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What makes Buenos Aires so special? Tango in San Telmo? French and Italian inspired architecture in Recoleta? Evita? Gastronomy? Cafe society? Well, any one of them is what might draw you to this wonderful city. In the thirties it was referred to as "the Paris of South America", and even now there are many remnants of those heady times when money flowed freely and upper class life was very, very opulant. Today, of course, the reality of recent economic hardships has somewhat tempered the high life, but porteños (local residents) are a resilient lot and life goes on with as much gusto as the devalued Argentine peso will allow.
In spite of its urban sprawl, Buenos Aires has a surprisingly large number of parks and green spaces. Trees line virtually every street, providing both much needed oxygen and some shade from the summer's hot sun. Like Parisians, porteños love their dogs and the sight of a professional dog walker struggling with up to a dozen leashes is a common one.
The allusion to Paris is not only a chapter in architectural history books. Food and drink are not taken lightly. Everywhere there are corner bistros overflowing with patrons lingering over a morning cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and a couple of medialunas (sweet croissants). A few hours later, they are back again and waiters sporting white shirts, black vests and trays of Mendoza Malbec , Chardonnay or Quilmes beer with plates of pizza, sandwiches or empanadas are hustling to keep up. Dinner is reserved for a more substantial meal, always very late, and often consisting of mounds of anything beef related grilled on charcoal at one of the many local parillas. It’s a wonder these folk manage to stay so slender!
Buenos Aires boasts some of the widest streets in the world, and these tree lined boulevards are an impressive means to showcase the many parks, monuments, and elegant residences and palacios that define the city’s link to its European heritage. No other city in South America has such a firm bond with its former conquerors. Peogeot, Renault, Citroen, Fiat and Volkswagen vastly outnumber Fords, Chevrolets and Toyotas. Clothing styles mimic Milan more than New York, and summer casual here means a simple musculoso (tank top), capri pants and flat sandals for many of the slender young women. The young men will usually favour a polo shirt (often pink) with tan slacks or jeans. The grunge or college crowd of both sexes prefers shabby chic and sticks to tee shirts, capri pants and flip flops.
Argentina has become somewhat synonymous with the tango and all its sensuous innuendo, but in all reality, the dance of sorrow has become more of a tourist gimmick than a part of everyday culture. Historic San Telmo is best known for its tango venues, and those curious for a taste of its attraction can visit the neighbourhood on Sundays for the free outdoor performances. Sunday also boasts the flea market where you can get a glimpse of Buenos Aires’ past viewing the many artifacts and antiquities (both old and new). Street performers and busquers add to the carnival like atmosphere.