Today we have a guest post from my Dad who joined us in Buenos Aires. Over to him:
Jack and Becki invited me to meet them anywhere around the world on their latest travels. I chose Buenos Aires. Why? I’ve always loved cosmopolitan cities and BA seemed to fit the bill. However, this may not seem obvious until you know a little of its history…
Founded in the early 16th century by the Spaniards, Buenos Aires didn’t really prosper until Atlantic trade for its canned beef (remember Fray Bentos?) developed in the 19th century. By the end of the century Argentina was second only to the USA as a destination for European emigrants. There is a saying that the ‘Mexicans come from the Aztecs, Peruvians come from the Incas and Argentinians come from the ships’. Buenos Aires was the port of arrival and many went no further.
By 1914 Buenos Aires was the third largest Spanish city in the world, after Madrid and Barcelona. There were also smaller groups from Europe, including the forebears of what has become today the largest Jewish community in Latin America. In fact Buenos Aires has the only McDonald’s serving halal hamburgers outside Israel.
Brits came too as investors, railway engineers, and ran the gas, electricity and sewer companies. Reportedly, British sailors in the port introduced the locals to futbol, now an abiding Argentinian passion. By this point Buenos Aires had a population of 1.5 million and was the largest city in South America and among the world’s richest. Since the turn of last century its economic fortunes have fluctuated. But it has retained a Latin vitality.
Today, Buenos Aires still dominates Argentina, with one third of the national population living there. The residents are mostly white, since Argentina, in contrast to other Latin American countries, had few indigenous peoples before its colonisation and imported few African slaves. In its central districts it retains European airs: Parisian boulevards, an opera house, Italian fountains, a metro, the amazingly well-kept Recoleta Cemetery (where Eva Peron’s grave is a shrine), even – mimicking London institutions – a Harrods department store (closed in 1998 but with plans to re-open) and a Hurlingham Club (where polo was first played).
But it is also quite Latin in appearance and temperament with its colourful street art (much commissioned by property owners), its night time economy (where drinking and eating doesn’t start until near midnight), its occasional political street theatre and on the city fringes, the shanty towns where the poor live.
It was a fascinating few days in a very unique city.