Bebop Club dazzles the Buenos Aires jazz scene

September 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Luciana Morelli sings at Bebop Club

A BA newcomer with a New York twist

In the basement of the upscale Moreno Hotel, just two blocks from the historic Plaza De Mayo, couples cozy up and wait for the start of the nightly 9 o’clock show on a chilly August evening.

On the menu: expertly-crafted signature cocktails, picada plates overflowing with that famous porteño assortment of smoked meats and cheeses, and a quartet of world-class musicians headlined by the even smokier vocals of Luciana Morelli.

The newest venue to join the small but thriving jazz scene in BA, Bebop Club opened its doors in March 2014, just a few months after the death of the city’s first and most iconic jazz promoter, Jorge “Negro” González.  With his passing came the subsequent closure of his downtown institution “Jazz & Pop,” removing the oldest contender in the BA jazz club lineup.

It’s hard to ignore the feeling that it was a passing of the baton.

Bebop Club at street level in downtown Buenos Aires

Springing up not far from González’ pioneering joint, Bebop is now the only place where you can take in a serious night of jazz East of 9 de Julio.  This is very good news indeed for the many visitors to the city who will choose to stay in the downtown area, and not just because of the proximity— hotspots Notorious, Virasoro Bar, and reigning king Thelonius in the trendy Palermo district are quite a bit harder on the wallet.

Which is not to say that Bebop is a bargain.  A visit there will set you back about as much as an upscale dining experience— but one that leaves you full, happy, and convinced you got a good value for the money.  So the question remains: does this up-and-comer, which bears a Blue Note seal of approval outside its front door, live up to its self-stated mission to “simulate the experience of a NY jazz club”?

As a native New Yorker and someone who has taken in shows at both NYC’s Blue Note and New Orleans’ historic Preservation Hall, I would argue that it succeeds where it counts: in the caliber of the musicians, and the ability to leave an indelible imprint of the experience.

Bebop Club's lounge area

The small crowd size on this mid-week winter night didn’t befit the massive talent on display at the hands of Morelli and her crew.  If perfectly-controlled crooning backed by world class ivory-tickling in an impossibly elegant space is how Bebop celebrates a “slow night,” their bar for entry is high, indeed.

And not just for their musicians.  Bebop’s interior designer has painstakingly replicated the Blue Note’s detailing, and then surpassed it.  You’ll find the same signature half-moon, velvet-lined chairs, but adorning separate, circular tables rather than boxy, adjoined ones.  

The stage is kept low, but the floor is smartly raised toward the back for a better view.  The stage is exquisitely in proportion with the room such that the side-dwellers aren’t too far out in left or right field— something the cuddling couples on the plush couches lining the walls will appreciate, and the clubs of New York can’t quite replicate.

Taken together— the lush lounge seating, the shared picada plates designed to “accidentally” tangle up lover’s fingers, and the romance that only a carefully curated array of world-class musicians can muster— Bebop could easily claim to be the best jazz venue in the city for a date. Combined with a pre-show dinner at Aldo’s lavish wine bar and restaurant upstairs, this one-two punch is sure to impress.

Bebop jazz club stage

Embracing Buenos Aires jazz origins

As for the fidelity to the New York facsimile?  To echo and expand on what has already been stated, Bebop succeeds where it counts— and fails where it shouldn’t try.  By striving to provide the “NY experience,” Bebop, and all other BA hopefuls, misstep. Yes, every good artist must imitate before they find their own voice, but Buenos Aires has already crossed that threshold, and is now failing to claim its own artistic merit.

To wit, Argentina has produced international jazz icons like swing guitarist extraordinaire Oscar Alemán, master pianist Lalo Schifrin, and free jazz pioneer Leandro “Gato” Barbieri.  Their version of the genre has unique roots in the tango orchestras being the first purveyors of its sound, layering on a distinct flavor and giving birth to the important sub genre of Latin jazz.  

They even have the great underdog story of overcoming fierce repression, first from a public who decided it threatened their tango music heritage, and then from a dictatorship who banned it for being “imported” music.

Given that the scene only started to revive in the early 2000’s, it should be a mark of pride that Buenos Aires boasts a solid half dozen serious venues and no less than seven yearly jazz festivals. And, although Bebop won’t be a host venue this year in the largest of these— the Festival Internacional de Jazz, held each November— we have a feeling that will soon change.  Because regularly playing host to local legends like Art Zaldivar (see video below), Delfina Oliver, Luis Salinas, Jorge Navarro, and Manuel Fraga can’t keep them off the radar forever.

So go enjoy a trago (drink) and the buena onda (good vibes) of an unforgettable evening of jazz, perhaps after a lazy Sunday stroll through the nearby San Telmo Feria— and tell them this Yankee sent you.

Plan Your Bebop Club Visit

Address: Moreno 364 (part of the Moreno Hotel), between Defensa and Balcarce

Phone: 4331-3409 / 4343-0823 / 4334-2380

Email: info@bebopclub.com.ar

Website: http://bebopclub.com.ar/

Schedule: (Almost) daily 9:00 pm shows, with 2-3 shows per night on Fri-Sat-Sun. Closed Mondays.

Tickets: Purchase online to reserve specific tables, at the venue between 3:00 and 8:00 pm on show day, or directly before the show for best available.

Arrivals: 30 minutes before show start is recommended with no reservation

The Buenos Aires Obelisk

August 24, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

A porteño emblem par excellence

The Obelisk monument on Av 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires

It was once decorated as a pencil (2006), and twice as a Christmas tree (1973 and 2010).  It has served as a target for vandals, prompting its public closure and an imposing fence to be placed around it in 1987.  During the sinister sequestration period of the 1970s, it served as a masthead to hoist terrifying propaganda intended to silence the government’s critics.

In 2005, it was covered in a giant pink condom for World Aids Day.  In 2015, it temporarily “lost” its tip thanks to a grand illusion by the hand of a local artist, making it possible for the first time ever for Argentines to access its towering peak.

A few days after its construction was complete in 1936, an earthquake shook its foundation but couldn’t topple it.  A few years later, in 1939, the Argentine government voted 23-3 to demolish it, but they couldn’t topple it either (thanks, Mayor Goyeneche).   

For the city’s bicentennial celebrations in May 2010, more than 3 million cheering porteños rallied around it as their central symbol of both the city and the nation.  Just a few days before, famed fútbol coach of Argentina’s national team and it’s favorite ex-star player, Diego Maradona, threatened to run around it buck naked if his team should win the World Cup.

So, what is “it”, you ask?

None other than the “silver sword” of porteño pride: el Obelisco de Buenos Aires.

Residing at the intersection of the city’s two most important avenues, Av. 9 de Julio and Av. Corrientes, the Obelisk has been steeped in controversy and intrigue since before it was even erected. For starters, it has been popularly (and wrongly) blamed for the destruction of the historic St. Nicholas Church, which once stood on the same site and first hoisted the baby blue and white Argentine flag over its altars (the 1931 widening of Avenida Corrientes was the actual culprit).

Inscriptions on the side of 'El Obelisco' in Buenos Aires

Early onlookers questioned the appropriateness of the construction, pointing out that its shape had “nothing to do with” the city and what it stood for. It predictably became a target for local feminist groups that didn’t like the perceived machismo attitudes it embodies. And, if the ladies were correct about the message it was intended to send, it was an embarrassment anyway thanks to being less than half as tall as its 555-feet tall North American cousin, the Washington Monument (El Obelisco is just 221.5 feet tall, or 67.5 meters).

Besides that, it wasn’t even made out of “local materials”- the Olsen white stone which comprised its outer cladding was from the province of Córdoba. When that tiling started falling off, it was declared a danger to passersby and termed an “intruder” by an opportunistic Congress that grasped for any reason to level it to the ground and start afresh.

An Argentine monument that Buenos Aires learned to accept

But here we are over 80 years later, and it still occupies its prime real estate on the corner of the Broadway of BA and the Widest Avenue in the World. Love it or hate it, one thing is clear: it’s impossible to ignore it. After all, it has been the site of enough impassioned protests and soccer celebrations to cement its place in the Port City dweller’s hearts forever. More than likeability, the obelisk has familiarity going for it, having served as the centerpiece to many key events in the modern history of Buenos Aires.

In fact, the best way to understand the significance of the structure is perhaps through these stories: the rallies, the raucousness, and (at times) the riots that the monument has borne witness to. If choosing the Obelisk to host an event is synonymous with having an important cultural message to send, let’s see what we can glean about the Argentine people from just the happenings there from the past year (at the time of writing, August 2017)…

Buenos Aires hedge art in front of the Obelisk monument

12 August 2016: Tango Festival and World Cup Kickoff Celebration

What better event to start with for representing Buenos Aires than one related to tango?  Known worldwide as the Festival y Mundial de Tango and locally as simply El Mundial, this important tango competition takes place during the month of August each year in Buenos Aires. Over 400 couples compete each year in national and international preliminaries for a chance to represent their country in the finals at Luna Park at the end of the month in one of two categories: Tango Pista (salon tango), or Tango Escenario (Stage Tango).  In the run-up to that final event, classes, exhibitions, and concerts are offered all for free in an effort to preserve and expand the cultural heritage of the tango.  

In 2016, the festival theme was bringing the tango “back to the barrios” (neighborhoods), and the events were hosted over 42 different venues in the city to include as many enthusiasts as possible (they almost reached a full offering of 48 venues… the official number of barrios in the city, but a valiant effort all the same).  The kickoff celebration at the Obelisco was actually a press conference, but featured some of the musicians and dancers representing Buenos Aires.

Watch last year’s champions Cristian Palomo and Melisa Sacchi in the salon category, and Hugo Mastrolorenzo and Agustina Vignau in the stage category.  This year (2017), the festival takes place from the 10th to the 23rd of August.

9 October 2016: The First Annual National Asado Championships

A close second in cultural importance to tango in Argentina (and some would argue for its place in the top spot) is their asado tradition of grilling up the tastiest cuts of meat in the world.  Last October, the city crystallized their efforts to communicate their gastronomic superiority in the carne category by holding a meat mega-festival, with the Obelisk serving as ground zero.  Judges were brought in from some of the best parrillas in the city: Don Julio, La Cabrera, La Carnicería, El Mirasol, Cabaña Las Lilas, Siga la Vaca, Nuestro Secreto and La Cabaña.  

The festival’s champion asadores hailed from Mendoza, a Western province of Argentina, and proudly declared after their win that the “secret is patience” in this “ceremony” of Argentine culture.  The event coincided with Argentine Cultural Diversity Day, and featured several booths showing off the cuisines and dances of nearby nations – fitting for a country that celebrates their strong immigrant population.

19 October 2016: The National Women’s Strike

Taking a somber turn in our roster of notable gatherings is the mass march that took place last October to protest the brutal femicide of 16 year old Lucía Pérez in Mar Del Plata, a coastal resort town in the province of Buenos Aires.  As part of the Ni Una Menos movement (“not one less”, meaning no more women killed from gender violence), the strike took place on “Miércoles Negro,” or “Black Wednesday,” and made headlines all over the world.  

Thousands of women stopped all activities for an hour and marched from the Obelisk to Plaza de Mayo, where organizers recited speeches about the persistent machista (male-dominated) attitudes that exist here and threaten the women of Argentina, not only in the form of violence but also cultural suppression (over 10% of women are unemployed, with a gender pay gap of 30-40% and 20% of salaried women being employed as low-paid domestic workers).  It is a sad reality, but misogyny and gender-related violence continues to be one of the greatest challenges this country faces.

14-18 November 2016: Artisanal Ice Cream Week

With over 6000 artisanal ice cream shops sprinkled over the city, it is clear that meat is not the only defining delicacy on the porteño menu.  Each year in late November, the city bows to its Italian immigrant traditions and turns the Obelisk into a giant gelato stand, with flavors being made fresh and all the proceeds benefiting local children’s hospitals.  In 2016, its 32nd year, the festival drew a crowd of over 4000, with the favorite flavors being (in order): dulce de leche, chocolate, and strawberry (frutilla).  

Far from enjoying their creamy treat from a waffle cone, the preferred delivery method in Buenos Aires is in that styrofoam container known simply as un cuarto – a quarter kilogram of the sweet stuff, because *real* artisanal ice cream is always sold by weight, never volume.  Our advice: don’t get into an argument with an Argentine about who sells the best ice cream in the city, because they all have a personal favorite… and they’re all right!

