It was tango singer Carlos Gardel who said it best, in his immortal tango classic â€śMi Buenos Aires Queridoâ€ť (â€śMy Beloved Buenos Airesâ€ť):
Mi Buenos Aires querido,
cuando you te vuelva a ver
no habrĂˇ mĂˇs pena ni olvido.
Hoy que la suerte quiere que te vuelva a ver,
ciudad porteĂ±a de mi Ăşnico querer,
y oigo la queja de un bandoneĂłn
dentro del pecho pide rienda el corazĂłn.
My beloved Buenos Aires,
When I see you again,
There will be no more sorrow and forgetfulness.
Today, good fortune wills that I see you again,
Port city of my only love
I hear the sad song of the accordion
And in my chest, my heart yearns to be set free.
It is fitting that the signature dance of the city is the tango, a series of dramatic swings, erotic dips and prolonged eye contact. The tango is a dance of unadulterated desire, translated into motion and set to music. It is impossible to dance the tango in a half-assed way: it has to be done right or not at all. The tango is more than a dance to porteĂ±os: it is a reflection of how they live. Buenos Aires has many faces: it is a city of superlatives. It has the most stunning architecture in South America. Some of the best restaurants are there, and the most charming and picturesque neighborhoods.
It also features the most popular dead woman. The body of Eva PerĂłn â€”Evita to you Broadway theater-goersâ€”rests eternally at the Cemetery of La Recoleta, the hallowed burial ground of Argentine nobility. Despite the fact that she died in 1952, mourners still bring a steady supply of flowers to her tomb, which is as important a visitor attraction as anything else in the city. Although she shares the cemetery with a host of other notables, including past presidents of Argentina and JosĂ© HernĂˇndez, author of the definitive Argentine epic poem, MartĂn Fierro, she is the one they all come to see.
Buenos Aires does not begin and end with Evita and the tango, however. The Plaza de Mayo, which is named for the date of the beginning of Argentinaâ€™s independence, today is more famous as a place for political protest. It is here that the mothers of los desaparecidos (â€śthe disappeared onesâ€ť), thousands of citizens who vanished without a trace during the military dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 1980s, hold a demonstration every Thursday to askâ€”in vainâ€”for information about the fate of their loved ones. The neighborhood of San Telmo was often the first stop for immigrant Italian families in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Today, it is a maze of colorful streets, cozy restaurants, cafes and shops.
Outsiders have always had a profound impact on Buenos Aires. Evita was born in nearby Los Toldos; she arrived in the city as a teenager. Ernesto â€śChĂ©â€ť Guevara was from the town of Rosario, but his uncompromising revolutionary idealism was forged as a medical student in the city. Carlos Gardel was born in Uruguay, but rose to fame in Buenos Aires: heâ€™s now a cultural icon, an Argentine Elvis Presley. Their images are everywhere you look: Buenos Aires does not forget its dead. Their footsteps echo in the streets.
If you visit the city, youâ€™ll learn what the millions of immigrants did more than a century ago: itâ€™s hard to leave once youâ€™re there. Even the ghosts of Buenos Aires are unwilling to leave their beloved city after death. They still whisper through the narrow avenues, along the waterfront and in the halls of power. Evita. Carlos Gardel. Los Desaparecidos. ChĂ© Guevara. The immigrants. You can hear them if you listen.