Chile - Argentina 2000 : Birding Trip Report
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Chile - Argentina 2000: Buenos Aires

To the city's poet laureate, Jorge Luis Borges, Buenos Aires was as eternal as air and water. To many Argentines, their capital city is synonymous with the country itself, and indeed 40% of the population lives in the city's massive, sprawling suburbs.

Buenos Aires is situated on the banks of the Río de la Plata in the Federal Capital district, and not, as one would expect, in Buenos Aires province. A city transported from its European parent, its compact and regular center is reminiscent of Paris, but its tree-lined avenues and frequent plazas have a beguiling, faded elegance. The city throngs with bankers on the make and sophisticated dressers mingling with the gaunt beggars and unemployed from the surrounding shanty-town suburbs. Downtown, the Plaza de Mayo is the traditional focus of activity, while nearby Avenida 9 de Julio is popularly known as the world's widest thoroughfare and is truly a pedestrian's nightmare. Avenida Santa Fe is the most fashionable shopping area.

Originating around 1880, the tango was the vulgar dance and music of the capital's arrabales, or fringes, blending gaucho verse with Spanish and Italian music. Carlos Gardel created the tango cancion, taking it out of the brodels and tenements to New York and Paris. Only after Gardel had won over audiences in North America and Europe did the Argentine elite deign to allow it into their salons.

It was no accident that the tango grew to popularity when it did. In the late 19th century, the Gran Aldea (Great Village) of Buenos Aires was becoming an immigrant city where frustrated and melancholic Europeans displaced gaucho rustics, who retreated gradually to the ever more distant country-side. The children of those immigrants would become the first generation of porteños, and the tango song summarized the new urban experience.
Permeated with nostalgia for a disappearing way of life, the melancholic tango-song expressed the apprehensions and anxieties of individuals. Its themes ranged from mundane pastimes like horse racing and other popular diversions to more profound feelings about the changing landscape of neighborhood and community, the figure of the mother, betrayal by women, and friendship or other personal concerns.

The cozy Bar Sur, whose walls are decorated with old masks and posters, is located on a deserted street in a once-fashionable neighborhood. Instead of the stage show and full meal offered by some of the glitzier, more tourist-oriented establishments, it charges a $15 cover that includes two slices of pizza.