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La Defensa Street Antique Market in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

San Telmo and the Antique Market on La Defensa Street, Buenos Aires, Argentina

San Telmo and the Antique Market on La Defensa Street, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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“Empanadas, empanadas, empanadas” echoes around the fair from a half dozen different sellers armed with camp coolers filled with meat filled pre-cooked doughy treats. The sweet smell of candy coated, fresh roasted peanuts, and sweet and salty popcorn lingers in the air. Crackling tango music plays on loud speakers stacked by the street corner. Booths with carefully painted signs, on stands with big wheels, topped with curtains like puppet theatres, form a maze of walls around the plaza. On display inside each booth is a rainbow of antique glass bottles, polished jewelry, mate cups and special straws, vintage clothing, collector’s curios, framed paintings, and souvenir trinkets. Upon seeing this market for the second time in a year, I have to admit that this is the classiest street fair I’ve seen in over a year of traveling in South America.

Every Saturday La Defensa street in the San Telmo neighbourhood turns from a quiet, stately street filled with antique boutiques into a bustling open air antique flea market. Despite the low prices and high quality of a lot of the items, the best part for me is always the live street performances.

A couple of older men give a show from the same spot every weekend, one playing guitar and one crooning tunes from the heydays of tango to a steady stream of passersby. A young man strums folktunes on his guitar like liquid lightning. Nearby a man stands beside an old hurdy gurdy, filled with live birds instead of a monkey, cranking out tunes only if you drop a coin in his box.

In the busiest part of the plaza, tango music blares as an older woman in a fancy dress and elegant hair-do and her partner, an older gentleman in a dark suit and hat, dance tango in the middle of the street. They finish a set of gracefully executed moves to thunderous applause. When he motions to me to join him on the ‘dancefloor’ and I panic, shake my head, and quickly duck out of the way.

Further down the street is an ‘invisible man’. He sits on a chair, convincingly real, with no face, just sunglasses and a hat suspended by a wire attached to his collar. When you drop money in his hat, he ‘looks’ at you instantly, and extends his gloved hand for a handshake, and the grip is so real (the hand is body temperature), it’s easy to believe it’s a real hand inside that glove. But it can’t be. I looked around for wires, or a person with a remote control, but saw nothing to give the trick away. Impressive.

The food on display by street food vendors is not nearly as inviting as the food on display on the grills in most restaurant ‘parrillas’ (grill BBQ restaurant). In Argentina they have a flair for presentation and serve excellent food that tastes as good as it looks, using only the best ingredients. As my friend Pablo explained to me, “ you see, it’s because people from Buenos Aires are mostly Italians, who want to be like the English living in the South of France.” Wrap your head around that one!

Dinner with my friend Pablo in a local parrilla was a feast. First was an organic salad of lettuce, tomato and onion with oil and vinegar drizzled on top at the table. Then came the steak, grilled to perfection, served with a choice of salsas (sauces) called chimichurris -one was like a parsley pesto, and another like chunky tomato and onion condiment.

On the other hand, lunch with my friend Lina was a challenge. She ordered a dish that she warned me I might not like. Spanish style stomach stew. What arrived was a never ending bowl of slippery and chewy spongey white bits, in an orangey sauce, that everyone else in the place was wolfing down like it was the best thing they’d ever eaten.

Just when you think you’re used to everything and ready to try anything, something like this comes along to test your endurance and manners. Try as I might, I didn’t enjoy it, stifling a gag reflex with every mouthful. But the charming company and great conversation more than made up for my culinary horror.

After the market, I took a quick tour of the vast ecological park reserve downtown, enjoying the late afternoon light. I headed home and turned in early. I had a very early flight the next morning.

I stayed at Lina’s Tango Guesthouse for the second time in a year. It’s starting to feel like a home away from home there. I recommend it to anyone looking for a decently priced, friendly and comfortable bed and breakfast. Lina serves some of the best croissants I’ve ever had, made by hand in her kitchen, and baked fresh every morning. Staying there is like enjoying a little slice of heaven: you can wake up to the smell of coffee and croissants,and the sound of birdsong in the full grown tree in the courtyard. If you want, you can make your own food in the communal kitchen and dine in style in the airy courtyard at a lovely huge wooden table. It’s easy to meet and mingle with the other guests here, and still have a lot of quiet and privacy. I just love this place.

My weekend in Buenos Aires was over all too soon. I keep toying with the idea of living in Buenos Aires, I like it so much there. Time will tell!

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