Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I am woken by a man calling from the airport. My bag has arrived. Will I collect it - or should they deliver it to the hotel.
I ask for it to be delivered.
The hotel manager, Carlos, deeply sceptic, presumes that I am insane.
So I worry. And worry. And worry.
And read the newspaper. Out of one hundred and eighty scheduled internal flights over the weekend, thirteen were cancelled, two left on time. The remainder were delayed for many hours. As usual with Aerolineas Argentinas, ground staff offered neither explanation nor information. Finally enraged passenger smashed six computers at the check-in desks!
My bag arrives at 5 p.m.
It is intact.
I go to the bus terminal and book myself a bed for Wednesday on the bus to Rio Gallegos. The bus leaves at 8 p.m. and arrives at Rio Gallegos at 7.30 a.m on Friday.
An Argentinian messages that I am crazy to travel so far on a bus.
I message back that only a serious crazy would prefer flying with Aerolineas Argentinas.
As to comfort, a bed on a bus must compare well with a Honda 125.


The English have a different attitude to family that do the Spanish. To the Spanish, family is important however distant the relationship. Our Spanish cousins welcomed us with immense warmth a my great grandfather´s bicentenary celebrations in Morella last November.
Today I am invited to lunch by distant English cousins of my generation.
My brother gave me their address.
My cousins are kind: two brothers and their wives - both wives are from Uruguay.
We lunch in a panelled dining room.
I feel scruffy in my cargo trousers.
However a man without his baggage has few sartorial options.
I hope to meet with Chilean friends in Santiago.and I have friends in Granada, Nicaragua.
The distance between Santiago and Granada is immense.
Maybe I will feel less vulnerable and more confident once I have my bag!


The 86 bus runs from the Plaza de Mayo to the international airport. The journey is 30 kilometres. The fare is $0.30. A more expensive bus goes directly to the airport. And there are cabs. Cab fare is $20. Sunday traffic is light so I take the standard bus. We reach the airport in under two hours. Ground staff tell me that my bag may arrive on Tuesday. I suspect they have been in contact with my grandson, Charlie Boo, and have been throwing bones, reading tea leaves or consulting Tarot cards or the I Ching. In my hippy days, I would have been enthusiastic at this method of divining my bag´s progress. Now I am merely apathetic. However the bus journey is informative.
Argentinian men give their seats to women with children.
Refuse trucks avoid certain barrios.
Developers are as criminally insensitive in Buenos Aires as they are everywhere - however the planning authorities permit the destruction of building that would be protected in any European city. I suspect that the buildings are protected here by law. Law is merely a piece of paper.
Sad because Buenos Aires is a remarkably beautiful city.
You see lovely facades in the most unexpected places.


Goths come out on Saturday night. Goths are similar to Peronistsas in being divided into tribes and sub tribes and dissident branches of sub tribes. I discover one of their meeting places and sit in a corner, watching.
All Goths wear black. Serious Goths wear leather knee boots. Less committed sub tribes wear boots only to mid calf and with canvas uppers. Festooning laces are an important detail common to all.
The 100% Goths spray their hair in red and silvery grey streaks and shave one side of the head. The spray kills all life in the hair. Add a chalked white face, blackened eyes and lips and you have a weird corpse.
A dozen silver lip ornaments are obligatory amongst the 100% Goth women. The ornaments must be sexually limiting; imagine having to scissor the woman free from a man´s lap. However the true Goth doesn´t betray interest in sex - or interest in anything other than his or her appearance. Drink is a single beer split amongst a dozen Goths. Conversation is a short sentence followed by minutes of silence.
Men of an unpainted sub tribe wear their hair spread in waves down their backs. Once settled, they barely move for fear of spoiling the pattern. This sub tribe is interested in sex.
And there are vivacious sub tribes, Goths who dress in black because they like black and have more in their lives than dressing up. These Goths chatter amongst themselves and even interchange remarks with other sub tribes.
I ask one of the vivacious to explain the classifications.
He answers that it is very complicated.
The same is true of the Peronistas.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I walk the Calle Florida for three hours. Calle Florida is pedestrianised and Buenos Aires´main shopping street. Argentinians are strong on facade and the more expensive shops specialise in smart country clothes for people who never visit the country. Midmarket Suburban Golf Club smart...
I am an indecisive shopper. My wife, Bernadette, is partly to blame. She has impeccable taste. The bags and luggage she designs are carried by movie stars and Royalty. I feel her watching over my shoulder as I finger a shirt. Is the colour right? Red and green colour blind, how can I tell?
So I play safe.
I buy a shirt of blue denim and a navy blue sweater.
Both are on sale.
And I finally change my Alpinestars boots for a pair of those black leather trainers that you can´t train in. Being able to walk three hours in biker´s boots is one hell of an advertisement for the boots.


Midday and the flight from Madrid must have landed. The manager at the Gran Hotel Espana calls Aerolineas Argentinas at the airport. No bags have arrived. The manager is pleased at being correct in his sceptism.
Later I sit at table with a dozen men in their early thirties. They talk sex for a few minutes then switch to football. I ask which is most important to an Argentian.
The general agreement is fifty fifty...Though one adds that a football match lasts two hours.
I ask what they do.
They are in finance.
Finance has a ring to it.
However these aren´t bankers.
They are bank clerks and insurance clerks.


