spanish rule in a war from 1810 to 1816. The British were involved in fighting around this time, too and I haven’t quite understood who was fighting whom and for what.  I think the French were probably angling for a fight, too, but I can’t honestly be sure.  The history of Argentina and Buenos Aires is hideously complicated.

Suffice it to say, though, that the practical upshot of all this buggering about is a city that is just 200 years old and with a rich heritage of European architecture.  As Jane and I noted in our first visit here before we went south, there are vast numbers of elegant 19th century European buildings here.  The embassies of foreign countries tend to be palaces, like the British Embassy

and many neighbourhoods (particularly Recoleta, where our hotel is), have a lot of buildings which would not look out of place in Paris.

So when someone wanted to build an art deco house

it was not welcomed among the neighbours.  But it got built anyway.

It could not possibly have been long before the name of Eva Perón cropped up; and we passed the Plaza Evita, where there is a monument to her.

Having never been to see the show or the film about her, I didn’t really know much about her except for the “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” thing.  Apparently, actresses in her day (1930s) were held in lowly regard, with most people lumping them in with prostitutes and other low-lifes.  So her and Juan becoming an item was pretty scandalous, but one has to admit she made a pretty good fist of things despite this. More on her later.

Next stop was the cultural centre of Recoleta, which included the Basilica Nuestra Senora del Pilar

which we popped into for a quiet moment to admire, among other things, the lovely tiling work there.

I was amused, as we walked out, to see the longest feather duster ever in my experience.

Nearby is a huge, and very old, fig tree.

It is so old that its branches reach out a considerable distance.  Someone had the bright idea of including one of them in an art installation.

Also nearby is a building which used to be a convent but its frontage been gussied up a little.

I think it’s wonderful, but apparently people are a bit sniffy about it.

We called in at a café in the area, called La Biela.

At one of its tables there’s another art installation; wax models of two famous writers and intellectuals who spent much time in La Biela,

Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Next, we visited the cemetery in Recoleta. I begin to wonder if you, my loyal reader, are worried about our preoccupation with cemeteries, which figure not infrequently in these pages.  This one, morbid fixation or not, is an SSSI – a site of significant sightseeing interest. It is vast,


covering 5.5 hectares, or 14 acres in old money, and packed – 4,691vaults, all topped with statuary and other mausoleum-type materials, You can see from the above shot that there is a central spot from which avenues radiate out.

and there are some astonishing mausolea there.  To spare you an endless litany of photos, I’ve put a set on Flickr for you to look at if your pro-cemetery inclinations match ours. Click below to view them, if you like.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I will share one photo, though, which is the main reason for people to flock to this place.

“Duarte?” I hear you cry. “Who the actual?”.

Evita. Her full name was María Eva Duarte de Perón – Duarte was her maiden name. That’s why people come here.  Frankly, I’m buggered if I know how to find it, but Mariana led is there deftly, via some of the 94 other figures of national importance who are also buried there – and pointing out that some mausolea are abandoned, disused and in a poor state.  It’s not possible to cram any new sites in, and existing sites that are for sale fetch huge amounts of money; but the ownership of some of the abandoned sites has been lost and so they moulder away.

After the cemetery, the cathedral.  From the front, it doesn’t look much like a church.

but if you look carefully, you can see a dome just above the pediment, which is a clue. It looks large, and it is.

You can see the beautiful tiling in the photos above, and there’s lots  of it.

and it’s encouraging to note that there’s some restoration work going on in places which need it. There are many, many chapels (I lost count after six) but the main, suitably impressive, one is dedicated to that chap San Martin.

It’s guarded. By guards. Two of them.

but it’s utterly impossible to get a decent photo of the area because of the photographic feeding frenzy going on around it.

At least they weren’t taking selfies, which is the only redeeming feature of the scene.

One of the reasons for the vibrant and varied cultural scene in BA is the amount of immigrations that’s happened over the years – Russians, Polish, French, Italians and more.  A significant aspect of the Italian influence is visible in the bakeries.  We visited a posh one

which has a counter-intuitive name despite its very clear Italian heritage.

(We visited another, less posh, one later, so stay tuned.)

Just nearby is Plaza Mayo. This is nothing to do with a spread, a clinic or an ageing radio DJ, but a place of much significance to the Argentinians; its name come from week-long series of events that took place from May 18 to 25, 1810, in Buenos Aires, The result was the removal of Viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros and the establishment of a local government, the Primera Junta  on May 25. The May Revolution began the Argentine War of Independence. As similar events occurred in many other cities of the continent, the May Revolution is also considered one of the early events of the Spanish American wars of independence.

