As I am fond of reminding some of my expat friends, whose prior shopping experience appears to be limited to giant chain stores and who bemoan the lack of choice and quality available in Buenos Aires (I suspect they only go to the closest equivalent of such establishments here), you can get almost anything here if you know where to look! Yes the pursuit of decent bacon for The 5th Floor, has led me to early morning, back room negotiations, beer in hand, around a monster smoking machine (like Hunter S Thompson I always travel with my lawyer and La Doctora always photographs the evidence).
Smoked or salted? What’s your fix? Of course like all vaguely illegal things, there might be side effects. Yes you are going to enjoy breakfast at The 5th Floor, but your doctor would not recommend it every day. We can do the fruit and yogurt detox if the below gets too much.
But there are some things that are a bit more fundamental to your lodging experience than a few slices of bacon. You’re going to want furniture. And you probably want it to be nice? After all I’m selling this place to you on its Art Deco ambiance. You’re going to be pretty disappointed if your room is crammed with Ikea’ish chain store generics. Well, you can buy real 1930’s Art Deco here, but unfortunately I didn’t have US$ 50,000 per room as a decorating budget. Or you can do Americano, some of it very elegant, too much of it and you end up with the set of “Mad Men”. And Art Deco bedrooms were normally made up of matching sets, the same theme picked out throughout the different pieces in the room. But even if you can find this, its unlikely to fit my rooms because most of it was made bespoke.
“I’m going to have mine made bespoke.”
My expats friends looked at me with pity in their eyes. They knew I was heading to the dark side.
“This is the mix I want,” I continued. ” Walnut, Black Lacquer, Birds Eye Mable, that kind of thing. In these designs….?” I waved a grubby sheet of paper showing a few classics I had found on the internet.
“Good luck son,” was the most supportive and least condescending response.
But as my slightly unusual life experience has taught me, where there’s a will there’s a way. I know what I want, I don’t want it diluted, cut or adulterated. I’m not going to take the easy option, pop down to the Recoleta Design Centre or flash my plastic around the boutique stores of Palermo Hollywood. Actually I don’t have much plastic left but I do have 3 kilos of pesos in grubby piles. Enough to tempt the Capos of furniture production to make my own special blend?
Luckily I have contacts. I sidle down to the Fish and Chip shop and agree that they will take me to the source. Then they relieve me of a kilo downpayment and promise the cut will be to my liking. They are going to throw in some coppered glass and some smoky stuff for free. I negotiate an additional desk as well. And I need them to refine some of the gear I’ve already got. They agree.
Then I wait for the contact.
6 weeks later the first of the product is polished. We can have it delivered or see it in situ. I opt for the former. “It’s not where you would normally shop,” they remind me. Well, it certainly wasn’t Florida Street!
So we rendezvoused at an out of town petrol station and followed them down some dirt roads. Yes! This is where you go shopping.
Time to talk to the team.
And inspect the merchanise…..Yes!! The enormous buffet that I bought from the Uruguayan gipsies is looking good, or at least one of the doors is.
And then they pull the covers back from the rest of order.
El Capo is watching me carefully for a reaction. He tells me that I am the first Englishman he has ever met. I’m thinking about his pitbulls outside. I suspect they eat what they kill.
But it’s going to be OK. The stuff is de la puta madre. Yes, there’s a layer of dust covering everything, but as they wipe it off the quality of the work becomes evident. Thankfully I’m not going to have to pull my non existent gun and demand my wonga back.
And they have more where that came from, a load of my walnut waiting to be polished up.
I have a last little look to check it shines in the sun.
Happy? Me? I’ve done a few hundred thousand peso furniture deal. I’ve ventured into the hinterland of wood polishers. I have rare breeds adorning my madera. The pitbulls kissed my hand.
We slap backs, we kiss, we exchange compliments. They tell me that the furniture will be delivered at the end of next week. The horse groans. It knows it’s starting off towards the capital tomorrow.
I hope my guests appreciate that this is not just furniture. It’s a furniture story.