Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their adventures – those times when, far from what’s familiar, you must improvise in the midst of a wild travel moment. They are the stories you can’t wait to tell when you get home.
In the moody brooding heart of downtown Buenos Aires, Avenida de Mayo begins on the western edge of the Plaza de Mayo and it is an architectural feast for the eyes. Every building, from the corner of the Plaza de Mayo to the Plaza del Congreso – a kilometre away – is capable of standing alone as an architectural feat of the highest human order. It makes me want to cry.
Being from Toronto I never realized, truly realized, what buildings can do for the soul. I stand in a dream and my heart soars. It is what man can do when he believes art and beauty should infuse every detail of a structure’s construction.
These are great monuments to a time when the curved line dominated the straight. The rounded corners, the buttresses, the domes, the trims, the gables, the great high-carved doors and eight-metre ceilings, the caliphs and angels, the doorknobs and detailed wrought-iron railings, the balconies and awnings, the exquisite terraces, the tiny-beautiful little windows full of magic and mystery – plus all the other architectural details for which I do not have names for – every single, minute detail is exquisite and detailed and extravagant and sublime.
The great old white-marble buildings are now covered with a fine film of darkness; a translucent shadow of soot to remind every Argentine of their disappeared past. They whisper to us of military dictatorships and of torture. Haunted, and full of ghosts.
It is said that only one street in the world can compare with the Plaza de Mayo and that is the Champs-Élysées in Paris (and only, our guidebook suggests, if the Champs-Élysées were to go on a steroid binge). I have never been to France so I have nothing to compare.
But in Buenos Aires, it’s not just the stately buildings that overcome my senses. I’m enthralled by 150-year-old cafés and 200-year-old bookstores that crowd onto a tree-canopied sidewalk flush with fresh-flower kiosks exploding with colour. There are sidewalk newspaper stands packed with magazines and a dozen dailies, and roasted-peanut vendors who openly eye my girlfriend from behind their hot stoves and steam as a mild spring rain begins gently tapping at our umbrella.
The kiosks are brimmed to bursting with enormous bunches of jasmine, roses and lilies. How do I describe standing in a kiosk full of jasmine (with an ever so slight wisp of roasting nuts sifting through)? It’s an overwhelmingly lush rush to the nostrils. Warm. Vivid! Intoxicating!
Like a symphony, the buildings – baroque, art neuvo and slices of art deco – play out in perfect harmony. There is a transcendence of time here that could last forever. Beauty, madness, decay: Buenos Aires. I am overwhelmed by the beautiful sadness of it all.
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