Back in Buenos Aires
I’m back in Buenos Aires after 20 years. Outwardly, little has changed in the centre of the city. At San Telmo market they still sell Carlos Gardel, Maradonna and Benny Hill dvds, with a curious mix of old gaucho belts, movie cameras and Art Deco soda fountains. The steaks are as big as planks; the women as tall and elegant as greyhounds. The economy somehow manages to make life expensive both for inhabitants and visitors, and Peronist politics, as re-imagined by the Kirchner dynasty, are as incomprehensible as ever.
But there’s a big difference down at the docks. The old desolate area of Madero has been transformed by new buildings and promenades beside the waterfront, along which the gilded youth of B.A. rollerskate and hang out in the sun wearing as little as possible.
Porteños have always been a neurotic bunch. It’s said that there are more psychotherapists here than in any other city on the continent. I put it down to the fact that, like some New Yorkers, they’ve always secretly wanted to be Californian but never had the access; now they can. I pass a pair of bronzed young men stripped to the waist and sipping maté. There is an equally bronzed statue of Fangio and his famous racing car; and memorial plaques to the disappeared of the dictadura. Now that even the blonde angel of death, Alfredo Astiz, has been put away behind bars, there is a sense that that terrible period of their history is behind them, although the ghosts of 30,000 people still stalk the streets.
What gives me the greatest pleasure are the avenues of Linden trees they have planted, a tree which flourishes in Buenos Aires, just as in Berlin, but has almost died out in its wild habitat in England, despite once covering most of the south of the country in prehistoric times. It is a fabulous tree, a tree with translucent green leaves and fragrant white blossom. As a symbol of a renascent city and country, it’s hard to beat.