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Buenos Aires: A Gay Friendly Explosion

by Jasper Groen in Travel and weekendtrips , 11 februari 2015


Combine New York, Paris, and Rome, place it in South America, and you end up with: Buenos Aires. A metropolis that explodes in your face with color, smell and sound. With authentic neighborhoods and ultramodern districts, a harbor district and two airports. A city with cheap restaurants, clubs that are open all night, and endless shopping streets.

And not insignificantly, with progressive legislation on homosexuals and transgender people. In 2008, Argentina was the first country in South America that recognized gay marriage, and offers transgenders the opportunity to change sex on official document without the intervention of a court or a medical certificate. President Christina Kirchner is proud of her love for the GLBT community.

“But that doesn’t mean that young people in Argentina have it easy coming out,” Andrés Mendieta says. He writes for the newspaper “Pagina/12,” perhaps the only newspaper in the world with a weekly supplement that exclusively focuses on homosexuals. “Many children stop seeing their parents because they feel they cannot be who they are.”

Andrés has invited me for Gay Pride. Just as in the countless gay clubs, the public is mixed - gays, lesbians and straight people celebrate life together in all its diversity. With a huge glass of beer in hand, he explains why the Pride is important: “The legislation is very much ahead of society. We have to be visible to bridge the distance.”

Gay Pride in Buenos Aires, always in the beginning of November, consists of a colorful march from the heart of the city to the Congress building. In the afternoon, many thousands of people arrive on the square in front of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada. This truly pink house is the most famous building in the country thanks to the famous balcony on which Evita gave her speech, and has been replicated in many theaters all over the world for that one song everyone knows.


The Casa Rosada is a “must see” for every traveler. This is also true for several other places.

In first position: the Recoleta Cemetery. If you visit it, you step into the city of the dead. With monumental gravestones, towering tombs and replica churches. Impressive are the sculptures of angels, weeping women and admirals.

Next to the Cemetery is the Centro Cultural Recoleta, where you can see contemporary art for free. From there, it is just a short walk (downhill) to the purple-pink Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Besides temporary exhibitions, it also has a permanent collection with brilliant Argentine cloths and many well-known names. Van Gogh is also there. The MALBA Museum is more prestigious and usually shows the important exhibitions in the city.

Shopping opportunities are endless in this big city. In indoor malls, one more luxurious than the other (tip: Galeria Pacifico). Or in the miles of long shopping streets with something for everyone (skaters go to the Galeria Bond Street). Around the obelisk, a phallic symbol surrounded by billboards, you can find the theaters. It is almost like being on Times Square.

Can a district be an attraction? It is certainly true for San Telmo. It feels like ancient Rome, or Paris, with its marvelous old buildings that are sometimes dilapidated, but usually are restored full of grandeur. The heart of the district is the street Defensa with its numerous restaurants (tip: Petanque), bars (tip: Seddon, also for food!) and antiquarians (tip: the indoor market). On the charming Plaza Dorrego, professionals dance the tango every day, and on Sunday, the entire street is a bustling flea market (tip!).

In San Telmo, but also elsewhere, you can see tango dancers in action or do the tango yourself. Beautiful, for example, is the Salon Verdi in the working class neighborhood La Boca. It is a theater that has been paid and built by Italian immigrants some 135 years ago. It’s the home base of singer Carlos Gardel, a demigod in Argentina, and the building where the Communist Party was founded. Everyone in this impressive theater participates in the tango, following tradition. Including ninety-year-old lame old men, who are given the floor, and the clumsiest of dancers.

If I discuss my tango experiences in La Boca with Andrés, he informs me that there is also such a thing as a special “queer tango.” “You see same-sex couples dancing, and transvestites with transgenders. It’s all very open-minded.” Has he danced it himself? “No. Everyone always thinks that all Argentines love the tango. But that really is a misunderstanding.”

While we move towards the Congress, I talk to Andrés about the Videla dictatorship. Some 30,000 Argentines disappeared, often in broad daylight, for being “dangerous to the state.” Mostly young people between sixteen and twenty-five, sometimes even pregnant. It was established that approximately 9,000 people were killed by the dictatorship.

“If you want to know more about it, you should go to the Parque de la Memoria,” Andrés informs me. Far outside the city center and along the Rio Plata, a dirty brown river without banks, you can find an impressive sculpture garden about the terror of the state. The most impressive are the walls with 30,000 bricks with over 9,000 names of people who were killed. Sometimes children. There is a statue of fourteen-year-old Pablo in the river, in which many victims ended up after they were being thrown out of aeroplanes from the nearby airport that is still in use.

It is because of its history, I think, that Argentina and its president are so active on human rights. It’s an obligation, as it were, from the country’s tragic history.




