Buenos Aires, Argentina 2002: Churrasco, Tango and Devaluation


Argentina April 2002 023 (2)I love this country.  It’s a piece of Europe stuck on the tip of South America, at least proud Argentinians like to think it is. This was my third time there. Last trip I was able to spend three weeks touring much of the country. I drank the wonderful wines in the province of Mendoza. I tasted the terrific Torontes wine of Salta. I breathed the fresh air of Bariloche. I finished my tour by ascending the Andes to the west. I passed Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America and traveled by bus, boat and train down the other side of the Andes to Chile. This trip I would focus on the delights of Buenos Aries. I wanted to taste the cuisine of the churrascarias, a South American style rotisserie that owes its origins to the fireside roasts of the gaúchos of southern Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Also, last trip I failed to take in a tango show. This time I would be sure to see one. Generally, I just wanted to enjoy the European ambience of this sophisticated city.Argentina April 2002 018

Carlos, a good friend and colleague originally from Salta, Argentina, recommended the Hotel Dora in the old part of the city.  The charming, historic hotel was perfect. Many attractions were within walking distance.

Argentina April 2002 002 (2)

First order of business was food. Off to one of my favorite restaurants, La Estancia at 941 Calle Lavalle. I ordered my usual bife de lomo. Juicy and tender as usual, but the real surprise came when they brought the bill. The whole meal including wine came to just over four dollars. The Argentinian peso gone through a major devaluation a few weeks earlier. Devaluations are wonderful for travelers, and I have enjoyed several of them. But you can’t help feeling sorry for the locals whose standard of living just took a major hit. I remember in Bali in 1989 when the Indonesian rupiah lost 80% of its value. A clerk in the Matahari department store told me that her monthly salary was now the equivalent of US$14 and she and her mother had to try to live on that.

As I walked around the streets of the charming European-style city, I saw many more signs of the damage the devaluation was doing. On the bank buildings many angry and even obscene signs had been plastered. Graffiti had been sprayed on doorways, buildings, walkways and streets. The president and his minister of finance were being called many interesting names which cannot be repeated. The basic problem was that the peso had been worth one US dollar. Overnight, the government decreed that it was now worth only 25 cents. A vast amount of savings and purchasing power been wiped out instantly. Of course they blamed the crisis on the International Monetary Fund and American banks instead of their own mismanagement. Argentina has a long history of financial crises dating back to the days of Juan and Eva Peron. As intelligent and sophisticated as they are, Argentinians seem to have a taste for populist politicians who promise the moon and and end up breaking the bank…literally.  Now I could see the results in the streets of the capital.

Argentina April 2002 001

Normally I avoid crowds and demonstrations when I travel. On one occasion, I rounded a corner downtown and ran right into a group of protesters banging pots and pans outside of a government office. They were obviously trying to make as much noise as possible. When one older woman saw me she came over to speak with me. In my marginal Spanish, I learned that she had retired from a university where she had worked as a lab technician for 25 years. The government had hit her twice. Early in the economic crisis they had slashed her pension in an austerity move. Now the devaluation had delivered the second blow. Even for a hardened old business professor it was difficult not to be sympathetic. I did wonder to myself, however, if she and her colleagues had voted for the populist politicians who had done this to them. Had they contributed to their own financial demise?

Although the financial crisis had taken some of the shine off of my Buenos Aires visit, I was determined to enjoy the remaining time. I toured the many beautiful parks including La Recoleta, an upscale neighborhood with the cemetery containing Evita Peron’s tomb. I saw the famous balcony at the Casa Rosada presidential palace where Juan and Evita would address the masses ala the movie starring Madonna. I visited La Boca, the colorful working class area with its brightly painted shacks which are reminder of the district’s early immigrant days. Indeed, more than 30% of Argentinians trace their heritage to Italy. This is where the tango had its roots.

Speaking of the tango, because of the devaluation, I was able to get excellent seats for the dinner show at the Esquina Carlos Gardel Tango show. I am sure there are many venues to witness the Tango while in Buenos Aires, but this one is outstanding. The theater is named after the famous French/Argentinian singer, Carlos Gardel who is considered one of the founders of the tango. Have a look at their website for a delightful sample.

Esquina Carlos Gardel Tango Show website

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