May 25 is a public holiday celebrating the May revolution of 1810, which led to Argentina's independence. This year, because the country was celebrating it's 200th year anniversary, the holiday included the 24th as well. So, a four-day weekend and millions of Argentines can only mean one thing - one hell of a birthday bash.
The long weekend made for a tough decision - to take advantage of the holiday and go on a little trip, or to stay in Buenos Aires where countless activities took place. Fate made the decision for me, as hotel vacancies were a rarity. I forget sometimes, living here in Buenos Aires, that it is much like Japan in that you always have to think ahead. Getting a last minute movie ticket on a Saturday night or on a weekend afternoon when it is raining is wishful thinking. You just have to keep in mind that there are always a million other people with the same good idea that you have.
So with that decision made, Friday night was a quick trip to closing party for an art exhibition - Clarisa Grabowiecki at Appetite Gallery in San Telmo - and then dinner at a very cool little downtown restaurant called Dada. The food was great and the atmosphere sort of reminded me of Montreal. But it was a perfect night to be in the microcentro as they call it over here, as all the big celebrations were just getting underway, and it gave me just a taste of what it would be like trying to maneuver my way around in the crowds. The Casa Rosada was lit up extra pink, roads were cut, tents were set up and people were definitely in a party mood.
But then I got to thinking, minus the flags and the tents, how is this weekend much different from other weekends in Buenos Aires? I guess I have sort of become accustomed to returning at five in the morning on the weekends. I am sort of embarrassed to admit that while living in Calgary, Alberta, I can actually remember going to bed at 10 p.m. some Friday nights. You can blame it on the winter temperatures or the abundant fresh air, but whatever the reason, people just sleep more there than they do in Buenos Aires. I'm lucky if I've even started dinner at 10 on a Friday night. All this to say that from what I have seen, people really make the most of their weekends over here, bicentennial or no bicentennial.
Saturday was supposed to be the day to leave on a trip, but since I stayed, I went to a concert at the University of Buenos Aires Faculty of Law building in honour of the bicentennial. It's a beautiful building located in an amazing area, and it was really something ascending those grand steps with all the Argentine flags flying outside to attend a concert like that for free. It was one of those moments for me when I remind myself that despite all the chaos, Buenos Aires is a pretty incredible city. After a post-concert map (napping, I have discovered, is an absolute necessity if you want to keep up with the Argentines), I attended a birthday party, which started at 10:30 p.m. Birthday celebrations, from what I have seen, are non-stop feasting and drinking and talking and dancing, topped off by cake and champagne. The night never ends early, but that is sort of a rule in this city.
Sunday I headed out on a day trip to San Antonio de Areco, a small historic city northwest of Buenos Aires. It seemed fitting to go there, a place where gauchos supposedly used to roam, to celebrate Argentina's history. My Argy husband does a lot of scoffing about gauchos, claiming they don't really exist, or at least not anymore, and are totally a way of bringing in more tourism money. I suppose it's a lot like the whole cowboy thing in Canada - trying to create some sort of culture or identity that sort of sticks after a while. So while he scoffed, I admired overpriced ponchos and listened to a very enthusiastic gaucho painter, Luis Gasparini, talk about the good old days.
I had full intentions of eventually making my way over to 9 de Julio, where all the celebrations were taking place, but after Saturday's party, and a late return from Sunday's day trip, by the time I was up and rolling on Monday and finished with a few errands, it was almost time to make dinner plans, which was done with two friends from New York who had attended the Argentina-Canada football game and left early, claiming it was one of the most boring sporting events they had ever attended. Apparently Canada was slaughtered by the Argies 5-0. I was hardly surprised, and to tell you the truth, I didn't even know Canada had a soccer team.After a late dinner of empanadas and drinking wine into the wee hours, Monday quickly turned into Tuesday, the infamous Veinticinco de Mayo, and when I finally woke up, I was greeted with a completely congested head and a very sore throat. So I missed the parade and all the hoopla on 9 de Julio, which apparently more than 2 million people attended, but I still don't feel like I missed out on any celebrations. Besides, from what I could tell, a lot of Argentines were not in a big hurry to attend all the festivities, happy to avoid the crazy traffic and celebrate in their own way I guess.
Today in my gruelling gym class, as we all slogged along after four days of feasting, my teacher stopped the music and demanded to know what was wrong with us, and what had we done all weekend anyway? Drink endless amounts of Malbec and champagne? he asked. Well, in a word, yes, but I don't see how that differs from any other birthday party here in Argentina, or any weekend for that matter.
And with that, I'd like to close by personally wishing Argentina a very Happy Birthday. It was an honour celebrating with you and here's to 200 more!