Markets and Parks

Our plan for Sunday was to visit the Feria de San Telmo, the market and fair held in the San Telmo district of the city every Sunday. We would be using the subway to get there, but there appeared to be a problem with our usual starting point on the D-line so we had to walk a bit further to get a train at Malabia Station on the B-line. Undaunted by this minor obstacle, we utilised our new-found public transport expertise to negotiate our way to Independencia station whence we had memorised a straightforward route to our destination.

It transpires that this is a big day for Argentina’s third national sport after football and rugby: political protest.

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Small demonstrations were congregating in various side streets, presumably with the intention of coalescing, or conflicting, at some later point. I couldn’t dissuade Ishbel from taking a surreptitious snap. I’m fairly certain that protesters, in general, prefer to avoid being captured for posterity but in this case, they either didn’t care or didn’t notice.

We eased ourselves in the direction of the market’s epicentre, Plaza Dorrego, but were slightly distracted by a large antique/flea market in its immediate vicinity. There was an amazing quantity of Peron memorabilia – both Eva and Juan. It’s clear that the lure of Peronism and the cult of personality around them remains strong here.

The San Telmo Sunday Market is very popular and we moved along its thronged streets keeping a watchful eye on our belongings. It’s a pickpocketing hotspot here, for obvious reasons.

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Eventually we reached Plaza Dorrego and meandered through the stalls. We stopped at a little restaurant, attracted by the elegantly dressed couple standing outside. Clearly, there was going to be some tango in this place. Having judiciously avoided being corralled into any of the many outrageously priced tango shows available across the city, we decided a little light lunch here might provide our fill of the dance.

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We each had a salad while these two performed immediately in front of us on a tiny little dance floor. A stiletto heel whizzed past my ear as a couple of acrobatic movements were performed but luckily neither we nor any of the other diners were at any point impaled. This was a fun little add-on to our visit here and we were pleased to have seen tango performed during our visit. And we got a couple of fun photos out of it.

After lunch and another relaxed wander, we made our way back to the train station, passing yet another demonstration en route. It turned out that the D-Line was now running so we were able to get back to our usual stop at Plaza Italia and make our way back to the hotel.

The rest of Sunday evening was occupied with our previously booked Argentinian wine tasting. We presented ourselves at the JA wine shop at the appointed hour of 5pm and were escorted to their downstairs tasting room. We were the only two official customers for this evening, but our guide for the tasting had invited along a friend of his who is just starting a sommelier course in Buenos Aires. We were treated to a lovely selection of wines from boutique wineries that we would be unlikely to see in any mainstream wine store back home.

They also provided an excellent cheeseboard and cold cuts to accompany the wines. That was a pleasant conclusion to our Sunday evening and we retired to the hotel and made plans for our last full day in BA.

As part of our walking tour on Saturday, we had heard of a sculptor by the name of Lola Mora, an Argentinian woman who had scandalised polite society in the middle of the 19th century through her lifestyle and her works. Her masterpiece, the Nereids Fountain, was her gift to the Argentine people and government. Originally, it was sited just outside the Casa Rosada but was deemed so shocking that it was moved to an out of the way spot in Costanera Sur. As luck would have it, it was our intention to visit the Ecological Reserve in Costanera Sur, so we would be able to see what the fuss was all about.

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It’s a wonderful piece of public art and should definitely be in a more accessible part of the city.

We made our way from here to the nature reserve, eager for Ishbel to get the tripod set up and the big lens attached to see what wildlife she could capture photographically. None, as it turned out. Never Trust Google. The place is closed on Mondays. Open every other day of the week, so we could have visited at any point during our stay. Apart from the very day we chose. Oh well, chin up and let’s find an alternative. It turns out that the Botanic Gardens is just outside our usual subway station at Plaza Italia. Let’s go there, instead!

But Ishbel had adventure on her mind. We wouldn’t simply walk back to the subway station where we had alighted. We would take…a bus! She was not to be dissuaded from this radical course of action so I allowed myself to be directed to a bus stop. I made a rudimentary attempt to pronounce Facultad de Medicina as our target stop and touched the travelcard to the reader twice. Amazingly, it worked. It took a while and we missed our stop by one, which wasn’t bad, but we arrived at our destination and managed the interchange with the subway like experienced Argentinian commuters.

We were proud of ourselves and our elation lasted all the way to gates of the Botanic Gardens. Which are also closed on Mondays. There was nothing else for it. Coffee and a slice of cake was the only remedy, of which we duly partook.

Our spirits buoyed somewhat by the tasty comestibles, we made our way back to the hotel and lost ourselves in the ever challenging task of packing for the next leg. Our flight to Lima was scheduled to leave at 8:30am on Tuesday morning, and we wanted to get to the airport in good time to avoid rush hour traffic. We got our luggage organised and headed out for dinner. On the night we had checked in, the concierge had advised us that  there was an excellent Italian restaurant just on the next corner, Il Matterello. For one reason and another, we hadn’t eaten there yet so decided to give it a try. He was right – it was excellent. A cheering meal with which to make our farewell to Argentina. Tomorrow  Peru!

Day-coloured wine, Night-coloured wine

Today’s title is taken from the opening lines of “Ode To Wine” by Pablo Neruda, the renowned, Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet. We will get to the wine part of the day later but let’s start with Neruda himself.

