This from Edwin Williamson´s Borges, A Life (Penguin, 2004):
“Leonor Acevedo (Jorge Luis Borges´s mother) was indeed wedded to the past. She would reminisce about her childhood, communicating to her son a nostalgia for that older Buenos Aires that she was just old enough to remember, a Buenos Aires that was little more than a large village before it was subsequently ruined by the nouveaux riches who had taken over the republic. Leonor would describe the house on calle Tacuman where she had been raised and where he had himself been born. Her memories of its two patios, its water tank and modest porch, would find their way into his poems. He learned from her the traditional topography of the city, the street names and layout of the historic center before everything changed…
These secondhand memories of better times were to inspire in Borges a fondness for the run-down barrios on the south side of Buenos Aires. These were the areas abandoned by those criollo families who could afford to move to the fashionable districts of the Barrio Norte, when the north side of Buenos Aires was being redeveloped along Parisian lines. Those areas of the city to the south of the Plaza de Mayo were left to molder away, and as a result the neglected Barrio Sur was to retain a faded ambiance of yesteryear. Borges would always enjoy strolling along the streets of districts like San Telmo or Barracas, whose dilapidated buildings, with their crumbling masonry, narrow vestibules and Spanish patios, preserved something of the flavor of what the city had been like in the early decades of the previous century. These streets were to form the seedbed of many of his poems and stories, evolving within him an elegiac sense of the passing of a simpler, more noble age.”
Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires, poem by Jorge Luis Borges
English Translation (by Alastair Reid):
And was it along this torpid muddy river
that the prows came to found my native city?
The little painted boats must have suffered the steep surf
among the root-clumps of the horse-brown current.
Pondering well, let us suppose that the river
was blue then like an extension of the sky,
with a small red star inset to mark the spot
where Juan Diaz fasted and the Indians dined.
But for sure a thousand men and other thousands
arrived across a sea that was five moons wide,
still infested with mermaids and sea serpents
and magnetic boulders that sent the compass wild.
On the coast they put up a few ramshackle huts
and slept uneasily. This, they claim, in the Riachuelo,
but that is a story dreamed up in Boca.
It was really a city block in my district – Palermo.
A whole square block, but set down in open country,
attended by dawns and rains and hard southeasters,
identical to that block which still stands in my neighbourhood:
Guatemala – Serrano – Paraguay – Gurruchaga.
A general store pink as the back of a playing card
shone bright; in the back there was poker talk.
The corner bar flowered into life as a local bully,
already cock of his walk, resentful, tough.
The first barrel organ teetered over the horizon
with its clumsy progress, its habaneras, its wop.
The cart-shed wall was unanimous for Yrigoyen.
Some piano was banging out tangos by Saborido.
A cigar store perfumed the desert like a rose.
The afternoon had established its yesterdays,
and men took on together an illusory past.
Only one thing was missing – the street had no other side.
Hard to believe Buenos Aires had any beginning.
I feel it to be as eternal as air and water.
Here´s a short biographical documentary on the man: