Children’s books in English – Where to buy in Buenos Aires

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Our baby is a big reader. OK, so he’s only 10 months old and he doesn’t so much read as eagerly turn the pages of board books, commenting on the pictures in his own distinctive language. But he loves books. I’m lucky we have a good supply of books in English from my husband’s previous work as a teacher in the US. But it’s nice to have something new in English to supplement the Spanish kids titles, and I have never been able to resist a bookstore of any description.

Buenos Aires is a literary city but it is difficult to find any books in English here, especially at a decent price. Kids books in English are not cheap. However, seek and ye shall find….

Chainstores

You will find some classic stories in English at Yenny, the chain bookstore located in practically every mall in the city, but there’s not a whole lot to choose from.

If you want a bigger selection, head to Kel Ediciones, the English-language booksellers who’ve been in operation for over 25 years. Kel has branches in Barrio Norte, Belgrano, Caballito, DOT Baires Shopping etc and provides a comprehensive selection of new picture books, board books, big books and teen reads. You can also buy online. A copy of Meg and Mog – a personal favourite of mine – will set you back $100 pesos (probably a lot more if you read this post is a week’s time…)

Independents

You’ll find a much cosier and more interesting browsing experience at Walrus Books, an excellent English-language bookstore in San Telmo. The under-the-stairs children’s section has a carpet and cushions to sit on, with a selection of soft toys thrown in. Walrus Books has both secondhand and new books, with prices from $60 upwards.

Walrus BooksChildren’s section at Walrus Books

Also more personable than the chain bookstores, Entre Libros offers new and used books (including kids titles) in English and Spanish. They can also order books for you from abroad. The Santa Fe branch is inside a gallery, down the stairs.

Any other places you can recommend?

——————–

Yenny
http://www.yenny-elateneo.com/index.php

Kel’s Ediciones
Martinez (Main Branch)
Emilio Frers 2228 – (1640) Martinez
http://www.kelediciones.com

Walrus Books
Estados Unidos 617
http://www.walrus-books.com.ar

Entre Libros
Av. Santa Fe 2450 – Local 5 / 7 – Subsuelo
Av. Cabildo 2280 – Loc. 80/81 1º Piso
http://www.entrelibros.com.ar

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Buenos Aires travel icons #1: Recoleta Cemetery

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Recoleta Cemetery is drenched, its narrow alleyways slick with rain. I walk through the melancholy heart of the place under dripping leaves, fluorescent-green against the grey sky. A loose, lace-cracked window swings in the soft wind. A visitor in rustling yellow passes me, cursing his sodden map under his breath, then all is silent, everything is still and the faint hum of traffic melts and disintegrates under the raindrops.

Recoleta in Buenos Aires

Recoleta Cemetery is one of the most-visited spots in Buenos Aires but today it seems deserted. Some people wouldn’t set foot in a cemetery on their travels whatever the weather but this one is different. For this cemetery only a true gothic-grey drizzle will do.

Recoleta image

Recoleta Cemetery in the genteel Buenos Aires neighbourhood of the same name is the final resting place of a Who’s Who of Argentine society. Recoleta’s living citizens are posh and well-groomed, so it’s no surprise its cemetery provides those that passed away with prime afterlife real estate. The tombs are status symbols reserved for the wealthiest and the most well-connected figures in the country.

Recolata angels

Much of the cemetery’s attraction is as an outdoor art gallery. Gothic is next to Art Deco, Neo-Classic stacked on top of Art Nouveau. Plus, this art gallery is in the form of a mini-city. The towering gates open onto an expansive plaza. Named streets are lined with apartment-sized tombs. None of the resting places are understated; all are elaborately carved and decorated, many with protective stone angels peering down through the gloom. Others have their doors ajar. Cats hide behind iron railings and chase cemetery mice across the black marble.

Evita's grave

A map shows you the locations of the most famous graves but paper is useless in this weather. A lost tourist asks me where to find Evita, and I direct him to take the second left, walk two blocks, and Evita is on the right. I follow behind him and watch as a line of visitors files past Recoleta’s most famous resident. Her tomb is slippery black marble and flowers cling to its fortified exterior. Many people come here just to see Eva Perón’s resting place but the cemetery is also home to presidents, military leaders, poets and scientists.

