This month, Diane Lane can be seen in the highly anticipated Under the Tuscan Sun playing a book critic who quits the rat race, moves to Tuscany, buys an old house, and finds a new love. Yet even though the film, based on Frances Mayes’ bestselling novel, is set in the Italian countryside, it’s apropos for Lane’s discussion of Buenos Aires, because Lane made a similar journey to the Argentine capital. She left her job and her family, and while she didn’t find true love, she did fall hard for the city itself. A veteran traveler, the 38-year-old actress has journeyed far and wide, especially in her career, which has been a slow and steady trip to the top, with the expected ups and downs. At 14, she was on the cover of Time (in a story about child stars on the rise), but slipped in her late teens when the supposed 1984 blockbuster The Cotton Club flopped. She soared again with breakout roles in hits like the Lonesome Dove miniseries, A Walk on the Moon, and The Perfect Storm. This year, she garnered an Oscar nod for her steamy portrayal of a philandering wife in Unfaithful. Here, she turns in a riveting performance as Buenos Aires tour guide.
Where do you like to stay in Buenos Aires?
“The Alvear Palace Hotel is the greatest. It’s just Old World, built in 1932. Their breakfast is extraordinary. They have a whole spread of native fruits, nuts, pastries, meats, cheeses, and eggs, and, of course, dulce de leche. It’s a sweet cream, usually served with pastry, the specialty of the house. You want to dine on the sunny side of the hotel’s restaurant, called L’Orangerie. The hotel’s lobby is so great. I just remember all the antique chairs, chandeliers, and the curved spiral staircase coming down. You feel like you’re in Paris or Budapest or someplace.”
What was one of your favorite places to eat?
“There was a place called Cantina La Placita on the Plaza Julio Cortazar, in the Palermo Viejo section. It serves traditional Argentinean fare, but it has an Italian flavor to it. You want to start with the antipasto plate: cured mixed olives and marinated red peppers. They have a fabulous pasta puttanesca. Their filet mignon melts in your mouth. It’s all local people there. It’s not really a tourist place.”
If you wanted a meal for under $25, where would you go?
“Almost every great meal I had in Buenos Aires was under $25. One of the great things there is the abundance of places to eat that are extremely reasonable. Like El Obrero. I heard that when U2 played Buenos Aires they asked to be taken to a traditional place and El Obrero is where they were sent. It’s an old restaurant, traditionally Argentine, run by a Spanish family, serving both pasta and traditional dishes.”
What about if you wanted to splurge on a really nice dinner?
“A place called Sucre, which means ‘sugar’ in French. And then there’s Bar Uriarte, where the chef creates a new and exciting spin on traditional dishes. Sucre is a big, modern room with wood-burning ovens and rotisseries, and you can watch the chefs roast meats and assemble dishes. The crowd is younger and hipper there. Dinners start late in Buenos Aires and last for hours. A restaurant will be empty at 10 at night but full at midnight. That’s kind of fun.”
What places should every visitor be sure not to miss?
“There are three. One is the Recoleta Cemetery. I photographed it like crazy. I’m still carrying the pictures around with me and hoping to paint them one day. The prominent families of Buenos Aires all have mausoleums there. There are generations of family members who are interred. And it’s where Eva Peron is buried. You just walk those paths and the monuments are so dramatic, haunting, and beautiful. It’s a very peaceful experience. It’s out of this world. It’s like an outdoor museum.”
And the other two?
“One is MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires. The building is architecturally great and the museum houses 20th-century masters like Diego Rivera and Antonio Burney. It’s a no-brainer; you gotta go there. Then there’s Casa Rosada. It’s the equivalent of our White House. It’s pink and its color comes from an old tradition of mixing oxblood with the plaster. The upper left balcony of Casa Rosada is the immortalized balcony where Evita gave her speeches.”
Where are the best areas for shopping?
“There’s high-end shopping around the Alvear Palace. And there’s Calle Florida, a pedestrian street that has lots of shops and lots of bargains. Leather is the specialty, and you can get some of the best at a store called Casa Lopez and also at Bettina’s. You can walk from place to place on Calle Florida. Frankly, Buenos Aires is a town that you can walk in and you don’t need a taxi all the time. It’s not like Los Angeles. It’s a lot like Rome. Then, of course, there’s Avenue 9th of July, which is best known as the widest street in the world.”
What did you enjoy shopping for?
“For me, it was antiques in the San Telmo district. The antiques flea market there, which is held every Sunday in Plaza Dorrego, is just fabulous. It’s not as famous as the flea market in Paris, but there are bargains and beautiful European antiques brought over decades ago by Spanish and Italian immigrants. There are coffeehouses on the plaza and lots of boutiques and galleries. I fell in love with some pieces of furniture over there and I still have them. You can truly find great things.”
Is that all you bought?
“I [also] got all this wonderful glass, Lalique and Galle and another famous artist in crystal and glass. They were sitting there like gems waiting for people to stumble upon them and take them home. I bought this wonderful little lamp that was so strange and wonderful, made by hand, with all these encrusted jewels that look like dripping grapes. It’s in my daughter’s bedroom now. I had to get the wiring changed for the plug to fit in a U.S. socket, but it was worth it. Oh, and I got a gorgeous armoire, very obviously hand-inlaid. It might even be as old as 1790. I had it shipped here and it just rippled like bacon because it’s so dry in L.A. Buenos Aires is a very humid place, like being in the Philippines or something.”
So how should one dress for a visit?
