bueno aires street

I’ve barely been here an hour and already my heart is synched up and beating to the city’s sounds: its distinct rhythm, its scents, its temperature. If home is where the heart is, then this is where mine beats most fully, most effortlessly, where I can just be. I’ve returned to Buenos Aires after several long years — years that tested my sense of self, years that left me hungry for Argentina, craving a warm embrace of the familial.

As I ride through the city center alongside my uncle and cousin, as the wind briefly caresses my face and as I catch my reflection on the window, it’s clear that I’ve returned. My querido (dear) Buenos Aires has been here, waiting, all along.

With a dozen cousins in tow, we make our way to Asador Las Marias in Benavidez, the first of many visits to a traditional Argentine grill, complete with skewered beef, butterflied lamb, homemade sausages and an array of delectable cuts of meat, all meticulously cooked over smoldering coals — the grill itself an attraction before the food is served.

BA grill

While beef is the star of any good parrillada, I take to the sides of radicheta, ensalada rusa, morrones and fresh, yet crusty, Italian bread dipped in chimichurri with the excitement of a child, before the family-style board of assorted meats gets to the table. This traditional asado is the country’s most beloved celebratory ritual, and it’s alongside the fire that our bonds are rekindled. Conversation and Malbec flow freely.

Stuffed but optimistic, we all agree that it’s time for dessert (el postre being an integral part of any family meal), which can only mean one thing: helado (ice cream). With heladerias being a staple on every city block, it’s not long before I’m reacquainted with a large cone of my favorite combo in the entire world: dulce de leche and sambayón (a mixture of egg yolk, sugar and sweet wine). I savor the sweetness of the moment. My visit has just begun.

As we make our way to El Tigre, the scent from roadside choripan stands reminds me of my parents. Trust me, you’d want a bite of this simple, delicious, tried-and-true Argentine staple, too: a freshly grilled sausage, sliced down the middle and pressed between two doughy slices of bread (I decide that’s what I’ll be having for dinner—or maybe as a snack—hours later).

This traditional asado is the country’s most beloved celebratory ritual, and it’s alongside the fire that our bonds are rekindled.

Just north of Buenos Aires proper, the town of El Tigre is the gateway to the Paraná Delta’s rivers and home to the storied Puerto de Frutos (fruit harbor), the city’s iconic, bustling craft market where visitors from around the world come to experience Argentina’s vibrant artisanal culture. Just outside the market, we find a patch of grass to claim and sit down for a national afternoon date with mate, a hot infusion of dried Yerba Mate, served in a gourd and sipped through a metal straw.

Across Argentina, mate is a warm accompaniment to the ambiance, an instrument for hosting, sharing and toasting. And toast we do: to a day of food, of family and of, finally, being home.

food ba ba tiles

The days that follow over the next two weeks are a blend of walking, eating (homemade pastas, pizzas, provoleta, empanadas, milanesas…), talking, embracing, laughing, crying, drinking, toasting and celebrating — the latter being Argentina’s second language. No matter the current economic state of affairs or the fleeting morale of the disappearing middle class, celebration is a way of life, no matter how humble. Family and friends gather weekly, the kitchen and living areas bustling with conversation, preparation and togetherness. It’s a warmth so palpable and distinct, it’s difficult to describe in words, an intoxicating joie de vivre that spills onto the city’s most beloved streets.

Walking through San Telmo, I’m reminded of childhood day trips — Mami in a flowing skirt, her kitten heels clicking on the cobblestone streets, the smell of garrapiñadas (browned, sugar-coated nuts served in paper cones), the sound of a melancholic accordion playing in the distance. We stop at Librería de Ávila, the oldest bookstore in Buenos Aires, and my heart flutters at the array of exquisitely curated Spanish-language tomes: Borges, Marquez, Lugones, even Shakespeare.

It’s a warmth so palpable and distinct, it’s difficult to describe in words, an intoxicating joie de vivre that spills onto the city’s most beloved streets.

