Wednesday, November 4, 2015

buenos aires with kpeArts + studio traveler

I have a new love - and it's for Buenos Aires.  I returned last week from 10 days in Buenos Aires, Argentina -- including a few excursions out of the city.  I teamed up again with Adeline Talbot of Studio Traveler to take our business global.  We had an incredible trip with a really lively group. After almost year of planning and research I'm suffering a little bit of "postpartum" and am already working out how and when I can get back to the Paris of South America.  Back in June, I wrote an entry for Studio Traveler's blog about why I wanted to go to Buenos Aires - but that piece was solely based on what I had heard about the city's reputation from friends and family who had been there, and from what I had read in travel articles, books, etc. But now I am writing from the heart.  While our trip was focused on contemporary art and the city's captivating and diverse architecture, we couldn't help but take in an enormous amount of history and Argentine culture - and delectable food! Over the last 5 years, the NY Times has included Buenos Aires three times in their "36 Hours In..." column but 36 hours is definitely not enough time to get a full appreciation of this Latin capital of culture. Please accept my apologies for the length of this recap but it was all too wonderful to leave anything out.  And if you make it to the end... gracias!!!

Adeline and I had a few days to get oriented in BA prior to our group arriving. We settled into the Hotel Mio in Recoleta, got our bearings straight, took a tour of the city, had lunch at the famous Gran Café Tortoni and met with our two local guides American ex-pat Madi and Juan from BA Cultural Concierge to finalize some details and tweak our schedule.  It is worth mentioning that while Adeline and I had pre-planned a chock-full itinerary for the week, we had been in search of a good Argentinian guide and someone local to help us with some of the last minute logistics. Well, a true gift fell in our hands when another ex-pat recommended Madi Lang and BACC.  Madi and Juan were as charming as they were helpful.   That night Adeline and I felt at home eating at our neighborhood restaurant, Fervor where we enjoyed a delicious meal with great service and exciting people watching from our balcony table.

Our last "free day" we ventured to Uruguay for the day to the charming 400 year-old village of Colonia del Sacramento.  It was an easy hour-long ferry ride across the Río de la Plata - the widest river in the world.  We weren't quite sure what to expect but I can tell you that any expectations we had were exceeded - that feeling seemed to be a constant notion throughout our entire trip. Colonia is in fact a colonial town, settled by Portuguese in 1680, whose charm is preserved in a way we pine for in the States.  The village, which is filled with cafés, small restaurants, and shops selling local wares, is situated on a wide peninsula surrounded by water so that you feel like you are on an island.  We entered the historic draw bridge into the "old town" and began exploring the village in search of the ideal and picturesque place to have lunch.

We stumbled upon a gem - Charco - which is not only an exceptional and intimate restaurant but a small boutique hotel as well.  It was just a really cool, very white space that felt very Danish to me.  One of the chefs had actually trained out in the Hamptons on Long Island, NY.  While Colonia is an easy day trip, we couldn't help but think we might have to spend a night at Charco next time.  The hotelier gave us a tour of an available suite and our jaws dropped.   After ingesting a scrumptious lunch at Charco looking out on the river, we strolled around town, shopped a bit and were ultimately drawn back to the outdoor seating area at Charco at the water's edge.  The light that afternoon was unbelievable and we were disappointed when it was time to head back to the ferry.  There was an allure about Colonia that will bring me back one day.

official day 1 :: Once our enthusiastic group arrived, we started the week-long visit with a walking tour of Buenos Aires compliments of our trusted guide Juan, who is passionate about history, people and anthropology. As we cruised around Recoleta and the surrounding area, he gave us an invaluable history lesson of Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole - and continued to share anecdotes all week long.  Juan's love for his city is contagious making it impossible not to appreciate everything he had to share about Argentina's establishment, and it's political state, past and present.
We ended our walk with an exquisite afternoon tea at the Palacio Duhau Hotel.  It happened to be Mother's Day in Argentina so it was lovely to see all of the mothers and their families.  That evening we attended the BA Photo Fair in the Recoleta Cultural Centre.  It was our first introduction to contemporary art in Argentina and we were all impressed by the quality of the galleries and photography.  It wasn't a large fair but we saw some blue-chip works.

day 2 :: On Monday we started with a visit to the nearby and famous Cementario de la Recoleta where many of Argentina's most important families, politicians and artists are buried in unique above ground mausoleums.  Juan guided us through the maze, that Recoleta Cemetary is, pointing out important grave sites, including that of Argentina's heroine Eva "Evita" Duarte Péron. We were only there for an hour but could have easily stayed for two.

