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There is smell of fresh pastries swirled with the smoke wafting up from cigarette-touting gentlemen drinking coffee and sipping wine. Young designers, dancers and artists sit on a door step chugging beer, laughing and discussing their latest inspirations and aspirations.

 

 

Side-walk cafes, cobblestone streets, old mansions, tango dancers, live violinists, and street-side flower venders. Alone, San Telmo square with its Plaza Dorrego is enough to be the Paris of South America. It is vintage Parisian romance mixed with that dash of relaxed, bohemian flair—a defining characteristic of South America. It’s a seductive vortex that could sweep you away. It has a similar feel to that city across the Atlantic, but with a much more liberal appeal.         

 

 

Rich, like its original inhabitants, so is the history of San Telmo. Once home to Buenos Aires’ aristocrats, it was the yellow fever epidemic of 1871 which propelled the elitists to flee this southern quarter and relocate to the north-central neighborhood of Recoleta. This move left San Telmo with empty mansions and a lost innocence. But, to the fresh immigrants just off the boats from Italy and Spain, the architecturally astute facades were more than appealing. The old homes were renovated into “conventillo,” hosting hundreds of newcomers, transforming this once-affluent-only district into a dazzling mosaic of diversity and culture.    

 

 

Nowadays, the neighborhood has been beautifully restored, fusing the old with the new, and making it a microcosm of true porteño culture.

 

 

Sundays are perhaps the most exciting time to experience this unique and alluring ambiance. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. people of all colors, sizes and nationalities flock to Plaza Dorrego for the weekly antique fair, Feria de San Pedro Telmos. Defensa Street between Avenida San Juan and Avenida Independencia is blocked off to motorists while travelers and locals alike, stroll through the marketplace discovering the assortment of antiques available: dinnerware, old cowboy get-up, colored soda siphons, and costume jewelry.

 

 

To off-set the old, a group of modern designers congregate in the northwest corner of Plaza Dorrego in what seems like a warehouse, or small one-level parking garage. After entering (there is no sign), you’ll come upon a small market brimming with contemporary fashion designers. From avant-garde evening dresses to handmade suede shoes, leather handbags and modern jewelry designs, you are sure to feel as if you are truly in Paris—or London, or New York—sans the pretentious feel. Perhaps this is because of the affordability of the oh-so-creative items.

 

 

Outside in the open-air, painters, jewelers, and food artisans—including one man who makes a tasty dulce de leche liquor—set up shop along the side streets of Avenida Humberto 1 and Carlos Calvo. While popping in and out of Defensa’s eclectic mix of shops, visitors are graced with live tango performances and other musical street troupes.

 

 

And if you get tired of strolling, tuck yourself into a chair at one of the many outdoor cafés where you can sip an espresso, nibble on a fresh pastry and people watch. Like the locals, you might just find yourself contemplating the crazy world and wondering why not everywhere can be this carefree and pleasant.



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