Posted by: Kristen Hicks | March 10, 2010

Adventures in Buenos Aires, pt. 2

Day 6:  Borges Day

This is the day we decide to devote to visiting sites where Borges lived, worked and hung out.  Much of today is inspired by this wonderful New York Times article that feels like it was written just for me (don’t you love it when that happens).

Our first stop is the old National Library.  This turns out to be one of our favorite places we see for the entire trip.  The building is currently being used to house a dance company, but the guard on duty let us step into the main room of the library and take it in.

The room is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s tall, the walls are covered in the names of great philosophers and (now empty) bookshelves and the ceiling has ornate windows that let in natural light.  It feels like a cathedral built to knowledge.

This is the building that Borges worked in when he was appointed director of the National Library.  The room we took in with such awe was likely a spot he spent many hours researching and writing in, we can’t help but imagine it helped inspire The Library of Babel.

Sadly, the city seems to have largely forgotten this building.  Other than its use for dance shows, it seems that it gets very few visitors.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures and when I asked about the possibility of buying a postcard or picture of the room, the response I got made it clear that this wasn’t a common question they heard.

a grand cathedral to knowledge

The former National Library

After the National Library, we moved to the neighborhood he lived in for years later in his life, next to the Plaza General San Martin. We found the building he lived in, and saw the bookstore across the street that he often spent time in (it was sadly closed).

One of the places I was most excited to visit during my time in Buenos Aires was the Xul Solaar museum.  Xul Solaar is one of my favorite artists and was a close friend to Borges.  I’ve been wanting to see the museum that’s located in his former home for about as long as I’ve wanted to go to Buenos Aires.  Aside from our dealings with United Airlines, the biggest disappointment of the trip was finding the Xul Solaar museum closed for renovations until early March.  Wish me better luck on my next trip.

While we were in the area, we stopped in at a huge, famed bookstore located in an old opera house.  It was beautiful, but crazy expensive.  Even so, it wasn’t our favorite bookstore we saw on the trip, but more on that later.

Opera house bookstore

We then moved to the area of town that Borges grew up in.  We saw his

Aqui vivio Jorge Luis Borges

Borges' childhood home, now right next to a salon

childhood home, with a blink and you miss it plaque located right next to a salon.  We stopped in at a cafe in the area that’s generally known as a popular spot (a favorite of Francis Ford Coppola, apparently), Cafe El Preferido (not positive on the name, but it’s something like that).

At this point, we were worn out and decided that Borges day was officially at its end (although we did visit a couple other Borges related spots throughout the rest of the trip).

We made our way to a restaurant that came recommended for its steak, Desnivel, where John had a wonderful dinner and I had some shitty pasta.  There, we met a fascinating couple from New York that we spent the entire dinner talking to.  She was a teacher and he a psychologist and they gave us recommendations on places to visit (Spain was their favorite) and encouraged us to follow our desires to live abroad while we’re young (we hear that from relatively few adults).

Day 7: The Plaza de Mayo

We wandered down the Avenida de Mayo, stopping in at various bookstores and other shops that piqued our interest.  We also stopped at the famed

Borges and I

Cafe Tortoni, a spot where Borges purportedly hung out.  To commemorate this, the Cafe Tortoni keeps a wax sculpture of Borges, prompting what is probably the most cheesy, touristy picture I’ve ever taken.

We tried to order some food and drink there, but after spending some time waiting to be waited on (this was a surprisingly common theme of the trip), we visited the wax sculpture and left.

We proceeded from there to the Plaza de Mayo and took in the the lovely Casa Rosada just before the rain started.  Apparently we missed the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo by a day, so we had to make do with seeing where they marched.

Plaza de Mayo

The lovely Casa Rosada

We missed the Madres themselves, but you can see they've been here...

After the Plaza de Mayo, we stopped at a cafe on our way home and watched rain begin to pour in droves.  We tried to catch a cab back to the hostel, but all of Buenos Aires was trying to catch a cab, so we ended up just dealing with it and walking the 12 blocks or so we had to get home.  After that, we decided to pretty much stay in for the evening.

This is the day we moved to a new hostel, Sabatico, which was more expensive, but a bit nicer than Kilca.  Sadly, the rain kept us from the lovely roof with hammocks and the hot tub.

Day 8: Zoo!

We went to the zoo.  The Buenos Aires zoo includes animals that just wander freely outside of their cages.  They had nutria, as well as this guy that it took us many Google searches to determine the species of:

Turns out he's a Patagonian hare.

Wandering through the zoo, we happened upon the most wonderful, exciting surprise we encountered on our vacation.  The Red Panda.

Hola panda roja!

He was so focused on eating, it was hard to get a good picture.

I adore red pandas, so this was very exciting for me.  We had a hard time leaving him behind, even though his neighbors were the second cutest thing in the zoo, the lemurs.

They make me want to go to Madagascar

As would be expected, there were lions and tigers and monkeys and deer and tortoises and bears, including some really cute, playful Chinese bears.

Our favorite of the monkeys

A Chinese bear splashing himself to cool off

After the zoo, we walked over the Plaza Cortazar, named after my other favorite Argentine writer, Julio Cortazar.  We were surprised to find that the plaza was one of more hip, young areas of town.  There was an open air market and several bars and shops that had a really great atmosphere.  Basically, Plaza Cortazar was what we had expected San Telmo to be like, based on what people kept telling us.

wish I'd had space for this in my luggage

Poe stories translated by Cortazar

A cool little bookstore in the Plaza Cortazar

We went to a great little bookstore, which had a book of Poe stories translated by Cortazar and many other Borges and Cortazar titles besides.

We returned to the hostel and spent some time reading on the lovely roof before we had one of the better meals of our trip at the Campo di Fiori restaurant where they make their own pasta.  Here we learned that “Un clerico di vino” isn’t describing an amount of wine, but rather a type of white wine sangria (Surprise!) that turned out to be both our drink and dessert for the evening.

To be continued…

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