“Argentina is below the equator, so their summer is our winter and vice versa. You have to think about that when you go there. Bring a sweater and tie it around your waist. You want to stay casual, even though it’s a cosmopolitan city. At night, people do dress up. You want to bring comfortable shoes for daytime, for sightseeing and shopping, but you want to bring something dressier to go out in the evening. You’ll fit in more and feel less like a tourist if you make the effort. It’s part of immersing yourself to dress up at night.”
Speaking of which, what was a typical night like?
“It seemed like it was endless and there was no wrong turn you could take. The food, it’s so competitive. There’s so much pride in the cooking there that it pretty much eliminates any lousy food as long as you are eating what the locals are eating. People there like to have a good time. But when you eat that late, you’ve got to burn it off. You can’t just go home with a belly full of beef. You go out, dinner lasts a while, and you go home at like 3 in the morning. Two popular places are Central, a bar and late dinner place in the Palermo Hollywood area, and Milión, a locals’ stop in an old French three-story house.”
Buenos Aires is known for its beef. Did you discover any great steakhouses?
“There’s an area called Puerto Madero, the refurbished docks on the river. There are a lot of grill houses there called parillas. One that I love is Estilo Campo, where they have incredible Argentinean beef. But the best tasting steak I’ve ever had was at a restaurant called Cabaña Las Lilas, a traditional place whose owners have their own cattle ranch.”
Where would you go for dessert?
“One of my favorite places is Persicco, where they make the best ice cream in the whole world. There are many locations for it now. You want to find Persicco early in your visit because you’ll want to go back. The ice cream is so unforgettable. It’s a cheerful place, but pretty spartan.”
What was your favorite local drink?
“The mate. It’s the traditional Argentine nonalcoholic tea. It was made popular by the gauchos, and it’s served in those silver-rimmed, hollowed-out gourds. Every antiques store offers them for sale, and you sip it through a silver strawlike strainer. The straw itself is the strainer for the tea. It’s served in coffee shops and in large mugs. Usually one cup is passed from person to person. That’s just the way they do it. It’s really a nice way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing. A nice place to have mate is Cumana, a restaurant on Rodriquez Peña.”
Football, or what Americans know as soccer, is a local pastime, isn’t it?
“Yes. The local team is the Boca Juniors, and they play in a stadium called Estadio Boca Juniors. Going to a game there is an unforgettable experience.”
Of course, the ultimate pastime is the tango.
“You’ve gotta see a live tango show. There are many places and there are a lot that cater to tourists. There’s also the Plaza Dorrego, where they dance the tango outside, and El Viejo Almacén, once an old general store in a San Telmo colonial house, where the show starts at 10 p.m. The tango is so dramatic, and these people are so comfortable in their skin. It’s effortless. It’s extraordinary. It’s like watching a bullfight without any bulls getting killed.”
Did you try it?
“No, not me. You’ve got to be able to keep up and know what’s coming next. You could actually get hurt doing the dance if you didn’t know what you’re doing.”
What about the great outdoors?
“There are great beaches just a few hours away. Uruguay’s Punta Del Este, called the Hamptons of South America, isn’t too far away. The best hotel there is the Conrad, which is right on the beach and has a casino. Nearer to Buenos Aires is a little town called Tigre, where people live on the inland waterways. It’s similar to North Carolina or Florida. Not swampy, but laden with waterways. It’s very humid and you get more into that jungle thing. In the main part of Tigre, there’s a little area like Coney Island. You can take an inexpensive boat up one of the waterways and have lunch at one of the nice restaurants that can only be reached by boat. It can be really magical when you look back and see the sunset reflected off the Buenos Aires skyline in the distance.”
What did you love most about Buenos Aires?
“The people are the best part of Buenos Aires. They are just so warm, open, and funny. They are very well-read people. They are very helpful. They’re also very opinionated, which is refreshing. The economy has been terribly depressed there in the past few years and the government is always in upheaval, but the people are very optimistic and resilient. One would think the economy there would engender a lot of strife and misery, but these people are so … I don’t know what it is. They are just so contented in a way I haven’t seen in any other culture. They are just a warm, generous, comforting type of people. They love to laugh and display affection. Your heart opens when you go there.”
she said...here are the places diane lane fell in love with in buenos aires.
alvear palace hotel
conrad resort & casino punta del este
cabaña las lilas
cantina la placita
ice cream; inexpensive
san telmo district
el viejo almacén
cementerio de la recoleta
estadio boca juniors
museum of latin american art of buenos aires
plaza dorrego flea market at defensa 1000, capital federal
here are a few of the places we adore in the city.
broadway all suites
one of the downtown’s newest suite-style hotels, it features a wide range of amenities, including a fitness center with city view.
hilton buenos aires
a beautiful atrium lobby, spacious rooms, and walk-in closets are just a few of the perks at this great hotel. we especially like the rooftop swimming pool and sundeck.
hotel plaza francia
a great value in an elegant setting overlooking the park of the same name. it’s just a quick walk away from exclusive shops, dining, and nightlife.
a classic backdrop (dating to 1850) in which to sip a whiskey or espresso while hanging out with local artists, politicians, and executives.
lola’s continental menu reflects its décor and international clientele. but first, start with a glass of bubbly at the bar.
this historic cafe has been a haven of art and intellectualism since 1858. coffee and simple fare are available, but a quilmes beer and evening tango show are a must.
after dinner, molière transitions from restaurant to nightspot, with dancing, live music, and a tango show. ask about their fixed-price dinner show, offered thursday through sunday.
local designer jessica trosman sells super-chic creations to locals and fans from as far away as tokyo and nyc.