How to stay warm in San Telmo

IMGP9941 Wow it’s cold in Buenos Aires! It’s the first day of June and I want it to be the start of summer. I keep imagining the gardens of England verdant and full of my favourite blooms. But today for our latest walk in San Telmo I was wrapped up in thick sweater, padded jacket, and gloves: I felt chilled to the bone. Still, at least we got outside and made the most of the weakening sun.

I enjoyed exploring with Carlos. I always do. We walked from Catedral subte down Bolivar and after a few blocks crossed to Defensa to wander past the market stalls. I’ve done this a few times now and it all felt very familiar. Carlos walks very fast past these street stalls. I know they don’t interest him. He stopped maybe twice: once to look at some antique pens, and once to ask me what those weird head things are that are everywhere at the moment. They are like big silver spiders. I believe you wear them like a hat and the legs curve around and touch your head,  I think at pressure points. They look like something a dominatrix might have in her kit bag. I said I thought they were meant to be good for your health. He pulled a face and we walked on even faster.

There were fewer people than the last time I visited on a Sunday. It’s the ‘temporada baja’ for tourists, and I felt a bit sorry for the folks sitting on cold pavements behind stalls that were mostly empty of punters. I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy. I knew Carlos was wondering why on earth we’d made the trip. But I had a little plan up my sleeve, and as we approached Plaza Dorrego I took Carlos off the street and into a gem of a place that unbelievably I only found the other day. I’ve been researching where you can buy fresh food in San Telmo, for reasons that I won’t go into here, and as a result I’ve been walking the area quite a bit lately.  One day in my travels I stumbled upon ‘El mercado de San Telmo’. If you want to find it, it’s in the block between Defensa, Carlos Calvo, Bolivar and Estados Unidos, with an exit into every street. I like this place. OK it’s got loads of bric-a-brac and I’ve no idea if I’d ever buy any of that, BUT it also has fresh fruit (even on a Sunday), meat and bread(in the week), a little down to earth café where you can sit round the bar and get a great ‘cortado’ or a snack, and a lot of places selling hats which you definitely need if you are in Buenos Aires in this weather. But what I am drawn to most of all is the building: the roof is beautiful. I was busy taking pictures into the ceiling when Carlos disappeared.

When he found me again he virtually dragged me outside and I thought he had bumped into a friend, either that or something I absolutely must see was happening in Carlos Calvo. I wasn’t far wrong: more like something he must have, was being grilled just round the corner from the Carlos Calvo market exit… choripán! The place was tiny and reminded me of the salt beef sandwich shop that Shev took me to in Brick Lane when we went dancing in London. But here in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, the crucial ingredient was the big ‘parilla’ stacked with meats: the chorizo for the choripán of course, morcilla, pollo, vacio… all the Argentine favourites. There was a long queue which Carlos got to the front of remarkably quickly (I think there might have been a bit of cheating), and I was delighted to stand for a while just two feet from the red hot coals, the sparks almost reaching us, as the lady shovelled the glowing embers from the oven to their destination under the browning meats. I love to watch Carlos tucking into a choripán. That is one satisfying picture: happiness, joy, excitement all coming from something of an ugly sausage between two slabs of bread. Me, I can’t stand the taste, or the smell so I stuck to a chicken breast, succulent and very filling. Afterwards he was happy for me to pull him back into the market for a coffee at the bar. The best part was that the wooden stool on which I sat was almost hot from the buttocks of its previous resident: my hands wrapped around a steaming ‘cortado’, my icy thighs warmed by the bar stool… I could have stayed there all afternoon.

Carlos liked the market too. He said it was like the market in Shrewsbury where my mum and dad buy their fresh foods every Saturday morning. He’s right. There is something that resembles the old English market town about ‘El mercado de San Telmo’, and maybe that is why I am at peace under its intricate roof.

Later we wandered into another ‘arcade’ I hadn’t entered before. This one was farther on, past Plaza Dorrego.  The shops inside were fairly standard: tango memorabilia, more knick knacks, a few clothes, leather stuffs…  but the courtyard inside was beautiful with a chequered stone floor that I wanted to dance a tango on, and it was a pleasure to take a few minutes to climb the stairs, walk the terraces, soak up the place… yes, the sense of these places is what does it for me every time. We talked about whether we would like to live in San Telmo. We decided no. I always feel a slight sadness in those streets and I can’t explain it. I enjoy the occasional walk through, and in the week when the market isn’t on I like Defensa where it crosses Estados Unidos: there are some nice little shops and cafés around there. But I am always pleased to leave, and head towards the green D line, up through Plaza Italia and Palermo towards Belgrano, to ‘my’ daily Buenos Aires, my comfort zone, my home.

