With the gaze fixed on Europe and the umbilical cord linked to America, Buenos Aires grew until it became a metropolis of Almost 13 million inhabitants. The eighth most densely populated city in the world and one of the largest. One needs to understand such dimensions to understand Buenos Aires, a city free of prejudice, with a changing personality, slightly under 50 neighborhoods, almost 100 cinemas and 60 theatres, 700 art galleries, more than 10 soccer stadiums, a race course, polo and "pato" fields, golf links, 5 TV stations and more than 50 cable-TV channels, innumerable AM and FM radio stations, and countless cafes.
Buenos Aires, the seductive and cosmopolitan capital of an Argentina of extensive territories, greatly contrasting scenery and climes, abundant nature in its purest state, emerges and grows from its widespread neighbourhoods which progress and immigration have been bringing together to form one city, though preserving their characteristics and idiosyncrasies.
These neighbourhood identities acquired strength from the settling of groups, churches, temples, the creation of sports and social clubs, the birth of local newspapers and cultural bodies, construction of hospitals, schools and colleges, and municipal improvements, besides a clear increase of the most diverse type of businesses.
These peculiarities which adapted different neighbourhood personalities to one another instead of dividing them and causing rivalries, created a coexistence within the diversity that is Buenos Aires today, and a unique citizen: the "Porteño".
To see the mixture of the different races and cultures that cohabit this city and understand the reason for the idiosyncrasy of the "Porteño", all one needs to do is look at the telephone directory, observe the menu in any restaurant, stroll through the different neighbourhoods, listen to the people in the street, or ask a taxi driver about the passengers he carries around.
Much can be said about the intense cultural life, the numerous shows, and the artistic variety Buenos Aires has to offer, which accepts the presence of foreigners from all over the world and locals on an international level.
However, it is the Cafés of Buenos Aires that establish one of the most prominent and distinctive characteristics of its society, clearly observed in the local population. This is where a large part of the social, artistic, and cultural life of the city lies. A "Porteño" cafe cannot just be defined as a bar or cafeteria. It is more than that, it is a place for people to meet to close a business deal, to talk politics and economy, where friends and lovers meet to talk, it is a place frequented by students and readers who want to be alone. At times, it is a vocational theatre, or a terrace to enjoy the winter sun, or a corner for nightbirds, or a "wailing wall".
As the great poet from Buenos Aires Enrique Santos Discepolo defines it in his tango "Cafetin de Buenos Aires"... "the school of life where one learns"... philosophy, to throw the dice, to play a game of cards, and the cruel poetry of thinking of none but oneself... ".
It is difficult to imagine a visitor seated in a cafe whose attention has not been drawn by some of these characteristics. For example, the typically "Porteño" ambience at the Cafe Tortoni, the political and aristocratic ambience at El Molino, the five o'clock tea with "masas" (cakes) at the traditional Richmond, the sunbathed terraces of La Biela or the Cafe de la Paix, the nights-out by the bohemians in the cafe La Paz, the chocolate with "churros" at La Giralda, the noisy presence of the students in the cafes surrounding the faculties, or the formality at the lawyers' tables, close to the courtrooms.
The visitor interprets the Argentinian capital according to the different aspects of the places he passes through. The centre, what is known as the "city Porteña" concentrates all the public administration offices and the main banks and finance companies. Adjacent to this sector are the most important cultural centres, as well as a large part of businesses and hotels.
Plaza de Mayo is the heart of the state power and a witness to the main political protests and meetings since the birth of the nation.
La Recoleta is the residential area of the rich and the capital's "jet-set". Perfect also for afternoon strolls and meetings in the most luxurious of restaurants. It derives its name from the Recoleta cemetery where many men and women who were part of Argentina's history and aristocracy lie at rest. Together with the church of El Pilar and the Cultural Centre, it is the heart of the neighbourhood and a magnificent architectural complex.
To the north is Palermo, one of the largest neighbourhoods in the city. Though it is divided in three sectors, each with its own characteristics, they all blend into one. Its large green parks with dense woods and artificial lakes, the Botanical Garden, the Zoo, and El Rosedal park, all form the lungs of the city. Palermo Chico, a distinguished residential area full of mansions and embassies. And finally, Palermo Viejo, a humble neighbourhood described and immortalised by Borges. Today it is also known as Villa Freud because of the large number of psychoanalysts who practice there.
In this way, one can continue discovering the fifty "Porteño" neighbourhoods such as La Boca, San Telmo, Villa Crespo, Balbanera, Caballito, Flores, and many others that are further away like Pompeya, Mataderos, and Liniers, all with their own idiosyncrasies and rich history, interesting enough to deserve a visit by anyone who enjoys delving into the past and present of a great city.
In recent years, new four & five-star hotels belonging to the most important international hotel chains have been built in Buenos Aires, adding to those already available. Also luxury shopping centres combining high class shops and "patios de comida" (open-air restaurants) , with interesting architectural projects, have been built.
