Sunday, October 20, 2013

No llorer por mi, Argentina

If Spain and Italy were to have a lovechild and stash it far away from the Continent, Argentina would be the fruit of their loins.  It's very Euro-feeling, with the buildings and the wide boulevards, even the Spanish has the cadence and expressiveness of Italian.  For my first trip to South America, I thought another foreign marathon would be appropriate.  Maybe not the best idea leading up to NYC, but I threw race planning prudence to the wind and went for it.  Four of us (was supposed to be five) set out to run Evita's streets and enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors along the way.
Pro tip - do NOT exchange money through official means or use a credit card.  Rather, find someone who will trade you dollars for pesos at almost twice the posted rate.  It makes a huge difference and is so much more affordable.
Carb-loading before the race was not ideal.  For a country with so many Italian immigrants, there is hardly any produce to be found on a menu.  Our usual meals consisted of steak and some form of potatoes.  Boy was it fabulous.  Our first stop once settled into the hotel was La Cabrera.  Empanadas were out of this world, so good that one of my traveling companions took some to go for her red-eye flight back home.  As we would soon discover, requesting the steaks be cooked "a punto" cooks the steak much more than the American palate prefers.  We also had good steaks post-race (more on that later) at Lo De Jesus, although service could have been a bit friendlier and intestines (chinchulines) are not "tripe".  Hands-down, the best steak we had was at La Brigada in San Telmo.  When we finally discovered that ordering steaks "jugoso" was the way to go, the waiter was able to cut our order with a spoon.  Like buttah, I tell you....
Tango is a really sexy dance.  However, it's not pornographic sport-shtupping, there's a plot, and it's not always romantic and loving.  Rather, there is an undercurrent of angry passion, longing, sadness, melancholy.  This comes out in spades at Rojo Tango at the Hotel Faena.  Amazing stuff, made me want to learn how to tango.  As our luck would have it, Steven Tyler was also at the show while in town for a concert, and after the show he had the pleasure of meeting the cast and posing for pictures.  The Puerto Madero area is much newer and swankier (read: more expensive) than other parts of Buenos Aires, but the show and our pre-theater dinner at Osaka were definitely well worth it.
I could feel some of the sadness that oozes out of the tango while walking around town.  La Recoleta Cemetary felt a bit creepy, with coffins exposed within the mausoleums rather than being sealed behind concrete or stone.  Outside the burial site, the political graffiti and demonstrations near the Casa Rosada and the murals that decorate the otherwise bleak La Boca made you feel that the wounds from La Guerra Sucia and prior have not fully healed.  However, this does give the city some soul and prevents it from feeling like any other place. Having a lomo de cerdo sandwich from a sidewalk parrilla that cost the equivalent of $3 is incredible, especially for the quality.  I hope Buenos Aires does not get too trendy and overpriced.
Mendoza was a nice respite after the race and usual hustle and bustle of life.  Despite obnoxious ticket prices on Aerolineas Argentinas (nice work creating a state monopoly, Kirschner), Entre Cielos was the ideal place to relax in between wine tours.  Rest was definitely what we needed after a marathon, steak meals at least twice a day, and then three wineries per day, which the hotel graciously set up.  M and I took advantage of the hotel's hammam, which involved several Turkish bath treatments before a massage.  How heavenly t odo nothing but relax and be pampered.  We ended up visiting Achaval Ferrer, Finca Decero, Septima, Catena Zapata, Ruca Malen, and Vina Cobos.  The landscape is stunning, and while the surrounding areas are not posh like in some American winegrowing regions, it still had incredibly charm.  Brindillas is a phenomenal restaurant, serving a beautiful tasting menu with impeccable service.  While the food was equally as good at Francis Mallman 1884, the maitre'd was a bit rude (aparently our reservation was misbooked but he insisted that reservations cannot be changed) and the service was just OK.
Before our trek home, one of M's colleagues took us for a boat ride on Rio de la Plata, and we floated our way through El Tigre.  The spring weather was perfect for a day on the water and was a nice closing for our South American adventure.  I'm looking forward to exploring more....