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Monday, April 23, 2012

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

Not Your Average Barnes & Nobels...
If you are visiting Buenos Aires for more than a few days, one of the mini-sites to see is El Ateneo Grand Splendid (Recoleta, Av Santa Fe 1860, cross-street Callao, 4811-6104).  It's in some of the tour books more specific to Buenos Aires you might find more information on this it, but it is a really neat little spot.  Not so little, actually.  El Ateneo Grand Splendid is the biggest book store in South America, that stocks books in many languages (even English!) and really, is a site to see in it's own right.  Built in 1919, this building was originally a movie theater that included a small recording studio in the back.  This studio boasts famous visitors such as Ignacio Corsini and Carlos Gardel (don't worry, I didn't know who they were until we moved here either - both best known for their tango singing).

It is unclear to me as to when it was converted into a book store, but it still has the full feeling of a "Majestic" style move theater, which is really what make it so cool.  Behind the red velvet curtain is a little cafe where you will find people sipping coffee, chatting quietly or just starting their recent purchase.  From a distance, the cafe gives the impression of being a pit orchestra, I had to actually get up close to see that it was a cafe.

My motivation for visiting El Ateneo after all this time living in the city is that I have heard they have a great area for kids on the lower level.  It's true, Ateneo Junior is a sectioned off part of the bookstore where kids can pull books off of the shelves and play without any issue from the staff.  The issue is that there are only two ways to access the downstairs area, and they are either an escalator or stairs, making my stroller dilemma quite complicated.  I was able to leave my stroller at the information booth - but it is dependent on your trust that the information booth guy is actually going to keep his eyes on your stroller, a risky venture to say the least.  We crossed our fingers and left the stroller to spend some time in the kiddo area.

I will admit, this is probably an activity better suited for the slightly older child.  Gretchen LOVED the fact that she could pull the books off of the shelves, just like at home, but wasn't so into actually looking at the books.  She spent most of the afternoon sitting among a pile of books, then getting up and creating a new pile somewhere else.  She was also intrigued by the shelf labeled "Please do not remove cellophane from the book sets", because there is nothing more fun to a one year old than removing cellophane from a book set or two.  Joking aside, I think she had a really run time, and we found a couple new books to add to our home library.  The staff is really nice, completely understanding, and helpful in engaging the kids with books.  What I had hoped for was a "reading corner" where little ones could sit on a bean bag chair and peruse through a book, but this wasn't that kind of book shop.  There are a few little table and chair combinations, and a large, carpeted, island-style bench that Gretchen liked to crawl around on, and we actually sat together and stumbled through a Spanish children's book together.  I will say, the books we purchased are as much for me and Jon as for her, because that is about where my reading level has reached in Spanish.  "En el Parque con Miguel" (one of our purchases) is a great vocabulary book for items that we use at the park every day - though I think it's meant for ages 1+, I'm not ashamed to say that I read it on my own.

As Gretchen grows, I see this as a kind of "treat" excursion where she can pick out a book or two for a rainy day.  As a tourist attraction, it is really worth a look-see, the multi-leveled building of books is unlike anything I've ever seen.

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