at the theatre: evita

You let down your people, Evita. You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all we wanted – not much to ask for. Ok, maybe quoting Che Guevara’s sardonic funeral oration for Argentina’s first lady is a bit misdirected. To my mind Evita is immortal – but that’s in large part thanks to Hal Prince’s seminal production of a generation ago,  not to mention the star-making performances of Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. (Yes, I age myself – at this point it’s unavoidable.) The question remains: is it Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita that we should cry for in its first ever Broadway revival or is it director Michael Grandage’s shambolic production? Does the fault lie with Elena Roger, the tiny-voiced, diminutive Argentine actress in the titular role? Or perhaps pop star Ricky Martin, who as the de-politicized Narrator née Guevara looks wholly uncomfortable in his own skin. Even Rob Ashford’s usually reliable choreography must come in for a bashing: in one number, The Art of the Possible, Juan Peron deftly vanquishes one general after another to propel himself into power. How does Ashford stage this? By having them awkwardly enact a series of half hearted Greco-Roman wrestling moves. It’s symbolic: this production flirts with a number of interesting ideas that get neither fully developed nor wholly abandoned, they just lie there like so much stagnant water. It’s hard to squarely pin the blame on any one individual because across the board everyone is off their game here, save the suave and golden-throated Max Von Essen as tango singer, Augustin Magaldi. It’s difficult to not feel for the two leads, either: Martin’s lack of stage experience isn’t served by stripping him of any discernible character. (The shift from Che Guevara to an anodyne Narrator is inexplicable. Are we to blame the anti-Castro theatergoing lobby?) And Roger tries hard but she lacks the powerhouse voice the role demands. Ultimately what this pointless revival makes all too clear is that at the Marquis Theatre there’s a thin line between immortality and ignominy.

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bucket list: 2010 – april

ARGENTINA/NAPA:  Far from being the cruelest of months, April was a banquet of adventure.  My first foray to South America took me from the cultured urbanity of Buenos Aires to Bariloche’s lake district (and a near fatal expedition in search of condors) to the otherworldly glaciers of Patagonia.  The variety of experiences in Argentina whet my appetite for a return, while the Michelin stars dotting the Napa Valley whet an altogether different kind of appetite:  the all-you-can-eat hedonistic kind. Bardessono may have been a disappointment under the fussy hand of Sean O’Toole but Michel Chiarello’s convivial Bottega was extraordinary.  The high point:  a gastronomic pilgrimage to the altar of Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.

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live blog: plaza de mayo

Plaza de Mayo could be considered the town square of Buenos Aires.  Not only does it house the neo-classical cathedral and Colonial Cabildo but also the presidential palace – the famous Casa Rosada.  The square has always served as a civic center for the city, be it the crowds who rallied to hear Evita’s speeches from the balcony, the families of “the disappeared,” who walked in silent protest of the military junta or the veterans of the Faulklands war – known here as the Malvinas – who were encamped here today demanding official recognition.


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live blog: still life with churro

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live blog: san telmo

The Sunday antiques market in San Telmo is the largest in the city, filling Plaza Dorrego with kiosks of every kind and spilling out into the surrounding streets that radiate off of La Defensa.  The area has been known as the city’s antiques district since the 1970’s and prior to that it was the neighborhood all the best families called home – until a Yellow Fever epidemic sent them scrambling over the cliff to Recolta, which now boasts some of the best preserved French and Italian architecture in the city.

San Telmo is also home to one mean churro, stuffed with dulce de leche.

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live blog: puerto madero

The city’s second old harbor  – BA is now its third – is Puerto Madero, a renovated docklands and marina complex with a string of good restaurants housed in the old brick warehouses.  Posh yachts clubs sit among old cranes and historic tall ships, with the stylish silhouette of Santiago Calatrava’s Bridge to the Woman in the background.  Not only is this the safest part of town, the mix of condominiums, office blocks and hotels also make it feel like the most modern part of the city, too.

An interesting side note to the warehouses that line the docks:  when we first drove by I could have sworn I was looking at the Albert Docks in Liverpool, England.  (Another recently revitalized docklands)  The color of brick, the style of the architecture – it looked plucked out of Victorian England.  Well, it turns out the bricks are, in fact, British.  During Argentina’s shipping heyday, the boats transporting goods to the UK needed ballast for the return journey across the Atlantic.  What did they use?  English bricks.

And because this wouldn’t be a proper posting without some mention of food, check out the crazy red color of the salmon we had for lunch.

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live blog: palmero

Palermo Viejo was once a suburb of downtown but in the last decade has become the trendy enclave in Buenos Aires.  So trendy in fact that the neighborhood boundaries have expanded to encompass two distinct subdivisions:  Palermo Hollywood, a district of thriving film and television production companies, and Palermo SoHo, an area of early twentieth century houses with Italian rococo facades and one-off boutiques.

