Guest blogger: Matt Chesterton’s Plaza Life

IMG_2288Writer Matt Chesterton shares his slice of plaza life in Buenos Aires.

On a typical day, the kind I like best, my hours are divided between bed, desk and plaza. The precise ratio of each activity to the others fluctuates according to factors like weather conditions, workload and how badly my wife wants me gone. Last Sunday, for example, the sun was shining, all deadlines were met and my wife wanted it very badly indeed. So I ended up making two trips to the plaza, one before lunch and one around dusk. Like I said, my kind of day.

Courtesy of Matt Chesterton

Courtesy of Matt Chesterton

I don’t go to the plaza to drink wine from a Tetra Pak or charge around shirtless while trying to belt a football between two saplings, though I’m not saying I never will. I go there to play with my three-year-old daughter and have been doing so on a more-or-less daily basis since before she could walk.

In those two and a half years, the happiest of my life, I have watched her and her plaza buddies grow from crawlers into toddlers into whirligigs of flesh and sound in motion. I have exchanged nods, smiles and shop talk (“Valentina’s vaccination bruise has really gone down since yesterday, hasn’t it?” “She’ll eat black pudding but not chicken breast; I just don’t get it!”) with other parents.

When we began our jaunts to Plaza Güemes (just “the plaza” to us in the ’hood, of course) it was little more than a square of wasteland shaded by young tipa trees, with a derelict warehouse on one side, a posh Jesuit school on another and a flagpole in the middle that was naked all year round, even on Flag Day. There was a sandpit that operated as a kind of unlucky dip, with used condoms, syringes and broken glass among the non-glittering unprizes. So we hung around the flagpole, which my daughter used as a leaning post.

Courtesy of InfoBan

Courtesy of InfoBan

She was starting to toddle when some good news arrived on our doorstep in the shape of a note from Jorge Macri, our mayor. Paraphrasing a bit, it read: “I’m going to raze your crappy old plaza and replace it with a best-in-class recreational zone. And I’m going to do it in three months.” By the purest coincidence, this happened in the run-up to the municipal elections.

Well, it took six months of course but glorious George, now handsomely re-elected, delivered alright. It was out with the putrid prophylactics and in with swings (including specially adapted ones for kids with disabilities) and roundabouts, slides and climbing frames, drinking fountains, concrete butterfly chairs, brightly-coloured fitness stations and more muted dog turd receptacles. They’re still looking for that flag.

I was impressed. My daughter was thrilled. Luis, who owns the kiosk just off the square where we get our pop and alfajores, was so elated he almost smiled.

Courtesy of Matt Chesterton

Courtesy of Matt Chesterton

Straight away, our new and improved neighbourhood hub began to draw in all kinds of folks from the peripheries. Pre-teens from our local shantytown mixed with pensioners taking their twilight constitutional; office workers on their lunch break stepped carefully around entwined couples. My daughter made a new – a stab of jealousy here – friend every day, relegating me to the (still crucial) roles of crossing guard and carbohydrate dispenser.

What makes our plaza so unmistakably Argentine? It’s difficult to grok let alone convey. But my friend Ian Mount was on to something when he told me that Argentines are unrivalled at the art of turning any green space into a bustling urban environment. Most of our neighbours ignore the park furniture Jorge has so kindly provided, preferring, at great and unnecessary inconvenience to themselves, to lug their own, all the better to sit around bitching about inflation while supping mate and eating biscuits so dry an ancient mariner would have thrown them to the gulls.

In a few days’ time, my daughter will start pre-school and the plaza will cease to be the locus of her leisure. There’ll be others to hold her hand, dry her tears, remove the grit from her Crocs, shout “Wheeeeeeeee!” when she goes down the slide. A wave of sadness hits me when I think about this, but a sublime sadness, the kind easily mistaken for joy.

Matt Chesterton is a British freelance writer and editor who has lived in Buenos Aires since 2002. He came to Argentine for love, and stayed for the deep-dish pizza and warm nights. He is married and has a three-year-old daughter.

This Week: March 3-10

Electronic music parties are on the agenda, while an ultra-hip Palermo gallery unveils its latest exhibition. Presenting the week, March 3-10, 2014.

Monday

In case you weren’t aware, we are still on carnival alert, with both Monday and Tuesday national holidays. Follow the beat of the drums and go shake your booty like you’re in Brazil. In all good carnaval-loving neighborhoods including Colegiales, Montserrat, Palermo, San Telmo and Villa Crespo…

Courtesy of BA City government

Courtesy of BA City government

Tuesday

Today is the last day for some city beach action, as Buenos Aires Playa ends its 2014 summer cycle, goddamit. Get down to one of these hotspots for some final tanning and chilling.

Courtesy of BA City government

Courtesy of BA City government

Wednesday

For one of the most buzzing happy hours in town, get down to Pony Line bar in Recoleta. Lady of the musical night SRZ checks the tunes, while the superb drinks list will keep the most demanding of palates content. From 8pm. Pony Line, Posadas 1086, Recoleta.

Courtesy of Four Seasons

Courtesy of Four Seasons

Thursday

Primafila‘s High on the Roof by Estamos Felices cycle continues every Thursday until the end of March. Expect a beautiful crowd starting the weekend early with this early-evening rooftop sessions. Entrance is free but by list only, so stop by for a yummy supper before shaking off the calories on the outdoor terrace.

Courtesy of Gastronomique

Courtesy of Gastronomique

Friday

Ultra-hip art gallery Miau Miau unveils its latest exhibition, Piques de ensueño by Constanza Alberione. Expect fragile portraits lovingly painted with tiny brush strokes. From 7pm. Miau Miau, Bulnes 2705, Palermo,

Courtesy of Miau Miau

Courtesy of Miau Miau

Later on, start your weekend off with a bang, courtesy of party organizers HISS, who have lined up a big one at Liv tonight. David August headlines the Palermo nightclub, and will be backed up Ricky Ryan and Yamil Colucci. Start throwing your finest shapes now. From midnight. Liv, Juan B. Justo 1658, Palermo.

Weekend

And if you still need to get your groove on, the big bad Pacha nightclub throws opens its door after a low-profile summer. Dutch wonder Sander Kleinenberg brings the club back to life – make sure you keep at it until dawn to watch the sun rise over the River Plate. Pacha, Avenida Rafael Obligado 6151, Costanera Norte.

Courtesy of DJ Guide

Courtesy of DJ Guide

Come Sunday, what better than an Hernán Gipponi seven-course brunch to fuel that empty tank? Last booking, 2pm. HG Restaurant, Soler 5862, Palermo Hollywood.