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Campeonato Argentino Albierto de Polo 2017
The Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo (Argentine Open Polo Championship) is to polo what the World Series is to baseball. Quite simply it’s the single most important international polo event on the planet. Cue the jetset. Held every year since 1893 at the historic Campo Argentino de Polo of Palermo, popularly referred to as the Cathedral of Polo, the Open Championship welcomes some of the world’s greatest equestrian athletes.
Today it’s 33 degrees and being an exclusive midweek match (a recent intervention), family and friends only. And us. Not only is this event important to the sporting community, it’s one of the hottest social tickets in Buenos Aires. Later, the fashionable restaurants of Palermo will be thronged. The Telegraph calls the Argentine Open “polo’s pinnacle”. Ezekiel P, himself a polo player and proud Porteño, is our English speaking guide. So who’s playing? La Dolfina against La Albertina. Get ready for the thunderous thud of hooves.
“This polo tournament is the most competitive in the world. Not in Argentina, the world! There are 10 teams in the tournament. Competitive polo playing follows spring season round the world. That way you can practise the whole year. It’s all very sociable!”
“The perfect team handicap is 40. An individual player’s handicap ranges from zero to 10 with 10 being the best. There are players at the highest level in Argentina, England and the US but nowhere else. Polo is the hobby of ‘patróns’ who fund the sport. The money is in breeding, training and selling the horses. All you receive when you win a match is a handshake – from the Queen if you’re lucky!”
“This match is at a really really high level. So you’ve got four versus four players and one sub on either team. There are two yellow jacketed referees on horses. There will be around 160 horses between the two teams. That’s 20 horses per player. The horses are all pure Argentinian pedigree. The field has to be perfect. After each goal teams switch sides of the field.”
“There are five to eight ‘periods’ per match. A period lasts six and a half minutes of real playing time. It’s a very dangerous sport! The horses are travelling at 60 to 70 kilometres per hour. Polo is very physical, like ice hockey. The Royals play for charity – they’re not professionals. When passing the ball to Prince Charles you have to say ‘Please sir’. The match will start soon. We do everything late! Everything in Buenos Aires starts late!”
“Polo horses have very pronounced tendons in their legs. They’re like the best girls: beautiful faces and big asses! Most of the horses playing are clones. Look at the scoreboard – the horse’s head beside any horse’s name means they’re cloned. All four of La Dolfina’s horses playing now are clones! Dolfina B04 C Clon 4; Dolfina Polemica; Irenita Acertada; and Vasca Harrods.”
“A polo field is the size of six football pitches. An underlay of sand keeps the grass bouncy. There’s only one match per day on the field. The match continues when players have to change horses, unless they’re hurt. Look how they pass the ball so perfectly. The speed is always amazing!”
Aga Something to Say | Been Latin | Columbian Marching Orders | Cuban Resolution | Caribbean Crews | Chefs Specials | You Can Get the Staff These Days
“Take lots of photos! We love a photo shoot!”
Tasting menus and addresses only released upon booking are the whole rage in Buenos Aires. In the UK, wine lists start with white and end with red. The opposite is true in Argentina. A locked gate keeps the hoi polloi at bay at i Latina, a “Cocina Latino Americana” restaurant. i Latina is open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday and brunch on Sunday. The tasting menu costs 1,600 Argentine pesos; wine pairing, 900; a margarita 180; and sparking water is 120. That’s 2,800 pesos without tip, or just over £120. Not cheap, but for one of South America’s top restaurants, not budget busting either. “A glass of Laborum 2016. Let’s do it on the house!”
“This building is 200 years old.”
It turns out we’ve saved the best till last. i Latina will prove to be Buenos Aires‘ finest restaurant. And it’s not like the competition ain’t hot. i Latina is in Villa Crespo, a neighbourhood fast becoming a dining destination. It opened in 2012 and kick started those two Buenos Aires’ signature trends: small plates and closed door policy. Once the white pillared gate is unlocked, the evening begins. Walk along a chessboard path, walk past white painted cast iron furniture, walk under a candlelit birdcage, walk through the open glazed door.
“The owners have adopted a stray cat they found nearby.”