Next we went to BA's famous Teatro Colon, which opened in 1908, where we had a private tour throughout the building.  The French influence is apparent in the vast reception halls and inside the theater itself.  The theater is in perfect condition and draws crowds to the opera, ballet, theater and symphony.
That day we had a quick but palatable Italian lunch at Marcelo Dolce, the café at MALBA - Museo del Arte de Latin American Buenos Aires, a private museum founded in 2001 by collector Eduardo Constanti  - who just happened to also be dining at Marcelo Dolce with his son and grandchildren. It is an architecturally beautiful museum with an exquisite and historical collection of more than 220 works of 19th & 20th century Latin-American art as well as revolving temporary exhibitions.  The museum shop is one of the best I have ever seen.
I wish we could have spent more time there but we were racing to get to our personal group tango lesson with the exotic Marina Cirer at a studio in the neighborhood of Palermo.  I can't say we will all be dancing the tango anytime soon - there was lots of toes being stepped on - but we had a lot of fun and laughed our way through it.  After the lesson, a few of us stuck around Palermo for some amazing shopping of local leather goods and clothes.  Some of our favorite boutiques included Calma ChicaAnne BonneyChocolateJazmin Chebar and Prüne.

Dinner that night was at one of BA's most well-known Parrilla's (steak houses) Don Julio.  It was meat-lovers paradise and I could feel my cholesterol levels rising.  We had appetizers of blood sausage, melted cheese and rounded it out with the most delicious steaks. Everything was melt-in-your-mouth good.  kpeArts + Studio Traveler even got to leave a signed bottle of Malbec on their wall of wine bottles that serves as Don Julio's guest book. Though we had no room for dessert at Don Julio, our van driver took us by Volta, one of BA's signature gelato chains that are scattered throughout the city, rivaling gelato in Italy.  And that was just Day TWO!!!   Are you tired yet?

day 3 :: The day began in Plaza de Mayo - the center of the Argentinian government - and is home to many important buildings including the Casa Rosada - the executive mansion and office of the President, the Catedral Metropolitana with it's neoclassical facade, the City Hall, and the Banco de la Nacion Argentina. We commenced our architectural walking tour with another guide from BA Cultural Concierge, retired architect and professor Eduardo Masllorens.  Eduardo gave us a brilliant account of the city from an architectural and development perspective.  There are elements of European architecture everywhere :: Neoclassic, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Baroque.  It was also fascinating to hear more about the French influences of the city planning and in the design of neighborhoods. We also visited Pope Francis' first basilica, Iglesia de San Ignacio.

We walked down Av. de Maya, Calle Florida and ended up at Puerto Madero.  There we sat outside and enjoyed another incredible lunch at the country's most famous steak house Cabana Las Lilas, situated along the waterfront in one of the renovated red brick river side warehouses now filled with restaurants and apartments.  Just up from the restaurant is the famous bridge La Puente de la Mujer (the woman's bridge).  Although, none of us had steaks after our meat-lovers meal the night before, the food was extraordinary -  Cabana las Lilas also had the best chimichurra sauce we tried.  We were quickly learning that lunches, like dinners, are meant to be leisurely and that they even have a phrase for the time you spend conversing after the meal - sobremesa - which means "over table" but is best translated to "time after the meal". This was difficult with our packed agenda!

After lunch we walked along the port and crossed to the other side to go to the Coleccion de Arte Amalia la Croze de Fortabat, another private museum founded by Amalia Fortabat who had been one of Argentina's most significant art collectors and wealthiest women.  The collection is a beautiful samplings of Latin American art but also has many significant works by internationally known artists including a Warhol portrait of Mrs. Fortabat and the only Turner to remain in private hands, Juliet & Her Nurse.
Our next stop was to La Boca, the original port of Buenos Aires,  which remains a multi-cultural neighborhood known for it's colorful and brightly painted houses made of wood and corrugated metal.  Juan met us in La Boca to give us a tour of the neighborhood including the Caminito, the pedestrian street with an "open air" art museum created by the residents in 1959 to spruce up the 'hood. Now many artists sell their works, which typically depict life in la Boca and in Buenos Aires. A few of us bought prints from one of the artists there.  Juan rather enthusiastically gave us an informative narrative about La Boca and it's deep history in BA. Apparently the tango was "born" in la Boca as a creative expression of the derelicts in the area - much like rap music came from the 'hood in the states.  It was originally considered inappropriate and the music lyrics were often offensive.