I had my beard trimmed today at a splendid barber shop on Avenida de Mayo. Shop? More of a palace. Back in the thirties all thirty chairs would have been in use. Boot blacks would have been burnishing shoes. Now two barbers remain. Both are ancient. Paintwork peels. Mould disfigures mirrors.
A man of Buenos Aires tells me over coffee, "Back in the thirties every Argentinian fancied himself an English gentleman. Peron brought us back to reality. We are working class Italians."
Thank you, Italy. Argentina serves the best coffee in Latin America.


Travel guides report that NOTORIOUS is a jazz club. The club is at the rear of a high tek music store where shoppers sit at tables, sip coffee, wear head sets and scroll music on a screen. Entrance to the club is $7 with a minimum $12 table charge. I wear a Peruvian sweater, cargo pants and biker boots, reasonable gear for a jazz club and I don´t have anything else. This isn't the standard jazz club. This is jazz for a private-school, fur-coat clientele. Wear a sweater, make sure it´s cashmere; gold is essential though unobtrusive. Persperation is forbidden.
A snotty waitress tries sitting me at the bar. I take a table against the wall. A smoked salmon salad comes with slices of brie, different greens and walnuts - and shards of walnut shell.
The band is an all-white Brazilian trio (a black or brown face would be out of place). The trio play Portuguese weep music - music that needs to be played softly, that makes the listener lean forward to catch the notes. These musicians have discovered mikes. Even the drummer has a mike. The noise level is bearable from midway back in the music store.
Hey, pay no attention to what I write.
I´m a crotchity old man who wants his luggage.


Facades on Avenida de Mayo

My first night in BA and I eat at my favourite workman´s cafe half a block off Av. de Mayo. The place isn´t much - ten or so bar stools at each of three narrow tables. Late, it is good for people watching, joining conversations and learning a little of peoples´lives. I order meat and salad. The salad fills a deep plastic bowl. The meat is half the size of a brick. It comes roast and tender. What cut? God knows. Meat is meat. Add a big bottle of larger and the bill is $2.50.
Fat and full, I head for bed and dreams of what Aerolineas Argentinas and Air Comet have done with my bike box.


The Gran Hotel Espana at Tacuari 80 (centre of picture) is a small fine fin de secle building - good stained glass and lots of marble. I have a quiet room at the back on the fifth floor. The radiator is hot, so is the water. The ceiling fan is for summer.
Tiled floors in bathroom and bedroom are a danger to old men.
I take a shower and walk with great care on wet feet.
The rate is US$20 at 3 pesos to the dollar.
Of the managers, one studied law. He is a both a cynic and sceptic.
The other manager is insulting. He has seen the photograph on the BLOG in which I am dressed in Alpinestars black thermals and which Bernadette thought very James Bond. Gustavo sees a strong resemblance to a garden gnome.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


gran'dad under starter's order:

JULY 18/19
In preparing for this journey, I consult my grandson, Charlie Boo. Rather than bones, Charlie Boo throws pieces of his animal puzzle. Eighteen-month old sages take the long view and Charlie seems pleased. I should warn him that I am flying Air Comet to Madrid for an onward connection with Aerolineas Argentina.
The Air Comet flight out of London is delayed two hours and thirty minutes. No one from the airline meets the flight at Madrid. A mini tribe of despairing Bolivians or Peruvians are camped on the floor by the Air Comet enquiries desk. A further fifty or so of the less pessimistic stand in line. Neither queue nor camping offers hope.
A woman at Argentine Airlines check-in counter sends me back to Air Comet. I try a second check-in counter - then a third. The third woman smiles and issues me a boarding pass for a flight delayed from 1 a.m. to 4.35 a.m. and comps me a free dinner. Midnight and the self-service restaurant has left-overs that a Napoleonic soldier would have avoided on the retreat from Moscow. Everything else is closed. The water dispenser won´t dispense.
I curl up on a bench in the departure lounge. Thank God, I´m not travelling with small children.
We take-off from Madrid at 8 a.m. in a replacement plane that has to refuel in Natale, Brazil. The replacement cabin crew hate us.
Breakfast is a small yellow lump rimmed with dry red sludge. The bread is stale. Lunch is a stale ham & cheese sandwich. Dinner is a stale cheese sandwich without ham. This is the 19th. The food trolleys are dated the 17th.
I doze for a while, wake and wonder whether I am dead and that purgatory is a never ending flight.
We land at Buenos Aeries at six in the evening - no baggage from London. Much of the baggage that does appear should have been on a previous flight. Passengers queue at the baggage reclamation office: families with small kids, a school rugby team deprived of their sports gear. One of the ground staff tells me this is a daily occurrence both with Aerolineas Argentina and Air Comet.
I have been forty eight hours with out proper sleep. A room at the Grand Hotel Espana feels as good as a suite at the Ritz.