By Richard Varr
They say Buenos Aires is the “Paris of the South America” – where grand boulevards carve through a city center with Mansard-roofed palaces, shaded squares centered with European-like sculptures, and with lavishly decorated baroque-style churches.
But after spending three days in the Argentine capital, I found that the city’s diverse architectural styles and traditions prove it to be a mix of creativity and tastes from many cultures.
“From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, we are just a reflection of the powers that once fought in Europe,” assert tour guide Alejandro Fango. Buenos Aires is a melting pot of European communities – Italians, Armenians, Irish, Brits and Spaniards, to name a few – who brought with them their traditions as wave after wave of immigrants settled there through the 19th and 20th centuries.
“It’s like walking in New York,” says one visitor staying at an upscale hotel in the city’s tree-lined Recoleta neighborhood.
With its trendy shops, boutiques and street-side cafes, Recoleta reminds me of New York’s Upper East Side, which could also be the home of the landmark Art Deco Kavanagh apartment building in Buenos Aires’ adjacent Retiro neighborhood.
Across town, meanwhile, the brightly painted corrugated tin houses of the bohemian and working class La Boca and San Telmo neighborhoods bring to mind Mexico City or Barcelona.
“It’s our Bronx,” quips Alejandro. Locals, called porteños, will tell you the area is the true soul of Buenos Aires where sensual Tango dancing was born in the 1880s. The colorful walls stem from early Genoese immigrants scrounging buckets of paint to illuminate poor and gloomy slums. Today, the neighborhoods boast popular Tango clubs.
On one balcony, I see artwork figurines bursting with bold expressions which Alejandro calls the “Holy Trinity” of Argentina – caricatures of soccer legend Diego Maradona, the iconic social reformer Eva Perón and Carlos Gardel, the “voice of Tango.”
No visitor to Buenos Aires misses learning more about the charismatic Perón. “Evita not only included the thousands of women, humble and working class people in the socio-political life of Argentina, but she also dignified most of them,” Evita Museum guide Santiago Regolo tells me.
“On the other hand, many people who know Evita come here because of Madonna’s movie with its impressions of her.” Visitors flock to her final resting place in Recoleta’s famous cemetery, where mausoleums sit side by side within what looks like a cramped miniature cityscape.
And in the central Plaza de Mayo, where Spanish conquistadors founded Buenos Aires in 1580, I see the very balcony of the so-called government “Pink House” where Evita addressed the masses in the 1940s and 50s, and where Madonna sang “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”