I often wonder how we come to choose a particular area over another in a new city. For me it was part chance. The hostel I first stayed in was near the top of Santa Fé in Palermo. I always loved to walk in Avenida Santa Fe’. For six months I lived just one block from it in Barrio Norte/Recoleta. I met Carlos in La Glorieta in Belgrano. I bought my place at the top of Santa Fé where it becomes Cabildo and heads off to Belgrano (one block from Las Cañitas). So I have ended up almost bang in the middle of where I started out here, and where I met Carlos. I am fairly near La Viruta, Canning, La Glorieta. I am 45 minutes in a bus from San Telmo and I hardly ever go there. In general the San Telmo Milongas  are not my personal favourites. People always ask me where to stay in Buenos Aires and I always say, near the D Subte line, near Santa Fé. I would never say San Telmo. But then again if they asked you, you might say exactly the opposite, or Recoleta, or Villa Crespo, or Boedo… or wherever you started out, discovered your Buenos Aires, fell in love! Isn’t it fascinating that we are all so different?

Anyway, San Telmo was freezing today and by the time I got home on the 152 bus, all traces of the warming moments had gone. I felt like I could be in Patagonia. Now, the heating is on and I am slowly thawing out with a Cachamai herb tea. Our takeaway dinner is ordered from the local panaderia. Carlos is asleep with a hot water bottle and my biggest Hubert. He says he feels sick. I sure do hope it wasn’t the choripán…

See pictures of our freezing 1 June in San Telmo


13 Responses

  1. Those spidery things – I believe they’re a kind of non-pressure massager. You open out the prongs, stick them on your head and move the thing up and down so that the ends of the prongs trace lines up and down your scalp. I know people who go absolutely crazy for them, they seem to produce an almost orgasmic effect in them, but they do nothing for me.

    I lived in San Telmo, and I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to stay either. It’s not that I don’t like the place; it’s just that it’s bloody miles from anywhere useful, and has crappy amenities – no decent supermarkets, for example. It is, however, very pretty, in a faded 19th century belle kind of way.

  2. El Rincon de los Duendes is technically La Boca, no? I believe San Juan is the border. It’s weird, I hardly ever crossed San Juan, it felt like a wall into another world.

    Your second arcade looks nice – I never discovered that one.

  3. Yeah Psyche I’m sure you are right about the San Telmo/La Boca border. Certainly I never walked that far along Defensa until today, but we did cross San Juan.

    And I think it’s lucky that there is that indoor market in San Telmo with fruit, veg, meat etc. because I haven’t found a good supermarket yet either. There is a Dia just behind the market in Bolivar, but it’s small and a bit grotty…

    If I get the chance I’ll try the head thing out, but I sure ain’t gonna buy one!


  4. Hi Sally,

    I was here at the end of 2000 for the first time and in the very “eye of the storm” – read, the 2001 crisis… even though my analysis is very different from this definition, but that is another story – and the San Telmo market was almost deserted. Actually this whole place was a ghost town. I saw assemblies of San Telmo neighbours (one of the poorer parts of this society) trying to figure out what to do in that inferno and/or exchanging bananas/pomelos for T-shirts or the different currencies Argentina used at the time (the Provincias did not have any money, so they issued ‘bonds’ with which people got paid, called Lecops, Patacones etc., and were used in shops and so on). Due to tourism, places like that market started to flourish again. Just that. The view was so depressing that I never had the chance to look at what I had over my head. Six years later I’ve been there and looked up to the ceiling.

    The “Pasaje Defensa” is certainly very beautiful. In December 2000 I remember I was the only living/moving creature to enter there and order a Pepsi. I even have a picture to prove that – but it is at my mom’s, sorry I cannot show that one here in BsAs to you when we meet. I was almost shy and guilty to have a good time there, at that time. Things change, the question is, ’till when? Saint Mary of Tourism, make it last! Amen.

