Bridget Gleeson Travel Writer

High-low traveler: weekend notebook

From a five-star hotel in Uruguay to the villas (slums) of Buenos Aires? Now that’s my kind of work week.

I’ve said before that, in spite of (or perhaps because of?) my pleasant middle-class upbringing, I have little taste for the midrange: I’ll make the argument that many of the best things in life are either wildly expensive or dirt-cheap – or better, yet, totally free. I’m a high/low traveler. That’s why this past week was so satisfying.

Let’s start with the high. I spent last weekend here – at the antique Hotel Carrasco in Montevideo, Uruguay, a glamorous landmark dating from 1921.

Hotel Carrasco 1

Hotel Carrasco 2

During its heyday, the hotel was nicknamed el palacio en la arena (the palace on the sand.) After falling on hard times, its doors were closed. The hotel sat empty and abandoned on the sand for more than a decade until it was finally purchased and restored by the French luxury hotel brand Sofitel; the place reopened a few months ago. I went to write a review and take some pictures for an American luxury travel publication – all forthcoming.

I’ll save all the details for the article – I think a few snapshots speak for themselves.

Sofitel interiorSofitel cuisine

Okay, twist my arm, I’ll share a few details. The hotel, and its beachfront location, are stunning. It’s an elegant place. All the staff (known as ‘ambassadors’) addressed me in French – interesting, as I neither speak nor understand French – but I’ll admit I liked it. Indeed, there’s a whole lot to like here. I had crème brûlée for breakfast. I had an amethyst exfoliation and massage at the new SO | Spa. The charming mixologist at Thays Bar introduced me to my new favorite aperitif (it involves Campari and champagne.) I went, perhaps, slightly overboard when the chariot de fromage rolled around. All the bath products were by Hermès. I took long walks on the beach and thought about my life. I took a thousand pictures because everything was just so pretty.

Ah…. la bonne vie. Refreshed and exfoliated and well-nourished by petits fours, I returned to Buenos Aires to get back to real life. This week, I had two projects on my desk tied to the extreme opposite of the luxurious Hotel Carrasco: namely, the villa (slum.)

The first of these two projects, a feature story on the history of cumbia digital in Buenos Aires for BBC Culture in London, required listening to a lot of music that’s traditionally associated with the villas of Buenos Aires, and talking to the producers, artists and DJs who reworked the music – mixing and mashing it with electronica and Argentinian folkloric varieties – to create a new hybrid musical form that’s taken over the city’s nightclub scene.

D

El Remolon

 (Photos by Ceci Estalles and Marc Van Der Aa)

It was really inspiring to work on this. Please check out the story and image gallery, published on Friday, and then listen to some of the (free!) mixtapes by ZZK artists.

The second project isn’t really mine, it’s my sister’s – but I’m hoping to get more involved, I’d like to write a story about the behind-the-scenes action. Elizabeth is an artist and designer; she’s working with a Bolivian women’s knitting cooperative in Villa 31, one of the largest slums in Buenos Aires, to create an ethically produced line of clothing and accessories made from Patagonian wool.

I’ll be honest. Like most people, I’m scared of the villas, and with good reason. (Seeing the film Elefante Blanco did not help.) But my sister is not afraid. She goes to the villa every week for meetings with the Bolivian ladies. I’m going with her this week, and I’ll report back. In the meantime, check out their gorgeous work at http://ursadossier.tumblr.com.

(I think my sister really embodied the whole high/low concept the other night when we went to an event at the Faena Hotel + Universe – another over-the-top luxury hotel – wearing her own designs, hand-crafted by the Bolivian ladies in the villa. We had champagne in the Library Lounge, and then we walked home.)

Faena

Ursa Dossier

Sure, we could have taken a taxi, but it was a beautiful night… and sometimes the contrast between high and low just feels so right.