Several of the city’s major landmarks are located around the Plaza: the Casa Rosada (home of the executive branch of the federal government)

which features the famous balcony from where Evita gave her “don’t cry for me, Argentina” speech*;

the Cathedral, which you’ve already seen; the May Pyramid, the oldest national monument in the city, celebrating the first anniversary of the May Revolution.;

and the Equestrian monument to General Manuel Belgrano.

The stones surrounding the statue were placed in commemoration of Covid victims during the pandemic, as the people were dissatisfied with the government’s response to the pandemic.

Since 1977, the plaza is where the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have congregated with signs and pictures of desaparecidos, their menfolk (husbands, children, sometimes fathers), who were subject to forced disappearance by the Argentine military in the Dirty War, during the National Reorganization Process.  Their protest is permanently marked by the images of white headscarves in the black mosaic.

There’s  a lot of street art in Buenos Aires.  I took a photo of some

whose relevance will be revealed in due course – and lots and lots and lots later – stay with it.

Argentinians love their markets; that’s where they buy most of their food – there are no big supermarkets in BA. Mariana took us through the very considerable San Telmo market, where you can buy produce and also eat at the many establishments there.

Neighbouring San Telmo is La Boca, “The Mouth”, where the port is.

It’s also a place where the buildings become the street art.

It’s an extraordinary outpouring of colour. To save you having to scroll through dozens of photos, I’ve put them in a separate Flickr album, or you can click the image below.

Street Scenes at La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

One building is a popular attraction; Caminito.

On (queueing up and) payment of the requisite sum, you can go upstairs and have your photo taken beside Lionel Messi.

(It’s not the real Messi; just another fine Messi you can get into.)

Other street art in La Boca is plentiful – it even extends to the sides of buildings

and a local football stadium.  When the builders were choosing the decor, they decided to use the colours of the next ship to arrive.  It was


La Boca is also where we visited the non-posh Italian bakery.

Among other things they offer “amarchistic” baked goods.  I’d show you them, but that would be a picture of food and therefore Not Allowed; but bakers slyly created items that mocked the police, education, church and other elements of society – pastries called “facturas”, the word means “bill”, so emphasising the need for crafts such as baking to be recognised at their full value.

The above hits the highlights of our five hours of touring Buenos Aires.  It’s not exhaustive, but I hope it gives an impression of how varied it is; we only covered a few areas, and there would be much more to see had we the time.

We did do a few other things in the city, and the narrative at this point turns non-linear; a couple of days later, we visited one of Buenos Aires’s most famous buildings – El Ateneo. It was only a 10-minute stroll from our hotel and on the way I took some snaps of a couple of the street kiosks which are everywhere in Recoleta

and one of the rather stylish poster stands that dot the place as well,

reminiscent of the sort of art nouveau street décor one might find in Paris.

El Ateneo is a remarkable place – a theatre which has been repurposed as a book shop – an enormous, enormously stylish bookshop.

Just entering it shows what a stylish place it is.

Then you go through to the main area and get hit by a simply awesome sight.

This is the view from the second floor over the main part of the building as you look towards the stage.

Isn’t that just – fantastic?

It is.

And yet people can’t set eyes on this vision of wonderfulness without thinking that it would look better with them in it.

Bloody hell, it annoys me. Not only is it vapid but it delays people who just want to capture the scene for its awesomeness.

The stage

is a café

where we had coffee and alfajores, served by a nice local lass called, counterintuitively, Brenda. The ceiling above is a thing of joy

and other theatreish areas are used for other bookshopish things.

The place is simply stunning, and a decent way to end a post about what we’d seen in touring around this remarkable, scruffy, stylish, imposing, disorganised city.

We also did a couple of evening things in BA, since we had three days here. I will write about them in my valedictory post from this trip. But the middle day of our three in the area held the prospect of another Thing To Do in Buenos Aires, which is – to leave it.

Come back later and find out what that means, eh?


  • No, she didn’t.  That speech is a fiction from the show and the film, based upon the fact that in her latter days, before she dies very young from cancer, her speeches ran high in emotional content.  I found it very educational to read her Wiki entry. The balcony of the Casa Rosada was used for a powerful speech in front of a quarter of a million people; but the appearance was by Juan Perón, being released after 6 days in prison, in front of the gathered throng, who had demanded his freedom.