It’s not just a tourism board’s marketing plea: Buenos Aires shares several traits with faraway Paris, and the Monkey explored a few of them back during his 2004 visit to Argentina.
Non, ce n’est pas Montmartre! Esta es Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America. Although the Argentine capital has no shortage of monikers, it seems especially enamored of this allusion to its French counterpart. But the nickname does have some firm historical backing. At the turn of 20th Century, when immigration and exports fed growth and made Argentina one of the world’s wealthiest countries, France was the unrivaled arbiter of Western style. Elite porteños jumped at the chance to (conspicuously) spend their wealth on the latest ideas from Paris, where the École des Beaux-Arts was driving art and architectural design. As a result, several Buenos Aires barrios, notably Barrio Norte/Recoleta, boast numerous splendid examples of Parisian mansions and apartments like the one El Mono is drooling over here.
But there’s more of Paris in Buenos Aires than the Beaux-Arts buildings, as this page tries to demonstrate.
Buenos Aires is home to Latin America’s first metro, known locally as the subte (from subterraneo). It dates from 1913, part of the city’s Belle Epoque. Along the Paris-inspired Avenida de Mayo, a ceremonial boulevard linking Congress and the Casa Rosada, the subte stations echo the entrances of the Paris Metro, with their organic flourishes and coloring. The Monkey also wants to mention that some subte trains still feature warm-hued wooden interiors that date back several decades.
If you live your life surrounded by Beaux-Arts splendor, you had better spend eternity in a similarly styled sepulchre, or so went the logic of the Argentine elites who bought plots in Recoleta Cemetery. A visit to this necropolis is de rigueur for travelers to Buenos Aires, and a cursory analysis of the surnames on the crypts can teach you a fair amount about the ethnic makeup of the drivers of Argentina’s fin-de-siècle society. El Cementerio de la Recoleta is the final resting place of several Argentine presidents and captains of industry, and, most famously, of Eva “Evita” Perón, the dynamic wife of President Juan Domingo Perón, who is buried farther afield in Chacarita Cemetery.
The Monkey particularly enjoys wandering through the narrow alleys of this expansive cemetery, looking at the mausoleums, some of which burrow several meters underground in order to maximize “storage” capacity. Recoleta Cemetery is quite reminiscent of Paris’ famed Père-Lachaise cemetery.
The Monkey lurks amidst the stately elegance of the mausoleums of Recoleta Cemetery.
The Monkey relaxes in one of Buenos Aires’ classic cafés, the Tortoni. It was founded in 1858 by a Frenchman, Touan, and became a nexus of cultural, philosophical, and political life in Buenos Aires. Most Argentine—and many foreign—intellectuals worth their salt have passed through Café Tortoni’s opulent surroundings at some point. The Monkey was no exception (although it wasn’t too smart of him to leave his carrot salad on the table for this shot).
With Paris and Vienna, Buenos Aires is one of the world’s hotbeds of café culture. In the Argentine capital, the café is the scene of countless daily interactions. It is the porteño’s living room, his study, and his refuge. Open all hours, the café is a place to have a stiff drink, eat a meal, read a book, meet a lover, chat with friends, seal a deal, or watch the world go by over strong coffee. For the porteño, the corner confitería simultaneously meets and exceeds the cultural function of, say, the Briton’s beloved local pub. The Monkey always longs to return to his favorite Buenos Aires cafés.
El Mono partakes of his balcony by night, admiring the ornamentation of the illuminated Beaux-Arts palace across the street. It’s one more of the Parisian touches that justify Buenos Aires’ reputation as the Paris of South America.
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