A quarter kilo of dulce de leche & chocolate ice cream

29 November 2016: A Tribute To The Chapecoense Football Team

Football is serious business in Argentina.  90% of the populace here claims allegiance to a club, and a woman cheering against her boyfriend’s team is automatic grounds for a breakup.  When the national team wins the entire city stops to celebrate, and Diego Maradona (their coach and ex-star player) is still every bit as much of a god as he was in the early 80’s.  But on the tragic night of November 29th, 2016, Argentina showed that their true allegiance is to the sport itself rather than any national rivalry.  That was the night that 71 people perished on a Medellín, Colombia mountainside from a chartered flight carrying the players and staff of the rising star team from Chapecoense, Brazil.  

The scrappy underdogs had beaten incredible odds to make it to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, but their lives were lost at the hands of a careless pilot who failed to make a refuel stop.  Football fans the world over went into mourning, and Argentina lit up the Obelisk in bright green – the team’s jersey color – in solidarity.  It was a moment that no porteño will soon forget.

7 February 2017: The ‘Tetazo’ Topless March

What started as 3 women being threatened with arrest (*link NSFW) for bathing topless on a popular beach on the outskirts of the city on January 28th turned into a massive protest (*link NSFW) in the Plaza de la Republica – the small park surrounding the Obelisk – a little over a week later.  That incident renewed a longstanding national debate about the inequalities that still exist between men and women in Argentine society, where women’s scantily-clad bodies are routinely used to sell products in advertising alongside being portrayed as lewd for acts such as breastfeeding.  

It was hard to ignore that the protesters had a valid point when a large number of men showed up merely to ogle the bared-chests, with some climbing flagpoles to get a better look and one man exposing his genitals, sparking outrage among the crowd. While legislators continue to debate the legality of topless sunbathing for women, one thing is clear: machismo, at least for now, is here to stay in Buenos Aires.

25 March 2017: Earth Hour Shuts Down The Obelisk

Buenos Aires has come a long way in the last year in their environmental conservation efforts. Instituting a ban on plastic bags in grocery stores at the beginning of 2017, installing dedicated bus lines to cut air and noise pollution, conducting a city-wide trash collection overhaul, and replacing streetlights with energy efficient LED bulbs are just a few of the improvements the city has undergone.  Though they still have a long way to go, it is clear from the notable lack of protests at the hands of a people that aren’t afraid to take to the streets that the majority of Argentines consider themselves in favor of measures that protect the environment.  

Since 2015, the city has been participating in Earth Hour: a yearly event taking place in over 170 countries that flicks the switch on the lights that power major monuments around the world.  This year saw not just the Obelisco, but also the Monumento a San Martín, the Monumento a los Españoles, and the Floralis Genérica go dark for an hour.  Now if they could only innovate a new, biodegradable material to replace that standard styrofoam ice cream container.

El Obelisco de Buenos Aires

Tango, grilled meats, fútbol, and women’s rights: just a few of the defining cultural facets of Argentina’s modern times.  Clearly, if you want to get a bird’s eye view of the social landscape, a very good place to start is the steps of that sky-scraping symbol of porteño pride – El Obelisco.

View of the Obelisk seen from Av Diagonal Norte

Galerías Pacífico Shopping Mall

September 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Historic Shopping Center in Buenos Aires

Housed in a lovely Beaux Arts building in downtown Buenos Aires, the Galerías Pacífico Shopping Mall is a great place to visit for much more than just shopping. Originally constructed in the 1890’s as the BA headquarters for the Parisian department store, Le Bon Marche, this prime spot on the Florida pedestrian street has changed through the years, but retains a nostalgic elegance, making it a dazzling place to shop.

beautiful shopping malls in buenos aires
[Photo credit: Wally G’s photostream/ /CC BY-BY-SA 2.0]

Modeled after the great Italian arcade Gallerias Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, the building was commissioned exclusively for Le Bon Marche. The department store never occupied the entire building however, as it struggled to compete with the English store Harrods just down the block. (The Harrods building now lays empty, after closing over fourteen years ago.) As a result, other companies and stores occupied parts of the Galerías. It was the first home of the National Museum of Fine Arts, a hotel moved into one corner (now the luxurious Esplendor Buenos Aires), and the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway converted some of the building into offices, thus the Galerías Florida were renamed Galerías Pacífico, since the rail line reached from Buenos Aires, through Chile, to the Pacific Ocean (el pacifico).

Beautiful ceilings and dark basements

mural in mall Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: Barcex’s photostream/ /CC BY-BY-SA 2.0]

At the nexus of the galleries you’ll find impressive murals painted on the interior dome. Commissioned in 1947, these murals were painted by five of Argentina’s greatest artists at the time: Antonio Berni, Juan Carlos Castagnino, Manuel Colmeiro Guimaraes, Lino Enea Spilimbergo, and Demetrio Urruchua. The murals reflect universal themes like brotherhood and man’s relationship to nature, and it’s an interesting study in the unique styles of each artist within the same medium. Keep an eye out as you stroll through the rest of the mall for some more contemporary murals, as well.

Like many other beautiful sites in Buenos Aires, the history of the Galerias is tainted with the stain of the last military dictatorship. In the late 1980’s, a film crew ventured into the basements of the mall, and one of the cameramen recognized the the space as the site where he was held and tortured as an ex-desaparecido in 1976.  The basement still bore ghastly evidence of torture, such as markings made by the imprisoned, including dates and pleas for help. The building was declared a National Historic Monument in 1989.

High-end brand shopping in downtown BA

After lying abandoned for a while, the galleries were converted into a shopping mall in the 1990’s, while Argentina was experiencing an economic boom. Today, the stores in Galerias Pacifico are basically the same ones you can find in other malls throughout the city, or walking down Santa Fe avenue, and around Palermo. Foreign brands like Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Estee Lauder, and Swarovski have shops among the many Argentine brands, and you can stop for cafe or lunch in the cafes and restaurants both on the bottom floor, and up high under the glass ceiling. Here’s a full listing of stores.

Galerias Buenos Aires shopping

[Photo credit: Miguel Cesar’s photostream/ /CC BY-BY-NC-SA 2.0]

While you’re there, don’t miss the Centro Cultural Borges (Borges Cultural Center), which features many wonderful exhibits. Also stroll down the pedestrian Calle Florida for more shopping and lots of interesting people watching (rushed business people, street vendors, travelers, money traders, and buskers all converge here).