    PS: thanx again for all the help with Ariel, my friend had a great time! Alan and I will send you a message soon to meet for coffee ;-}

  5. “said I thought they were meant to be good for your health. He pulled a face and we walked on even faster.”

    That made me laugh! I love those spider massagers – I should get one actually…hmmm…when next I’m in BsAs.

    I think I know that meat stand you wrote about – we have something similar here in Montreal – whenever we have the famous Rue St. Laurent sidewalk sale, those Portugese restaurants drag their grills outside to make those fabulous meat sandwiches. You could smell them from blocks away. But our sidewalk sales are always in the summer time, I think the sandwiches would have tasted even better in chilly weather.

    Only 3 more months till I come back!

  6. Dear Sally,

    Thanks for the fascinating account of your day in San Telmo – reading it, it was almost like I was there with you and Carlos!
    I agree with you, it’s funny how you end up where you end up in Buenos Aires. Long before I had stepped foot in Buenos Aires, I had put up a photo of a lovely street corner in the city onto my computer desktop so I could look at it and dream about being there. When I finally decided to go to Buenos Aires, I booked my hotel based solely on prices and availability on Expedia. It was a shock to me when I stepped out of the airport taxi in front of the hotel – because the view from the hotel’s front doors was EXACTLY where my desktop photo was taken!
    Wishing you a warm and cosy Buenos Aires winter,

    Irene and Man Yung

  7. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for keeping these blogs coming and sharing so much. Thanks too to Carlos for being such a good sport and agreeing to be photographed pretty much anywhere and sometimes doing quite amusing things! It brings the pair of you so close, I feel you are here or I am walking with you, and I can imagine the laughs you are having and the comments you are making.
    Each installment reminds there is another world going on out there everyday, people living in different ways to different patterns and I feel less fixed myself. I enjoy and am re-energised!
    I loved your blog about Carlos – it was so honest and tender. I rejoice in your opening up and his patient waiting!
    I also loved my trip to the poshest hotel and can imagine the inviting pillows still.
    Keep trying new things, keep savouring x
    Big love Jane x

  8. Ludmilla,
    I loved reading your experience of the places that we walked through this weekend. You really made me stop and think about what the people of this city have been through.

    I am so happy that you managed to get to organise the class with Ariel. He is such a darling, a beautiful dancer, and I think a truly great teacher… and more than that now, he is my dear friend. I love sharing him with people like you! And I hope we meet very soon…

    Caroline. Get back here! Me and C. miss you loads!

    Irene and Man Yung
    When you said that you felt like you were there with us, it made me read the post again. Isn’t one of the great things about recording moments in a blog, that you can be transported back into them whenever you want.
    Actually just looking at that photo of the fire on the parilla will take me back to the mix of heat and cold of this particular day for a long time to come. But the words too: they paint a picture that I want to always remember.

    Jane my beloved sister
    I write this blog for many reasons, but one of them is to give you, my darling family, a glimpse into my life here… maybe bits of it that I would never chat about on the phone: the little details of days lost so easily into memory and never spoken about.
    I am happy that I bring these days alive for you.
    And one day you will come and share all these places with us. You will. And I can’t wait!


  9. Thanks for sharing your warm and cozy stories. I adore hearing about your sweetheart.

    Con besos,
    M in Buenos Aires

  10. Hi Sallycat,

    I have missed you and now am catching up on your recent posts. Your description of San Telmo made me smile. I stayed there when I went to BA, also in winter (August) and was happy to escape the summer heat. Just know that I am like you, wearing a coat every day because summers in San Francisco are quite cool, if not downright chilly.

    I loved the look of San Telmo, even in its somewhat faded glory. I had great fun prowling the markets and buying little goodies. But yes, it is a bit far from the hustle and bustle.

    Keep warm and cheerful!

  11. Just say hello 🙂

    Best wishes!

  12. Sally,

    I just wanted to tell you that I bought my first pair of tango shoes here in Tokyo last week and they say “Industria Argentina” on the bottom. They are soft, red shoes-quite sexy. I always love reading your tales from Buenos Aires. I hope to one day find a Carlos to keep me warm on the cold days.

    Love from Tokyo,


  13. Cold days have arrived earlier than usual in BsAs. Let’s hope we don’t have snow like we did on July 9, 2007, which the city hadn’t seen in 50 years. I’ve been here 9+ years after living most of my life in Chicago where winters are truly awful.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: