There are times when I plan a vacation around a curious trend or iconography that I know absolutely nothing about. With Polo in full swing in Argentina and me not knowing anything about the game of Polo, my trip was set. Argentina, and specifically Buenos Aires, is the mecca of this elite sport. I became inquisitive about a country that owns the sport, but that did not invent it. Curious about why a sport is so inspirational that a guy named Ralph builds a fashion empire around it. After six days in Buenos Aires, the city uncovered so much more than Polo, it uncovered my inner James Bond.
I begin at Hotel Legado Mitico in the Palermo Soho district where each room, or shall I say curated space, is dedicated to an Argentine legend. My room called the Arrabalera was named after a movie starring the tortured actress, Tita Merello.
From there, I walked everywhere. Clouds of cologne emanated from rugged men, sweet aromas disseminated from candles and air fresheners overpowering most interior spaces, whether retail, hospitality, or the baños. I thought, "How perfect to be called Buenos Aires (Fair Winds) and smell so fair everywhere." As I walked the perfumed streets with the presidential elections in full swing, I noticed the political posters looked more like blockbuster movie posters with an earnest Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner looking into the distance holding an Eva Peron placard. "Hmm," I thought. "How dramatic of you Argentina. Don't cry for me." After pretending to be a porteño for the day, I returned to my Arrabalera quarters, switched on the TV and watched a provocative Ford Fiesta commercial telling the story of a guy with a succession of female suitors visiting his bedroom in the short span of one night (commercials inform my foreign perception of a country's pop culture), and thought, "How erotic of you Argentina. Long live Isabel Sarli!"
After two days in the Palermo, I'm off to Iguazu Falls for one night, but not before meeting my Buenos Aires liaison who not only connects me fortuitously to sponsors of the upcoming Polo match, but who also instructs me on what not to wear, for fear I may confuse Polo etiquette with American horse racing etiquette.
Next, Iguazu Falls. It shouldn't be the "look and sigh " experience of Stonehenge but something to be experienced by taking a speed boat that brings you right under the roaring falls. Everyone gets soaked, I get asked out by the tour guide. It's all very exhilarating and unexpected. When the tour guide told me Moonraker was filmed here, I realized destiny really did bring me to Argentina. Before returning to my hotel, Iguazu Grand Resort and Casino, I stop off at the Panoramic Hotel Iguazu, which has a spectacular view of the borders of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil right in its own backyard.
After Iguazu Falls, I returned to Buenos Aires. These next few days were extraordinary and can only happen when you have the exact balance of expectations that are neither too low or too high.
I arrive at Algodon Mansion in Recoleta where I was escorted to a suite larger than my Manhattan apartment. The concierge showed me the amenities one by one, "Personal steam room, Madam. Wine cabinet if you like, with our own Algodon Estates wine. Personal butler, you have three..." I began to wonder where Ashton Kutcher and the rest of the Punk'd crew could be hiding. I felt 100% James Bond -- 100% me.
When I woke up the next morning and summoned my electronic drapes to open, I pinched myself to make sure this wasn't a dream, and then, I got ready for the Hurlingham Polo match semi-finals invited graciously by 'salt of the earth' owners of the Prisa brand and sponsors of the match. While dressing, I said to myself, "Think casual Alona. You can do casual, put back the black. And the red. Remember what Astrid said. You can do it!" I arrived at the grounds and my liaison had given me accurate information on how to dress as I spotted the Americans in their little dresses and hats. The grounds were beautiful and the game of Polo magnificent. Lucky me, Ezequiel Moreno of Polo Tours, adopted me with his group and made sure I understood the game. Notably, the game is predicated on how not to injure the horses. The players can never be perpendicular to their opponents and must stay 'in the line of the ball.' As Ezequiel further explained ways the opponent could steal the ball, I quickly assessed which type of player I would be-a hooker. I mean, I would hook from behind. That still doesn't sound right. Does it? Basically, hooking occurs when a player takes a swing at the ball and his opponent blocks the swing by using his mallet to hook the mallet of the player swinging at the ball. At the end of the game, Ezequiel gave us all a wooden ball with the Hurlingham stamp to take home as a souvenir.
It's late and I returned to my pimp'd room. Since I must leave early in the morning, I decided to have a late dinner (although 11pm is not late in Argentina) at Chez Nous, the famed hotel restaurant. Something light and then just go back to my room for a good rest. I walked downstairs, sat at a table, and looked over at the table next to me and saw someone who looked familiar to me. Would you believe it? I spent the next five hours catching up with a colleague and his guest from New York and make new friends for life. You just can't make this stuff up. Not in Buenos Aires.
It's so fuego in Buenos Aires.