For a preview of the Galerias, check out this video, and read more on Wander Argentina.

Location and hours of the Galerias Pacifico

Av. Cordoba and Florida, City Center
Website:  www.galeriaspacifico.com.ar/eng/index.php
Phone: 5555-5110
Hours: Monday – Saturday 10am – 9pm
Sunday – 12pm – 9pm

Centro Cultural Jorge Luis Borges:
Located on the corner of Viamonte and San Martin, City Center

La Bomba de Tiempo

April 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A must-see show in Buenos Aires

La Bomba de Tiempo

You can feel the beat hit your chest. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the stage, mouths attached to their big-cup beers and ears enjoying the thump of congas and djembe drums. The ones not slurping beer are dancing and smiling, kissing their date or just letting the music sink in. If anyone had a case of the Mondays, it left a long time ago.

La Bomba de Tiempo attracts an eclectic crowd to the Konex, their Abasto venue, every Monday night. The event has become a must for many travelers and Porteños in Buenos Aires. Its popularity could have made it an over-touristy event if it weren’t for its consistent originality, affordability and great music.

image-45

The best of Abasto

Located only a few blocks from the historic Abasto Shopping Center, The Konex is an open-air venue with some fun design. (La Bomba de Tiempo is a rain-or-shine event because the stage is covered. It’s actually a fun event in the rain). A large orange staircase, which hosts the mixing desk, is in the middle of the audience. There’s a huge metal bug stationed on the roof to the left of the stage. Colorful graffiti covers the walls. But all of these details fade away once the drum band takes stage.

A 17-person band provides the nights’ entertainment. They play on an array of drums – congo and djembe mostly – and everyone seems to get a solo of some kind. Mid-way through the show last week, a saxophonist accompanied the band for a few songs, playing for about 30 minutes. The music was lively, perfectly executed and energized the crowd.

The band involves the audience too. In a performance that resembled the Isley Brother’s song Shout, the drum band gradually lowered its volume, motioning the audience to kneel down. The entire crowd lowered to the ground until the beat slowly, and then rapidly, picked up. Not before long, everyone was back on their feet, clapping hands.

La Bomba de Tiempo

Although the venue is standing-room only and packed, there isn’t a rowdy vibe in the audience. Whether because of the music or not, the jovial, peaceful crowd makes the performance even more enjoyable.

Given its popularity, La Bomba de Tiempo is an event to show up early for. You don’t need to worry about tickets selling out, but the line can literally be around the block, and an hour-long wait. The main, La Bomba de Tiempo show starts at 8pm, but there is an opening act at 7pm. Try to arrive at the Konex by 7pm to avoid missing any of the La Bomba show.

For more opinions on La Bomba de Tiempo, check out Wander Argentina‘s post, Diego’s write-up on Expose Buenos Aires and this review by Matador Network.

Where is La Bomba de Tiempo?

The Ciudad Cultural Konex venue, at Sarmiento 3131 (between Jean Juares and Anchorena) Abasto, City of Buenos Aires.

Check out La Bomba de Tiempo’s website and Facebook page for any updates. You can also buy tickets on the Ticketek website.

Phone: (+54 11) 4864 3200     Email: info@cckonex.org

Carlos Gardel

March 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Carlos Gardel: Argentina’s beloved tango crooner

Carlos Gardel is by far Argentina’s most famous Tango singer and is a nationally adored figure. They say that if you’re itching to get into a fight with an Argentine, just insult any one of their holy trinity of heroes: Diego Maradona, Evita, or Carlos Gardel.

Carlos Gardel Argentina Icon tango

[Photo credit: Alfredo Davies’ Flickr/ /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Carlos Gardel was born Charles Gardes to single mother Berthe Gardes in Toulouse, France in 1890.  To escape the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock, Berthe migrated to Argentina, claiming to be a widow.  While we take these facts for granted today, Gardel’s origins were something of a mystery for many years: speculators argued over whether he was born in Uruguay, France, or Argentina.  This uncertainty only added to the mystique of the tango legend; similarly foggy are details of his love life and of his death.

Ms. Gardes and son, nicknamed Carlos, settled into the barrio (neighborhood) of Abasto.  As as a child, Carlitos worked in opera houses (Buenos Aires had five at the time, of which the Teatro Colon is the surviving example) organizing props, lifting curtains, and even rousing audiences as a professional applauder.  Inspired by the most important singers of the time, Gardel built his name singing in bars, horse races, and for private parties across Buenos Aires.  He was ultimately launched to fame by the fates of tango when he performed one of the first tango songs known to have lyrics, Mi Noche Triste (My sad night) in 1917.  The recording exploded across the Americas and established Gardel as tango’s original singer.

Gardel toured the world, and began filming movies with Paramount Pictures in Paris.  Fellow Argentine Alfredo Le Pera wrote tango lyrics understandable to a diverse Spanish-speaking audience for the films, breaking with the tradition of writing tangos in lunfardo (the slang dialect of Buenos Aires).  This duo is memorialized in multiple recordings of some of Gardel’s most famous songs, such as Mi Buenos Aires Querido (My dear Buenos Aires). Listen below:

Gardel’s tragic death and memorial

Gardel grave Chacarita

In 1935, Gardel and Le Pera were promoting their newest film, El día que me quieras, when their plane crashed during take-off in Medellín, Colombia.  Neither artist survived.  Gardel’s body was carried across Colombia, by steamboat to New York, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and back to Buenos Aires. Huge street processions met the coffin in each city to mourn the loss of “Carlitos”.

Gardel is buried with his mother, in the Cemetery of Chacarita.  His grave, declared a National Monument by the late President Néstor Kirchner, boasts plaques of memorial from admirers around the world.  Taxi drivers are known pull up next to his grave, play a tango at full blast, and light a cigarette.  When the song is over, the driver places what’s left of the cigarette in the statue’s hand.   Fans also tuck a rose into the statue’s lapel, so Gardel remains ever debonair.  Since his death, Gardel’s memory persists such that there’s even a common saying, “cada día canta mejor”: he sings better every day.  It must be true, since in 2003, UNESCO declared Gardel’s voice to be Patrimony of Mankind.

