“To me, it seems a mere tale that Buenos Aires had a beginning: I judge her to be as eternal as water and air” – Jorge Luis Borges
Buenos Aires is a city that breathes literature. It is a constant part of the lives of many porteños, who sneak around the streets with books to read in cafes, by the river or in parks. One only needs to know where to look to find literary cafes, poetry slams and bookstores full of rich history all over town.
Many of Latin America’s’ greatest authors lived, at one point or another, in Buenos Aires. Perhaps the best known Argentine author internationally, Jorge Luis Borges, happened to have been a true lover of Buenos Aires, and saw the city through a very special lens, one we will try to look through today.
Borges was born the 24th August 1899 in Buenos Aires. He grew up in a middle class family of no considerable wealth, not rich enough to live in the downtown area of Buenos Aires yet not poor. He grew up in Palermo, at that time considered a poorer neighbourhood, not the lively, trendy one it is today. There he lived until 1914, the year in which his family emigrated to Switzerland.
I suggest following Borges’ footsteps through Buenos Aires and finding some interesting places along the way. This mini tour of Borges’ life in Buenos Aires will not start, however in Palermo but rather in Recoleta, another neighbourhood close to the author’s life. We will then walk a little through Retiro, see some of his homes, and then return to where it all began, Palermo, where we’ll have a drink and toast to Borges’ legacy!
Without further ado, let’s start!
1) The Jorge Luis Borges International Foundation and Borges Museum.
(Dr. Tomás Manuel de Anchorena 1660, C1425, Buenos Aires)
Founded by his widow, Maria Kodama, the foundation came into existence on the 24th of August 1988. What once was Borges’ family home, between the years 1938 and 1943, today is a museum dedicated to the author’s life and work. Here he wrote “Las ruinas circulares”, one of his better known short fiction pieces.
1. 2) Av. Pueyrredón 2190, Buenos Aires.
On our way to the Recoleta Cemetery (very much worth a visit in it’s own right), we will walk past one of Borges’ many homes in the city. On the fifth floor at 2190 Pueyrredón Avenue we can stop and appreciate, not only one of the most beautiful parts of Buenos Aires, but also where he lived from 1929 until 1939. A small footnote on our Borgesian journey.
2) The Recoleta Cemetery
(Junín 1760, C1113)
Arguably the most beautiful cemetery in the country, and for sure one of the most stunning in Latin America, the Recoleta Cemetery is home to many of the most illustrious argentine families. A history lesson hiding within, this place is very much worth a visit, especially for photography aficionados.
The cemetery hosts Borges’ family mausoleum, where his mother is buried. He himself lies in Geneva, having died there, continuing a somewhat sad tradition of national writers finding their final resting place abroad.
3) La Biela
(Av. Presidente Manuel Quintana 596, C1129ABO)
After a morning of heavy walking around Recoleta we will all be tired, so what better place to stop and have a coffee than La Biela, one of the most iconic (and yes, touristy) cafes in the city.
La Biela’s history is rather remarkable, which is of course why it’s visited by porteños and foreigners alike. Once a popular destination for the likes of Fangio and Borges, inside we will find a cacophony of portraits, photographs and statues, all celebrating their famous customers. Yes, it is ok to go ahead and take a photo with Adolfo Bioy Casares and Borges, we have all done it, no one is judging.
3. 1) Av. Quintana 222 and 263
On our way to our next stop we can walk through Quintana avenue and tick two of Borges’ other homes off our list. It is at 222 that Borges lived shortly after returning from Europe and at 263 where he resided from 1943 until 1946.
4) Plaza San Martín
(Maipú 1210, C1006)
Yet another place worth seeing on it’s own merit, Plaza San Martin, named after the General José de San Martin, was witness to most of Borges adult life. Walk around or sit on a bench and enjoy a good book, do it Borges style!
4.2) His final home in Buenos Aires
Borges spent his latter years on the 6th floor, apartment B, at 994 Maipu avenue. He moved here in 1944 and lived there with his mother until she died aged 99, in 1975. Here, most poetically perhaps, is where he eventually lost his sight, from a condition inherited from his father.
5) Back to Palermo
As mentioned above, Palermo is where it all started, so it is where we shall end our small tour. On the originally named “Jorge Luis Borges” street we can find another two homes. The first one is at 2135, where he spent his childhood, and the second one is at 2147, where his grandmother used to live.
If we are too tired to walk, the 152 bus should take us back to Palermo, just ask for the Av. Santa Fe 3901 stop.
6) Borges 1975
(Jorge Luis Borges 1975, C1414DGG, CABA)
For the end, a personal recommendation. On the same street at 1975, you will find a bookshop called Borges 1975. Regardless of whether during the day or at night, this is a nice place to visit: unpretentious and simple yet deeply porteño, this bookshop comes to life at night. Enjoy a pizza or a glass of wine with a new book or, if you’re lucky, take advantage of their live jazz shows and art exhibitions and relax after a very Borgesian day!