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December 14, 2005

Wandering BA

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Two weeks back in BA and I've done more and less than I planned on. On the plus side, I have starting taking Spanish lessons and scoped out a lot of information on other activities and courses offered through the various private institutes, cultural centers and universities spread throughout the city (unfortunately, December is a dead month and I'll need to wait for the new year). Less successful has been that elusive search for the perfect city-center apartment, complete with satelite TV, broadband internet access, climate-control, jacuzzi, scenic balcony-views and 600-hectacre grassy backyard fit for large scale cattle-farming. I´m holding out for the dream, however, steadfastly adapting the phrase "yo siempre insisto en lo mejor!" as my motto.

The next few posts will be short subject-oriented descriptions relating to the odds and ends of my deliciously satisfying cholesterol-rich existence:

Wandering Buenos Aires

Perhaps the only reason I haven't dropped dead already, or turned into a piece of lard, is that I've been getting some exercise in while wandering from place to place and steakhouse to steakhouse. My first time in Buenos Aires, I arrived after months spent in Honduras, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. I was instantly struck by how European everything seemed. Coming now from Italy, and seeing the city again, I am not inclined to change my view as to how "European" everything is --- and in particular, the people --- but I have noticed, in addition, how "South American" everything is. That's for better and for worse. For example, I am struck by how warm, engaging and friendly most people have been to me. They are not unfriendly in Italy, which has it's deserved reputation as one of the friendliest tourist countries to visit (in Europe, at least), but I feel more enthusiasm here in Argentina --- a country with a population that the other South Americans deride for it's aloof, snobbish airs. I suppose it all depends on what you are used to and where you are coming from.

On the other hand, the dirt, dust, and decay is evident. Yes, it is certainly evident in many European cities such as Rome (a city that is virtually the epitomy of dirt, dust and decay), but there it seems to persist more as a result of laziness and idle beaurocracy. Here it seems to exist more clearly as a result of a lack of resources (and plenty of beaurocracy, as almost any Porteño will tell you with clenched fists). There is a difference and while the former explanation exasperates, the second gets you down a bit. Walking through the center of the city at night, a city in which the prices of meals, hotels and goods have gone up about 15% since I was last there in March, you can see plenty of evidence of the economic crisis the country is in. While a few people beg for change, you will notice far larger organized groups of other people rummaging through and sorting the bags of garbage taken out by businesses after they close. These people, cartoneros, are, for the most part, laid-off workers who have taken to collecting and recycling cardboard and trash to scrape out a very meagher living. Many take two-hour train rides from the poorest outskirts of the city, work all night, and return at dawn. Buenos Aires was once one of the most expensive cities in the world for tourists. While the currency-crash made it very affordable for American and European visitors, the situation for a large percententage of the population is very poor with unpromising prospects.

On a more optimistic note, Buenos Aires is a nearly perfect city to explore on foot. Flat and lacking hills it has wide, shady streets and a fairly easy lay-out. Plenty of interesting buildings, stores and cafes, mixed in with the landmarks and main attractions, keep it rewarding. If you do get lost or wander too far off-course, a 10 to 15-minute taxi-ride to whereever you're going in the center shouldn't cost you much more than US $3.00 at the most.

Heading up or down Avenida Florida, the main pedestrian shopping street in the Microcenter, I've had fun seeing some of the same street-performers I saw before, still putting on their shows or some variation thereof. They include guitar-players, puppeteers, mimes (most of whom you don't even want to kill, oddly enough), comedians, and --- of course --- tango dancers. For a few coins thrown into a hat, you can watch some really talented people. Sometimes people in the crowd come into the circle and start dancing or performing something of their own. The trick is to remember just how many talented people are out there --- and watch your pockets while you watch the show.

Posted by Joshua on December 14, 2005 10:44 PM
Category: Back in Argentina

hey, lay off the mimes! Marcel Marceau and the rest of France are going to disown you.

Posted by: Espressoman on December 15, 2005 10:28 AM
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