A good example is the Patio Bullrich, an old building used to auction cattle, now converted into an elegant shopping centre, whose design has won international awards. Another, located in the Galerias Pacifico, is an old building that used to be the Museum of Fine Arts; it was later converted into a railway station for trains going from Buenos Aires to the Pacific Ocean and has been declared a National Historic Monument.
There are streets that are essentially for shopping, like the elegant Calle Santa Fe‚ or the pedestrian Calle Florida. Others, like Avenida Corridas, never sleep. Others very Spanish, like the classical Avenida de Mayo, or Lavalle, the street of cinemas, or even Avenida de 9 de Julio, measuring 130 metres wide and hence claims to be the widest avenue in the world. which with its 130 metres width is considered as the widest artery in the world. There is also Avenida Rivadavia stretching for 30 kilometres, with buildings on both sides. The street numbers go from 1 to 25,667. It is considered to be the longest in the world.
The harbour area Puerto Madero, where an ambitious urban project is being carried out in the unused installations on the old docks, has been, since colonial times, the major export and import centre of the country, the engine of its progress and the first landing point of the immigrants who reached Argentina a century ago.
Some stayed in the area, next to Riachuelo, giving birth to one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods in the city. La Boca was built by the Genoese immigrants who were a majority, together with other harbour workers, using metal plates and other material that was used as ballast in the boats that came to load agricultural and livestock products and left behind.
As time passed by, the plastic artist Benito Quinquela Martin gave life to the neighbourhood with the vivid colours of his paintings, which can still be seen in one of the very typical and most visited areas of the city: the Calle Caminito. The name comes from one of the most famous tangos by the composer Juan de Dios Filiberto.
Located to the north of La Boca is San Telmo, the oldest and formerly aristocratic neighbourhood. Today it is the redoubt of the bohemians, where artists and craftsmen, installed themselves in the old "casas de inquilinato", or rented houses, that have resisted the passage of time and modernity, today adapted to the needs of their tenants, rub shoulders with antique dealers, filleters' workshops, and the most famous "Tanguerias" (tango dance halls) for the pleasure of their permanent guests: the visitors who come to the city.
The streets of the neighbourhood are ideal for those who want to delve into places like this, and particularly in the San Telmo fair held every Sunday in the Plaza Dorrego. This is one of the most interesting attractions and an ideal place to find a souvenir of the city to take home.
About twenty private Golf Clubs allow foreign visitors with handicap to enjoy their fabulous 18 (or more) golf courses, many of those built in classic British style by famous international designers.
The inhabitants of Buenos Aires are known as "Porteños" due to the decisive influence the harbour has played in the development of the city and the country in general.
They are considered to be cultured and, to a certain point, arrogant, very nostalgic and sensitive, though the outstanding feature of their personality is the pride they show for being natives of the city. They are big talkers and are capable of chatting and discussing passionately for hours about their favourite subjects: sports, mainly football, politics, and current issues, over a pot of coffee. They love to read newspapers and magazines. This allows them to stay updated and find subjects for their discussions since they add ideologic concepts and preferences, giving their words a certain tinge of philosophy.
They give friendship an almost religious feeling and consider the expression "hacer una gauchada" as the key that opens the coldest of hearts, because the "gauchada" is an institution in Buenos Aires, and asking someone to do a "gauchada" is doubtlessly something more than asking "for a favour".
They love to observe and be observed and men always have ingenious flattering words on the tip of their tongue to dedicate to the women passing by. Women take care of the smallest personal detail, even when shopping. They find ways to insinuate everything without showing anything, especially when they go to the beach. They all have night habits. Bars, pizzerias, restaurants, and some bookshops in the centre stay open until the early hours of the morning, while the discos just start to fill up at two in the morning.
The "Porteño", a person of swift and sharp answers when attacked or referred to, has a special and colourful way of expressing himself in Spanish: the "Lunfardo", a city slang created from the Spanish and other spoken languages brought by the immigrants.
It originated in working class and minoirty areas, though its use has extended, to a greater or lesser degree, to almost all social levels. It is normal to hear it spoken in the streets, in the lyrics of the tangos, in the media, and even read it in works by the country's best writers.
The "Lunfardo" is a dynamic language; it is alive, and constantly obtains circumstantial expressions or coins improvised phrases using a more or less established language. Besides, often the words are pronounced backwards, that is, inverting the syllables: "feca" for cafe, "jermu" for "mujer", "grone" for "negro", or "rioba" for "barrio".
In "Lunfardo", "minas" means women, and "tipos" are men, and "guita" is money. To call a "tacho" is to ask for a taxi and, of course, the "tachero" is the taxi driver. To take a "bondi" is to board a bus or a "colectivo" (public transport). If you are offered a "faso", you are being invited for a smoke; on the other hand, if you are invited to "morfar" it means for lunch.
Like these, an infinite number of words are used as a unique language on specific occasions, leaving the person listening to it at complete loss. In Buenos Aires, it would be prudent to pay attention trying to understand. It is not recommendable to use terms without first familiarising oneself with "Lunfardo" as many words have more than one meaning and used in one way or another, they could lead to misunderstandings.