So far from mountains we find ourselves, alpine escapists no more as we delve into the heady sweaty hum of one of the worlds great big cities. Buenos Aires unquestionably defies the Argentinian cliche that we’ve seen in cities settling some distance from the vibrant culture that defines this country. Buenos Aires has swagger, flair, frustration of course and style, BA has style layered on in deep generous slathers to make Argentinian hospitality proud. Where so many cities we’ve seen struggle to break free of the 80’s or 90’s Buenos Aires grabs it’s grand history by the hand and gracefully aligns it with a sophisticated suave modern cool to appeal to all tastes. In this nation of jaw-droppingly frustrating lax attitude and innovative malaise this town bucks the trend and does what a capital should do, leads the way.
Only a few days ago we were so comfortably applying a smell test to clothing many days old without a thought to the world. Now we’re rushed like a crash victim on a hospital bed into a bright new world, a shift in environments so jarringly rapid we still hesitate to throw a dirty shirt in the wash. To make this cosmic shift complete we’re off to indulge in some high-brow art so far from our serene mountain escapes. Tonight we’re off to see Beethoven performed by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra in none other than Teatro Colon, only the third best concert venue in the world, but who’s counting really.
But one high-brow art form can wait for another, we’ve spent a month or so being told time and time again that scooping the dirty dish water left from yesterdays wash-up and telling us continually that it’s coffee. Our Spanish is mediocre at best but that’s a trick we’re not falling for any more. We know of a fantastical place full of wonder and promised dreams called Latte&Te. This place has not only produced coffee, actual coffee made from coffee beans, but it’s drinkable without sugar and I hesitate to say, wait for it, it might be as good or better than ‘Wonderful’ coffee in Santiago. Given the animosity between Argentina and Chile this designation of South Americas bet coffee takes on gargantuan importance; judgement reserved.
We indulge in all the comfort that having our own place brings, roast tomatoes, avocado and proper scrambled eggs (don’t start me on eggs in South America) replaces a solo sugar breakfast. It feels a little like someone built up a huge city around Leura such is our relative sense of comfort and place here, that happened quickly.
But in no time it’s time, we arrive at the imposing facade of Teatro Colon which we’ve only seen from the outside. With our daggy hiking shirts ironed by the maid we’re polished as well as can be as we walk into the auditorium, very nice of me to bring the maid along I think. Descriptions of grandeur queue up in my mind like a Buenos Aires traffic jam as we are swept away by the grandeur of this building; ornate, historic, a touch gaudy and above all, perfect. This is the grandeur of South Americas’ great churches without a non believers conflicting filter of injustice. For now one of histories great pieces of music performed by a celebrated orchestra can wait, through to the concert hall and six stories of balconies climb vertically above in awe inspiring severity; severe if not for the splendour.
The show starts amid an army of elegant performers in black set amongst a forest of gleaming polished red timber and sparkling brass. And there is the conductor. A small fidgety looking man takes his podium and fittingly as Mardi Gras is about to start in Sydney the fidgety man is no more, a strutting peacock to give any drag queen a run for her money thrusts his hands wide in a pose that is all theatre. The crowd erupts, we erupt, the ceiling mural so high above lifts in a restrained propriety to rival a modern rock concert. The expression of excitement is more demure but the tingling well of wide eyed wonder is not, wow. The crowd hushes, a pause, our peacock flutters his tail again to more eruption and applauds.
The show within a show draws to a close and unlike a drag show the music here is real, so real. Bow strings dance in unison to the dancing strings from the conductors fingers so tangibly connected. To our untrained musical ears we miss so much in this performances subtlety and perfection but we’re carried along none the less. The concert hall figuratively leans in for a closer look such is the steep intimacy of the stalls, every breath held inches from the stage. And of course the crescendo is epic, the manic thrashing of the seventy or so musicians so at odds with a unison that is so sublime, perfection to match this building.
Floating from the theatre we’re keen for a little drink after horrifically discovering there was no bar at the theatre, disaster. We’re trapped somewhere between the splendour of centuries past and a pulsing modern edge now just a little quieter not to mention alpine grace and the call of the wild. So many worlds crash together in an eclectic mix that simply makes the world feel bigger better. I’m reminded of my favourite quote of F Scott Fitzgerald ‘life is much more successfully looked at from a single window after all’. Even great writers can be wrong some times.