A psychedelic parrot painted on the bathroom wall looks like it escaped from the birdcage. Colour doesn’t end there. We’ll eat off blue spoons and mustard plates; watercress leaves (yes, green), carrots (yes, orange), horse radishes (definitely red) with purple and yellow petals decorating the courses to come. “This is typical of Mexico – spicy and sweet.” It’s a family affair. Laura Macías designed the interior; her brother Santiago is Head Chef; and third sibling Camilo manages front of house.
“Coconut is used so much in Columbian and Ecuadorian food.”
“The creamy coffee is hand picked grain by grain.”
Somewhere and somehow between pudding and coffee we end up in the kitchen. The chefs line up, striking poses, full of the joys; a grand finale, we’re half expecting some high kicks. “Where’s the pastry chef?” they frantically chorus and a pretty girl appears from nowhere with knowhow to join in the fun. If this is hospitality Patagonia style, a super supper club (Puerto Cerrado), we’re converts.
“Go to Columbia!”
We Cry, We Laugh, We Seek, We Shop
“Do you like Chopin?” goes the old joke. “Only in San Telmo,” we sardonically reply. Nobody does shabby chic better than the Porteños – except the Anglo Irish. But they’re another story altogether. Dundering in looks better in the dusty heat, deep in the United Provinces of the Silver River.
Entering Pasaja Defensa surely must be the closest contemporary experience to visiting an Ancient Roman villa. Originally built for the Ezeiza family in 1880, it’s arranged around a cloistered courtyard supported by the slimmest of columns, four poster bed girthed really, sprouting vegetative capitals.
During the 1930s recession, the building housed 32 families. Nowadays it’s the home of antique dealers, artists and craftsmen. And a forlorn grey cat.
Across the street from Pasaja Defensa is Casa Pardo. A counterpart as sweet as any in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Wachet Auf. If the former is all open aria atria; the latter is a high octave top glazed gallery and a long one at that. Dating from 1745, Casa Pardo was and is a cultural salon. Scion Monica Pardo reminisces,
“Anyone would believe that the ‘gatherings’ were meetings that were held only in the colonial era, but in the 20th century in the House of Pardo, these meetings were held where many collectors, museum directors and historians had coffee and chatted. Many years ago, when I was very young, I was visiting my grandfather at his Sarmiento Street store and I heard an animated debate between the Unitarians and Federalists.”
We buy, we laugh, we see, we drop. And later, much later, we dance.
It’s as close to Brutalism as Art Deco can get. Argentine Irish developer Corina Kavanagh’s eponymous skyscraper, once the tallest in Latin America, boasts no frills monumentality. Designed in 1934 by local architects Ernesto Lagos, Luis María de la Torre and Gregorio Sánchez, The Kavanagh Building was also once the world’s highest reinforced concrete structure. Ms Kavanagh lived in a luxurious apartment occupying the entire 14th floor. A transparent mosaic of jacaranda flowers in full bloom softens the hard line architecture on a hot spring day.
Linger for a Moment
Ana María Martínez, Puerto Rico’s finest vocal export, is known for her dramatic performances. A few years ago, opera lovers at Glyndebourne were treated to rather more drama than they anticipated. The soprano, who was playing the lead role in Antonín Dvorak’s opera Rusalka, was nearing the end of the first act when, with abandon, she pulled away from her prince, fell off the stage, and landed in the orchestra pit.
Fortunately no ambulances were required at Ana María’s performance in Teatro Colón. One of the world’s great opera houses, up there with Milan’s La Scala, Teatro Colón is an island of culture, filling an entire urban block of Buenos Aires. Viamonte Street to the north | Tucumán Street to the south | Cerrito Street to the east | Libertad Street to the west. It overlooks 9 de Julio Avenue but doesn’t manage to dominate it. Nothing would. One of the theatre’s vast pedimented elevations may face onto 9 de Julio Avenue but it’s the world’s widest road, spanning 16 lanes.
