LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 48
Page. 56 - 61
By: Julia Caprara
Pictures: Gustavo Castaing
NUEVO PALERMO VIEJO
Jorge Luis Borges lived in Palermo Viejo (Old Palermo). The love for his neighbourhood is vividly depicted in his poem Mythical Foundation of Buenos Aires. Most of the area is still intact, but his family house on Serrano 2135, where he spent the first years of the century and of his life, no longer exists. His dear sister Norah was born there; and it was there where Borges nourished in the world of sensations and words. Nowadays a modern construction stands in its place. Two years ago, to compensate for this irreparable absence, this section of the street was renamed Jorge Luis Borges.
The neighbourhood has survived the inevitable arrival of progress. The porteños -so prone to the razing pick in other parts of the city, want this part of Palermo to continue being old.
Palermo Viejo is enclosed by Scalabrini Ortiz, Córdoba, Paraguay and Juan B. Justo streets. Some sections preserve the appearance of past decades and cherished childhood memories: cobbled-stone treelined streets with surfacing stretches of tramway rails, facades from the turn-ofthe-century, wooden or iron doors, the glimpse of old porticoes and shady patios... Palermo Viejo triggers flashbacks to the young and the old: the squeaking sound of the sluggish tram over the rails, the mate cup passed from hand to hand, an old lady sitting on a chair out on the sidewalk watching life pass by, the frowning countenance of the malevo, the sharpener's flute, the old wineries covered with sawdust, the mattress-maker carding the wool by the sidewalk: a trip back in time, to the good old laid-back pace.
Though paradoxical, the name Palermo Viejo is new. Horacio Berberian, one of the managers of Shenk real estate firm, and an old inhabitant of the area himself, explains: "We have been promoting Palermo Viejo for 25 years as a neighbourhood that preserves its old , appearance. My father has lived on Malabia and Gorriti street since 1924. On the corner, there was an old grocery store where Carlos Gardel sang a couple of times, today there is car spare-parts shop. What is known today as Palermo Viejo, used to be Villa Alvear. It is an area with much history". Many other Armenian families as the Berberians settled in his district.
Borges also lived temporarily on Guatemala between Serrano and Thames. On Godoy Cruz were the brothels. A tram went down Gorriti street to the southern waterfront, where people went to bathe in the river during the summertime.
Palermo Viejo has wide open streets with low flat housing, thanks to the urban planning code that states a maximum construction height of 9 metres.
The neighbourhood became fashionable towards 1980, when visionaries started discovering its advantages: quietness, closeness to downtown and its bohemian atmosphere. Nowadays it has become a design centre where many decorators and designers have opened original spaces: Laura Orcoyen started as decorator in 1985, she had studied landscaping and after several years of practice, she opened a show room in the heart of the district, a large barn in white and wood, with net designs for every corner of a house, from lovely jars with liquid soap for the bathroom, to dream stretchers to sunbathe on in the garden.
Alicia Goñi and Florencia Pieres sell exclusive and colourful designs of dresses, capes and accessories, Asian silk blouses and scarves embroidered with stones from India, as well as Chinese tea-pots, huge couches, lacquered furniture and original ironwork. Their hideout, Cat Balou, lies on Costa Rica street. On Gorriti, at La Pasionaria, Pancho Salomón recycles furniture and old objects. A display of lamps, ornaments, tables, chairs and bird cages make this place a delightful stop for collectors.
Calma Chicha, on Honduras street, displays an array of shapes, colours, textures and materials in a big bazaar where miscellaneous objects are exhibited for sale: toys, milk jars, vinyl handbags, huge puffs, matches, frieze bed-sheets, and an assortment of surprises. The scent of flowers and candles comes from the opposite corner. La Mejor Flor is a pleasant and modern flower shop, where calla lilies, iris, strilitzias, orchids and peonies are sold by the unit. Also on Honduras, lies Miles, a shop offering an attractive selection of books and records, specially those titles which are difficult to find elsewhere.
Silk paper with batik or tiger-striped designs, cardboard and an endless number of special papers are sold at Papelera Palermo. Almost next door, Desde Asia, a huge store offers Chinese trunks, tables and chairs from Thailand, carvings, bamboo, earthenware, baskets, crock and candle-sticks from India and the Philippines.
In an old house on El Salvador, Ricardo Paz Bullrich displays his original country furniture.
Creative candles are sold at Las Velas de la Ballena, a universe of sizes and designs.
To many, the heart of Palermo Viejo is the small Julio Cortázar square, better known as Plaza Serrano. Although it is now surrounded by an ironrailing, it continues to be the neighbourhood's meeting point. Around it, a handful of bars and a saloon enliven the evenings, especially during the weekends. El Taller bar and art centre is the classic retreat for intellectuals. Across the street, Malasartes seduces newcomers with its rustic red-brick architecture, Spanish magazines and CDs that are impossible to find in the usual circuit. República de Acá is an original bar where diverse forms of expression are offered, from ballads to personal poetry. On the opposite side of the square, Crónico is another classic, although with an informal rock-and-roll profile. Its walls are covered with posters of films and loud music of Los Redondos or Los Piojos is played, making any attempt of conversation becomes utopic. On pleasant weather nights, it is almost impossible to find a free table at any of these places.
Bars and restaurants mushroomed since the beginning of the nineties, and stay open until dawn. Also, art galleries like Gala and cafés like Océano and Finis Terra make for interesting meeting points.
The original spirit of the district still prevails in some bars which have maintained the nostalgic wooden counters and prosciutto still hangs from the ceilings.
At Jesús Pernas' bar at the corner of Gurruchaga and Cabrera, it is possible to sip á glass of vermouth or red wine, accompanied by cheese, at any time of day. El Preferido de Palermo, on Serrano, preserves this wonderful old atmosphere as well. The grocery store in the front and restaurant/bar at the back is the area's favourite choice at lunch time. Puchero and mussels can be had at affordable prices. Another traditional spot is La Placita, with a family-like ambience, chequered tablecloths, cold meat, and tango. Gardelito, trendy and bohemian , offers delicious home-made pasta served in large portions. Freud & Fahler presents a more elaborate cuisine, housed in what used to be an old milk warehouse with the original architecture still intact. Game dishes are Thursday nights' specialities, and at lunch: salmon with herbs, manchego cheese omelette, guacamole rogel. Reservations are definitely recommended.
Rave is full on weekends. Lighted with paper lamps and furnished with comfortable style sofas.
Specialities: Artichoke ravioli with sage sauce, tenderloin wrapped with bacon and Chicken Indian style with curry sauce. Xalapa offers authentic Mexican food. It has been so successful, that the owners had to buy the neighbouring house to satisfy their growing clientele. At Oro Negro, fresh lamb and seafood from Patagonia are served.
On Cabrera street, the Club del Vino is a true landmark, offering tango and folk shows, a good restaurant and a well stocked avine bar. More casual suggestions are El Quinto Stone, with its rock-and-roll atmosphere and Mundo Bizarro with red lit intimate ambience, monster figures, jazz, martinis and sushi.
Palermo Viejo is an authentic porteño phenomenon. José María Peña, director of the City Museum, rejects any comparison with New York's Soho. "It is not a passing fad. We are different, Americans have other twitches. Palermo Viejo has its own identity". And he is right.