Buenos Aires graveyardAnd a few ghosts. Every cemetery needs a ghostly resident or two and Recoleta doesn’t disappoint. Take the urban legend surrounding the 15-year-old Luz María García Velloso. Her tomb is close to the cemetery’s entrance. The story goes that a man walking past the cemetery encounters a young woman dressed in white. They go to a nearby bar and when leaving the girl gets cold and asks to borrow the man’s jacket. For some reason the girl takes the jacket with her when the evening is over. The man calls the number she gave him the next day to get the jacket back but her mother tells him the poor girl died several years ago. He goes to the cemetery because he can’t believe the story and sees – gasp! – his jacket draped over the girl’s tomb.

Cemetery in BA

As I slosh through the puddles to the exit a funeral procession passes by at the end of the alleyway. The scene seems unreal, somehow staged. It’s easy to forget that Recoleta is still in use. On the way out I look up. The tombs are dark and shadowy against the white and grey office buildings that tower outside the walls, and the light from the billboards doesn’t reach inside. A pink-grey city sky wraps the outside world and the cemetery as one, promising more and more rain.

Paz

More yerba mate health benefits

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MateYerba mate, known simply as mate in Argentina, is a hot drink made from the leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant, dried, and steeped in water to make a tea. While it may take a few sips to get used to the distinctive bitter taste of the tea, it’s worth persevering – if only to take advantage of the reputed health benefits. While there is not as much scientific research into mate as into coffee or black tea, there is literature out there that points to possible antioxidant, anti-osteoporosis and cardio-protective effects from sipping Argentina’s most popular infusion – including a recent study into mate lowering the risk of atherosclerosis. In this 2013 study from Taishan Medical University, China the scientists suggest mate tea has strong antioxidant effect, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, and can “be used to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.”

Mate has long been popular in Argentina but is recently becoming better known in the US and UK. Mate fans like myself enjoy the drink for its caffeine-like kick – a little less extreme than coffee, a more mellow feeling – and for the social side of sharing a mate with friends or family.

Fernet: More Argentinean than Malbec?

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What’s a bitter Italian spirit doing in every bar and kitchen cabinet across Argentina? And why’s a beverage that tastes of liquorice mouthwash toppling Malbec, Argentina’s iconic drink, off its perch?

Fernet BrancaMy husband says Fernet wasn’t popular at all when he was growing up. He moved away from Argentina and when he came back over a decade later, everyone seemed to have taken up the Fernet habit. Now the bottles of coke on the table at parties aren’t for the designated drivers, they’re Fernet’s accompaniment. According to a 2014 report from Abeceb, while wine sales are dipping, consumption of Fernet is rising – Argentines sip an average of 1.5 litres of Fernet a year (Buenos Aires Herald).

Fernet originated in Italy in the 1800s. The Italian influence in Argentina is strong, particularly when it comes to food and drink, due to waves of immigration from the European nation. Pizza, pasta, milanesas and ice cream are on the menu at practically every Argentine eating establishment.

Fernet made in ArgentinaQuite why this particular Italian icon has become so popular is another matter. Its recipe is a closely guarded secret but there are rumoured to be cinnamon, chamomile, saffron, rhubarb, gentian root, and galangal floating about in that green and black bottle – not traditionally the ingredients of a much-loved spirit. Some say Fernet built a following when students boycotted British whiskey during the Malvinas/Falklands War. Others claim Fernet increased in popularity during a cocktail-mixing craze in the 80s.

I inherited a bottle of Fernet from my parents when they were visiting us in Buenos Aires. Mum and dad bought a bottle of Fernet Branca – the most popular brand by far – expecting to enjoy a relaxing aperitif on the balcony. It is still almost full.

Most popular Argentine spirit “Are you supposed to drink it with something?” my parents queried. Yes. The classic drink is Fernet con coca – Fernet and coke. The “Fernandito” originated in Cordoba in the 90s and is now ordered en masse in clubs and bars, and mixed by the gallon at asados and parties. How much coke? Experiment; it’s not an exact science (that’s my opinion – others disagree. The Fernet Branca website says 1/5 Fernet and 4/5 coke.) And remember to serve it on the rocks. You could try a dash of Fernet in your coffee or drink it with soda water. It’s not bad, but it still tastes of tree bark and cough medicine.

For me, Fernet will never get close to Argentina’s Malbec. But Fernet is decidedly an acquired taste. Keep drinking it, fans say, and pretty soon you won’t be able to get enough of it.