Abasto: Gardel’s neighborhood

Gardel lyrics Pasaje Zelaya

Carlos Gardel was a true man of the arrabal, meaning a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the city.  In his time, Abasto marked the edge of the city, populated mainly by Italian immigrants, and life revolved around a market fair which brought produce from the country to the city.  Eventually, the Mercado del Abasto, a beautiful Art Deco building, was built to house the fair.  Though the building now contains a shopping mall, it’s a stunning jewel in Buenos Aires’s architectural pantheon.  Today, almost everything here is named after Gardel, from streets to cafes, and even newspaper stands boast the name of “El morocho del Abasto” (“The dark one from Abasto”).

Tango fans will find this part of town worth visiting.  Take a stroll down the Pasaje de Zelaya, a short pedestrian walk full of images of Gardel, and song lyrics on the walls and sidewalks.  Two of Buenos Aire’s best alternative theatre spaces are also on this walk: El Cubo and Teatro Ciego, the blind theatre company!  While shows at either of these venues are entirely in Spanish, they sometimes show dance productions or musical (and other sensory) works.

Gardel Abasto Fileteado

Turn the corner onto Jean Juares and enjoy houses decked out in fileteado artwork, the popular decorative art found on shop windows, buses, and sign posts around BA.  After one block you’ll find the Carlos Gardel Museum, which was the singer’s (and his mother’s) home.  The museum shows relics of Carlos’s life, and often hold events and shows.  If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a tango lesson or music performance!  Then check out the Carlos Gardel pedestrian street, where you’ll find a statue of Gardel, posing under the Abasto’s arches, plus a tourist shop called “Regionales del Abasto”, worth visiting if only for the extraordinary fileteado artwork on the walls, as pictured here.

Note that even the subway stop for this part of the city is named Carlos Gardel.  Luca Prodan, another late Argentine music legend,  also lived in Abasto, and in the song Mañana en el Abasto, he sings about waking up in this ‘hood, sleeping in the abandoned Abasto building in the late 1980’s, then taking the subway from the Carlos Gardel station.

For more information on Gardel, listen to this piece on NPR or read on Rhythm Planet about a chance meeting between Carlos and Frank Sinatra!

Location and hours of Gardel attractions

Chacarita Cemetery:
Avenida Guzman 680 (between Elcano and Federico Lacroze), Chacarita
Sunday – Sunday: 8am to 6pm

Pasaje Zalaya:
Zelaya between Aguero and Jean Juares, Abasto

Carlos Gardel House Museum:
Jean Jaurés 735, between Zelaya and Tucuman, Abasto
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 11am to 6om
Saturday, Sunday, Holidays: 10am to 7pm
Tuesdays: closed
Entrance fee: $1, Wednesday free

Carlos Gardel Pedestrian Street
Carlos Gardel between Jean Juares and Anchorena, Abasto

Abasto Shopping:
Corrientes 3247, between Aguero & Anchorena, Abasto
Open 10am to 10pm daily

La Panaderia de Pablo

August 28, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Feast all day long on pizza and cake at chef Pablo Massey’s joint

Pablo Massey showing off his bread at La Panaderia

The thin crust oven baked pizzas at TV chef Pablo Massey’s Montserrat eatery, La Panaderia de Pablo (Defensa 269), seem like the chic Italian cousins who’ve come over from Naples to visit their doughy, greasy Argentinean relatives from Avenida Corrientes. But according to the chef proprietor, who spent three years in Florence honing his pizza-making skills, try presenting a Porteño with an authentic Italian pizza – tomato sauce, basil and buffalo mozzarella topping – and you’ll be met with the response ‘Eso no se hace’ (that’s not how it’s done). Instead the crispy slices we were munching on were an Argentina-fied version, made with salty cow’s mozzarella with fresh basil leaves on top.

All-day menu of pizzas, sandwiches and more

Although panaderia means bakery, La Panaderia de Pablo is, confusingly, not a panaderia at all, although they do bake five varieties of their own bread on the premises each morning, which you can also buy to take-away. Open from 8am to 7pm Monday to Thursday and 8am to late on Friday, it’s a hybrid breakfast / lunch / afternoon tea place serving a simple all-day menu of pizzas, sandwiches, salad and steak along with a mouth-watering selection of pastries and deserts, washed down with Illy coffee, Tealosophy tea blends or wine. Recover from your hangover with Sunday’s special brunch menu from 10am to 7pm (closed on Saturdays).

Sunny welcome at Pablo Massey's restaurant La Panaderia de Pablo

Chic, modern restaurant

Stepping off the history-steeped San Telmo streets into a modern, light-filled space with industrial concrete surfaces, chunky wooden furniture, exposed brick walls and heavy Portuguese cutlery, it feels more like New York’s meatpacking district, or at least Palermo Hollywood. Walk past huge shelves stacked with bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olives and pastries to buy and into the main dining room and watch the chefs preparing the pizzas in the open plan kitchen as you wait for your food. But for all its interior-designed style and the celebrity name above the door, prices are reasonable and lunch here need not feel like a massive splurge.

Tasty Italian style pizza at La Panaderia de Pablo in Buenos Aires

Indulge yourself

After a Fugazzetta (onion, mozzarella and olive oil pizza) or Fugazza (the same without cheese), tuck into the dulce de leche filled, meringue topped Torta Rogel (the best we’ve tasted) and though you’ll feel like you never want to eat again you won’t be able to resist stocking up on alfajores on the way out.

For other reviews of La Panaderia de Pablo check out the AhhArgentina’s blog post and the review of Sunday Brunch on La Panza Porteña blog.

La Panaderia de Pablo, Defensa 269, City Center (Montserrat)

Telephone: 4331 6728       Website: http://www.lapanaderiadepablo.com/

Teatro Colon

June 9, 2008 by · 17 Comments 

Splendid old opera house in Buenos Aires

Teatro Colon

Back in 2006 took the opportunity to take in a performance at the Teatro Colon (Colon Theater) which many say is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Buenos Aires, as one of the most famous opera houses in the world.

I had been prompted to get along to the Colon by the fact that it was closing for reconstruction work at the end of October 2006, with original plans to reopen on May 25, 2008, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the theater. However, in the end the renovations took almost twice as long as expected, and so the Teatro Colon instead reopened on May 25th 2010, the 200th anniversary of the May Revolution, when Argentina split from the Spanish to become an independent nation.

