Monday, 2 September 2013

Argentina reflections after 24hrs

The first 24hrs in Buenos Aires, you won't be surprised that we've experienced Tango in La Boca, Eva Peron's balcony, empanadas, Malbec vino and  the history of the Malvinas Isles.

I'm here in an official capacity as British Guild Chairman, with my fellow council members Adrian Bell and Joe Watson; part of our role here is to launch the British Congress which we are hosting in September 2014.

I'm here for 3 weeks, 6 days on the congress, then 2 weeks holiday visiting historic Cordoba, wine capital Mendoza, Uruguay and back to BA.

Argentina is a fascinatingly proud, historic and cultural country. It was founded first in 1536, then in 1580 - both occasions by the Spanish. Argentina means Silver River - silver and gold being the lure of the lands for these early settlers. Things remained fairly settled until 1810 when there was revolution, followed by independence in 1816. It's history has been fairly tumultuous until the late '70s.

Strong dictators have been commonplace - and colourful. Argentinians have strong views on who are the heros and the villains. The Perons are famous the world over, standing under Eva Peron's balcony in Buenos Aires' main square, you cannot fail to be moved by her power, her influence and her very sad early death to uterine cancer in 1952 aged 33.

Culturally, Tango and soccer are really important in Buenos Aires. The people are open and affectionate with one another. Those I've met have been warm, generous and interested in us and what we are doing here.

Financially, Argentina has had some tough times. There is a dual economy for currency - the bank (around 8-9 pesos to £1) and the black market (at least 10% higher). This results from the 2001 economic crises when the Argentina was heavily in debt and needed US dollars to repay the country's dues. To make enough currency available, the Argentines were - and still are - restricted on the USDs they can access, hence the buoyant black market.

We visited La Boca yesterday - the bohemian area in the south of the city. Home of soccer and the birthplace of Tango. The southern reaches of BA  were where immigrants settled, so it is a culturally rich, incredibly colourful and vibrant area. Open-air Tango shows were numerous - and the backdrop of the industrial setting of the old port of Buenos Aries and the frequency of the shows in no way detracts form the beauty, sensuality and history of this haunting dance.

Tango's lyrics are melancholic and the dance was born in one of the world's oldest trades - prostitution. It has had a checkered history of acceptance because of this.

We visited Puerto Madero - the upmarket docklands area. Home of the best steak houses, casinos and trendy, converted warehouses. 

20 days to go, so much to see and do! We are going to an orange farm today near San Pedro. Another report later.

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