Random observations of a jet-lagged journalist arriving in Buenos Aires for the G20

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National Congress building, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Shutterstock photo)
Updated 02 December 2018
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Random observations of a jet-lagged journalist arriving in Buenos Aires for the G20

  • Latin America was at the forefront of some of the most innovative movements in art in the 20th century
  • The Malba museum is actually a wonderful place, and if I were a taxi driver, I’d angle for a fare there as often as I could

On the map Buenos Aires looks like a T-bone steak, with the outer fatty side following the shoreline of the Rio de la Plata. Plata means “silver” in Spanish, and the river — more a small sea actually, and said to be the biggest river in the world, though I bet the Amazon would object — does look kind of silver in certain sunlight. But the name was also derived in Spanish from the vast amounts of precious metal that flowed down it when the conquistadors first exploited the Latin American interior. The English, who have lost the correlation between silver and wealth, just call it the more prosaic River Plate.

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The obligatory taxi driver story: You get into a Buenos Aires cab and ask in faltering Spanish for the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. “Ah si,” says the Portena driver, using the acronym “Malba” like he drives there every day for his own personal pleasure. This proves to me that Argentines are deeply cultured and artistic people — even down to the average cabbie.

A taxicab in downtown Buenos Aires. (Shutterstock photo)

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The Argentine economy is fragile. I went to a branch of the bank that handles my business in the UK and the UAE, wanting to take out some folding money to pay for taxis and other things. The most I could withdraw — even from my own checking account — was the equivalent of $105 (just under SR400). This tells me that the authorities are worried about another run on the very vulnerable peso.

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The Malba museum is actually a wonderful place, and if I were a taxi driver, I’d angle for a fare there as often as I could. Latin America was at the forefront of some of the most innovative movements in art in the 20th century, from Frida Kahlo to (her husband) Diego Rivera and down to Alicia Penalba, whose massive mural sculpture “Flying Forms” will form the backdrop for the G20 wives and partners photo shoot on Saturday. I think Melania Trump will want to buy it. I think Donald will not approve. Not enough gold.

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Villa Ocampo, a mansion built in 1891 in San Isidro, about 30 km north of Buenos Aires city. (AFP)

Melania might also want to buy the Villa Ocampo, a superb European-style mansion a long way up the Silver River from Malba. It was owned by one of Argentina’s leading ladies of letters, Victoria Ocampo, and is famous for its distinguished list of visitors, including writers Andre Malraux, Albert Camus and Graham Greene, and, bizarrely, Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist. Mrs. Trump is there at a reception on Friday, while her husband is off talking trade-war turkey with Xi Jinping. But I think UNESCO, the current owners, would ask for too much — even for a US first lady — if the villa was ever for sale. Which it is not.

 

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After all that fine art, sophistication and taxi-driver talk, it was down to the nitty-gritty — getting press credentials for the G20. It is here that you encounter Argentina at its finest: A glorious mid-19th-century building hiding the most hopelessly inadequate registration system known to man. Somewhere around where the bone would have been in that T-bone steak lies the Ministry of External Relations, and it is here the world’s media have to line up for the precious lanyard that gives you access to the International Media Center. After 30 minutes in the dungeons of Esmeralda, I was happy to walk blinking back down the Avenida Santa Fe to freedom, and the Wilton Hotel, to eavesdrop on the football team of BBC journalists planning their assault on the G20. But that recollection can wait for another time.


Danish billionaire loses three children in Sri Lanka blasts

Updated 4 min 29 sec ago
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Danish billionaire loses three children in Sri Lanka blasts

  • Danish media have reported that Holch Povlsen, his wife Anne and their four children were in Sri Lanka on vacation at the moment of the attacks
  • Povlsen is the main shareholder in the online fashion retailer ASOS as well as the owner of Bestseller

COPENHAGEN: Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen lost three of his four children in the Easter day attacks in Sri Lanka, a spokesman for his clothing retail group Bestseller said on Monday.
Danish media have reported that Holch Povlsen, his wife Anne and their four children were in Sri Lanka on vacation at the moment of the attacks, which struck churches and luxury hotels killing nearly 300 people.
"I can confirm that three children have been killed," Jesper Stubkier, the communications manager for Bestseller, said in a statement.
"We ask you to respect the privacy of the family and we therefore have no further comments."
Considered to be Denmark's richest man, 46-year-old Holch Povlsen is the main shareholder in the online fashion retailer ASOS as well as the owner of Bestseller.
He inherited Bestseller from his parents who founded the firm in 1975.
The group, which includes brands such as Vero Moda, Only and Jack & Jones, has more than 3,000 stores in 70 countries.
In addition to the majority stake in Britain-based ASOS, Holch Povlsen also owns an interest in its German rival Zalando.
The billionaire also describes himself as "one of Scotland's largest landowners" on the website of the Wildland company he uses to invest in UK property.
"We wish to restore our parts of the (Scotland) Highlands to their former magnificent natural state and repair the harm that man has inflicted on them," Holch Povlsen and his wife say on the website.
"There are many vulnerable properties across all of the holdings that we have the wonderful and privileged opportunity to rehabilitate and restore to life."
Sri Lankan officials said Monday they believe that the local Islamist extremist group National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ) was behind the attacks.
Dozens of foreigners are among those killed, while some 500 people were injured.