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Today we decided to take you for a little eight-block stroll to show you the biggest book store in the world—well, ummm . . . at least the biggest book store in Buenos Aires–El Ateneo.

We know that many who leave their home country to come to South America are looking for farm land in a small community. And yet there are large communities of English-speaking expats in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santiago and Asuncion. In Buenos Aires, some who have been here for several years are rushing to get citizenship so that, if the next crisis produces similar real estate buying opportunities in the resort towns along the cordillera of the Andes, as the last crisis did, they will be eligible to buy. There are restrictions in place against non-Argentines owning certain properties within a certain distance from the border–a residual effect of the Argentina-Chile war over the border.  But many are waiting for opportunity in Buenos Aires as well.

By contrast, we are in touch with professional Argentines who have diversified internationally, and are waiting to see the outcome of the next election. They say that if there is no change, they plan to leave permanently. So the outcome remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, we decided to visit another very beautiful, ornate location in Buenos Aires, and show you some of the impressive heritage of the Argentina people–El Aneneo.

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El Ateneo was built by Max Glucksmann, a man of Hebrew descent, born in Austria in 1875 and immigrated to Argentina in 1890. At that time Argentina was the second fastest-growing economy in the world. Glucksmann decided to corner the market on the tango and was successful in doing so. He started a recording studio and out of that came the idea for a theater.

He opened the theater in May 1919 as Teatre Grand Splendid, as indeed it was both grand and splendid.  And still is. The theater was built to seat 1,050 people. It is impossible to see in photos the ornate concrete work that adorns almost everything in the theater. What artisans they were. The fresco on the ceiling was painted by the Italian artist Nazareno Orland.

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Today the stage has been converted into a coffee shop where  you can sip coffee and eat cake on the same stage where the greatest tango dancers of history once performed.

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The theater boxes (just right of the stage–and elsewhere) have been furnished with comfortable chairs and you are welcome to make yourself at home with a good book and relax for a few hours.

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You will find books, DVDs and other items in just about every available space in the building. Book shelves line every level.

But in years past this building was the home of tango. Glucksmann had the market cornered until 1920. He had shrewdly signed exclusive contracts with both singers and song writers.  In the 1920s the building was changed to a movie theater and played the first sound movies in Argentina. At one time Glucksmann’s recording studio was located in the building along with a radio station that he named Radio Splendid. And of course today . . . we have El Ateneo.

The creativity, the skill, the forward thinking of those early Argentines are all captured and displayed in the story of Teatre Grand Splendid. As we have posted before, Argentina’s economy was once second only to the United States and the per capita income was the same. The country still has vast stores of wealth, both in her land and in her people. A thinking person, particularly one who loves Argentina, looking at the evidence, is bound to wonder what turned beautiful Argentina from first world to a third world country.  It’s something that is worth giving some thought. For some, it could be the beginning of an economic education.

But the beauty is still here, the people are still here, and for my part, the hope is still here.

We also hope you have enjoyed our walk down memory lane with Argentina.  And we hope it will be our privilege to welcome you one day–to South America.