Monday, 5 March 2018

Return to Feria de los Mataderos

Assiduous followers of this blog will remember my last trip to the feria in November 2013. It is time for our return visit, today a romantic trip for Stephanie and me, our friends who were to accompany us have drunk too much wine in their jacuzzi last night.

Topping up the Sube card in Independencia, a stroll to Bolivar/Chile takes us five minutes; thence to board colectivo 126 which runs the 51 stops over 14 kilometers right out to the feria.

I should tell about the colectivos for those not familiar with the transport system here in Buenos Aires. ‘Colectivos’ are the public buses that cover every part of the city. Radiating out from the centre and initially sharing routes, they gradually gain exclusivity as they reach the outer barrios. Linea 126 starts at the APM terminal at the port district beyond Retiro, and runs via Monserrat, San Telmo, Caballito, Floresta, Parque Avellanida to Mataderos, terminating a few kilometers beyond at Cementerio Armenio de San Justo. Our Sunday journey will take just over an hour. The cost 6.75 pesos each way.

In el centro, the colectivos rush down one-way calles and avenidas between traffic lights, slowing only for the deep storm drains at intersections. Once out of the central barrios, still within the urban sprawl, our colectivo maintains a central lane, careering to the near side only when a passenger pushes the bell. With a split second to avoid collision, taxis, cars and trucks grind to a halt behind, only the motorcycles managing to swerve to maintain their progress.

As we reach Av Juan Bautista Alberdi we hit the cobbles - not the bone-wrecking type of San Telmo - but deep sets worn smooth by decades of traffic, providing a percussive drumming as we speed to our destination. The cobbles are as British as the rail terminals, old docks and post boxes here in Buenos Aires, for they were ballast in the holds of English ships arriving to collect Argentine beef. As we progress, the bus flashes with bright reflected sunlight from passing shop windows.

We reach Directorio 6000, and know that the feria is our next stop by the Anfiteatro de Mataderos and Skatepark to our left. The few passengers that remain decant into a sundrenched street. As five years ago, there is a hunger-inducing smell of parrillas on the morning air as asadores tend white bloomed charcoal in drums and long trays piled with cooked sausages and every cut of beef. 

Access to the feria is via Av Lisandro de la Torre, a wide avenida that is soon cut by barriers, indicating the start of the market. As we approach via the edge of the park, locals have spread white sheets bearing all manner of items, some home-made, others collected, or simply surplus to requirement. It is a chaotic boot fair, with families gathered together, drinking Mate and squinting under makeshift shades.

The formal stalls of the feria are quite different. To our left is one that is covered with steel and silver scabbarded knives - the decorative facóns, dagas, cuchillas and puñals of the gauchos. Over the way another stall is laden with bottles and drums of olive oil. Now we are about to pass a local craftsman tapping intricate patterns into Mate cups and opposite a stall selling traditional alpargatas.

The feria is awash with visitors. This being 4 March, the first day of the new season, most are locals with only a few tourists in evidence. The language is Castellano, not English, and the main currency is the peso not the card.

Before we reach the main square, we can hear the music. The feria is a folk event, so the tunes are those of chacarera, chamame, chamarrita, zamba. The dancers are already in the square. We spot our favourites from our previous visit. Aged a little, the crevices on their faces deeper, perhaps their stepping slightly slower, remarkably they acknowledge our arrival with a smile and wave. 

They are dressed in traditional costume, the men with deep-pleated pantalones held up with a cinturon de gaucho, the wide leather belt, frequently decorated with coins; the women in ankle length dresses with swishing petticoats. 

Here too is a new generation of dancers. Folklorique, once unfashionable with the young, is developing a new status, returning into the schools and providing a gateway to dance performance. 

The sun is hot, and before dancing, we call at Antigua Casa Galli at Lisandro de la Torre 2413, a store de ropa de trabajo and talabarterias so traditional that it has neither email nor web presence, reminding me of Charles Batten milliners in Soho London where in the 1970’s I worked as a student. With help from the proprietor and his elderly mother I select a traditional sombrero to team with my Aux Charpentiers bombachas. 

Three chacareras in the midday sun are quite enough for Stephanie and me, so we make our way to the adjacent asado where the Asadore directs his assistants away and leaves his coals to serve us himself. Glancing at my new sombrero and old bombachas, he declares that, for a gentleman gaucho, my copa de vino is free without charge and shall be served in his personal copa bronze, rather than a plastic cup. 

The lomito beef is so tender and succulent that our asadore’s knife slips through effortlessly. Sitting in the shade of huge Jacaranda trees, with a spoonful of chimichurri and copa de vino our meal is perfect.

We listen to the folklorique bands, then stroll the return journey via Av Lisandro de la Torre towards Directorio, dropping down to the junction with Murguiondo for the diverted linea 126. Taking the off-side back seat as is our custom, we sink into silence, perhaps due to the generous copa de vino, or simply having danced in the sun, whilst holding hands and reflecting on the joys of our day at the feria.

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