2011-02-17

Discovering a different side of Buenos Aires

Written by Nicola Williamson & Olivia Puddicombe & Tom Hughes
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El Ateneo bookstore Located in the heart of Buenos Aires is the most magnificent bookstore. El Ateneo is widely viewed as one of the most splendid books shops around the world. The UK paper The Guardian certainly seems to think so, and has listed it as number two in their top ten best book stores from around the world. It is easy to see why and is a book lover’s paradise. Originally opened as a theatre in 1919 and then converted to a cinema in the 1920’s, El Ateneo has retained its former splendour, with grand painted ceilings, original balconies and ornate carvings still intact. Even the red velvet stage curtains remain as part of the decoration. Visitors are able to take books and sit in chairs around the theatre or sit in the theatre boxes, which are still intact. If visitors get peckish or thirsty, there is a café situated where the stage used to be, often with live music being played.

The Museo Evita The Museo Evita is easy to miss as it is not in the most touristy part of Buenos Aires.  The museum is in a house that Evita used as a shelter for homeless families.  From the moment you step inside you get a feel of the history.  The first room you go into has a video of her funeral playing.  When it finishes the message ‘Come and see my life’ flashes up on the screen.  The museum laid out chronologically, guides you through her life and takes you all around the house.  It is full of her outfits, belongings as well as newspaper cuttings and photos which all make the museum feel more personal.  From someone who is not a big ‘museum’ person, I loved the Museo Evita.  You learn so much about a woman who is such a big part of Argentina’s history and culture – it is well worth a visit.  And it has a lovely cafe too.  Enjoy.
Mataderos Mataderos is a market well worth making the effort to go to.  It not the most easily accessible but buy a ‘guia t’ and master the bus system and you will get there no problem.  Either that or it’s about 40 pesos in a taxi if you’re feeling extravagant!  The market is full of live folk music, regional food and gaucho shows.  The gaucho skills are amazing – you can watch the traditional ‘sortija’ competition that is best seen than described.  There are of course the traditional stalls selling a huge selection of silver, handmade leather, wood and wool.  I bought a leather satchel bag there for 70 pesos and everyone always asks me where I got it from.  I would highly recommend going if you have any present buying responsibilities as it is cheap, good quality and different to your standard markets.
The People's University of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo The People's University of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo is a private higher education university in Buenos Aires, which has been created by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.  In 1999 and after 23 years of struggle and conflict, the Madres de Plaza Mayo decided to use their experience and knowledge to create a University. The Madres’ wanted to teach the people of Argentina how to stand up for themselves and fight in what they believe in, so that no one would suffer the loss they had entailed after the Dirty War. The People’s University aims to encourage and stimulate critical and political thinking amongst its students. Through applying theory and practice in subjects such as Social Work, Advocacy and Human Rights, the University is involved in a range of social and political practices. In addition to teaching subjects, the University is also involved in many social movements and seminars, and also has its own radio programme: the Mother’s Voice.
The Desaparecidos Dotted around the calles of Buenos Aires are thousands of subtle monuments to the Desaparecidos; people who disapeared during the dirty war of the 70s in Argentina, they vary from the colourfull paving slabs found throughout San Telmo, to the more sombre concrete blocks with brass plaques found in barrios such as San cristobal and Boedo. Not funded by the state they were usually paid for by the friends and families of the dissapeared. They are easy to miss if you arent looking for them, but these subtle reminders of a darker the past are there for those who want to look for them and add to the sense of history that pervades these streets.
The Mate Mate is a part of Argentina’s culture that is inescapable and rightly so.  At first it may seem bizarre, people sitting in groups in parks or offices drinking what looks like grass (yerba) and water out of a round cup like thing (gourd) through a straw (bombilla).  However once you try it and decide how best you like it – with sugar (dulce) or without (armargo), you too will succumb to its powers.  In Argentina everyone drinks mate and the sharing of mate is a social tradition that has been around for decades.  In the summer the popular way to drink mate is with ice and orange juice – known as tereré it is a more refreshing version of the traditional mate but just as addictive.  If you have not tried mate yet go and buy the necessary cheap equipment and see what all the fuss is about.
CineClubsCinema has been an integral part of Argentine History, the advent of CineClubs as an alternative to the larger comercial cinemas is not a new one, but it offers an alternative night out if you're tired of the same old bars and club scenes, or simply want to see some interesting independant cinema, these small CineClubs are set in residential areas, and unless you know where you are going, you would probably just walk stright past, and unless you have a reservation you probably can't get in anyway. Talking to people is the best way to find yourself invited to come, but here is a link to point you in the direction of one of the better known ones. Enjoy
http://www.cineclubmonamour.com/

Closed Door Restaurants A trend that has been rapidly increasing on the Buenos Aires restaurant scene is closed-door restaurants, also known as restaurant a puertas or simply puertas cerradas. These restaurants aren’t really restaurants, but rather dinners served by talented chefs who invite a select few guests into their private homes for an intimate dining experience. The cuisine is at the discretion of the chef, and usually entails a pre-set menu combining a creative mixture of dishes and flavours. At a closed door restaurant you will usually share a table with others, providing an opportunity to mix with local Argentineans and people from around the world. Though closed door restaurants are underground, their secret is out and can be scouted out without too much trouble on the internet.

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