Saturday, 24 May 2014

Buenos Aires, Football and Tango in La Boca

Buenos Aires, Puerto Madero near La Boca ©Solange Hando

Hailed as the Paris of Latin America, Buenos Aires has much offer, from elegant French architecture to 21st century office blocks, from leafy boulevards to a pink government house once painted with cow's blood. Visitors search for Eva Peron's mausoleum in Recoleta, 'dog-walkers' head for the parks and the giant flower sculpture opens its petals at first light.

But beyond the city centre and the glistening river Plate (above), La Boca has a charm all of its own with more than one string to its bow.

La Boca Juniors Football Stadium ©Solange Hando

First of all, there's football and the Bombonera (or 'chocolate box'), home to the famed La Boca Juniors. Here, former player and supporter Maradona has his own executive box in a 49,000-seat stadium where tickets are worth their weight in gold.

They say that the blue and yellow colours were those of the first ship that sailed into the harbour as players debated the choice.The ship was Swedish. There's a museum and plenty of souvenir shops in the district, packed with T-shirts, footballs and anything which could possibly inspire a budding star.

Caminito, La Boca

But football aside, if you love bright colours,  La Boca is for you, especially around Caminito where restored traditional houses gleam like rainbows along the cobbled lane, a honey pot for the tourist trade but it's quaint, cheerful and unlike anywhere else in town.

There are street artists on the pavements, cartoons and paintings on the walls, al fresco restaurants and images of Pope Francis to welcome you, even in the shopping mall. Once settled by the Genoese who attempted to set up their own republic, La Boca has a strong Italian feel com Spanish as impromptu tango dancers liven up the scene or pose for photographs.

Tango Show in Buenos Aires ©Solange Hando

For according to the local lore, this is where the tango was born when immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Med. mingled on the banks of the Riachuelo. Passionate, sensual, the dance developed in the 1880s to entertain would-be clients in houses of ill repute.

Later, when it became fashionable among the Parisian elite, the tango reinvented itself in Argentina as a classical art form. Today, a tango show in Buenos Aires is a very professional affair usually highlighting how the dance evolved over time, to the sound of various instruments including the concertina-like bandoneon.

In 2009, the tango was listed by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage, another proud achievement for La Boca alongside the 50 or so official titles gained by the Boca Juniors. 

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