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Argentina. Five photos (1)

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If you walk the business blocks of downtown Buenos Aires, you may bump into La Morada. It is a small indistinct locale, at least 75 years old, with an old wooden door that gives you no previews of what awaits inside.
Walk through and you will be transported in time. La Morada is a local eatery where the lower rungs of the managerial ranks go to. It has probably not changed since it opened, something you can tell by looking at the walls and tables. The chairs and wood tables have obviously been here forever and they have that shiny old gloss that you can only get after you have sprayed some Glade on them for decades, wiping it off with a rag that itself hold the chemical in the same proportion. The air is filled with the smells of the food and there is a certain obscurity; there are only the windows of the front and here, engulfed by the towers and old buildings that make the zone, very little light shines through. The walls turn the place into a fire hazard, if Argentina cared about such things. The owner has filled them with any possible flotsam and tiny thing that you can think of, all carefully or carelessly stored in shelves and drawers. There are tiny toy cars, dolls, boxes of cigars and cigarettes, sewing kits and larger, long gone items modernity has left behind. Typewriters, calculating machines, old battery radios, and 13” black and white TV’s.
The menu is simple to the point of absurd: lentils, locro and “empanadas”. Nothing else is served. The lentils look luscious and thick, with a delicious smell that I have yet to try. Locro is a local stew, a simple mix of veggies and tubers and the what-have-you of the day, food for peasants, truck drivers, blue collar workers and the unpretentious. But it is the empanadas that I come here for.
There is no menu in the place and there are no tables to reserve. At lunch, if the chair is empty the chair can be taken, as the place is usually packed at this time and you simply share the wooden surface in front of you with anybody and everybody. Workers walk in, sit down and pick from the small board in the middle of the table, where everything is listed. The waiter will give you a small piece of paper where you just tick what you want: the lentils, the locro, or as many empanadas as you want. They come in plenty of flavors and fillings and all I have tried have always been delicious. If you want dessert, the options are also limited: pudding (flan) or cheese and sweet (either sweet potato or membrillo). You can top either with a generous spoon of Milk Caramel, the local “Dulce de Leche” which is the simplest and most delicious thing you can eat by spoon-fulls in the world.
The only concession to modernity that you can find at La Morada are two flat screen TV’s, mandatory in a country where if a football match involving the “Albiceleste” is being played the country must hold it breath collectively. You can order good coffee, you can order a beer, you can get some aperitif (Fernet, Sambuca, Amaretto) and sip it as you watch the game. If no game is on, the elders come after the workers are gone and sit there, talking about how the past was better and everything is going to pieces.
La Morada is a place I always go to. I walk in, take a chair, tick the boxes of 4 empanadas, order a beer and mind my own business, in the contemplating silence of enjoyment I get when I can go completely inconspicuous and observe people. Buenos Aires has many places like these, but La Morada is it for me. The light is sacrosanct, the food gorgeous in its egalitarian simplicity, the beers are cold and the waiters politely rude in the way they ignore you and let you ruminate your thoughts. I look at the posters on the walls and remember older times, not better, simply painted rosy by my faulty memory and the remembrance that I was young then. I am quickly becoming an elder, at the speed of 730 days per year, and maybe one day I will come here and order the Fernet, engage in conversation with some locals, explain my origins and agree, lying politely, that indeed the past was better.
It is the least you can do when you are in a place that never made it to the present.

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  1. GlennHarman's Avatar
    Very always with your blogs, I could almost feel, smell, and see the place while reading your colorful language. Only one problem: the title says "Five photos" but I only seem to be able to get the one of the inside of La Morada. Is there something I'm doing wrong?