 Groping, Madonna, and the Wines of Salta 
Incomplete tip list of where you can find happiness in and around Buenos Aires


Nightlife

Fiesta Plop: Professional acts at a fantastic Friday night gay party. Check Facebook for the theme of the evening (which nobody seems to follow).

Eyeliner: Popular party on Saturday, for all ages (mostly young, sometimes old). With performances by camp artists, and a bouncy castle on the second floor.

Brandon Gay Day: Monthly party in Niceto’s, a famous club in Palermo. Motto: experiment with music, clothes, drinks, and with whom you kiss. Organized by “queer cultural center” Brandon, which organizes lectures and exhibitions during the day.

Club Angel’s: With a clientele that is more local than local, with ditto music in a venue with several floors. Known for its wild character due to an all-you-can-drink format. In other words: drunken groping all over the place.

Amerika: Angel’s more well-behaved little brother. About two thousand visitors fly off the handle on techno in a huge building with VIP bars and a darkroom in which things can get wild later in the evening.


Food

Aramburu: Here, they serve twelve dishes with matching wines. Think sweetbread croquettes, oysters with cucumber foam and desserts from the molecular kitchen. Damage is all-inclusive: between 100 and 70 Euros per person, depending on where you change your money.

Aramburu Bis: Like Paris Hilton has a sister, Aramburu has a bistro. For about half the money, you can choose from six courses, including classics such as rib eye, steak tartar and egg-custard. But made with the air of Aramburu.

Croque Madam: It has several establishments, but the most charming one is that in Recoleta, opposite the entrance to the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo. Popular lunch spot.

Juan M.: A “parilla” (grill restaurant) that serves every part of the cow, with the inevitable silver dish of mashed potato. I chose Juan M. for its exceptional salad bar, but there are other options that are cheaper and more local. For example at Parilla 1880 of Des Nivel.

El Obrero: Popular with the stars, especially after Madonna visited this establishment in the rough neighborhood La Boca. Dirt cheap but decent food, in an establishment full of football trinkets. Make a timely reservation, and order a cab.

Chan Chan: Near Teatro Colon and Congreso, you will find a Peruvian restaurant where they server a coarsely chopped but delicious ceviche: white fish cured in citrus juices with crispy onions. Cheap, with generous portions, and very popular.

Salgado: One of the best pasta restaurants in the city, which has a lot of them because of the Italian immigrants. The acoustics are bad, but the food is delicious! People are (literally) queuing for the place.


Trips

Tigre: City in a river delta. The delta can be sailed with tourist boats, but there are also flatboats available that are used by residents as public transportation. Almost every house in the delta is on its own island.

Take the train from Retiro to get there in a bit more than an hour. The boats can be found on walking distance from the station.

Wine Plantations: We mainly know Argentine wines from the province of Mendoza, where there are plenty of chateaus that open their doors to visitors. Fly to Salta if you want something special. The wines there do not taste fruity, but almost earthy with many minerals. Salta itself is breath-taking.

Uruguay: This neighboring country is about an hour by hydrofoil. The white coastal town Colonia is beautiful, but the capital Montevideo is also worth a visit.





 Make Your Trip a Lot Cheaper! 

Euros and dollars are popular among Argentines. This can work to your advantage as a traveler, although it does require some detective work and nerves of steel.

The bank run in 2001 in Argentina, when the value of the Argentine peso plummeted to roughly zero, is the reason behind the popularity of foreign currency. Many residents saw their accumulated assets become worthless.

For years now, you get approximately 10.6 pesos for one Euro at official exchange offices. The street value increased to twenty pesos to the Euro last September, but that was exceptional. It literally differs per daily period, but fifteen pesos is a very normal street value. This way, prices that are normally comparable to those in Amsterdam, become much more pleasant.

Of course, changing money on the street is illegal. Yet, in every shopping street in Florida you can find someone who calls out “cambio” - the signal that that person is changing money - on every street corner.

After agreeing on the price, you are taken to a shady place like a kiosk or an elevator for the exchange. In case of € 500, some seventy-five notes may have to be counted.

Often this exchange goes without a hitch, but occasionally it doesn’t end well. It’s therefore better to ask at the hotel whether staff knows someone who wants to exchange money. In San Telmo there are some antiquarians that are also offering, and I know of a travel agent. It takes some detective work, but if you succeed, it can save you an awful lot of money.

How do you know the current market price? Bizarrely, newspapers and websites also publish the “blue rate,” the illegal rate, next to the official rate. These prices are adjusted twice a day, for example on www.dolarpeso.com.

Finally: Make sure that you never use the ATM. Not only does the machine give very little value for money, but users also pay a twenty percent fee on every transaction. It even makes exchanging money at the official rate cheap in case you are afraid to try the illegal routine.



 







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