Fútbol, fútbul y fútbol. Do not miss out on going to a game. There are six top flight clubs in the capital alone and so it’s not just about seeing the internationally-known Boca Juniors play. Be careful though, some of the games are not the safest to be around; clasicós, or the local derbies, can be between teams as few as three blocks apart and often have one policeman for every six fans. You can choose between seats in the upper stand or standing in the lower stands (the ‘popular‘), the latter being more crazy and requiring more caution. Football violence is a problem here, but mostly for those who are somehow involved in the ‘barra brava’ – the football hooligan mafia that exists in Argentina. If in doubt, most hostels and travel companies book trips to bigger games which are marked up in price but ensure your safety. Check www.futbolargentina.com and www.afa.org.ar for dates of games.
Who is…Diego Armando Maradona? He is God, according to many Argentines (just go visit the Church of Maradona if that sounds like an exaggeration). He is also a former football player, the world’s greatest, many would say. Over the course of his professional career, he played for Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, and Newell’s Old Boys. He played in four FIFA World Cup tournaments, including the 1986 World Cup when he captained Argentina and led them to win the final against West Germany. In that tournament’s quarter-final round, he scored two goals against England, the first which came off of an unpenalized handball and is still referred to as the ‘Hand of God’. Since his glory days, he has dealt with obesity, cocaine addiction, and clashes with journalists and sports executives. Since becoming coach of Argentina’s national team in 2008, he has recently found a revival in popularity.
Argentina has dominated the world’s polo for the last 50 years, and it is not surprisingly considering the old British influence and abundance of horses. The season runs from September to November, information can be found at www.aapolo.com. Argentina’s national sport, pato, or duck, the name of which comes from the original sport of using a dead duck in a leather bag, is another take on polo. National championships are held in December, see www.fedpato.com
Rugby season is April to October and popularity has grown since the country’s national team came third in the Rugby World Cup in 2007. Unfortunately as they have never beaten the world’s top two of South Africa and New Zealand, they have not yet been granted world class status. www.urba.org.ar
Basketball is now more popular since Argentina won gold in the 2004 Olympics. Check out Boca Juniors for the most popular games www.bocajuniors.com.ar.
There is a growing number of gyms and health clubs with a wide range of facilities, and you can often pay a daily fee or monthly membership. Many places don’t have air conditioning so ask first unless you don’t mind relying on fans alone. You can also rent a bike from various companies or around the lagoon in north Palermo, or join the keep-fit Argentines running through your plaza of choice.
Buenos Aires is arguably Latin America’s gastronomic capital and, with most places serving high-quality food at lower prices, eating out here must count as a highlight of any visit to Argentina. The country’s crowning glory, for carnivores at least, is its parrillas where succulent cuts of beef such as bife de chorizo (sirloin) and bife de lomo (tenderloin) are cooked on an asador criollo. Parrillas can be found in every neighbourhood.
For vegetarians, pizza and pasta can also be found everywhere thanks to the Italian heritage of Buenos Aires, and there are also plenty of verdulerias (vegetable and fruit markets) where fresh, seasonal produce can be bought for reasonable prices. If your palate grows tired of steak, pizza and pasta, you can find superb restaurants specializing in international cuisine, such as Mexican, Indian, Japanese, French, Middle Eastern, Peruvian, Chinese, Brazilian, and even fusions of these. The portions in any restaurant are generous; but imagination, innovation and intense flavour are sometimes lacking, especially when it comes to spiciness, which the Argentines generally dislike. For dessert, have some dulce de leche, a caramel-like substance that can be found in almost everything, from ice cream to cakes and biscuits. Alfajores, cookie sandwiches (usually filled with dulce de leche of course) are also popular.
Yerba mate is more than just a drink in Argentina. It is Argentina’s national drink and on average people get through more of the stuff than coffee. Bitter with a sort of grassy aftertaste, it has been a social ritual for hundreds of years, a simple and spontaneous act that brings people together. It is made from the leaves from yerba mate trees and is shared among friends from a vessel called a mate (traditionally a hollowed-out gourd), with a special straw called a bombilla. The caffeine, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals that this wonder drink possesses are most likely what enable Argentines to stay awake for so many hours during the night and still function during the day.
Fernet is the national spirit. Very dark and tasting almost like medicine, the majority of Argentines choose this as their alcoholic beverage with Coca-cola.
Wine is always a great choice in Argentina because it is hard to go wrong with Argentine wines. The country, which is the world’s fifth-largest wine producer, is famous for its Malbec (red wine) and Torrontes (white wine). There are many wine shops in Buenos Aires, but it is also worthwhile to travel to one of the wine regions, such as Mendoza, Argentina’s wine capital or the northern province of Salta, with its budding wine industry.
TANGO AND MILONGAS
Tango is Argentina’s national dance. The dance once regarded as the preserve of older couples, or merely a tourist attraction, has gained a whole new audience in recent years. There has been an increasing number of young people filling the floors of social clubs, confiterias and traditional dance halls for regular events known as milongas.