 After our neighborhood walk, we visited Fondación Proa. Located right in the heart of la Boca on the water, it one of the city's newest but most important museums dedicated to multimedia and multidisciplinary contemporary art work. The word Proa - which means bow - comes from the Jorge Luis Borges quote that "Art is a 'proa' (bow) towards unknown territories which should be discovered even by the artists themselves. " Three group shows were on view: RAQs Media Collective: It is Possible because it is possibleForensic Architecture and Las medidas del vacío (The Size of Emptiness).  The foundation has organized many important conceptual exhibitions since it's opening in 1996.  I first learned of it in 2011 when they organized a Louise Bourgeois exhibition.
 Tuesday night we dined at Casa Saltshaker, one of the popular "closed-door" restaurants where local chefs have opened up their homes and serve meals in their private dining rooms. This trend began over ten years ago amidst the beginning of Argentina's financial crisis. These intimate culinary experiences quickly grew in popularity.  Often you don't receive the location until after you have made your reservation.  Casa Saltshaker is hosted by American ex-pat, chef and sommelier Dan Perlman and his partner Henry.  Dan is also an author of two books including Don't Fry for Me Argentina - a humorous account of his move from NYC to Argentina in 2005.  We arrived at their home and were seated at the dining room table after a aperitif in their salon.  The seven course meal was outstanding and I savored every morsel. We really had no idea what to expect other than that the reviews were all terrific.  It was like attending a dinner party at the home of a new friend or acquaintance.
Dan gave us a detailed description of each course along with the local wine pairing.  My favorites included rabbit served with a round gnocchi, morel mushrooms, with a cream sauce and chili paste on the side, a fish chowder and a gourmet version of a ratatouille with a polenta cracker. The white chocolate cheesecake with a berry compote was divine.  The presentation of each course was beautiful and the servings were more generous than a typical tasting menu so we did not leave hungry.  It was such a unique event and we enjoyed hearing Dan's story as an American in Buenos Aires.  Another fantastic day!  We were grateful for the walk home to digest dinner, but eager to get to bed.

day 4 ::  Wednesday was jam packed with art.  We began with a visit to Henrique Faria Fine Art in Recoleta and got a preview of their exhibition América - a group show of artists reacting to political and environmental issues in Latin America.  The works spanned the 1960s to 2015 and were all quite poignant.
From there we walked to Rolf Art, a new gallery specializing in photography, where we were greeted with tea, espresso and pastries.  We viewed their current exhibition of photography by Humberto Rivas and then proceeded upstairs to see the work of renowned photographer Adriana Lestido, who started out as a photo journalist.  Her most well known body of work are of women in prison with their babies. Lestido spent a year in the prison photographing the women and their children before they have to give them up at age two.  It was an incredibly powerful and emotional set of photos.   After the gallery visit, the gracious gallerists Florencia and Natasha escorted us to Palermo to a residential building that houses three of their artists, Santiago Porter, Nicola Costantino, and Gabriel Valansi. In addition to having 3 of the most exceptional studio visits I have ever had, we were presented with a beautiful brunch.
It was difficult to stay on schedule as we didn't want to depart from the incredible experience we were having with the artists.  But we raced to the Museo de Arte Contemporano of Buenos Aires and it's neighboring museum, Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires in the area of San Telmo.  MACBA, another private museum founded by collector Aldo Rubino, had an exhibition Geometric Obsession on view.  Next door at MAMBA we had a wonderful tour of their permanent collection and then also saw the gorgeous exhibition of renowned artist Marina de Caro.  Her work reminds me of Louise Bourgeois fabric sculptures and works on paper.

After a brief rest back at the Hotel Mio, and a light dinner at the unusually good hotel restaurant, a group of us went to see the Rojo Tango show at the Philip Starck designed Faena Hotel in Puerto Madero.  It was a cabaret version of a tango show with a live band and a flock of dancers - it was quite exotic, with entertaining people watching. We had a blast!

day 5 :: Day five was out last real art heavy day and we went to Villa Crespo in the morning for a couple gallery and studio visits.  Villa Crespo is reminiscent of Bushwick in Brooklyn with lots of new cafés and shops popping up.  The first stop was at Document Art, which I had discovered at the Untitled fair in Miami last year.  On view were installations by artists Luz María Bedoya and Hernán Soriano.  Above the gallery is a big loft space that houses four artists and we had the opportunity to visit with two of them in their studio spaces.