While its cornerstone was laid in 1890, the 3,500 capacity Teatro Colón is the product of a suitably eclectic array of architects, taking 18 years to complete. The original architect Francesco Tamburini was succeeded when he died by his partner Victor Meano. Mr Meano in turn was succeeded when he died by Belgian architect Jules Dormal. The theatre was extended in the 1960s by architect Mario Roberto Álvarez. Tiers of boxed seats are arranged in a horseshoe under a painted dome. And then there’s that 48 metre high stage.
It’s pretty spectacular.
Kiri Te Kanawa and Renée Fleming; Anna Pavlova and Rudolf Nureyev; the Berlin Phil and the New York Phil: Richard Strauss and Camille Saint-Saëns; all the great and the good have sung, danced, played and been played at Teatro Colón.
Dmitry Golovnia is Rusalka’s suitably tall and dashing Prince. A full figured crimson hooded María Luján Mirabelli is Jezibaba, giving it her all. The mezzosoprano is a regular performer at Teatro Colón. Ante Jerkunica is a bald skeletal Vodnik. The theatre has its own costume and scenery departments. Tonight, a penchant for the visually avant garde accompanies Julian Kuerti’s musical direction. Ana María gives a heartrending rendition of Song to the Moon, the opera’s keynote aria. “Moon in the dark heavens, your light shines far. You roam over the whole world gazing into human dwellings.”
The final curtain. Ante runs on stage to take the first bow. Ana María flamboyantly curtsies to the floor, managing to stay on the stage. The audience is ecstatic. An even bigger roar from the audience erupts for Dmitry. Bravo! Encore!
Perennials | Alias Graceful
Harrods closed in 1999. Praise be then for that other stalwart of longstanding luxury still standing, the standing tall Four Seasons. This being exclusive Recoleta, a Beaux Arts mansion of seven hotel suites around a black and white Carrara marble staircase is plonked in the grounds. If Gatsby had a townhouse… It has its own romantic story attached, one with a happy ending. Dashing heir to a ranching fortune Félix de Álzaga Unzué built La Mansión in 1920 as a wedding splash for his smashing bride Elena Peña. It recently got a £40 million makeover led by Argentine architect Francisco López Bustos. These days? Serendipitous suzerainty in sunglasses. Indoors. Sexy has a new.
Buenos Aires reaches out across the Atlantic yet the endless Pampas encircling the city reinforce the feeling of an enraptured self involvement. The city clings to the edge of the land, looking towards Europe rather than America. French architecture dominates (or certainly did in the past); Italian cuisine reigns supreme; and there are plenty of Spanish speaking locals claiming Anglo Argentinian heritage, whether of English or Celtic descent. In the 18th century, Argentina was the non English speaking country to attract the highest number of Irish immigrants. Many would become eminent in the navy, arts and medicine. In some ways Argentina is more progressive than its European counterparts: unlike Spain, it banned bull fighting as early as 1822.
Buenos Aires translates as “good air”. It could just as easily stand for “the good life” to be enjoyed in winter, spring, summer and autumn. Restaurants, cafés and bars – and this hotel for sure – are alive and kicking, vibrating with the rise and fall cadence of polyglot chatter and laughter, well into the wee small hours. A dark tango erupts across this ambassadorial enclave under the dense shade of blazing jacaranda trees. A clock strikes 12. Midnight in the garden of good and upheaval.
Earlier in the day, away from the searing heat, mingling with mestizos, there was lunch in Elena. Yep, the Four Seasons restaurant carries her name. Between the crazy new block with its broken pediments (like an adopted lovechild of Philip Johnson and Quinlan Terry) and La Mansión is the surprisingly macho Pampas ranch style restaurant. It’s scalped out of the escarpment of the sloping site, lit by a dome which pops its transparent head up into the garden next to the swimming pool. The old and the new, the subterranean and above ground meld and depart; the mellow and the bonkers (condom shaped lights and door handles formed of chains in the loos anyone?) blur and collide.
Over lunch, a tangy aromatic Doña Paula Malbec 2017 on ice was just so cooling. The temperature rose back up when a sizzling cheese soufflé arrived from the kitchen. Mariscada was next. That’s: trout, octopus, shrimp, catch of the day (make that white salmon) and sautéed squid. A seabed of goodness; southern pemmican. Finally, mousse de chocolate amazónico 70 percent and proper Argentinian bean coffee. All four were so very this season.
