Buenos Aires – “One seventh of your life is spent on Mondays.”
“Mondays are not part of the productive work week.” – Dogbert
“Mondays suck.” – Garfield
Actually, I generally like Mondays. I’m not good at Sundays as they tend to involve being far lazier than I’m happy to be. Mondays are good days to run errands and get done all the little things I thought of over the weekend but couldn’t do anything about because everyone else thinks the “weekend” is a time period dedicated to not doing anything useful. So yesterday found me zipping all over the city taking care of this or that, and in between taking a few moments to look at a couple of historic sites that have been on my list (yes, I have a list) to check out.
The first was in Pasaje San Lorenzo, a short paving stone street that at one time was little more than a drainage route for the neighborhood of San Telmo. Other than a couple of small bars and restaurants, the pasaje is most well known, if at all, for the Casa Minima at #380. The building is, according to various sources, either closed, or inhabited by unknown denizens. Historically, it’s famous for being the narrowest house in Buenos Aires. Depending on the source, it checks in at 2.9, 2.5, 2.2, or 2.1 meters in width, and roughly 13 meters deep. That makes it somewhere around 7 and 9.5 feet wide – my rough guess is about 8 feet (and 42 feet deep). The house was at one time known as the casa del esclavo liberto, or house of the freed slave. Local lore has it that sometime in the early 1800s, the owner of the house to the left, one Dr. José Maria Peña, freed one of his slaves (details as to who, why, etc. I haven’t been able to find) and granted him the land adjoining the house, essentially the side yard, and then helped him build a place for he and his family to live. The side yard being what it was, the house is also. On the other hand, that entire story may be made up. There is some evidence that the house was merely a sort of work studio for Dr. Peña, and that the “freedman” story was made up by a later owner, Silvio Bassi, an antique dealer who bought the property in 1960 and began propogating the story as a way of attracting tourists (and charging them for admission). The story has since passed into local lore and is included in virtually every guidebook to the neighborhood, including official government texts!
A bit later I found myself in Plaza Congreso, and glancing up, happened to notice the old Confitería el Molino building, which I’d heard about but hadn’t noted before. It was named because it was erected on the site of the first flour mill in Buenos Aires (molino = windmill). Hard to see, but if you look, there’s a small windmill just below the cone part of the tower. The first “confectionary” was built in 1850, but later the building was torn down and completely rebuilt in 1917 in the art nouveau style. The new confitería continued to operate for another 80 years, and was “the” place for politicians and the elite of the city. In 1997 it closed its doors.
And, speaking of confectionaries, I’d heard about what several folks have touted as “the finest” Italian bakery in the city. La Pompeya is located right off the corner of Independencía and Combate de los Pozos, at #1912 Independencía. Not that I put any credence in anyone’s touting of “the finest” anything here (or anywhere), as it’s all a matter of opinion, and usually in response to “oh, and I suppose you know where to find the best…”. Regardless, it’s a small, cute shop, that properly smells of freshly baked bread and pastries. Not having any of either in the house, I picked a selection from what looked good – some crunchy whole wheat rings, scones, membrillo (quince paste) filled empanadas, and peanut spice cookies. They are indeed pretty darned good and that’s about as far as I’d go. The neighborhood there is heavily Italian, with many shops having their signs in Italian rather than or in addition to Spanish – in fact several ice cream places use gelato rather than the local helado. I tried one, Fiume, at Entre Rios 601 – good, but it doesn’t top my current favorite Un Altra Volta. But then, that’s just an opinion.