Buenos Aires is immediately charming. It feels warm, accessible, clean… and incredibly familiar. It looks like Paris, it looks like New York City, it feels like Rome and Madrid. Yet it’s none of these cities, and every one of them, all at once.
We pulled into BA on a bus from Córdoba, and as I looked out my window, noticed a Chelsea sign alongside red subway circles for the 1, 2, 3 and 9 in addition to the green line’s 4, 5, and 6… was I in New York City? Turns out I was just outside of the Plaza Holanda, or a smaller version of Central Park, that has 2 ponds and pedal boats, geese, a road for cars and joggers, open fields and trees. I haven’t been able to find these signs since, and can only assume they were posted for a party or film, but they were appropriate all the same.
This marks the edge of Palermo, where I live now, and which could easily be the West Village or SoHo, in New York City. In fact, they call this specific section of the neighborhood Palermo SoHo for that very reason. Plenty of expats roam the streets. Nondescript cafes and restaurants pepper the blocks next to mini bodegas, laundromats, and apartment buildings with caged-in terraces (which remind me more of Tel Aviv than New York City). Brick buildings, French baroque architecture, modern square apartments, and street art fill in the side view as you walk down the street. The food is great, the cafes are beautiful, and you can tell that you’re in a well-kept tree-lined city with giant parks just a stone’s throw away. Random alleys cut paths occasionally and cobble stone streets alternate blocks. The subway (the Subte) resembles New York City’s, but with much less grime and chaos. And it’s a city where you just want to walk and walk… and walk.
Buenos Aires is a European City in South America. It’s a refined New York City, with more 18th Century French architecture and less people on the streets (though I have been squished in subway cars, caught in pedestrian traffic at corners, and slammed in gridlock traffic… it still is a city, after all).
As a tour guide once said: the locals are -for the most part- Italian immigrants, influenced by the Spanish, who desperately want to be French. They have their own Spanish ‘vos’ slang (which has the tones and stresses of Italian), and are taller and lighter skinned than their neighbors to the north. In fact, the majority of the population doesn’t look or sound South American in the least bit.
When it’s nice out, the sky is a deep blue, just like in Córdoba. Cloudless and solid. It’s July now, the dead of winter, yet the average temperature is 53. It’s humid, though, so when it’s grey, it can feel 10 degrees colder and on the verge of rain.
Walking the city is refreshing, like walking the streets of New York City. The neighborhoods meld together and are filled with one alluring block after another. The architecture varies, but in the downtown neighborhoods, the city is filled with classical and neoclassical French styles, most built in the early 20th Century.
BA’s heyday was 1880-1930, right around when this city became the country’s capital, and when agriculture money brought the land owners in Argentina to Dubai status. That’s right, Dubai. The locals claim Argentina was the wealthiest country in the world at that time. Like Dubai today, the city went into a frantic building boom and instead of looking towards Spain for inspiration, the city replicated Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s Parisian layout.
The main square, Plaza de Mayo, was adjusted so that spectacular boulevards could fan out like rays of the sun. The square’s government building, the Cabildo, which remains as one of the few colonial structures still standing, was cut in half to make way for one of the boulevards. The square’s park, like many in the city, is a Parisian design. Casa Rosada, BA’s version of the White House (though the President doesn’t reside here and the building is pink, which is -some say- a result of bull blood mixed with the sealant on the building) directly faces the Cabildo. These two heads at either end of the square mark one of the most important spots in the city, being where the city began in 1580. The square itself, however, only provides a glimpse into the city’s beauty, design, and personality.
Buenos Aires is enchanting, but familiar. There’s an acute feeling of being on the other side of the world, way down here in the Southern Hemisphere, yet the city’s welcoming people and stunning architecture makes it feel like home.
Photos of Buenos Aires, below…