While not as commercially well organized as its better well-known namesakes in London and New York, therein lies Palermo SoHo’s charm.  The streets are not an endless parade of shops and crowds – everything is instead scattered around within amiable walking distance. Retaining that boho feel, you zig and zag your way through the streets – up one, down another, letting the area reveals itself to you in small bits and pieces. A great shop here – like Ay Not Dead, a local Porteño fashion line.  A comfortable café there – Cluny, a resto de charme with a tranquil garden.  Take your time; linger longer.  The people watching is great – and so is the window-shopping.

We tucked into Cluny for lunch and started things off properly with a luscious Malbec Rose, Familia Gascon from the Mendoza wine region.  A savory cranberry red, yet light and crisp, it’s the closest I’ve come to a Sancerre rouge outside of France.  In fact, I’ll go one better and say it kicks French butt.

Lunch turned into a multitude of courses against our better judgment.  But at these prices it was hard to resist. A $60 pesos set menu brought us an entrda, a main course or platos principales, dessert, coffee and a glass of wine.  And in case you’re wondering, $ 60 pesos equal approximately $15 US dollars.

View the wreckage below:  gazpacho, Quiche Lorraine, Spinach Ravioli with lardons, beef tenderloin macerated in olives and pimentos, trucha or Patagonian trout, and of course, flan.

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live blog: it takes two

Our surprise was an introduction to tango, along with a private lesson from two professional dancers.  And while we didn’t exactly burn the floor, we didn’t injure ourselves either.  I call that a roaring success.

In fact, as the second picture shows, I became so taken with the tango, I later found myself dancing with strange women in the streets.

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live blog: cafe tortoni

We started our day today with a ride on the subway.  For less than a quarter, it’s a no brainer for getting around the city if you don’t have the luxury of a car and driver at your disposal.  BA has the oldest underground in South America – who knew? – and one line even continues to run the early 20th century vintage wooden cars.  It made the perfect overture to Café Tortoni, a Belle Epoque coffeehouse where we stopped off for a snack and a surprise.

Appointed in wood, stained glass, and old marble on a grand scale, you’d be forgiven for thinking you landed in one of the baroque 19th century cafes of Budapest.  Also as in Hungary, the cafés served as an intellectual and artistic meeting place.  For Buenos Aires that place has been the Tortoni since 1858.  (Quinquela Martin, the famous socialist realist painter from La Boca, regularly held his salons here up until his death in the late 1970’s.)  Even if you’ve not the time for a coffee, I’d stop by and use the toilet, just for the glimpse back in time.

As for the surprise……you’ll have to check back later.

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live blog: obelisk

In the middle of Avenida 9 de Juilo is the Obelisk, the picture postcard symbol of Buenos Aires as well as the place where the first Argentine flag was flown in 1816.

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live blog: la vida la boca

Buenos Aires is sprawling city of distinct neighborhoods.  One of the more colorful is La Boca, the original port of Buenos Aires at the mouth of the Riachuelo river. A ramshackle collection of corrugated tin houses along cobbled streets, Italian immigrants originally made it their own, residing in tiny spaces while living their lives out in the street – much like the great wave of immigrants took to NYC’s lower east side.  Music fills the air of La Boca, along with the smell of parrilla, or Argentine barbecue.  And while the pedestrianized street of Caminito might be thronged with artisans and tango dancers cashing in on the tourist buck, life in the rest of the barrio is still very much authentic – and public to boot.

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live blog: found

Update:  my bag was found in Houston and will be here tomorrow.  The company that delivers lost bags performs the service for all of the airlines, so it may arrive at my hotel as late as 11PM, but at least I know it’s coming.

(Strangely, I now feel as though I’ve overpacked)

There a fantastic rooftop pool at my hotel, the Panamericano, with views over the center of the city.  And of course my swimsuit is in Houston.  A search for of a pair of swim trunks proved fruitless, so I thought I would amuse you with a shot of what I eventually attempted to squeeze myself into.  CABJ, or the Boca Juniors, is one of the more famous local soccer teams.  Apparently I was showing a little team spirit along with my tan lines today.

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i love you, philip morris

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live blog: lost

Upgraded into first class, my photographer and I slept like babies all the way from Houston to Buenos Aires.  For the first time I can remember, I arrived at my destination after a long haul flight actually feeling refreshed.  My luggage however, opted to overnight in Houston – I think; they can’t quite locate it as of yet.  Another first.

With the amount of travel I do, I’m amazed this hasn’t happened to me before.  Naturally, I was caught unawares:  in my checked luggage is my computer cable, phone charger, prescription, toiletries.  Oops.  As there’s only one Continental flight to BA daily, I won’t be reunited with my stuff anytime soon, but I am taking it in stride.  I guess the first order of business today is going to be doing a little shopping.

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