Tigre Delta: Sailing off the edge of the map

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I knew the Paraná Delta existed because I’ve seen the boats heading there from Tigre, but they may as well have been sailing into another country for all I could picture of the network of islands, rivers and wetlands. Ana, our guide, traces the upcoming route on a map and explains we will see a tiny segment of the area, which expands for a total of over 5,000 square miles. On the map the tributaries of the Delta spread out from Tigre like the veins on a leaf. Look closely and it seems you could spot twin-headed serpents staking out the smallest winding creeks and mythical creatures with the heads of lions lying in wait for unsuspecting boats. Mapa Gelvez-ToritoThe Delta is another Argentina; one that is neither well-known nor particularly well-visited, save for the routes of the main tourist craft. Our journey into the unknown begins with a bright and breezy early boat from Tigre River Station. Boarding, we tell them we’re going to “lo del suizo” (the Swiss place). Around 40 minutes later after passing the schools, shops, petrol stations and churches of the first stage of the Delta, we hop off at the home of Delta Unplugged.

Tigre river boatsA multitude of companies offer private tours of the Delta by boat but Delta Unplugged sounds interesting. Owned and operated by Ana, an Argentine tourism expert and Ralph,a Swiss chef, Delta Unplugged provides a tranquil day’s excursion along with tasty food. Clambering onto the jetty we are greeted by the family including baby Octavio, who is immediately intrigued by the sight of my baby (who is wondering what is going on, having woken up from a nap to find himself surrounded by water). After a breakfast of homemade breads with dulce de leche, aubergine jam and honey we set off in their wooden boat to explore the waterways.

(Photos courtesy of myself and also Ana from Delta Unplugged)

Delta Unplugged

Taking the stream less traveled at the start of the tour.

Tranquil waters

Still, peaceful waters of the Delta.

Doggy lookout

Some of the residents of the first stage of the Parana Delta.

Tigre birds

Bird-spotting at lunchtime from the Delta Unplugged boat.

Turtles of Tigre

And more wildlife – turtles, this time.

Delta lunch

Lunch is an impressive spread with cheeses, meats, empanadas, tarts, dips, vegetables, chicken and beef, all rustled up by Ralph on the boat itself.

Yellow houseBrightly coloured homes on the waterways.

Supermarket boatThe “supermarket boat” – provisions delivered to the jetty.

Tigre Delta viewTo finish the day there’s nothing so relaxing as mate and cake surrounded by lapping water. A tranquil place.

Imagen 057
I didn’t see any two-headed serpents on the boat trip and the only mythical creatures were the supernaturally persistent mosquitoes, but I did get a glimpse of another world. A swift water taxi ride back to Tigre and we’re back on dry land, but rocked by invisible waves for hours afterwards.

Swiss

Puppies for adoption in Buenos Aires

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Due to an unplanned pregnancy we recently became grandparents to seven little bundles of joy. Because this event brought the grand total of animals in the house to 10 (and there are only three of us humans, one of whom is a four-month-old baby) we needed to find new homes for the magnificent seven. But how?

Cachorritos en Adopción

Once the puppies were old enough to leave their mum a simple ad and a sign saying Cachorritos en Adopción (puppies for adoption) was the best start. RedMascotera.com is a portal in Argentina for lost and found dogs and cats, and pets looking for new homes. We posted a free ad on the site and were encouraged when, just 20 minutes later, we already had two people interested in the dogs. Cachorrito Hembra 2 lateralMy favourite puppy

My husband took the car to the local Esso service station with the dogs climbing all over the back seat, so the dog lovers could pick their favourites. My best dog, a fluffy, chunky, black-and-white-and-brown female, went first. The second lady picked her puppy because he was shy and hiding under the seat. The third puppy found a home when the sign in the back window of the car caught the attention of a young girl walking past, who persuaded her mother that they needed a dog.

The fourth puppy to leave was actually the most popular and had been reserved by a lady who loved her curly hair and flame of white fur on her face. Puppy number 5 went the furthest, to a house near San Isidro.

Puppies in Buenos AiresBA’s next top puppy

Argentina: Nation of dog lovers?

It pleased me how quickly the dogs were snapped up and how happy the people were with their new puppies. But perhaps it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise – just about everyone likes dogs here in Argentina (cats are not so popular.) The new dog owners thanked us as if we were doing them a huge favor by giving them a puppy – we didn’t let on how relieved we were every time one more dog was rehoused, or that we would probably drive two hours or more to get the dogs to a new home.

