It was the steak that did it. It wasn’t the first steak I’ve ever had. But it was the first time I really got how good steak can be. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, every mouthful packed with flavour… and I don’t even like meat that much.
Then came the wine. Malbec, smooth and mild, not like a hit-you-over-the-head-with-how-full-bodied-I-am-shiraz. Good quality in every restaurant on every street corner, no matter how cheap and cheerful. I was smitten.
Argentina’s famous Malbec Wine!
I am a wanderer by nature – at least I was, in my 20s. Now, at the ripe old age of 30, I look for places that I can stop in for a little while. Buenos Aires had me hook, line and sinker. It wasn’t the tourist attractions, though they are plentiful – the San Telmo markets, the museums, Recoleta cemetery, the Pink House. It was the rest of it, the things that makes a city somewhere to live instead of just visit.
The colourful La Boca neighbourhood
The beautiful parks, immaculate green spaces right in the middle of the city. The architecture, with neoclassical, art nouveau and French colonial all in the same street. These stately buildings were surely the inspiration for the term ‘crumbling grandeur’ in the first place. The culture that loves dessert so much it can support an ice-cream parlour or gourmet chocolatería on every street corner. The Argentine passion, reflected in the love of tango, football, Evita. The strange mix of opulence and grit imposed by the floundering economy. People do what they can with what they have.
Tango scene, in a plaza near the San Telmo markets
Argentine worker, outside a workshop at the San Telmo markets
And the language: lilting, spoken faster than elsewhere on the continent and with soft ‘sh’ sounds instead of ‘y’ sounds – guaranteed to confuse all of us who are just getting the hang of it. It’s peppered with unique slang and an arsenal of inexplicable hand gestures, like tapping your right elbow with the palm of your left hand to call someone a cheapskate. I want to spend a lifetime getting it right.
Tango dancers, Café Tortoni
This time I could only spend a week in BA, but I’ll be back. I’ll rent an apartment in one of the many distinctive neighbourhoods, maybe trendy Palermo or dignified Belgrano. I’ll complain about the economy and keep an eye on the blue market for US dollars; warn my visitors to watch out for petty theft by tapping a finger under my eye. I’ll casually wander over to Uruguay for the weekend like it’s no big deal that it’s a whole other country. I want to be a porteño, even if only for a little while. Because Buenos Aires is now under my skin.
About the Writer:
Shilpa Pullela has been feeding her travel habit since she was 16 and is up to 52 countries and counting. She is a traveller of the wander-around-and-get-lost-