Eyes Gently Shut

With Spring in the air, pleasant clients out and about and all good with the world, we went for an early afternoon walk. Which soon led to hunger which soon led us to Palermo Hollywood. And while heading to Chipper for fish and chips, we passed another favourite that was offering an excellently priced set menu and we sadly got diverted. And while more of this in another post (once the management has had a chance to respond to my note to them), after settling down with two excellent pisco sours, we realised that everything that didn’t come out of a bottle had gone to shit. Yes I am afraid there is no more accurate (or polite) way to describe it and please bare in mind that even your granny would say “se fue a la mierda” here.

To say we were disgruntled is an understatement. We were actually sad and angry. To lose a favourite is like a bereavement. And it also entails more work and expenditure to find a replacement recommendation for our guests. Of course it could just have been a bad day, chef absent due to death in family sort of thing but I kind of suspect it is more serious. The atmosphere had changed. It’s a restaurant based on expensive primary ingredients. Inflation at 35% is probably killing them. They may have been scrimping over the set menu but they will kill their trade like that. Their staff will soon leg it back to Peru.

So how to recover the beauty of the day? I’m not rich anymore so we can’t afford to go out wining and dining twice in a day. I summoned up the email that the Ministry of Culture sends me every Friday, telling me how to spend the following week. What ideas did they have for me? Quite a few as it seemed but I’d already seen the DUDANDOT project at the Sivori Gallery. Fun but not twice, though there is also an amazing ceramic sculpture exhibition that is worth a look.

The huge itinerant exhibition (1500 pieces/450 artists) of masters of Ibero American art (I’m not even sure what that means but it seems to be modern artenesal), has apparently just arrived in BA but is spread out over 2 museums and I’d already walked for a couple of hours. Better to leave that for another day or two or three and anyway it’s on for a few months. A couple of things didn’t start till midweek. A couple of other things seemed too complex artistically for my simple mind. Fusions of film, music, history and performance that risked simply confusing me. And then I hit on the perfect suggestion. A solo performance by the renowned Austrian violinist Édua Zádory, playing everything from Bach to some more modern Austrian/Hungarian composers topped up with some recent Argentine works. In the lovely concert hall at the Usina del Arte that only holds 250 people and is acoustically designed for un-amplified performances. It sounded simple. One woman, one violin and some music that I would be entirely ignorant of. For a grand cost of nothing to go and see, other than making the effort to drive down to La Boca. So we did.

To say it was exceptional might be a case of a MacDonalds habitue suddenly being confronted by Heston Blumental’s food. I’m really not qualified to judge. Was she an amazing violinist? It seemed so to me. She seemed to be able to move across the centuries with verve and precision but then I’ve never been to a solo violin concert before. Frankly I didn’t even know how many sounds one violin could make…many of them simultaneously! But La Doctora is a bit more educated than me. After all, free concerts in Buenos Aires are nothing new. She’s been popping into the Teatro Colon for their free afternoon offering for years and she said it was impressive and who I am I to disagree. And so while we spent the afternoon walking back from the cheap but awful meal, bemoaning the plague of inconsistency of Argentine restaurants, we then spent the drive back from La Boca elated by the fact that we could risk seeing something that we had no idea about, because the city was happy to educate us. We had a world class experience that quite frankly we probably wouldn’t have risked if it had come at world class prices.

My strongest impression? I spent most of the concert with my eyes gently shut. After all it was one woman, one violin, dim lighting. Not much to see. But I did wonder afterwards, when was the last time I was out in a public space surrounded by a couple of hundred people with my eyes shut, only really using one of my senses? Life seems to have become multi-media. What, they just listen? What do they do with their eyes? They’re going to get bored! Don’t they need something to take photos of? No, why don’t we do a wine tasting with carefully chosen electronic music that goes with each grape type? And no I’m not making that up, I got the invitation. It’s a pleasure, a relaxation, to give yourself over to one sense. I can imagine my granny with her first decent record player. Obviously you don’t stop thinking but the thoughts sort of drift over. I was obviously still thinking about food and my normal bugbear, food presentation. I was thinking about dinner blindfolded. Obviously taste is both oral and nasal but the blindfold would get you back to fundamentals. Apparently there is a place in Almagro that does this. I’m going to go. What happens to all these modern cooking techniques if you can’t see them? is a sphere or a foam diminished or intensified? More surprising or less? 