Buenos Aires dogs

Then there was one…

Giving puppies away to people that want them is a genuinely joyful experience. Everyone’s smiling, puppy’s wagging his tail- this is a glowing moment you don’t get very often in the big city. One new owner sent us pictures on Facebook of their new puppy playing with the kids, snoozing in a comfy bed, and posing with his vaccination certificate.

Puppy in BAPuppy number six: reunited with puppy number one

My husband took the sixth puppy to Haedo this afternoon. The lady had already adopted the cutest puppy and decided she had to have another one, so the all-black dog left us. Which leaves one doggy left to be adopted.

So, come on – anyone got space for a friendly, bouncy black and white pup with a good attitude, no particular breed, raised in a bilingual household in west BA?

Argentina dogsAwww, who can resist?

What is winter like in Buenos Aires?

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As a Brit I am honour-bound to talk about the weather at any given opportunity. Which is why this blog probably has more posts about the weather than anything else. Before I moved to Argentina I had no idea what winter weather was like in Buenos Aires. All I knew was winter arrived at the opposite end of the year and didn’t coincide with Christmas anymore.

Winter – roughly July to September in Argentina – is difficult to pin down. If you’re coming to Buenos Aires in winter do you pack a full-length coat, scarf and hat? Or a t-shirt and sandals? Pack them all and you won’t go wrong.

Winter sunset in Tigre

Winter sunset in Tigre

Chau frio, llega el calorcito

Monday, for example, the temperature was below freezing in the morning and didn’t rise much above 10 degrees during the day. Yesterday was blue-sky bright but still with low temperatures and a fair amount of wind. The heater was on all day and extra blankets on the bed. Today, however, the day started cold but 24 degrees are expected this afternoon. It’s going to be 25 or 26 degrees until Monday. Turn off the heater, turn on the fans. Change baby from winter clothes to shorts.

Here’s what you need to know about winter in Buenos Aires:

What’s the weather like?

  • The temperature in August has an average low of 8 degrees C and an average high of 18 degrees C. But we’ve already seen lows of 1 and highs of 25, so don’t pay attention to the averages.
  • Days are normally sunny with blue skies.
  • It’s hardly ever so cold during the day that you feel uncomfortable.
  • Heavy rain and thunderstorms are not uncommon in the winter. As in the summer, they usually arrive at night after a few days of warm weather.
  • It’s weird walking past palm trees in a coat and scarf.
Blue-sky thinking in winter

Blue-sky thinking in winter

Ola polar

Winter weather isn’t simply described as cold by the weather forecasters; this is an ola polar (polar wave) and the news media talks about it near-constantly. If it ever snowed in Buenos Aires there wouldn’t be any other news for a week.

While the British are rightly credited for an obsession with the weather it seems Argentines – in the media, at least – could give them a run for their money.

Winter weather in Parque Leloir

Winter weather in Parque Leloir

Getting close to the beasts in Buenos Aires

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Where can you wander among squirrels and prairie dogs, watch lemurs lark about and escape from the high-rises for some winter sun– less than 35 miles from the capital? Make the most of blue sky days with a trip to Temaikèn.

The attraction of Temaikèn is not immediately obvious because there are no big-name stars among the residents of this nature park. No elephants, giraffes, showy lions, brash gorillas or other zoo celebrities. Therein lies the attraction: Temaikèn is not a zoo. Temaikèn, part of Fundación Temaikèn, is a biopark or wildlife park; an extensive nature trail where you get up close to the beasts.

MeerkatYou feel none of the guilt induced by watching wild animals pace behind rusty bars. The creatures here don’t appear to be in captivity. The enclosures are expansive pits – landscaped and interesting – or constructed with wooden roofs for the jumping animals, and large meshed-in spaces for the birds. In some cases the path goes straight through the enclosure, allowing the wallabies to come up and sniff the visitors (or vice versa). I don’t see anyone stray from the path and offer their leftover pancho, however. Probably because panchos (hot dogs), popcorn, and coke are so expensive here.

Temaikèn has alligators, hippos, pumas and a few tigers as well as lemurs, antelopes, zebras and flamingos….. Crowds gather 10-deep with cameras, paparazzi-style, to see the meerkats performing or perhaps just being fed. I like the petite aquarium where some hard-nosed sharks take the spotlight.

