Friday, 6 December 2013

Reconquista

In October the sun rises early with flashes of light from the windows of passing taxis, that are ubiquitous here in Buenos Aires.

It is Tuesday, and today Stephanie and I are to meet with Cristina, a lawyer and mediator, whose practice mirrors my own. Our destination is the banking district in the micro centre of the city.
'Micro centre' is somewhat of a misnomer, as the area stretches eight blocks each way, and contains the heart of commerce, banking and shopping for Buenos Aires. In daylight hours, it is busy, and during working hours thronged with bankers, office employees, messengers, traders, tourists and just about everyone that makes a city work.

Our rendevous is in Calle Reconquista, a principal banking street - part pedestrianised to allow only the security trucks which carry cash and bullion to the Bank of Argentina. These are bomb-proof, with heavy plated steel, wheels of huge dimension and weight, and are invariably accompanied by police and security outriders Yamaha and BMW motorcycles.

Reconquista has not always been the centre of Latin American civilisation. This was the place where in 1806, the Spanish immigrants of Buenos Aires gathered to swear allegiance to their cause - the removal by force of their recent British overlords. After 46 days of occupation, William Carr Beresford was forced to surrender to the Spanish general, Santiago de Liniers, and the Rio de la Plata was returned to Spanish control.
Today's visit will not be quite so dramatic, involving discussions about legal process and mediation of disputes - over lunch with knives and forks, without a cutlass to be seen.

As we meet in the sun-drenched calle, the convent bell of tolls to call the monks of this last surviving order to prayer. The steps up to Convento San Ramon Nonato lead to a wide, dark corridor; but ahead is a fierce splash of light as we exit into the cloisters that surround the convent garden. Like none other in Buenos Aires, here is an enclosed place, festooned with the richest diversity of trees and flowering shrubs, and surrounded by tables set for lunch with white cloths and glinting glasses. The waiters bob from kitchen to customer, ensuring that the menu executivo is available for all of the diners.

We order steak, served with chips and salad, preceded by mozzarella in a light tomato and tabasco sauce, and followed by coffee or flan. It is accompanied by a glass of Malbec within the set price of 89 pesos (about £6.00).

Conversation ranges over business, mediation, politics and the cultural differences and resonances between Argentina and Britain. As we chat, birds fly from tree to flower under the canopy of palms. Around us sit business people, bankers and lawyers, ours being the only English voices. Elsewhere under the cloisters peep small antique shops and the indoor eating areas.

The convent's principal bell tolls - perhaps the end of mid-day prayer, and we rise from the square. With further legal meetings ahead we leave the tranquility of Convent San Ramon Nonato to head down Reconquista towards Avendia Corrientes, the street that never sleeps. For those seeking quiet moments in the sea of humanity that is Buenos Aires, here is your oasis.