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.
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.