1944 New Yorker article about Buenos Aires


Mar 25, 2007
I recently came across some old articles from the New Yorker magazine. Some of the readers of this website might enjoy the following extracts taken from ‘Letter from Buenos Aires’ by Jean Boley in the September 16, 1944 issue. As time allows, I’ll try to extract a few more interesting passages from other old pieces about Argentina. Here are the September 16, 1944 extracts:

“You get the feeling, if you are a visitor, that Argentina is less a neutral country than an isolated one, withdrawn emotionally as well as geographically into an anachronistic complacency”.

“Limousines, driven by chauffeurs in livery, stand before the elegant shops on the Calle Florida and in the Calle Santa Fe. In the stalls of the markets, fresh beef tenderloin sells for sixteen cents a pound in our money. Mercado del Plata, the central market, is full of delicacies – Chilean lobster, cheese fit for connoisseurs, cream so thick it seems whipped. Along the quiet residential side streets, fruit peddlers plod, pushing carts laden with bananas from Brazil and the fine pears and apples of the Rio Negro valley, to the south”.

“Life here is still feudal; no democratic hordes have yet invaded the resorts of aristocracy. The best hotels – the Plaza downtown, the Alvear Palace in the residential district – are suave and obsequious...The Plaza is the rich tourist hotel. A white-turbaned East Indian tends austerely to curried dishes in its grill. A meal is only two dollars, the food is excellent, and the waiters are polite and quick. The Jockey Club, aloof behind its pillars on the Calle Florida, has the best wine cellar in the country...”

“In the expensive fur shops, the salesgirls ask softly whom you know. If you admit intimacy with an important diplomat, you can stretch your payments over a year. Otherwise, you pay at once, and sneak out feeling threadbare at the elbows”.

“Tea at five or six o’clock is customary at Harrods (of London) department store or in Desty’s sweet shop on the Calle Florida. There is the Cine Gran Rex for the vermouth (six-fifteen performance) of ‘Lifeboat’ with Tallulah Bankhead and Spanish titles and at eight someone is usually giving a cocktail party at the Jockey Club. ‘Up in Arms’ with Danny Kaye and ‘Wuthering Heights’ are also in the movie houses, each preceded by an American war newsreel from which most anti-Nazi sentiments have been clipped”...’Gone with the Wind’ was a tremendous hit. But the citizens of Buenos Aires, to whom any small town seems uncivilized, could not understand ‘Our Town,’ and they walked out on it.”

“In all the talk is evident the deep satisfaction of the Argentine with the fact that he has a surplus of the good things of life in a time of worldwide scarcity. Nothing is rationed except gasoline and tires.”

“The clerk, the office worker and the tradesmen are no less satisfied with their lot than the rich and aristocratic. They, too, have their filet mignon twice a day. They live in the nearer suburbs, and commute to work twice a day because it is pleasant to have luncheon and a siesta at home”.

“The Porteños, as residents of Buenos Aires are called, prefer calm and comfort to gaiety. A dignified Spanish decorum still regulates social life.”

“Even in the poorer districts, such as La Boca, in the old port, and Avellaneda, the squalor is not as terrible as it is in certain cities in the United States, for there is light and air in the patios of the houses.”
When did the Harrods close? Are there any plans for the building?
They had the world Cup Tango there last year. I assume it stays open sometimes for art-displays and stuff

I think the 2009 life of a diplomat is roughly the same now
Argentina was elegant and very prosperous from about 1920 to 1950. In the 1920s, European settlers invited prominent Americans to feast on lomo, and to view the architecture of the "Paris of South America." American artists were invited to mount solo exhibitions at el museo de bellas artes, and the New York Times hired correspondents to write reviews. That was before you-know-who.....what a shame
sergio, thanks for the excerpts from the New Yorker. Please do post more when you can.

Joe said:
When did the Harrods close? Are there any plans for the building?

I beleive it closed in 1995. There's some info online about it, and recent photos of the building.
when was the last time you saw a chauffeurred limosine in ba... ah for the good old days.