30 Apr 2007
Today I have been to Puerto de Olivios to the north of the city. My invitation came from Julia, Miguel, Carlos and Ednia. The venue was a country park on the banks of la Plata, looking out across the Rio towards Montevideo and Uruguay. This particular park is owned by the Argentine military authority for their personnel. Carlos is an employment lawyer, but as the son of a former military ruler, has life membership. It is beautifully appointed with BBQ areas and tables spead across the lawns towards the river, a total contrast to the hustle of Buenos Aires. We set off from Retiro station, the Victorian edifice that is part of what remains of the original English railway system. The train was ancient and cramped taking local people to visit relatives outside the city or to escape for the day. It drags noisily across old tracks, hardly exceeding 25 miles per hour, with cars passing ahead on the adjacent roads. Between the tracks are sheds covered with tin or tarpaulins, reminiscent of South Africa, occupied by the homeless as one way to escape shop doorways of the city. It is only embarking on this journey that the reality of 6 million people living in greater Buenos Aires dawns. No longer protected by the city centre, the visitor is exposed to another side of Argentina, where streets and apartments go on through bario or neighbourhood onto the next district, some like Belgrano, expensive with wonderful tennis courts and the President's home, and others down at heel save for the verdant vegetation which lines streets and railway sidings. In all are the old colonial homes, often dilapidated as if left back from a bygone era as the only remnants of Argentina's prosperous past.
Asado in Buenos Aires is something to behold. The grill has to be at least four feet in length to accommodate the mountain of steaks which form the backbone of dining outside. Clouds of smoke arose from dozens of charcoal fires as the Argentine men, expert in the task, prepared the meat. The women prepare everything else. We sat as a family, ate, drank local wine and chatted as the afternoon sun sank across the Rio de la Plata, at one stage the rippling waves appearing like sparkling orange peel with evening light. Fleets of little yachts bobbed out in the Rio, and flocks of green parrots flew noisily to their roosts where they would rock in the trees as they climbed the flexing branches.
Julia Miguel and I travelled back on the train, recognising some of the families who had been on the outward journey. This time the train crawled back through the dark towards Retiro as if struggling under the strain of its occupants. I was informed that the train was in fact quite empty compared with weekdays.
Once back to the city we retired to the bookshop in Palermo. Now later Sunday evening and filled with readers who would occasionally rise for coffee or a soft drink, a cake or biscuit and return to their book. Yes, people did buy books, but this seems secondary to the process of relaxing and reading, or in some cases, snoozing with a book in the lap. An unhurried end to a successful, gentle and informative day.