Tag Archives: San Telmo

Buenos Aires shopping

In general, and circumstances as well as finances permitting, Portenos (the people of Buenos Aires) like to look their best. Needless to say then, this is a city with a wealth of great shopping options. Sao Paulo Argentina, 127

Via Florida
Via Florida

At the top of Buenos Aires’ hierarchy of shopping houses is the glamourous Patio Bullrich on Avenida del Libertador in the Retiro district. Once an auction house for livestock, its three floors now hold big name boutiques like Versace, Dior and Chanel as well as a food court with elegant eateries and coffee houses. This is the place to make those exquisite and unmentionably priced purchases or, simply to dream and watch others do so.

Much more accessible, slightly more affordable and just as beautiful, is Galerias Pacifico on busy Via Florida in the city centre. Built in 1889, in the French style, the enormous building which occupied an entire block, was to give the Buenos Aires shoppers of the day the ultimate shopping experience. Unfortunately, an economic crisis in 1890 saw Galerias Pacifico sold off for offices to the Ferrocarril Pacifico (Argentina’s railway company) which gave it the name which endures today. In the Peron era, when the railways fell into the hands of the state, so did the Galerias Pacifico.  In 1945 the Nuevo realism/ social-activist muralists Antonio Bern, Juan Carlos Castiagnino, Manuel Colmeiro, Lino Spilimbergo and Demetrio Urruchia were commissioned to decorate its vaulted ceilings and cupola. Despite this grand public art project, the building languished without a purpose and was finally abandoned.

Finally, in 1992, Galerias Pacifico was rediscovered and restored by a joint Argentine/ Mexican enterprise. Since then it has lived out its original purpose as one of Buenos Aires’ premier shopping centres. All the big brand names are represented – Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfigger et al – but there are also some great boutiques, homewares and local art and craft boutiques, selling all kinds of unusual treasures. There is a wonderful food court and then, of course, there are those beautiful murals all around and above.

Outside Galerias Pacifico a very different, but absolutely not to be missed Buenos Aires shopping experience awaits. Narrow, crowded and pulsing with noise and colour, the pedestrian precinct of Via Florida offers everything. Both sides of the pedestrian street are lined with shops; global chains, like H & M and local names like the popular Argentine outdoor clothing store Montagne, leading B.A. bookseller Ateneo and the fabulous Darcos, the specialists in tango shoes and costumes . Itinerant street vendors demonstrate all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff – like the tomate loco. Made of some indefinable, horrible to the touch material, it splats, sticks and spreads when thrown at walls or pavements, then assuming a life of its own it reforms as a tomato. Its cousin, the uove loco, is no less ghastly.

The centre of Via Florida is given over, especially on the weekends to street stalls or blankets spread with tango hats, Indian rugs, bags, blankets, jumpers, jewellery, art, ceramics and souvenirs. Any clear space on a weekend is seized by troupes of tango dancers.

It’s hard to look past Via Florida – but do.  There’s a wealth of other fascinating shopping to be had in Buenos Aires. Nearby San Telmo offers antiques, vintage and more local crafts by the mile, with equally interesting street life (Travelstripe’s San Telmo blog) If it’s avant-garde Argentine designer gear and chic furniture you’re after, then head down to Palermo. As it’s a mecca for the uber fashion conscious, it’s great for people watching too.

Buenos Aires

On February 2, 1536 Pedro de Mendoza founded Ciudad de Nuestra Senora Santa Maria de Buen Ayre on the eastern shores of the Rio del Plata. The name literally means “City of Our Lady of Saint Mary of the Fair Winds”.  Nowadays we know it simply as Buenos Aires, which translates as “fair winds”.  The people here are known as Portenos, or people of the port.

Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires
Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city; it has the mighty Rio Plata on one side, tall palms, spreading shade trees and bright flowers thrive under its blue skies, radiant sunshine and, of course, in its “fair winds”.  The Spanish colonists spared nothing, it would seem, in creating a city with magnificent buildings, fine monuments, lovely parks and gardens and grand avenues.

Over the centuries settlers from a myriad of cultures have added a humbler, but no less vibrant beauty.

Buenos Aires is  a city that has seen turbulent times and dark, hard days. They are not forgotten. In a short walk across the city, I see grievances scrawled on the walls of buildings. I pass a camp of veterans from the Falklands war, surrounded by banners which speak of the blood of sons and the tears of mothers. They are still campaigning for compensation. I pass a line of Police in riot gear and a few blocks further on I meet a posse, wielding banners emblazoned with the face of Che Guevara. I stop for a drink in a cafe called Resistenza, where Che Guevara look-alikes huddle in corners beneath posters of their hero.

But for all its beauty and its passion, Buenos Aires is a tragic place. The homeless and dispossessed are everywhere. Young families camp on mattresses in doorways, under trees and in the shelter of monuments in the parks. Their ragged clothes, laundered in the fountains, hang to dry on the ornate wrought iron fences. I follow a pair of skinny shirtless waifs along street and see them snatch the food from the plates of tourists lunching on a cafe terrace.  Outside a church I meet a young mother begging. Her newborn daughter Priscilla lies in her lap, dressed in the hot, unsuitable clothes of some distant charity. In the market stalls of San Telmo the trappings of better, richer lives are up for sale.

Beauty, passion, a complex mix of cultures and a rich history make Buenos Aires one of the most fascinating cities in the world.