It was a long wait until the re-opening, and knowing Argentina and it’s reputation for tardiness, I correctly doubted works would be completed on time, so it was important for me to check the legendary theater out before the prospect of a long wait.

To bring us back to the present for a moment, the Teatro Colon reopened its doors, as expected (the delayed forecast!), on May 25th 2010, after almost 4 years of renovations. And it’s now more beautiful than ever.

Show tickets are available either at their ticket office (entrance on Tucumán 1171), or buying online through the Tu Entrada website, using the following link: Buy Teatro Colon Tickets Online Here for Opera, Ballet, other Concerts & Guided Tours (after purchase you will still need to collect the tickets from the ticket office from 2 hours to 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the show). The ticket website is thankfully now working in English (see the language option in the top right corner of their webpage), after many years of only being available in Spanish, making things a little easier for visitors to the city to buy tickets.

The Concert

Back when I visited in 2006, my companions and I saw a concert from the Camerata Bariloche orchestra, playing pieces from Strauss and Beethoven, which was all very pleasing to the ears (I have to admit I’m not much of a classical music fan), but the star of the show was of course the venue itself, which was resplendent in its rich scarlet and gold decoration, along with several forests worth of beautiful wooden construction that make up the auditorium, with hints of Italian, Greek, German and French Renaissance design. And that was before the renovations, when it was looking a little tatty. The place is now back in pristine condition.

It’s all very impressive when you are looking down, way, way down, from above, in the ‘Paradise’ (‘Paraiso’ – the 7th and final seating level) area, which are the cheapest tickets in the house, but still offer an interesting view and due to the famed acoustics of the Colon, it sounds great from wherever you are sat.

Teatro Colon Buenos Aires

For the record, I turned up in smart shoes, trousers, a shirt and tie, taking note of the dress code I saw in the ticket office earlier that day. I was easily the most over dressed person in the ‘Paraiso’ area – but in the more expensive areas I did see some well dressed ladies and gentleman. I think in reality you could go along dressed as you please – I saw quite a few people in jeans and t shirts.

Colon Theatre

Some Teatro Colon History

The famous venue is not without some interesting history. It opened in 1908, almost 20 years after the first cornerstone was laid in 1889, under the direction of architect Francesco Tamburini. You might understand why I thought the recent restorations may not be completed on time when I tell you that the theatre was originally due to be opened in 1892!

But to be fair, a series of tragedies did complicate the process. Tamburini died soon after construction started, and his friend Vittorio Meano took over the project. Who also promptly died (murdered in a love triangle ‘gone wrong’ – though actually I’m not sure if there are many love triangles that ‘go right’). The architects were followed to the grave by another Italian guy, Angelo Ferrari (assassinated), that had been partly funding the building works. Italians dropping like flies…

Fortunately, a Belgian, Julio Dormal, came in and finished the job, breathing a sigh of relief as the finishing touches were made without event. This further confirmed my feeling that Belgians are in fact some of the greatest people on this planet, not only producing the best beer in the world and some of the finest chocolate, but also bucking architectural death trends without batting an eyelid. And that’s not to mention the waffles! I used to drink to Dormal and his kind whenever I could (sadly no Belgian beer) inside another of his many BA constructions, the Confiteria Richmond cafe, on pedestrian Florida Street (near Lavalle), but sadly that classic cafe closed to the public in 2011.

The Colon Finally Opens…

But back to the theatre. It finally opened on 25 May 1908 with a performance of Verdi’s Aida, and never looked back, as it became one of the world’s premiere centers of opera. Over the years the Teatro Colon has hosted such musical greats as Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, French opera singer Jane Bathori, Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, Greek soprano Maria Callas, the legendary Luciano Pavarotti, Argentine Tango bandoneon maestro Astor Piazzolla and even Weird Al Yankovic. OK, I made that last one up, but it would have been interesting.

Colon Theatre Buenos Aires

Previous Colon Theater

There was actually a Colon theatre before the current one, which had opened in 1857 on the edge of Plaza de Mayo, and served Argentine aristocracy well for a good many years until the current Colon was opened in 1908. These days in the old Colon location you’ll find the the Banco de la Nacion – the national bank of Argentina, an imposing structure that looks down upon the tourists that buzz round the Pink House.

Teatro Colon Stage

Perfect Acoustics

The current theatre, located in the City Center (in the unofficial sub-barrio of Tribunales) and visible from Avenue 9 de Julio, has virtually perfect acoustics. This is one of its main attractions, the sound reaching each and every audience member perfectly – so you can save money and still enjoy the concert, even if the orchestra do look like musical ants from the loftier vantage points.

If that doesn’t sound like a nice visual experience, you can always take in the music while staring at the beautiful surroundings, such as the decoration around the top of the stage, the huge, dazzling chandelier, or the ceiling frescoes that surround it. Though sadly the latter are not original, due to damage caused by damp in the 1930s. Instead they were painted in 1966 by famous Argentine muralist Raul Soldi, whose work can also be found on the ceiling of the wonderful Galerias Pacifico shopping center, on Florida street (on the corner of Avenida Cordoba).

Teatro Colon Verdict

I very much recommend that any visitor to Buenos Aires pay a visit to the Teatro Colon – especially now that this great attraction has been restored to its former glory. If you don’t have the chance to catch a show there, then you can always go for a guided tour of the building during the daytime, for which tickets can be bought through the Tu Entrada website (click on Visitas Guiadas), or by visiting the theater in person when you get to Buenos Aires. They run on the hour, every hour, from 9am to 5pm, although only a few of the tours through the day are given in English – you can check those times on the Tu Entrada website.

Or if you are really tight for time, the Teatro Colon is still there on Avenida 9 de Julio (although that is the back, go around onto Plaza Lavalle for the front view) to be appreciated from the outside, and that’s not such a bad view in itelf…

Exterior of the Teatro Colon

For more detailed information on the Teatro Colon, check out the history section of the official Colon website. And of course, Wikipedia is always good.