Sharks TemaikenTemaiken acquarium
Take your own food and drink, and take hats and an umbrella if you’re visiting in summer because there’s not much shade for the humans. We last visited on what turned out to offer the last blast of summer heat before autumn. A spray-and-fan system showered us at regular intervals but I was glad there wasn’t a huge area to walk around. Still, I was afraid of missing something and would have liked arrows or some marked routes to follow but perhaps that is a little sad to admit. Go, wander, turn back on yourself; embrace the unpredictable.

The way I see it, you’ve got two main options for spotting wildlife roaming free when you don’t want to leave the city. Put out garbage bags full of meat scraps and wait for the street dogs to appear, or take the bus to Temaikèn.

Entry is $120 pesos for adults and $96 for children under 10. In winter (01/03 to 30/11) the park is open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 6pm.

Temaikèn is located in Belén de Escobar, on Ruta Provincial 25, 1km from Ruta Panamericana. You can drive to Temaiken (and easily drive by the exit on the highway – it is woefully signposted) or take the bus number 60 from Plaza Italia to the ticket booths at the entrance (I have no idea how long this takes. It is a semi-rapido service….)

Stingray?A happy Temaiken resident

High humidity and chance of thunderstorms

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No, not here. In Buenos Aires the temperature is close to zero and it’s cloudy and windy. But the UK is still baking in the unusually high 20s and early 30s. Thunderstorms are forecast and this is major news. At a quick count, fifty percent of status updates on my FB page were weather-related: praying for rain, counting the rumbles of thunder and lightning in the distance, detailing the length of time the clouds opened…. “Its going to rain tonight! Don’t think I have ever been so excited about rain before!”

I felt exactly like this in the UK. On the rare occasion of a truly hot summer, when sleeping in sticky heat made you crazy (practically no one has air conditioning), and completing daily tasks was like walking through tepid soup covered in cling film, I watched the skies with the same fervent anticipation. Thunderstorms broke the weather and brought relief, naturally, but they were also rare. An occasion to drop everything and pull back the curtains to watch, fascinated.

I still feel that rush of adrenalin when I hear the first boom of thunder in the distance. The spike of heat and the deadening stillness before the swift darkening of the sky into mauve and maroon, midnight grey with streaks of electric green; even pitch black at midday.

MiddayBuenos Aires thunderstorm: pitch black at midday

But thunderstorms in Argentina generate different emotions and many people here don’t share that sense of excitement. We have many more of them here than the UK, for a start. We even have thunderstorms in winter, which to me is weird and somewhat unnatural. Thunderstorms also tend to bring so much rain the streets are flooded, transport is disrupted and houses damaged. On occasions thunder  signifies a terrible storm that causes significant disruption. It’s hard to look forward to something that makes your life that much more difficult.

Despite all this I can’t shake the thrill thunder and lightning bring. I have a sky-watching obsession when storm clouds mass on the horizon, just like my friends in the UK. Facebook forecast: fifty percent chance of Instagrams of dark skies and lightning by the end of the week.

My dark castellano clouds

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I haven’t seen the clouds for many months but they just came back to rain all over my castellano-learning parade.

I guess I haven’t been making much of an effort with Spanish lately. Scratch that, I know I haven’t been making an effort. I just had a baby and in the final weeks of pregnancy I focused everything on the birth and preparing for baby’s arrival. Doctors visits and baby classes had the potential to confuse me (who knew there was so much new medical vocabulary to encounter?) but my bilingual husband was with me all the way through pregnancy and if something wasn’t clear he made it right.

When we had visitors after baby arrived I was so tired I gave myself a “free pass” to not worry about whether I understood or was being understood. Since then I’ve been speaking to baby in English, not going out to work, and generally living in an English bubble. I’ve been content and haven’t worried about my Spanish skills.

But then I call to order empanadas and the dark clouds roll in again. The owner recognises me and says something I utterly fail to understand, even when she repeats it several times. I hang up feeling miserable and frustrated.

The dark clouds make me feel like I will never properly understand and be understood in Spanish. The dark clouds cast shadows over any positive progress I’ve made. What’s more, the clouds’ grey lining is the feeling of guilt and shame that I haven’t done enough to practice and learn. My mood becomes so dark I don’t actually want to learn anymore.

Thankfully this mood doesn’t usually last too long. Soon the skies lighten and I brighten up, and try to focus on the positive once again. I remind myself that just because I don’t understand everything it doesn’t mean I am failing, or that I can’t continue to learn. And I tell myself that at least I managed to order the empanadas, which after all is one of the most important uses of the Spanish language.