As the cab driver was dropping us off at El Obrero, he asked if we had the number of a radiotaxi to call for the ride home.
“We´re staying just four blocks away”.
“Okay. If it is just four blocks fine, but you should not really walk here at night.”
We thanked him and took the card he offerred with his licensed company´s number. La Boca seems like it is in the process of gentrifying. The famous football stadium loming over Federico´s street and the multicolored buildings have been tourist attractions for years, but guidebooks and cab drivers seem to agree that venturing outside of the bright bubble of cheesy street Tango shows is not a great idea for a foreigner. They also seem to agree that El Obrero served delicious food, so we felt fortunate to be sleeping so close by.
The white tablecloth and bottle of wine waiting on the table suggested that El Obrero was not the cheap neighborhood joint Lonely Planet had made it out to be. As we sat down I checked with Danny and we quickly realized that we did not have quite enough cash on us for dinner. Sheepishly we told the classy waiter that we had to go home for more efectivo, and would gladly wait again for a table when we returned. We checked the map to make sure we knew our route, then stepped out into almost complete darkness.
No street lights, no soft blue glow of TVs, nothing. We could barely make out our own feet on the crumbly sidewalk. Tripping would have been embarrassing. Tripping over a sleeping stray dog (or worse, stray person) seemed equally possible and much scarier. In whispers we wondered at how a city as progressive as BA could failto see that simply lighting the streets would clearly improve the safety of this neighborhood. We kept up a constant hushed chatter about urban renewal, steak, how we would take a cab the four blocks back, anything to block out the silence. But as soon as we saw a shadow in any dimly lit entryway we swallowed our English and quickened our pace.
Suddenly screaming sirens smashed the quiet. Down one street the sight of a crowd made us steer the opposite way without discussion. We passed a police station and saw two patrolment stalking outside with automatic weapons that somehow did not make me feel much safer.
When we reached a wider street with buses and people we saw that two blocks to our left and two blocks to our right there was light. Then finally we clammored into Federico´s building. Having refused to take out our map and barely being able to make out street signs, this felt like a momentous accomplishment. Our sighs were almost strong enough to push the door open without a key.
Inside we found beatuiful tealights illuminating an otherwise dark apartment. “Un apagón” Federico explained, a power outage. Claiming he wanted some ice cream, our gracious host offered to walk us back to El Obrero. At his front stoop he greeted a friend with a bike. Two blocks later he recognized his brother´s truck and stopped to say hello. A raucous looking group we´d avoided earlier turned out to be a three generation family, who had now settled down to a candlelit dinner in their street level storefront. Now that we knew that the dark streets were caused by a brown out rather than the systematic government neglect we had suspected, everything seemed friendlier. In no time we had reached El Obrero, the one lighted building on its street, and Federico was wishing us buen provecho.
Inside the aroma of the parilla and the whir of fans filled the room up to the 30 ft high ceiling. The walls were covered with futbol memorabilia and our waiter waved us over to our seats. We´d already examined the menu, and settled down with a bottle of house wine to await our appetizer, rouquefort con cognac. This was exactly and literally a rich delicious bowl of what it sounds liked. With each bite the sting of the cognac receded to further reveal the complexity of the cheese. I think we maybe managed to finish half of it. Then Danny´s sirloin with chimichurri sauce and my squash-filled ravioli arrived and conversation ceased. Raviolis bursting with orange mush consumed me and as I consumed them. Steak, wine, and Italian food– what Buenos Aires does best.
By the time an old man in a suit arrived and whipped out his guitar, ravioli and wine had more than replaced the butterflies in my stomach. There was no room for dessert. The gentleman moved with such confidence that for his entire circuit around the restaurant serenading each table, we were sure he owned the place. Only when he turned over his hat for tips did shifting context once again turn the situation on its head and force me to laugh at myself. On the way home we walked briskly and alertly, but we walked.