Location of Teatro Colon

Teatro Colon, Tucumán 1171, Tribunales (City Center)

Telephone: (54-11) 4378-7109

Chiqué Tango Milonga

August 21, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Tango dancing in an authentic Spanish club

Tango Dancing at the Chique Milonga in Congreso, Buenos Aires

*If you want to check out some authentic tango salons in Buenos Aires, the easiest and most fun way to do so is on a private tango nightlife tour, where your personal guide will show you the local scene and explain everything that is going on to you, taking you to the best places on the night of your choice. For more information, click here.*

There are countless ways to experience the art of tango in Buenos Aires, the city where it was born. If you’ve already seen a flashy show and some impromptu street performances but are STILL not satisfied, attending a a tango milonga (a venue for dancing tango) where the dance is found in its natural habitat may be the answer.

Chiqué Tango Milonga is one such venue. Chiqué is held every Thursday afternoon on the first floor of Casa Galicia, a Spanish club in Congreso (near the city center). A Spanish restaurant is on the second floor. The hall consists of a very old wooden dance floor in excellent condition, which is surrounded by tables with tablecloths, women sitting on one side, men on the other, and couples at the end in the traditional manner.

There is a small stage at one end where the DJ does his thing. The other end of the salon has big windows with a balcony. There is no physical bar, but waitresses take all orders to the kitchen where they are filled by bartender just the same. There is a coat check, and a bathroom attendant. The organizers are always there to welcome their guests. Patrons are expected to order drinks, from bottled water to champagne. Snacks are also available.

The Dance Hall in Casa Galicia

A friendly, welcoming milonga

This milonga has a family feel – very comfortable and friendly. There are good dancers but people don’t go there to strut their stuff; they go to mix and mingle and have fun dancing. The Cabeceo (the inviting to dance with nods of the head) is strictly observed, but still the milonga feels informal and relaxed. There is no pressure or elitism.

A few foreigners attend, but the milonga is not dripping with them and those who prey on them. The dancers are well-groomed and well-dressed and generally between the ages of 50-80, but with younger exceptions. If a lady isn’t dancing much, the organizer himself may invite her.

Dancing up a tango storm at Chique

Strictly Tango

Unlike some other milongas, there are no tandas (blocks) of other types of music. It’s strictly tango (tango, vals and milonga) in Chiqué.

Chiqué used to be held at Club Español where it drew many more attendees due to the elaborate architecture. Many visitors would pay to go into the milonga just to gape at it’s beautiful gilt salon. This isn’t so in Casa Galicia, which is still very nice, but nothing extraordinary in terms of architecture. There is an image of Santiago el Major in a glass case on the wall, and several huge oil paintings of the homeland (which could use a wash). There are chandeliers and gewgaws on the ceiling, and air conditioning is rumored to be on its way.

Help support Chiqué

Unfortunately, with the move from Club Español, some people have gone elsewhere. And if more people don’t begin to frequent this new location, perhaps Chiqué will be in trouble.

However, as of now, Chiqué is a great place to spend a charming Thursday afternoon sampling the Buenos Aires milonga scene, before running off to dinner or to dance at a late-night milonga.

[Article written by Cherie Magnus]

Location of Chiqué Tango Milonga

Casa Galicia: San Jose 224, corner of Alsina, City Center

If you want to try Chiqué on your own:
Open Thursday afternoons 4pm-10pm
Organizer: Julio Auliel / DJ: Dany Borelli
Reservations: 4201-7199 or 15-6140-7830

Avenida Corrientes Bookstores

July 24, 2007 by · 11 Comments 

The famous bookstores of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires bookstores on Avenida Corrientes

Buenos Aires is no doubt one of the most literary cities on the planet. The people here know the value of a good book, whether it’s poetry, fiction, art, anthropology, self-help, or psychology (not only can you bet that most porteños have read some Freud, but there is even an area of Palermo – Villa Freud – named after him).

If you wish to properly observe this social fact, you absolutely must visit the bookstores of Corrientes, the famous avenue that bristles with the action of theaters, cinemas, cafes, shops, and people with their noses stuck in used copies of anthologies of Argentine history or poetry.

Buenos Aires’ bookstore hotspot

Every bookstore has its own history and character, but all of them proudly display extensive collections of works by Argentine and Latin American authors and artists, as well as North American and classical European works, calendars, and CDs. Very few of them have any English language sections, although if you dig around you should find a few English offerings.

Most of the bookstores deal primarily in new books, but you’ll find some used books as well. With books scattered here, there and everywhere, presentation is not a priority – very different to more upscale bookstore chains in Buenos Aires like Boutique del Libro or El Ateneo.

If you don’t read Spanish, it is still enjoyable to peruse the stores simply because they are unique in their atmosphere and awesome in their vast quantity of texts. You could always get a children’s book or calendar as a souvenir. Or maybe it’s about time you learned to read Spanish… after all, it’s a language that is truly rich in expressions and has hundreds of years of literary heritage.

A typical Avenida Corrientes bookstore

Here are some excellent spots for book-hunting on Corrientes. The best way to visit them is to start at the Obelisco (subway station Carlos Pellegrini, on Av. 9 de Julio) and walk up Corrientes going westward (towards Av. Callao). The places listed below go in order from east to west so you can follow them like a walking tour. You could spend thirty minutes briefly poking your head into them, or an entire afternoon going through the immense selections.

Obel Libros

This modest bookstore has been in operation for about a decade and is run by a friendly middle-aged man who will be excited to practice his English with you. The special items you will find here are encyclopedias for students, books focusing on Latin American social and economic matters, and used novels.

Cuspide Libros

If you want professional guides for things such as computers, culinary arts, tourism, and hostelry (in Spanish, of course), Cuspide offers a wide range of these books. It also has the usual offerings of cheaply produced novels and non-fiction books.

Libreria Lucas

Liberia Lucas bookstore on Avenida Corrientes

At Lucas you will find a good selection of well-kept used books, which might interest collectors or book sellers. Also here are plenty of children’s books.

Libreria Hernandez

There are two Hernandez locations on Corrientes, within a few blocks of each other. A very extensive selection of books is offered, with topics such as Latin American revolutions, Che Guevara, economics, politics, Peronism, Argentine history, religion (you may notice that there are a lot of books about Judaism, a subject Argentines are fascinated by, due to the large Jewish population here), self-help, and psychology.

Are you looking for a gift?  Pick up one of the colorful cookbooks with recipes for traditional porteño favorites. You may even find a few cookbooks in English, or even one that explains methods for the traditional Argentine asado (barbeque). Also at Hernandez is a great collection of art books, with a focus on artists from Argentina and Buenos Aires.

