The restaurant is completely empty save for an elegant couple sitting at a small table for two. 70 years old, slim, trim and fit they seem seriously overdressed for this tiny French bistro. It is located on a small street just two blocks from the cemetery where the body of Eva Peron rests (a completely irrelevant fact but it does set the atmosphere rather nicely). He is wearing a luxurious looking suit, that fits beautifully. It looks expensive and no doubt was. She is wearing an equally expensive cocktail dress that fits like a glove, a scarf draped round her shoulders and a lot of jewelry, expensive but not flashy, bright but not too sparkly (is there such a thing as too sparkly?)
The time is 8.15 and normally if we found a restaurant to be empty at 8.15 we would take that as a very bad sign. But this is Buenos Aires where restaurants don’t open until 8 and no one arrives before 9. We try the door but as is the case with most small restaurants here the door is locked. We wait for the Maitre D to let us in. She opens the door but doesn’t let us in. Perhaps it is we who are underdressed, although I have to say we are both looking rather stylish! She searches her list for our reservation, finds it and then waves us in. But it is a tiny wave as no sooner do I have one foot across the threshold than she is pulling out a chair for me at a table that is so close to the door that I would become personally and intimately acquainted with every customer who passed through it.
There are 6 other tables for two all empty and all actually situated inside the restaurant
I ask if we could sit at one of those.
She says the restaurant is fully booked, mainly with regulars, who all specify their favourite table and this is the only table no one has asked to be sat at.
And why would that be, I wanted to ask.
Instead I explain that we made the reservation three weeks ago and surely that should give us priority.
There is an uncomfortable pause while she decides how to handle it. Finally she says that we could sit at a tiny round table that is actually touching the table where the other couple are sitting. They are listening to our conversation and generously say that we must join them.
We accept. Gordon promises them that we will keep to ourselves and will not talk to them. They smile appreciatively. But I know differently. Gordon has become charmingly gregarious in his old age (I use the word “charmingly” as he will be editing this and I don’t want to find this paragraph redacted) and I know that it won’t be long before we will all be in deep conversation.
Gordon manages to keep his promise for about ten minutes during which time he consumes two glasses of wine. He starts smiling at the couple, a sure sign that at any minute he is going to break the promise he made just ten minutes ago
Joseph and Mary (not their real names I hasten to add, but I will call them that because….well, Jeeeze!) are delighted to chat, or at least Mary is, because she has a lot of information that she needs to impart. The first vital fact that we must know is that they are staying at the Four Seasons. Quickly followed by the fact that they live in Connecticut but eat regularly in all the best restaurants in New York. This little place is charming but the atmosphere is quite different from that of the Four Seasons restaurant where they dined the previous night. And aren’t the prices in Buenos Aires so reasonable. When they are in New York, they think nothing of spending 4 or $500 on a meal. And on and on it goes until finally Mary, in a final effort at one upmanship, drops that they are sailing on Seabourn tomorrow and are going to Antarctica.
As I said……………. Jeeze!
Rather surprisingly they seem delighted when we say we will be on the same cruise, but it is hard to miss the flash of surprise that briefly shows in Mary’s eyes.
Dear readers, as you know, this is not your usual travel blog, but if anyone reading this is interested in knowing what we thought of the restaurant, I have to say that it was excellent. But for an experience on a completely different level you should try Aramburu . Their tasting menu with wine pairings was definitely one of the best meals we have ever had.
Meanwhile back to the plot.
The next morning we have to make our way to the ship. It is a 24 day cruise, half of which will be spent sailing around Antarctica, and South Georgia Island. Small zodiac inflatable dinghies will take us to the ice every day where we will be free to waddle with the penguins before hopefully being returned to the ship in the same zodiacs. But much has been made of the fact that everything is weather dependent. If the weather is not good then landings will not be possible. Consequently we have been paying a lot of attention to the weather reports, and have been rather worried by the unseasonably cool and wet summer Buenos Aires is having.
This morning the skies are clear but as the morning progresses they get darker. We ask the hotel manager to call us a taxi for the short drive to the cruise ship terminal. He is wearing a crisply ironed white shirt and black trousers. He has light brown skin, Andean cheekbones and a strong nose. Oh dear. I have been trying to control myself for 5 days. He gallantly helps us with our luggage and we stand and supervise as he struggles to get our bags into the trunk of the taxi, a space clearly not equipped to deal with the amount of clothing two gay men pack for a 24 day cruise.
Drops of rain the size of grapes start hitting us. Moments later someone finds the faucet and turns it full on. The drops meld into one huge sheet of rain. We leap into the car leaving the manager to his struggles. His crisp white shirt is soaked and it clings to his body. He was attractive when he was dry, but he is much more attractive soaking wet. Before that thought can really take hold, he manages to close the trunk and we are off.
Well, almost off. Traffic is at a standstill. The rain is absolutely torrential.
The drains can’t cope. Within minutes the streets are flooded. In places it rises above the level of the curb.
Pedestrians flee, their umbrellas collapsing under the force of the rain. Traffic inches forward trying to avoid the worst of the flooding. It takes us an hour to make the trip that should take no more than 10 minutes.
The taxi driver is beside himself. If we were in New York this journey would cost us a small fortune. But in Buenos Aires it costs the taxi driver. The meter hardly takes time into account, it charges just a few cents when waiting.
Finally the terminal comes into sight, but traffic has come to a complete standstill. There are three cruise ships in port and the crush of taxis, delivery trucks and tour buses struggling to deal with the weather has created gridlock.
People are getting out of their taxis and making a run for the terminal, causing even more problems with the traffic. We resist for as long as we can. We have plenty of time and the meter isn’t running. But neither is the taxi. Finally there is a break in the rain. We hand the driver a hugely generous tip that doesn’t seem to help his mood at all, grab our bags and make a dash for the terminal through puddles that are way too large for that name. They are also deep. They lap around our ankles, filling our shoes and soaking our trouser legs. Our wheelie suitcases are ill suited for this treatment and resist strongly as they are dragged through the deep water.
Making a sartorial statement when arriving at a luxury cruise line is we feel of utmost importance. We want to be noticed and have dressed accordingly. But now we look like street people – dripping wet, dragging our bedraggled belongings behind us. It is not a good look
Dear readers, those of you who have followed along with me over the years know only too well that this is not the first time I have made an ignominious arrival at a luxury cruise ship, but this time I can’t blame Gordon (which is half the fun). I can however gain a small amount of satisfaction in seeing all the other passengers suffering a similar fate.
But, much more worrying is the thought that this storm does not bode well for our trip to Antarctica.
Only time, and this blog, will tell