So God bless Buenos Aires. They make it pretty difficult to have a bad day here. It’s tricky not to stumble across something that inspires you if you make half an effort. Sometimes if you really want to relax you just have to opt out. “Hacer fiaca” is the official name for deliberately not doing anything. It’s perfectly acceptable as an excuse in a city where “i’m broke” doesn’t cut the ice. But hell, I’m English. I’m genetically programmed to get out of the house and do something the moment the weather is vaguely nice. I have a terror of the next 44 days when it wont be. Will I exhaust the possibilities that the city offers me? Well I’ve been here five years and it still seems fresh. I’m not a long term guy but you won’t see me budging for the next five!

I apologise for the lack of soundtrack while reading my blog. A bit of Pampa Trash would have been nice. And the visuals, pathetic, no photos, not even a cute cat! If you didn’t understand it because it wasn’t divided into a list of the “5 Unmissable Things in BA”, mea culpa. I’m not very modern. But if you want to appreciate the exhaustive and exhausting cultural and social life of BA, come and stay with us. It’s an old fashioned city with old fashioned values, even applied to the modern. Last week’s Cigar, Chocolate and Wine tasting did work. 

Not all multimedia is bad.

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What I love about BA 3: They don’t talk about cars.

I don’t like to think about the hours of my life that have been wasted listening to conversations about cars. I say listening because I know so little about the subject that I was never able to make an intelligent contribution. Neither did my attempts at humorous interventions elicit warm chortles. “How’s your Bentley Chicken Massala going?” is unlikely to inspire lasting friendship with the guy who has just mortgaged his mother to buy said Turbo Mulsanne. But it was my only car joke and it’s owner was a prick who used to ensure that everyone knew he drove a Bentley by parking it in the pub car park in a way guaranteed to block several other guests, so that the barman would be obliged to ask who owned the Bentley and its clearly under-endowed owner could proudly move it. Repeatedly. And given how irritated its owner became after my repeated mispronunciation added to the fact that he was continually talking about said appendage replacement, I felt I had to ask. Repeatedly.

I could perhaps understand the obsession to talk cars in somewhere like Germany where you can still drive at a thoroughly scary speed. However the photo album from my last trip to England is entirely peopled by pictures of me jockeying some little ford with a minuscule engine, kindly provided by the speed cameras belonging to those nice chaps at the metropolitan police. If after two weeks in a Ka I can’t afford to return to my country (my mother obligingly wrote back to them to explain she had no idea where I lived), how can a Ferrari owner ever afford to leave his garage?

Of course in Argentina you can still drive at a scary speed and in a terrifying manner, with virtual impunity. It would be actually be fun to have a fast car here. I cleverly consulted my taxi driver of 18 years, the omniscient Juan, before making my automotive purchase thinking I would get the ins and outs of what made a vehicle mechanically suited to the mean streets of Buenos Aires (think break pedal connected to horn, accelerator peddle connected to horn, roll bars, bull bars, papier mache break pads that need to be preserved by not using them, security devices for electrocuting street corner window-washers etc.).

“Don’t get anything that makes you stand out. It might make you a target for robbers or even express kidnapping” There went the first rank of luxury autos. “Don’t buy anything not made in Mercosaur, you won’t get the parts due to the import restrictions.” There went the possibility of a hot hatch and narrowed the field to about 4 brands.

“So what do I buy?”

“A Ford Ecosport.”

“Why?”

“Because it is about the most common vehicle on the road, so the odds are that if someone wants to steal one it won’t be yours. And don’t wash it, even car thieves prefer a shiny, fragrant car.”

So there we have the reason why I have never wasted a moment here listening to a conversation about cars. While in all other things the Argentines veer towards stubborn individualism, with car purchases that wily element known as la viveza criolla takes over. They look at their neighbours cars and deliberately buy the same, calculating that they have just cleverly reduced the risk of having theirs nicked. And of course as they all drive the same car and none of them has any outstanding feature other than that of being unremarkable, job done, there is nothing to talk about.  Car communism perhaps but I like it.