Liberia Hernandez bookstore on Av Corrientes

Libreria Libertador

Don’t miss this classic Corrientes bookstore, with its unbelievably cheap classics by Spanish and Latin American authors, poetry collections, children’s books, and offerings by Shakespeare, Kahlil Gibran, Henry James, and more. The prices are low enough that you might buy books even if you can’t read Spanish.

If you are traveling around Argentina, you might also look for the nicely done travel guides published by the newspaper El Clarin. They can come in handy and are much lighter than the Lonely Planet you are probably lugging around.

Also at Libreria Libertador there are random items such as dollhouse parts and furniture, calendars with themes of Argentina and Buenos Aires, old magazines that will delight collectors, heaps of crossword puzzle books, CDs by composers such as Beethoven and Vivaldi with booklets providing information about the music, and, if you dare, a backroom full of dirty magazines and videos.

Magazines and Puzzle books also abound

Posada Libros

This enormous bookstore stretches back into a building big enough for two businesses. You’ll find the usual suspects here: cheap novels, books on the humanities (philosophy, anthropology, religion), CDs (Latin and classical music), and so on. Mainly it’s worth visiting Posada Libros just to see so many books in one place.

Between the Bookstores

Once you’ve tired of the Corrientes book-walk in the Buenos Aires City Center,  you most definitely deserve a break. If you get hungry, head to Pizzeria Guerrin (touted as one of the best pizza restaurants in Buenos Aires), or for a mid-day coffee break, to El Gato Negro (a beautiful old cafe and spice shop).

While you are bookstore-hopping, watch out for the plenty of artisans who set up their displays on the sidewalks of Corrientes. Also you’ll walk by some of Buenos Aires’ famous theaters – inquire there about the latest spectacles.

Location of Avenida Corrientes Bookstores

Various stops along Avenida Corrientes, between Avenida 9 de Julio & Avenida Callao, City Center

Cafe El Gato Negro

July 15, 2007 by · 4 Comments 

This black cat in Buenos Aires might not be so unlucky…

El Gato Negro Cafe and Spice shop

On a chilly fall or winter day in Buenos Aires, there is nothing more likely to give you warmth and a big smile than having a delicious spiced tea or coffee in El Gato Negro, one of the city’s most historical establishments. The cafe was originally a spice store founded by a Spanish settler in 1929 who spent years traveling in Asia and Siberia, collecting exotic spices and flavors. He brought them to Buenos Aires and named this cafe El Gato Negro after another famous cafe back in Madrid.

Now El Gato Negro is a reminder of the city’s European roots, and a wonderful place to read a newspaper or the book you recently bought at one of Avenida Corrientes’ many bookstores, or even to enjoy a gourmet dinner in its elegant upstairs dining room.

Teas and spices on the shelves of El Gato Negro

Heady aromas of teas, coffees and spices

As you walk into the cafe, you are instantly overcome by the mixtures of aromas. Freshly ground coffee, cardamom, black and green teas, and ginger swirl together in the air, hovering over the people sitting at tables or buying bags of spices at the counter. You almost have the sensation of being in an Arab market in the middle of Buenos Aires. Grab a seat and be prepared to relax for an hour or two in the company of a hot drink.

The truth is that El Gato Negro does have rather daunting prices for its offerings, partly due to the fact that it is a fairly touristy environment these days (as with most historical locations), but also because its coffees and teas are mostly imported and of high quality. A delicious delight like the cafe al jengibre, with freshly ground coffee, cream, ginger, honey and cinnamon, may cost more than a cafe con leche across the street, however,  El Gato Negro is worth a visit if only to experience its lovely old world atmosphere.

El Gato Negro, Buenos Aires City Center
[Photo Credit: adapar]

Try delicious treats like Irish coffees or vanilla-cinnamon infused teas

Other treats to try here are their Irish coffees, which offer a bit of alcohol to warm you up on a chilly day, and their loose leaf teas and infusions, such as vanilla-cinnamon, green tea-orange, green tea-ginger, and mint. Don’t miss specialties such as the cafe cardamomo with fresh cardamom seeds or their delightful cappucino. To accompany your bevarage, El Gato Negro has some tempting desserts and pastries, such as brownies, medialunas, and alfajores.

If you come to El Gato Negro for a light lunch, you could order a sandwich with ham and cheese,  some picadas (ham and cheese platters), or one of their gourmet sandwiches with steak, chicken, or cheese .

El Gato Negro is an acclaimed cafe notable, recognized for its historical importance in Buenos Aires. Most of the original wooden furniture has been preserved, and its a fabulous place to sit and watch people come in to relax after an afternoon of dizzying shopping on bustling Avenida Corrientes in the city center of Buenos Aires.

Inside El Gato Negro Cafe

An interesting range of food, but at a price

El Gato Negro also has a restaurant area upstairs that serves full-course dinners at rather lofty prices, not pleasing to travelers on a budget. Here you will find unique bistro-style dishes and a full wine-list that should please any palate. Among their starters, El Gato Negro has caesar salads with shrimp, regular salads, and a spiced mushroom tart. Main dishes range from the scalloped pork with curried corn pudding, to fish in almond sauce over herbed couscous.

For desserts, try the parfait de Cassis or the chocolate mousse with walnuts. All in all, El Gato Negro is a place for fine-dining in a unique setting, and it’s worth the prices if you really need to eat something besides bife de chorizo con pure de papas for a change. The wine list has good Argentine favorites like Benjamin Nieto and Santa Julia, or opt for a more economical glass of house wine.

Take a little of El Gato Negro away with you

If you are souvenir-shopping, El Gato Negro has lovely little spice tins and boxes with their signature black cat over a lush red background. Or, if you are staying long-term in Buenos Aires, this is a good spot to find things that can be difficult to obtain elsewhere in the city, such as exotic spices, soy sauces, couscous, dried mushrooms, fresh and dried spices from all over the world, spice mix for making asado, or dried candied fruits such as kiwis, pears, and pineapples.

Spices for sale at El Gato Negro
[Photo Credit: aardvark]

Location of El Gato Negro

Avenida Corrientes 1669, between Rodriguez Pena & Montevideo, City Center

Tel: 4374-1730

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