The recent reports of panic in Times Square, reminded me of a recent trip to Buenos Aires. The scariest part was being caught and almost trampled in a mob running toward us and not knowing why. In that case, what I learned is when throngs of people are running, you should just run with them, like with the bulls. Here was an account I wrote at the time.
My observation about Buenos Aires is that it is a missed opportunity. As an example, the sidewalks need repaired, even in the best neighborhoods and walking through the rest of the city is somewhat daunting. It is at once a metropolis on the edge, but also vibrating with indescribable beauty and passion and possibility. It is the kind of city where we stopped into a cafe for a quick snack, glass of vino tinto, and charge for our phones … and were treated to a tango dance. We spent six days walking and exploring, eating and drinking and by the way, the Malbecs didn’t disappoint.
On the Eastern Side of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires stands the Casa Rosada — the palace of El Presidente — currently Mauricio Macri. It’s from the balconies here that Eva Perón famously preached to throngs of impassioned Argentines. The building’s color could have come from President Sarmiento’s attempt at making peace during his 1868–74 term (by blending the red of the Federalists with the white of the Unitarists). Another theory, however, is that the color comes from painting the palace with bovine blood, a common practice in the late 19th century.
On Sunday August 9th, we had made a reservation to see La Casa Rosada and walked through some — it seemed to us — not so safe neighborhoods to get there. One of the events going on en route was some sort of Peruvian festival complete with dancers in sequined outfits, entertainers, food vendors and hawkers of every sort of thing imaginable.
After wading through masses of people whose contagious enthusiasm immediately put us in a celebratory mood, we arrived at the Palace. It was walled off with an impenetrable iron fence and a garrison of armed soldiers standing at the ready who explained to us that the palace was closed for “maintenance.” But I didn’t think so.
Outside of the fence was a food vendor cooking ribs, sausage, and other unidentifiable meats, on the longest grill I’d ever seen. The smoke alone I’m sure consumed Argentina’s carbon footprint allotment in the fight against global warming. After escaping the smoke and catching our breath, we continued on to San Telmo through even more sketchy neighborhoods.
We found a temporary oasis in a restaurant called, La Popular, which arguably had the best papas fritas in the Southern Hemisphere and a pretty good glass of Sauvignon Blanc that was served at room temperature which didn’t seem to affect its good taste. After resting our weary feet, we continued on and discovered a wonderful array of antiques and handcrafted goods that made the perilous journey worthwhile. I bought a handmade pair of white, leather Agua Patagonia shoes that are super cool looking and comfortable.
On the way back, the Peruvian festival had seemingly gotten a little rowdy and out of hand and we had heard that there was some sort of bomb scare. A mob of people was loosely forming. Walking down the street (I think it was Córdova or maybe Sante Fe?) we saw people running towards us from the direction in which we were headed. I asked a vendor, who was quickly packing up, “¿Que paso?”
She responded as she ran off, “Hay peligros.” Which loosely translates to, “There are dangers.”
A scene flashed through my head: World War Z, when the “infection” first broke out. I felt like the wife of Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) standing there for one moment, confused, while a stream of people started running toward us, panicking, perhaps a part of an unnecessary mob mentality, or perhaps a harbinger of something real, something more nefarious. Dennis shouted, “Look at all these people running toward us. They’re running away from something. Let’s go!!!!”
It didn’t take me longer than two steps of a tango dance to agree and we took off, down dark side streets, crooked alleys and crumbling sidewalks, past buildings of forbidding iron gates and graffiti sides, hand in hand, and finally came out on the other side, a reasonably lit street where we stopped to catch our breath.
We never found out what the danger was, but later heard that it was a knife fight. It turns out that it was more Westside Story than World War Z. Nevertheless, it was scary.