May 8, 2013
One recent fine evening, Bjorn and I went on a walkabout as is our wont. Yes, I walk. For fun. (Travel does indeed change a person.)
Bjorn suggested we walk up to Avenida Lavalle (la-VAH-zhay), an entertaining pedestrian street that has shops, eateries, our favorite cheapie movie theater (Argentine independent films for 8 pesos!) and albino imposter (he dresses all in white with white powder on his face while blowing discordant notes intermittently on a white plastic recorder. I believe the white, dred-locked hair is natural, though).
As this distance (with roundtrip) was within my accepted stamina range of roughly 2 miles, I agreed. From the San Telmo neighborhood we headed toward Avenida 9 de Julio and began our jaunt. Avenida 9 de Julio (new-EH-voe deh HOO-lee-oh) is the world’s biggest avenue, spanning one entire city block, according to Wikipedia. It is also one big pain to cross. It can take several minutes to get across this behemoth. The avenue is flanked on both sides by 2-lane wide parallel streets. The avenue can have as many as 7 lanes in each direction. Plus, there are usually strip-like green areas (or really skinny parks) between the opposing lanes, and also between the avenue and the flanking sister streets. Did I mention that there’s also crazy, torn-up-open-pits construction with multiple bulldozers going on all over the avenue?
Construction on Ave. 9 de Julio.
Fortunately, this trip did not require crossing the street (or so I thought). Once at Lavalle, we checked out the movie theater. However, none of the movie posters looked especially appealing and we were not in the mood to ask the people in line what movie they were going to watch (plus, I think it creeps them out a little.)
Bjorn came up with the excellent suggestion of using the money we would have spent — 16 pesos — on a piece of cake. I heartily agreed, especially as I had spent most of the walk extolling the virtues of cake (the soft spongy layers! The airy, frothy creams!) and how I really, really, wanted one.
Of course, now that I was willing to risk diabetes, a panaderia (bakery) was nowhere to be found (isn’t that always the way?) Bjorn suggested we walk past the Obelisk and search along Avenida Corrientes. Avenida Corrientes is known for being the Broadway of Buenos Aires; indeed, walking along this section of Corrientes I couldn’t walk 10 feet before coming across another theater. But the panaderias were few and far between. There were plenty of cafes and restaurants with desserts, but I refused to spend more than the 16 pesos we had agreed upon, especially as I had spent a good chunk of the morning waxing lyrical about the necessity of budgets and self-restraint (terms like “fiscal responsibility” and “good stewardship” were thrown about; it really was quite impressive.)
We walked into every place that looked like it might have a hint of sugar, but to no avail. Finally, we walked into Kentucky, another chain pizza joint (most pizza places here also sell desserts). Kentucky did have gorgeous, gigantic frothy cake concoctions —- for 14 pesos! I was about to weep for joy when I spotted it: Crawling on a piece of cake was a bug. Then Bjorn pointed out three more cockroaches on various pieces of cakes. The resulting nausea almost killed all desire for dessert. However, once we turned and bolted from the restaurant, the cool night air did much to help me soldier on.
From there we we turned onto Avenida Callao (cah-ZHAO, probably the funnest street name to say) and walked into an area known as Congreso, probably because the Argentine National Congress building is there. It is beautiful and stately, and to me looks not unlike the U.S. Capitol (except with a green dome and the signs in Spanish, of course). We found a panaderia — only to discover its door was locked.
We trudged on wearily. We had been walking for hours. We had given up all hope of finding cake and were headed toward Avenida 9 de Julio to return home. But what was that up ahead? Was it a glimmer of hope?
Better. It was a tiny, but open panaderia! We joyfully swooped in. They were obviously closing, but kind about our entrance. The cakes were lusciously layered, festooned with cream swirls/nuts/fruit in reckless abandon. My mouth watered.
How much? we asked. Twenty pesos, the reply. Bjorn and I looked at each other. It was late; the chances of finding another open panaderia were slim. My resolve faltered.
But no! I knew there was cheaper cake out there! I would find it or have none at all! (Such is the frenzied, overwrought thinking of a mind gone too long on a walk without a snack.)
We resumed our journey and reached Avenida 9 de Julio. We walked past a pizza chain called La Continental. There were cake slices in the window. One was called “Sopa de Inglesa” (English Soup). It was a rather plain square, with white frosting and a cherry on top. It had vanilla cake layers with vanilla and chocolate creams alternating between the layers. But most importantly, it had the right price: 16 pesos — huzzah!
We sat down at a table and our waiter brought us our piece of cake. It looked decidedly soggier. In fact, it was swimming in a clear liquid. I took a bite. Yup, definitely alcohol. While I am not opposed to alcohol used in cooking, this cake tasted like someone had dumped alcohol on it after it had already been made. I ate the top layers as they seemed the least affected. The bottom layer, which had soaked up most of the alcohol, was bitter, mushy and falling apart. Well, we said, at least it was only 16 pesos.
Only it wasn’t.
When we received our bill, we were shocked to see it said 22 Pesos (without tip). Turns out there’s a charge for eating inside the restaurant. It was only 16 pesos if we carried it out. The futility of denying myself a truly delicious slice of cake for 20 pesos slashed my heart into a thousand ribbons. Nor did it help that by this time I had walked twice my allotted comfortable distance (nearly 4 miles) for cake. I almost screamed in frustration.
Lesson learned: Budgets are good… but good cake is even better.