Neruda is regarded as Chile’s national poet, having his first works published at the tender age of 13 ad his first formal collection of poems in print by the time he was 20. In a career path somewhat at odds with traditional expectations of poets, he served in his 20s as Chilean consul in Burma, Ceylon, Java and Singapore, and later in France and Mexico. He also found time to be elected as a senator and in later life acted as an advisor to Salvador Allende. He died only days after Allende was overthrown, his death possibly hastened under Pinochet’s orders.

His three houses in Chile – in Santiago, Valparaiso and Isla Negra –  are preserved as part of an art foundation project in his name. We decided to visit his Santiago residence – La Chascona.

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The house has been preserved as it was when Neruda lived there. Well – restored rather than preserved since it was vandalised immediately after the military coup of 1973. When Neruda died shortly after, his widow invited the world press and diplomats to his wake in the ruins of the house so that they could bear witness to what had happened. His funeral also turned into the first public show of dissent against the Pinochet regime.

IMG_2349 After our visit, we strolled back through the Bellavista district which is full of bars and restaurants, many of which have staff deeply committed to persuading passers-by to step inside and partake of their wares. We were already booked for our local wine bar that evening so resisted their solicitations.

Apart from time zone calculations, I also find myself consistently adding six months to the date to try to understand what is the current season in the Southern Hemisphere. Mid-March here should be the start of autumn, but temperatures are still around 28°-32°C so long city walks necessitate a shower and change. We relaxed for a while and played some bluegrass before heading out for dinner at Bocanariz.

The restaurant offered wine flights – tasting glasses of three different wines curated around a particular theme. We kicked off our evening with a selection called Chilean Heritage – a range of wines from some of Chile’s oldest vines – accompanied by a selection of oysters. For our main course, we went for the tapas option to sample some different flavours. The morcilla (spanish black pudding) was delicious, but so was everything. The wine flight here was entitled Carmenere: National Emblem. Our waiter, Israel, did a wonderful job of talking us through the wines but also explaining why this is such a uniquely Chilean grape. It was thought to have become extinct as a result of the phylloxera plague in Europe in the mid-19th century but it was inadvertently reserved by Chilean growers. Inadvertently, because it was thought to be a strain of Merlot until it was correctly identified as Carmenere in 1994.

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The three Carmenere wines we tasted as part of this flight were all excellent but the middle one, Undurraga Founders Collection Carmenere 2015, was outstanding. We had another glass of this.

Highly content with our alternative to a vineyard tour, we took a short walk back to the apartment and called it a night.

Cheapskate Chile

I had been keen on fitting into our Chilean visit an opportunity to sample the local wine production. To that end, I undertook some research with the aim of sourcing a pleasant, reasonably priced vineyard tour. Such a thing seemed to be unavailable, with prices coming in at between USD 150 and USD 200 per person. I decided that this was more than I was willing to pay to spend all day on a bus being shuttled to three vineyards coupled with a visit to Valparaiso. Further investigation was required, blended with a little imagination.

My thought was that one need not visit a vineyard to taste wine. Perhaps a local wine bar might present a tasting that would meet our needs. I found that there existed, nearby, a place called the Santiago Wine Club. We made our way to their threshold and asked about tastings. They do not offer tastings but pointed us in the direction of Bocanariz, a wine bar and restaurant which would fit the bill. Even on Wednesday afternoon, there were “Reserved” signs on many of the tables and it certainly looked like the kind of thing we were looking for so we booked a table for the Friday evening.

Having used the metro to visit the museum of human rights earlier in the day, we were feeling quite pleased with our new-found mastery of Chile’s subway system. We had acquired the necessary electronic access card – called bip! and pronounced “beep” – and loaded the necessary funds to allow us to travel more widely across the city. This meant that when we researched further how we should visit Valparaiso and discovered that comfortable modern buses ran between the two cities, we decided that would also be added to our schedule, and pencilled in the excursion for Saturday.

The last bit of forward planning we settled on today was organising a hike. We could see the Andes from our living room window, so we had to get into them at some point. We tracked down a guided hike on the AirBnB Experiences section and made a booking for Sunday. The week ahead was becoming quite crowded and Wednesday had faded into history.

On Thursday, we undertook an unusual tourist quest and visited the Cementario General, the cemetery where are interred the great and the good of Chilean history. Almost all of Chile’s presidents are buried there, and it also houses the infamous Plot 29. During the Junta, countless murdered dissidents were secretly buried in this plot, the public becoming aware of it after a tip-off to the press.

DSC_0143 Many of the graves in this section still hold unidentified victims.

The cemetery claims to hold two million buried Chileans, and it stretches over many acres. We went and paid our respects to Allende’s grave, but also saw some interesting things that we certainly wouldn’t have encountered in the UK. The use, for example, of Mayan symbols seems incongruous in a Christian – predominantly Catholic – graveyard.

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And we were struck by the existence of crypts and plots for specific groups of workers. For example, there are communal crypts for Glassworkers and for Railwaymen. The one that leapt out at us, however, was this one:

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This is a plot dedicated to deceased circus workers – hence the big top theme.

As we walked towards the graveyard’s exit, we encountered a funeral on the way in. Naturally, we stepped aside and doffed our hats, showing appropriate respect. More respect than a couple of members of the funeral party who were engaged in animated conversation on their phones as they accompanied the cortege. The tolerance of the bereaved in ignoring this was admirable. If this were to happen at my funeral, you, gentle reader, have full licence to educate the individual forcefully in the value of common decency.

We departed the cemetery and returned to our Lastarria neighbourhood for refreshment and a wander.

There is a lot of street art around and this was an especially interesting work on a corner building just along the road from us. Street art was to be a theme for the next few days and we learned a lot about the works and the artists prevalent in Chile.