I was most intrigued by new works by Hernán and am hoping to acquire one.  After getting a much-needed coffee at local Café MiLL, we went to the Ruth Benzacar Gallery.   Ruth Benzacar Gallery is probably the most established gallery for contemporary art in BA and they recently moved to their new space in Villa Crespo.  We got to see more work by Marina de Caro who has an exhibition running concurrently with the show at MAMBA.
We ventured back to Recoleta where we had an outstanding lunch at the very intimate Roux, recommended by our friend Madi at BA Cultural Concierge. Roux would fit perfectly into any block off of New York's Madison Avenue with it's black and white accents and the ladies who lunch.  The menu, which seemed to be French Creole inspired, was so tantalizing that it was difficult to make a decision.  The presentation was aesthetically pleasing that you almost didn't want to touch the works on art on the plates. It was definitely intended to be a long and relaxed lunch - as any lunch with an amuse bouche would be, so when we asked for the check without ordering dessert, we were worried that we may have offended our waiter.  Whoops!

But we needed to get across town to Avenida de Mayo to visit the Liprandi Arte Contemporaneo which was founded in 2009 by collector Ignacio Liprandi.  Their was an exhibition of conceptual artist, David Lamelas, Mon Amour (y guerra), influenced by the Marguerite Duras play Hiroshima Mon Amour.  Lamelas is currently in a group exhibition at the MoMA in NYC, Transgressions.  We also looked at work by other gallery artists including Tomás Espina and Cristina Piffer, and Mahieu Mercier.  While the art at the gallery was fascinating, the exceptional views overlooking Plaza de Congreso were well worth seeing.

Following the gallery visit, we hopped back in our van and had the honor of seeing Ignacio's private collection in his breathtaking apartment along Plaza R. Peña.  Build in 1929, the building itself is a perfect example of the French influenced architecture of the 1920s.  Ignacio's art collection mostly consists of contemporary Latin American artists but he also has some important internationally known artists such as Rachel Whiteread, Cindy Sherman, and Olafur Eliasson.  His collection of musical instruments is equally as impressive as the art installed in his house.  The floor-through apartment would be an exemplary home to be featured in Architectural Digest with it's unique design elements and stunning furniture.  It was a real treat to have him walk us through the collection personally- and the perfect way to wrap up another magnificent day of seeing contemporary art. 

After drinks in the lobby bar at the historical Alvear Palace Hotel, we had dinner that night at Tegui in Palermo, which has been ranked Latin America's 9th best restaurant.  After entering what seems like a secret door (one that would require a special password) on a graffiti covered wall, we entered into a beautiful and sleek restaurant and were seated in the private room behind the open kitchen -  a good spot for our rambunctious crew.  Dining at Tegui is meant to be an experience and the chef intends for the menu and the meal to be mysterious but also representative of the season.  Apparently he changes it up drastically from time to time.  The flavors are quite intense but you aren't quite sure of their roots because the combinations are so unique.  The service was outstanding but as a whole it wasn't our favorite meal - unfortunate considering the length of time our dinner lasted.  None the less we had a great time and memorable conversation.