The structure and etiquette of the dance varies little. Generally, it is divided into musical sets known as tandas. The invitation to dance comes from the man, who will nod towards the woman he wishes to dance with. She signals her acceptance of the offer with an equally subtle gesture and only then will he approach her table. The tango that follows is a passionate dance of improvisation, an intuitive bonding set to violins and bandoneons.
Who is…Carlos Gardel? An Argentine tango singer during the 1920s and 30s, he is the most prominent figure in the history of tango. Commonly referred to as the “King of Tango”, he is credited with the creation of the tango-cancion in 1917 with his rendition of Mi Noche Triste. Consequently, his baritone voice and beautiful lyrics made hundreds of his three-minute tango recordings extremely famous. Some of the classic tangos he wrote are: Mi Buenos Aires Querido, Soledad, Volver, and Por una Cabeza. He died tragically in a plane crash in Colombia in 1935 at the peak of his career.
Tango has inevitably evolved over its long history. One of the most exciting developments since the 1990s is the emergence of a new genre of experimental tango music called Neo Tango. Young dancers are dancing the tango to non-Argentine music and at the same time, contemporary tango musicians are collaborating with electronic musicians to create a new sound. This includes the most recent tango fusion experiments by artists such as the Gotan Project, BajoFondo Tango Club, and Carlos Libedinsky as well as all non-traditional Argentine tango music that dancers choose to play at their milongas.
There has also been a resurgence of traditional tango bands who play more political tango. The economic crisis in 2001 not only caused severe economic problems, it raised fundamental questions about self and society in Argentina as well. It inspired many contemporary Argentine tango artists to surmount a renovación of tango. This required drawing upon the conventions and musical repertoires from the older periods of tango history and blending them into current practices, which is apparent in the work of Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro and Orquesta Tipica Imperial.
MUSIC AND NIGHTLIFE
Rock nacional is Argentine rock composed in Spanish. It has been an extremely popular genre for the last half century. Argentine rock started in the late 1960s with the bands Almendra, Manal, and Los Gatos, but then evolution was slow because the dictatorships did not like what rock music represented, namely liberalism and rebellion. After the Falklands war, when English lyrics had been banned from the air, radio stations helped rock nacional thrive. Popular Argentine rock artists include Soda Stereo, Charly Garcia, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Los Cafres.
Cumbia is also enjoying a growing popularity in Argentina. Originally from Colombia, cumbia became quite popular among the lower classes in Buenos Aires in the 1990s. The artists that popularized the genre in Argentina include La Nueva Luna, Amar Azul, and Gilda. Cumbia is constantly evolving, and a new genre is cumbia villera.
Folklore is music with European and indigenous influences. A famous soloist is guitarist Eduardo Falu, known for his compositions that set traditional poetry into music. Folklore became even more significant during the movement against the military dictatorship. In the 21st century, Juana Molina, who has been likened to Bjork, has created a fusion between folklore and electronic music.
Who is…Mercedes Sosa?
Buenos Aires is known as the city that doesn’t sleep. Nightlife peaks from Thursday to Saturday but there is plenty to do the rest of the time as well. Certain areas offer an especially large selection of nighttime diversions. The Costanera Norte in summer and Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood are where the city’s young and affluent go to strut their stuff. San Telmo harbours some eclectic and charismatic bars in amongst the tango spectacles.
Things start late in Argentina. Argentines will have dinner usually between 10 and 11pm and then think about going out. You should not even think about going to a nightclub before 2am.
Who is…Jorge Luis Borges (1898-1986)? With an early childhood spent in Palermo, half-Jewish, half-Argentine Jorge wrote his first story – in English – at the age of six and was published in the newspaper El País at 11. After a time in Europe, he published a collection of poetry capturing the essence of the city that he had missed, and was changing so rapidly. Particularly interested with the south of the city, he described the ambience of the city with such a passion and his love and devotion to it was evident. His fictions were part essay and part story, working metaphysical twists and fantasy into Argentine ideas, contributing significantly to the genre of magical realism. He came to international attention in 1961 when he received the first International Publishers’ Prize. His most famous books, ‘Ficciones’ and ‘The Aleph’, are compilations of short stories connected by themes of dreams, labyrinths, and religion. Tragically he was virtually blind from his 50s but became Director of the National Library until 1973 continuing to fuel his passion for literature.
Julio Cortazar is another Argentine writer who was born in Belgium, raised in Buenos Aires, and died in Paris. His stories often put characters into wildly fantastic situations. He published several novels including ‘Rayuela’, as well as poetry and drama.
Buenos Aires is the capital of the Argentine film industry. Despite lack of funding, there is a wave of directors and films of the New Argentine Cinema, which cannot really be labeled as a school of cinema, but it has been attracting international attention. In general, Argentines seem more drawn to Hollywood films, but Argentina has its own cinematic gems, such as ‘El Secreto de Sus Ojos’ (2009), directed by Juan Jose Campanella, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Another gem is ‘Nueve Reinas’ (2000), directed by the late Fabian Bielinsky, which spurred a Hollywood remake called ‘Criminal’. Also, for some Argentine history, ‘La Historia Oficial’ tells the story of the adopted children of the “disappeared” during the Dirty War. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1985.
Who is…Pino Solanas?