Many people liken Buenos Aires to Paris. I know what they mean. Indeed, the stamp of Europe is inescapable in this city of grand boulevards, palaces, opera houses, and monuments. But to leave it at that is to do it injustice. Buenos Aires is so much more.
I was born outside of Buenos Aires, but was lured to the city by the cafés that sustain the thirst and spirit of every hopeful writer: La Biela in the neighborhood of La Recoleta and other cafés on the avenue Corrientes. Writers, journalists, musicians and politicians met here. Sipping the strong coffee, listening to the brew of ideas, I developed plots for my novels.
My favorite square is the Plaza de Mayo and standing there today for me is like entering a time machine. It was here that the seeds of independence began; where Argentinian president Juan Perón and his wife Evita shouted from the balcony of the Casa Rosada; and where the “Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo” (A group whose children had “disappeared” during the military dictatorship of the late 1970s) circled the central pyramid ceaselessly in sorrow and silent protest.
The arts and music scene in Buenos Aires was always on the cutting edge of cultural innovation. Ideas and values still on the fringe elsewhere were often accepted here. Filmmakers Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, and Woody Allen were celebrated enthusiastically in my city when they were still practically unknown in Europe and the United States. Jorge Luis Borges used Palermo, the vibrant neighborhood where I live, as a setting for many of his stories. The most celebrated singers and conductors not only came to Buenos Aires, but also toured dozens of opera houses throughout the country. And the sensual, scandalous tango—born in the gritty streets of the Monserrat neighborhood—soon captured the world.
There are some people who feel embarrassed by the European aspects of Buenos Aires and believe we should be more “Latin American.” But Europe’s influence was never a stranglehold for the city, more a launching pad. European and Latin American characters coexist, however fitfully, creating an unrivaled uniqueness. Those of us who live here, and even visitors who allow the city to reveal itself to them, know Buenos Aires to be like no other.
MARCOS AGUINIS is a prolific Argentine writer of novels, short stories, and essays. He is also a noted peace activist, joining the fight against the ruling military dictatorship in Argentina in 1981. When democracy was reestablished in 1983, he was appointed Secretary of Culture.
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