We stroll Calle Florida, Buenos Aires’s iconic pedestrian shopping street, melodically moving to the sound of tangos being performed on the square, street performers drawing smiles, restaurants setting up for the afternoon merienda rush — countless cups of coffee being served in outdoor patios, fresh facturas (traditional Argentine pastries) sensuously peering through café windows. As the sun sets, the Obelisco stands watch over Avenida 9 de Julio, the world’s widest street; imposing, it lights up for the perfect photo.

***

The following week, four hours away, I find myself on Buenos Aires’s stretch of Atlantic Ocean in La Costa. A handful of my parents’ ashes in my pocket, my godmother by my side, I dip my toes into what was once the only shore I knew. The ocean breeze caresses me, a subtle greeting. The blinking sun gives me the okay, and with each wave, the ashes make their journey into the infinite. They are home. I’m more at home today than ever.

BA ocean

My last meal in Buenos Aires is, fittingly, an asado prepared by the men of the family who meticulously prepare the fire over the course of three hours. It culminates in a celebration, complete with a round of applause, some chimichurri, homemade fries, sides and a glass of Malbec — a toast to home. The ride to the airport is marked by cumbia playing on the radio, by my uncle’s singing, by an exchange of memories and a promise to come back soon.

As I settle into my seat and the plane steadily takes off the runway, I feel peacefully rooted. Today, as I sit here, sipping on mate — from a gourd purchased in San Telmo — I dwell on the irony of roots, on how beautifully they ground us, while simultaneously grooming our wings. I will fly home soon again. For now, it’s housed in these memories, in this deliciously shared moment between us.

Do you have a story of homecoming? Share with us in the comments.

Feature Image via Sasha Zvereva; Images via Valeria L. Palmertree

6 comments

  1. Buenos Aires jamas contada con tanta dulzura y pasión, con mirada de niña,adolescente y mujer que ama y amará estas tierras suya y de sus padres . No importa la distancia ,siempre habrá en el cielo del Norte, una estrella linda que recuerde tu Sur.

  2. Oh that’s a beautiful story, Argentina is my homeland, Buenos Aires my home (mi casa) I was born there and now I am living in Spain but you described so well the feeling and the familial concept of my country. El mate and el asado are like the vertebral column. Thanks a lot for so loving, friendly, familial, tender…..and Darling words of my home.
    I wish you a happy staying there!

    Flavia D | Photograher
    @flaviadcreativestudio

  3. Valeria!

    Buenos Aires is mi querida tambien! I spent 2 semesters there my junior year of college and absolutely LOVED IT. I think of it often and reminisce about the exact same things that you mentioned here: the asado, the Malbec (still my favorite red), El Tigre, cafe con leche, medialunas (oh my gosh, I could NOT get enough medialunas when I was there!), and the people! I loved that everyone congregated around good food, wine, and conversation. I always said that Argentina was my other home, and was the country that opened my eyes to the world. 🙂

    Thank you for this wonderful travel essay and the walk down memory lane. I cannot wait to visit Argentina again!

    http://www.imagerybymcgee.com

  4. I spent a semester in Buenos Aires, and this was a sweet read taking me to familiar places and smells, so well described!

    Born in Venezuela, educated between Europe and the United States, while now a Canadian citizen, I’m a third culture kid. Recently through my husband’s job, I had a homecoming of sorts, as I got to accompany him to Switzerland for a business trip. I got teared up from the moment the plane landed ans I could see the Swiss alps from the tiny window of my airplane seat. Taking the train from Geneva to the town where he was, all the memories came flooding my mind through the very familiar train ride. The familiar Swiss French accent, the local vocabulary. It was a gift of a trip. On Saturday we went to Lausanne, where I lived and went to school from ages 13 to 17. Simply amazing to experience my beloved Switzerland through my adult eyes, with my child’s heart.

    1. Gustavo Reatto

      Buenos Aires jamas contada con tanta dulzura y pasión ,con mirada de niña,adolescente y mujer, que ama y amará esta tierra suya de padres y abuelos ,de familia que siempre espera su regreso. No importa la distancia ,siempre habrá en el cielo del Norte una linda estrella con luz de Sur .

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