During a 2004 visit to Argentina, the Monkey stopped by some of central Buenos Aires’ sights.
Anchoring one corner of Plaza de Mayo is Buenos Aires’ Catedral Metropolitana. The Greco-Roman structure with its colonnade is quite a departure from most cathedrals in the Spanish “New World” (compare it to Bogotá‘s cathedral). That’s because the cathedral was completed around 1827, having been built atop simpler structures that were more size-appropriate for the backwater that was early colonial Buenos Aires. Inside the church lie the repatriated remains of the Argentine-born, Southern Cone independence hero San Martín.
This lamentably derelict building on Plaza del Congreso was once one of Buenos Aires’ most venerable cafés, El Molino. Steps from Congress, El Molino was accustomed to high-brow political discussion and deals being cut over cigarettes, coffee, and whiskey. But when the 1976-1983 dictatorship closed Congress, El Molino lost too many clients and fell on hard times from which it never recovered. The fairytale building dates from the early years of the 20th Century, and its Belle Epoque interior is said to be marvelous (the Monkey has never managed to see inside). If you look below the fantastical cupola, you’ll spot the mill (molino in Spanish) that symbolizes the confitería’s name.
Plans have been afoot to tear down this historic landmark, but it is the Monkey’s sincere hope that it will be preserved for future generations.
This is one of the Monkey’s more contested photo sessions. He posed by this graceful 1932 structure, the central synagogue in Buenos Aires, to highlight the little known fact that the city has the third largest Jewish community after Israel and New York City. Most Argentine Jews are descendants of late 19th and early 20th Century immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia, and many have played a significant role in the country’s political and cultural life. In the 1990s, bombings destroyed the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in the city, killing over 100 people. The perpetrators of both attacks have yet to be captured, an open sore for many Argentines.
As a result of a combination of ingrained anti-Semitism, lax policing, and the local Jewish community’s paranoia, the synagogue is now zealously—and inanely—guarded by cement barriers, cops, and well-dressed security personnel. You can see one guard approaching the Monkey to demand the destruction of this photograph. While this presents a façade of security, the reality is that the synagogue is on one of the city’s main plazas—unavoidably open to the subtle surveillance of anyone who might wish it harm. The Monkey had a similar experience with a machine gun-toting guard at a synagogue in Thessaloniki, but he maintains that openness will foster greater understanding than insularity.
The Pasaje de la Piedad is a lovely little street in central Buenos Aires. Offering a slight respite from the clamor of the city’s gridded streets, the pedestrian “Passage of Piety” was laid out in the 19th Century and contains some elegant architecture. In Assassination Tango, U.S. actor/director Robert Duvall’s gentle 2002 homage to the city he loves, this callecita featured quite prominently.
Confitería Ideal has been a Buenos Aires institution since its doors opened in 1912, revered along the lines of Café Tortoni and El Molino. All gilded glamor and Belle Epoque elegance, this café in the microcentro almost seems transplanted from Vienna. The Ideal is also a mecca for milongueros, who come from all corners of the globe for the upstairs tango salon.
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