 day 6:: So we changed it up on Friday and gave ourselves a break from all of the art that we had seen throughout the week.  We took a day trip to Tigre, about 45 minutes outside of Buenos Aires proper.  On the drive north, Juan regaled us with more stories about Eva and Juan Péron.  Tigre is the main town at the bottom of the Paraná Delta and is an important tourist and weekend destination.  In Tigre we boarded one of the old mahogany boats that have carried passengers throughout the tributaries of the delta for almost one hundred years.  The only way to access properties in the delta is by boat.  There are old wooden boat buses that pick up everyone from school children, to locals and tourists. It is a cross between the Louisiana Bayou and the everglades and is the largest delta in the world. The area is vast spanning 5,405 square miles.  It is among the world’s largest deltas, and it flows into the Río de la Plata, which separates Argentina and Uruguay. With its islands and canals, Tigre is what Venice might have looked like before development. Tigre is named for the jaguars — which were called tigers — that once roamed here. The region was first settled by Europeans who wanted to farm the fruit and the wood found there. The architecture of Tigre, the art museum, rowing clubs is notably Victorian and heavily influenced by British character.  In addition to the art museum, there is an amusement park and a market, which sells handmade and local crafts.  We didn't visit either but they are popular attractions for day trippers.  We spent our time on the boat with narration from Juan and local botanist Martin. We motored past kayakers and lots of other boats as we traveled through several of the small tributaries that make up the southern most part of the delta.  The shores are lined with a variety of houses, clubs, rowing clubs, schools, tea houses, camp grounds, and small lodges.  After about an hour or so, we arrived at our destination the Gato Blanco, a restaurant set right along the river.  We sat outside on their vast porch and enjoyed the warm spring sun.  After a lovely meal we enjoyed the boat ride back to Tigre where we all got another fix of Argentine gelato before loading into our van to return to BA. 

Friday night we had another tasting meal planned at I Latina, one of the top new restaurants in Buenos Aires located in Villa Crespo.  But part of our crew was wiped out and wanted a quick meal close to our hotel, so the remaining three of us joined our two local guides Juan and Madi - who we can now call friends - for a unforgettable last supper!  And I have to say, it was probably our best dinner in BA.  We had relished other tasting menus but the food at I Latina was divine and full of flavor.  The menu was authentically Latin and the portions were just right.  What we also loved was the engaging staff - one of our waiters was from Brooklyn and another one actually serenaded us at the table.  And Colombian Chef Santiago, who knows Madi, came to the table and spoke to us a couple of times. Typically, with a tasting menu there are a few dishes that stand out, but at I Latina we loved everything - and the signature cocktails were amazing too.  And the bread!!!  It was truly a phenomenal gastronomic experience - from the cuisine to the overall atmosphere.  It was a fantastic meal with lots of laughs and fun!  And the perfect way to spend our last night in Argentina! My only regret was that the rest of our group wasn't there to enjoy it with us.

day 7:: On Saturday our trip was officially finished but we added on an optional excursion to see an obligatory polo match and then proceed to the airport to catch our outbound flights that night.  Polo season was just getting under way so matches are played at the polo clubs outside of town. When the season picks up and the tournaments start in November, many matches are played on the polo grounds right in Palermo.  We went to see a match at the Asociacion Argentina de Polo in Pilar. The polo club had a beautiful Victorian club house and two traditional fields on impeccably manicured grounds. Next to the clubhouse they had several food trucks with delicious dining choices. The match we appeared to be watching was Magual versus Alegría. We loved Alegría's pink jerseys! We definitely stood out like sore thumbs, as most of the spectators were family and friends of the polo players.  And they all got the memo that it was going to be freezing cold, drizzling part of the time and windy so they were appropriately dressed in parkas and hats. Before we went Madi sent us a brief overview of how the game is organized - - each polo match lasts about one and one-half hours and is divided into timed periods called chukkers, there are six chukkers in each match, each chukker is seven minutes long, breaks between chukkers are three minutes long, with a longer five minute break half-way through. There are four players in each team - sometimes all from the same family. Each player has at least one horse (polo pony) for each chukker and horses are swapped regularly, even during the chukker.  And although I'd been to polo matches before, I had never really paid much attention to the actual game.  We had fun watching but were still a little clueless as to what was going on... As Madi also pointed out, these are some of the finest horses in the world and the riders aren't bad looking either!   Apparently we missed seeing the internationally No. 1 ranked polo player Adolfo Cambiaso, Jr. play with his team La Dolfina the day before. He definitely lives up to the reputation of Argentinian polo player being quite attractive!

That's a wrap!  So that was it! It was a sensational trip in every way - the sites, the art, the food, the locals, the hotel and our delightful and amusing company! All I can say is that I have a new destination that I have add to my list of favorites.  And we even left a few things to do for the next visit – like attending an actual performance at Teatro Colon and going to a wine tasting -  not to mention plenty of eating and shopping! For me it's not a matter of if I return to Buenos Aires, but rather when - and how quickly!  2017?! After I got back last week, I was walking around New York City in the rain and my eyes were so much wider post BA.  One thing I love about travel is that it both encourages you and forces you to look at everything differently and with fresh vision when you return home.