Welcome to Buenos Aires…
A very Argentine art
I have heard many visitors who explore the city to point out to me a kind of typical, colourful decoration that they often see, especially on the buses. First of all: they are not buses but colectivos – because this is what we argentines call buses -, and then I clarify: they are not decorations, this is the fileteado! These almost Arabesque curved lines, with flowers and occasional blue and white ribbons – like the colours of our flag – that we find on the facades of buildings, buses and posters throughout the city for us “porteños” -that’s how inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called- have a special history, which is closely related to tango and Argentinian traditions.
Ph: Roberto Fiadone / Filete: Elvio Gervasi
The “porteño fileteado” -of the latin filum: thread, in this case a fine line that serves as decoration- is a type of folk art that emerged in the early twentieth century in Buenos Aires that decorated -and still decorates- many of the settings in the city. Ricardo Gómez -and expert “fileteador”- once said that if tango is a sad thought that is danced “fileteado is a cheerful one that is painted”, highlighting the close relationship between these two types of art that are eminently Argentine and which have been declared a Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Fileteado was born in car factories and, thanks to the skill and creativity of three Italian immigrants who, bored by the discolored and boring original models, began to decorate the carts with all kinds of figures and intense colors. Spirals, lines, ribbons with the colors of the Argentine flag and small mythical animals all surround portraits of great local characters. Scrolling phrases also portray some of the Argentine idiosyncrasies about work, love and family.
“Caminito” in the neighborhood of La Boca (Buenos Aires)
Of all that is the porteño fileteado. Where can you find it? The fileteado decorates both “colectivos” and posters of business and shops, especially of typical restaurants and coffees. But it can also be widely found in the oldest and most traditional neighborhoods like San Telmo and La Boca, and particularly in the vicinity of the old market of “Abastos”, which today has been transformed into a shopping mall frequented by locals. The Carlos Gardel Museum is also located in this neighborhood, in the old house where the famous tango singer and his mother lived. Thanks to a competition organized a few years ago, today we can see the facades of several buildings around the museum totally covered in fileteado. Since then this place has been known as the “Fileteado Trail”. To get to the “Abasto de Buenos Aires” shopping mall on the “subte” – the porteño term for “subway” – you can take the B line (the red line) and get off at “Carlos Gardel”, where you can find a portrait of the most famous tango singer in the world. He will be smiling from the confines of his golden filete, “Eternal in the soul and in time.”
Cafes of Buenos Aires
“How can I forget you in this complaint, Cafetín of Buenos Aires, If you are the only thing in life that looked like to my mother? “
From the tango “Cafetín de Buenos Aires” by Enrique Santos Discépolo
Like many parts of the world, coffee in Buenos Aires is one of the most popular infusions, along with “mate”, which many know as the “Argentine tea.” We will talk about mate another time, for the moment I would like to tell you why having a coffee in the city of Buenos Aires is one of the most porteño things you can experience and that will make you feel like just another Argentine. Let’s have a look.
In North America, coffee is generally ordered “to go” while people make their pilgrimage to and from work with their plastic cup and cardboard so they don’t get burned. In Italy, coffee is generally served “ristretto”, very short and strong so there can be no doubt that we are in Italy! In France, where coffee might resemble that of Buenos Aires, people do not usually sit down to look at each other and converse, but rather one sits down to watch others pass by and talk. In Buenos Aires, if a porteño asks you: Shall we have coffee? it will be to sit face to face, inside or out depending on the weather, order a “cortado” – a type of short coffee “cut” with just a little milk-, “pequeño” (small) or “jarrito” (medium), look each other in the face and above all … talk. Having a coffee for a porteño is synonymous with discussing an important topic – or not – but above all it is a convivial moment, and when the frenetic pace of the city leaves you a little time to spare, this is when it’s time to sit down with friends. Buying a coffee in Buenos Aires usually means talking about work or personal conflicts, seducing a woman – which in Buenos Aires would be called “chamuyarse a una mina” -, or working long hours without being disturbed by the “mozo/camarero” (waiter).
“36 billares” , Ph: Emiliorisori, CC:http://bit.ly/2iWPmg9
Where do porteños go for a coffee? In every neighborhood in Buenos Aires you will find different types of cafes, old or new, traditional or trendy. The most typical cafes will have square tables, and round backed chairs in different materials, but generally simulating wood. You will find the bar regulars: locals whose request the waiter already knows in advance. Although everyone has their favorite coffee shop, in Buenos Aires there is a group of cafes which have been declared by the city as “Cafés Notables”. They are cafés in which important historical events have occurred or where famous people from our culture have gathered.
Among them is the famous Café Tortoni (Av. De Mayo 825), a traveler’s favorite. However, this is not a cafe that porteños frequent. If you want to have a coffee like a local, you can go to “Los 36 Billiards” (Av. De Mayo 1265), which has 11 billiards tables where many players still congregate today. If you go to the “San Telmo” neighborhood, you can go to “Café de la Poesía” (Chile 502) or “Bar Británico” (Brazil 399) to see the typical tables and chairs of the porteño “cafetines”. A it is located just in front of the old Lezama Park where the “La Boca” neighborhood starts, you can take a stroll around as the park is very much used by the people of the neighborhood as a place of recreation and relaxation. And if you are strolling along Avenida Corrientes, you can stop at “La Giralda”, famous for its chocolates with churros and its original wood and marble tables. How do you order a coffee from a porteño? All you have to do is raise your hand to call the waiter and ask him with a gesture at a distance for a “cortado” using the forefinger and thumb as claws that grab a cup of invisible coffee.
The street of the bookstores
Many people encounter Buenos Aires’ Corrientes Avenue by chance when they come to see the mythical Obelisk that rises right at its intersection with 9 de Julio Avenue, the most important avenue in the city and the widest in the world! But for porteños, Corrientes Avenue not only has a mythical past related to the nightlife of Buenos Aires, but is an active protagonist in the daily life of its inhabitants. If you walk down Corrientes, aside from its typical cafes, pizzerias and theaters, you will gradually find yourself surrounded by some very private bookstores. A typical porteño walk is to go through these bookstores and lose yourself among its copies looking for all kinds of editions and books of varied themes. While there are some that belong to large chains, many others (the most typical are used bookstores), open onto the street, where the passers-by can stop to look for that unmissable offer.
Books waiting its future owner..
The bookstore circuit runs from Callao Avenue down Corrientes to the Obelisco. It is a very popular area during the day due to the number of offices and shops, but it also comes alive at night due to the diverse theatrical and gastronomic offerings, where Argentine pizza plays a stellar role. Reading is one of porteños’ favorite activities and the sale of books, a struggling survivor in today’s digital jungle, is still very important.
So much so that we have one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world that, although it is not located on the famous Corrientes Avenue, it is not far and well worth visiting. “El Ateneo Grand Splendid” is a three-storey bookstore built in an old theater on Santa Fe Avenue (Santa Fe Avenue 1860). Not only can you find new national and international editions of highly diverse themes, but you can enjoy a coffee or lunch on the old stage, which has been transformed today into a bar/restaurant. Read a book while you wait for your order, or if you prefer, go upstairs to one of the old boxes that today function as small reading rooms. Many do not know – not even some of the city’s inhabitants! – that in this theater, inaugurated in 1919, Carlos Gardel began to record his first songs. It is surely a walk that you cannot miss to complete your tour of the city as a true porteño.
“El Ateneo Grand Splendid”