Buying Power In Buenos Aires
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Buying Power In Buenos Aires

El Ateneo Grand Splendid was converted from a theater to a bookstore, and it regularly tops lists of the world’s most beautiful shops.
Wikimedia Commons
El Ateneo Grand Splendid was converted from a theater to a bookstore, and it regularly tops lists of the world’s most beautiful shops. Wikimedia Commons

Twice the empanadas. Twice the tangos. Twice the Negronis.

Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital and South America’s Jewish hub, is on sale right now. A year ago, one U.S. dollar bought 17 Argentine pesos; as of this week, it buys 38, meaning your budget stretches twice as far.

This is welcome news for Americans seeking a warm-weather getaway, since Argentina is heading into its southern hemisphere summer. Airfare remains pricey through the holidays … but the cheap peso buys twice as many days strolling Buenos Aires’ Italianate boulevards, checking out its historic synagogues, and sampling cocktails at outdoor cafés late into sultry nights.

Certainly, the thermometer wasn’t the only thing heating up last week, when violence broke out on the eve of a major soccer championship. Nothing revs up Argentines quite like fútbol.

With the 2018-19 season underway, there is plenty of opportunity to join Porteños  — as capital denizens are called — at a bar (or, for the intrepid, a stadium) to understand the passion that unites them across class, age and religion.

Another collective pastime is the waterfront. Come January, Porteños flock to several pop-up urban beaches along the Río de la Plata, the breathtakingly wide river that separates Buenos Aires from Uruguay.

The sands may be artificial, but the scene is authentic along Parque de los Niños or Parque Indoamericano, where visitors mingle with locals at play. Amid a sea of marigold-yellow umbrellas, you can join an impromptu volleyball game, let the kids loose in a splash park, and bop to the retro sounds of Argentine pop bands, which entertain beachgoers all season long.

If you work up an appetite, Jewish flavors are close at hand. Especially by Latin American standards, Buenos Aires is a delight for Jewish diners, with an array of kosher, Israeli and Ashkenazic eateries reflecting the city’s hybrid cultural mix. The outsized Italian influence on Argentine cuisine means plentiful vegetarian options in a city known for steak; cheese and spinach pop up in myriad delicious combinations.

Vegetarian or otherwise, few visitors can resist Instagramming a selfie in the Continent’s only kosher McDonald’s, inside the Abasto mall in the neighborhood of the same name. Buenos Aires’ Ashkenazic community coalesced over a century ago in the surrounding streets of the Once barrio, where schmatte vendors and Yiddish publications were part of a scene similar to New York’s Lower East Side.

Amid the ever-present rumble of anti-Semitism, Porteño Jews remain close-knit today. More rarified (and sometimes rare) kosher meat is grilled at Al Galope, an elegant, white-brick restaurant a few blocks from McDonald’s.

Between the two meat joints, you might easily miss the Gran Templo Paso, a Modern Orthodox shul hidden in plain sight on a block of cluttered storefronts. Cross the street for a better look: The Moorish-style Gran Templo, built in 1930, is one of B.A.’s most iconic Jewish sights.

In Palermo, an upscale neighborhood with Italian and Jewish roots, the café Hola Jacoba has become a destination for its blend of Ashkenazic and Sephardic classics — knishes, Balkan-style kofte, latkes and falafel. A short stroll down palm-shaded, cobblestoned streets, Bar Benaim is a hipster hangout specializing in Israeli-style street food; rabbi-supervised “kosher nights” and Sukkah dining are Jewish draws, but the quirky, back-alley vibe and hummus platters attract a diverse and youthful crowd.

First-time visitors to B.A. generally stop at the Teatro Colón, Argentina’s premier opera house…whose acoustics, in my experience, are better than its cramped sightlines.

Across the plaza, many will also check out the city’s first synagogue, the majestic Templo Libertad, a Moorish-style national landmark (and an architectural first cousin to the Gran Templo Paso). A small Jewish museum is housed next door.

But few will walk the few blocks to El Ateneo Grand Splendid, and that’s a shame. The Ateneo began life a century ago as a theater to rival the Colón; years ago, it was converted into a bookstore, and it regularly tops lists of the world’s most beautiful shops.

With its frescoed ceiling and illuminated balconies, the Ateneo looks like the Sistine Chapel, La Scala and a Barnes & Noble all rolled into one. It’s worth visiting even if you can’t read most of the Spanish titles on offer — the way the nearby Recoleta Cemetery, a mini-city of above-ground crypts, is worth visiting even if Eva Perón wasn’t your relative.

And best of all, everything’s half price. 

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