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     Volume 8 Issue 55 | January 30, 2009 |

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Visiting Buenos Aires
Impressions and Experiences

Azizul Jalil
Tango dancing in Buenos Aires.

We escaped from the winter of Washington for a few days in November 2008 and visited Buenos Aires (Spanish for fair winds). It was summer time- the seasons in Argentina being the reverse of North America, being south of the equator. It was our first visit. Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, is called the Paris of Latin America. The metropolitan area has a population of about 13 million. About one out of every three Argentineans lives in this city. It is one of the world's great cities and busiest ports. The People are seventy percent Italian and thirty percent Spanish. The language spoken is Spanish, as it was a long-time Spanish colony. With our knowledge only of English, it was difficult to go around the city. However, we found the people extremely courteous and helpful. It is an expensive city, though may not be as expensive as London or Paris. There was no trace of the original Indian population of Argentina said to number about 300,000 in the 16th century. They were totally and brutally eliminated during the early colonisation by the Portuguese and the Spanish. This fact is freely admitted by at least some people, young and old, whom we met during our visit.

Among the things on our priority list were seeing the fine city with its French architecture and wide treelined avenues, going a bit to the country-side away from the huge metropolis, watching a Tango dance and listening to Argentinean music and going over to Uruguay by majestic hovercrafts across the sea-like Rio de la Plata (Silver River.) We also had a fascination to see things associated with Evita, a rousing public speaker and successor to her husband Juan Peron as president of Argentina. We managed to accomplish most of our objectives during a short visit.

Seeing Tango dancing in Buenos Aires where it all started was essential for us. So within a few hours of our arrival in the city after a long ten-hour direct flight from Atlanta in USA, we booked one of the best dinner-cum-Tango shows in town at a restaurant and club called Almacen. We were picked up at 7:30 pm from our hotel and taken to the place-first for a nice dinner, at the end of which waiters walked us across the narrow street to the old-style Tango club with a stage for performances, and galleries and floors for guests to watch. Musicians were playing accordions, cellos, guitars and drums to create the right mood and ambience, and waiters were serving drinks of all kinds. At 10 pm the place became full of rhythm, eager expectation and all the readiness for the dancing to start.

It started with fast foot thumping and clapping, with a wonderful melody creating a sombre, melancholy mood of love and deep affection. The four men and four women performed with deliberately exaggerated rhythmic movements. At the same time, it was stylish and sophisticated, carrying the spectators to heights of ecstasy and enjoyment. In one of the items that I enjoyed the most that evening- two men were playing the accordion in a duet -each one by turn challenging the other, with an inviting note and the other giving a vigorous response. The improvised and powerful exchanges were exciting similar to the ones we saw about two decades ago at the Washington Cathedral with Pandit Ravi Shankar at the sitar and Zaker Khan at the tabla.

The mood of the spectators was joyous and the young and the old were sharing in a unique atmosphere of unity and harmony. When it ended after two hours at midnight, the audience woke up from a deep slumber, realising that the dream was over and reality of life would begin in a few hours next morning.

The next day, we went by bus on a conducted tour of the city. We saw the magnificent Faculty of Law of the Buenos Aires University with its huge Roman colonnades and the modern faculty of Engineering. On the way, we saw wide avenues with parks and green spaces.

The avenues were mostly lined with large Jacaranda trees with mauve flowers in full bloom. Another variety of tree, which we saw in plenty on the roadside was Palos, large trees with small yellow flowers. The latter reminded us of the Radhachuras of summer time in the streets around the Sangsad Bhaban. In the centre of the city, the Avenue July 9 was 400 feet wide and one of the widest avenues of the world . The avenue has a large Obelisk at one end, commemorating Argentina's independence (1816.) In a park we saw what was called the world's largest flower. It is made of metal- looks like a giant Tulip bud, which slowly opens in the morning and closes in the evening.

We saw la Rosa Casada, the huge pink-coloured presidential office downtown and a floating casino in the river at one end of the city. We visited a small park with Evita's commemorative statue and a church vault in which the body of Evita was kept. We then went on a pleasant catamaran (boat) ride to a small island called Tigre and then visited by train to a small town called Isadora. People of Buenos Aires as well as tourists like to go there on weekends for recreation, meals and shopping in the unique handicrafts market near the commuter train station. Fine hand-made leather goods and attractive clothing made of fabric and laces were available. Back in Buenos Aires, we visited on foot a magnificent city shopping mall near our hotel-Galleria Pacifico on the Florida Street. It is of great beauty and fine architecture-its high ceiling has paintings like in Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. When the economy was down for some years in Argentina, it was temporarily converted into a Railway Headquarters.

Our visit on a day trip by hovercraft, which we never had the chance to ride in the past, to Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay on the other side of Buenos Aires across River Plata was memorable. It was a journey of one hour each way by a fast hovercraft covering 45 kilometres of what appeared to be a vast sea. Colonia was colonised by the Portuguese in the seventeenth century by terrible acts of wholesale killing and destruction of the properties of the native Indians. We saw there an ancient fort, church and other buildings and cobbled roads with imaginative drainage systems. The area has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage in 1995. It is dependent economically on Argentina and being close by, many rich Argentineans come and live here with children for their schooling. The place is peaceful with no crime. Argentine pesos are freely accepted in the shops in Colonia. Interestingly, Ceibo, carmine red in colour, is the national flower of both Argentina and Uruguay.

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