To Die For
Buenos Aires is sometimes compared to Paris, a touch tenuously at times, but together they’ve had a similarly lucky escape. Le Corbusier planned to bulldoze both cities to create modernist utopias. Thankfully, his plans ended up in the dustbin. Instead of the French connection, we’d like to compare Buenos Aires to Savannah. Wait – there are plenty of things in common, honest. Well, ok, four. Firstly, splendid isolation of the geographical kind. One is encircled by Pampas; the other, swamps. Secondly, they’re both laid out like chessboards, streets intersecting at right angles to define square blocks between them. Thirdly, they both have a Pink House. Only Buenos Aires’ is called Casa Rosado. Fourthly, cemeteries top the tourist trail. Recoleta in BA, Bonaventure in SA. Cities of the dead. Theme parks of morbidity. Celebratory sepulchres. Legends written in stone. Recoleta Cemetery, like Buenos Aires, sprawls rather than soars: a linear visual feast of marble mausolea. A labyrinthic architectural encyclopaedia of ways to be buried. A necropolis within the metropolis. Drop dead gorgeous.
Once the orchard of the adjoining startlingly white Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the land was designated the city’s first public cemetery in 1822. Two women cry out from the immortalised myriad: one so famous she has a musical named after her; the other, a more intimate tale to tell. The understated yet much sought after tomb of Evita (Eva Perón née Duarte), mother of the nation. And that of the beloved daughter of Porteños, Liliana Crociati. She died in an avalanche on her honeymoon in Austria in 1970. Her parents reconstructed her bedroom in an art nouveau gothic grave. A bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress, with her beloved pet dog by her side, guards the entrance. Nostalgia as an art form. Evita’s darling poodle was called Canela. So brief a dream.
Where the L?
“I will return and I will be millions,” Evita promised. Easy tigress. Milión will do. Cryptic love. What a darling house. Such extravagance of void. A triple height gallery like the inside of a wedding cake. A death defying stairwell. The hôtel particulier cum restaurant cum tapas bar cum cocktail salon cum art gallery cum atelier cum music venue cum courtyard garden cum residence for the last 10 years of an enigmatic black cat Emilio. He’s a complete doll. Before Emilio for seven years there was Emilia. Here come basil daiquiris. Every hour is happy. Nobody is chichi. Everyone is chic. Great chi. Cheek to cheek. Tick tock. Cat-walk-o-clock. Milión de gracias!
The Newest Argentina
She’s the original icon, in every sense. It’s fitting that Museo Evita is in a gorgeous 1920s mansion that once housed her social foundation. An architectural requiem. Nostalgia in marble. Hypnotic melancholic melodrama, food to the spirit: that’s what we’re after and that’s what we get. Plus deep fried empanadas in the classy courtyard restaurant for the body reboot. You can’t overdress on the Orient Express and the same goes for a football pitch. At least in Eva Perón’s boots books. There’s a fabulous photo on display of the national heroine kicking a soccer ball – wearing killer heels. She wore haute couture and Caron perfume. Just seven years into her public life, Evita was dead, aged 33.
Later, it’s comfort eating in Perón Perón, Palermo Hollywood. On the hour every hour (ok, not quite, this is Argentina, so 20 past if you’re lucky) there’s a blast of foot stamping heart pounding table thumping rabble rousing regimental Justicalist music. “Perón! Perón!” A shrine to Evita forms the fulcrum of the restaurant. Menu puns are aplenty. Salads are “Light Perónism”. Main courses are dedicated to “True Comrades of Life”. Puddings are labelled “Where there is a need, there is a right”. And the menu ends “A cup of java for the President”. The oligarch filled spoon lanterned Fervor brasserie feels a million miles away.
“I confess that I have an ambition, one single, great personal ambition: I would like the name of ‘Evita’ to figure somewhere in the history of my country.” Mission accomplished. A vibrant painting of the most recent president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, hanging over the restaurant tables, is a reminder that Perónism lives on. But there’s only one Evita.