...and Quintessentially South American.
06.02.2012 - 15.03.2012 33 °C
The most enduring memory of my two weeks in the Argentinian Capital will always be the quality time I was able to spend with Sandy .... My eldest son , who is currently ensconced in Palermo .... A Bohemian and elegant suburb adjacent to the Ritzy Recoleta (the site of Eva Perons tomb) and to the north west of downtown Buenos Aires.
Like many districts of the city, Palermo is renowned for its night life, with numerous high quality cafes , restaurants and bars..... Perfect I guess in terms of work prospects for a young man with a wealth of expertise in the hospitality industry .
In the same way as myself, but on a much grander scale ,Sandy had been touring around South America ,taking in Chile ,Bolivia ,Uruguay, Columbia, Brazil and Peru along the way.
He has decided to put down some roots ( at least temporarily) in sunny Buenos Aires .....Initially landing a job managing a local American owned bar with the distinctly non Latin name of "The Office"..... and rapidly approaching an eloquence and proficiency with that distinctly Buenos Aires version of the Spanish language spoken by the Portenos (inhabitants of the Port of BA), of which I had been informed and was later to discover entirely accurate during my time in Barcelona.
Living and working in a country is by far the most efficient way to achieve mastery of a language , particularly when you are working in hospitality where you have to speak the local lingo or you will sink without trace. He has also reinforced this practical experience with regular one on one tuition...so good on yer son .
At the time of writing...yes literally today..... it is Sandy's 27th Birthday...and the first on which he has not been able to take advantage of the Australian public holiday.....tough luck mate. He has also just landed a new job in Sales and with a beautiful Argentinian girlfriend by his side and having just joined a local football team things look sweet for my boy. Happy birthday son.
But what of the Argentinian capital? !!
Buenos Aires is a big , arrogant ,dirty sweet blockbuster of a city and the most quintessentially "Latin American " metropolis of those I have visited so far, whilst at the same time maintaining a distinctly European flavour largely on account of the character of its architecture......... but also because the inhabitants consider themselves to be more European than South American in terms of their sophistication relative to their neighbours.
Definitely not for the faint hearted ,B.A is party central.......this city pulsates ,rocks and knocks you for six and with purportedly more night clubs per head of population than any other country on the planet the nocturnal reveller will find more than enough to keep himself occupied during a steamy Buenos Aires night.
Indeed , in much the same way as every other South American town or city I have visited nothing really starts to get going until late in the evening and continues full swing until the early hours. Great training for my Brazilian experience which followed hard on the heels of my time here. It is not unusual for example to see a family with school age children consuming their evening meal at midnight.
I think I said "Steamy" earlier !
The words Buenos Aires have a literal translation of "good Air" and this leaves me a little bemused to say the least......for my general impression during the time I spent in the Argentinian capital was that it was...to say the least...a little "close".
Less generous commentators might characterise the climate here in February as being stupefyingly hot and humid...and heck Id have to agree with them.
So you would think the citizens would be prepared for these particularly hot humid conditions.
This may well be the case with the majority of the populace. However....I was to find to my chagrin that this does not appear to be the case when it comes to the City's Taxi drivers. For a kick off air conditioning appears to be an alien concept in a BA taxi......but probably more annoying was the fact that even though a taxi here is relatively inexpensive in comparison to Australia...there appears to be no guarantee that you are going to arrive at your destination.....and not once...not twice...but three times I was the hapless passenger in a taxi that overheated and broke down midway through my journey. Leaving the taxi driver cursing at his errant vehicle ( a little like the scene in Fawlty Towers where John Cleese gives his broken down mini a "damn good thrashing") and leaving myself stranded and sweatily trying to flag down a replacement. Not an uncommon occurrence I am led to believe.
On the positive side however , the taxi drivers are a font of valuable information when it comes to the most interesting and worthwhile city destinations. Like most Portenos they are inordinately proud of their city .....for example at least four natives informed me of the fact that the Avenida 9 De Julio (Its name commemorates Argentina's Independence Day, July 9, 1816). Is, at 110 metres wide and with nine lanes of traffic in each direction the worlds most expansive city thoroughfare. What they failed to mention is that it also takes at least ten minutes to cross on foot.
At its central point is the notoriously phallic obelisk which provides an excellent reference point for the on foot explorer and marks the centre of the downtown business district.....where the relative strength of the Australian dollar in contrast with the weaker Peso makes for some excellent shopping.Nearby is the quirky and brilliant statue of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.It also runs through the impressive Plaza de La Republica...another must see for the visitor here.
As a general impression I found the people here to be initially cool with foreigners..as if there is a wariness and distrust which then warms to a keen interest.
Given the current situation surrounding the Malvinas/Falklands (more of that later) I was careful to accentuate The Australian side of my dual nationality..."G'Day Mate" rather than "How are you my good man" was definitely the way to go ....and it certainly seems that our jewelled shores are a prized destination for the people here........
As in most cities I have visited I have made good use of the public transport system and whilst the Subte of this city is undoubtedly efficient ,and like Mexico unbelievably cheap it could certainly do with a facelift...much like other areas of the capital.
Having just come from Santiago...a city on the crest of a wave financially and buoyant with the impetus and confidence generated by a healthy economy, the contrasts with BA are quite poignant. In the Chilean capital the burgeoning economy and correspondent civic pride seem to have a cleansing effect ......well in terms of litter and dog droppings ! In Buenos Aires it seems quite normal and accepted to discard whatever disposable item you happen to have whether it be a newspaper, bottle , cigarette or whatever on the street. Sandy made a point that it is so endemic and accepted that you could drop litter at the foot of a policeman and he wouldn't admonish or even bat an eyelid. I elected not to test the theory however.
It does get hot here...and the truth be told occasionally a little bit smelly.....mainly because the canine population.......unlike their Chilean cousins are not as particular as to where they deposit their droppings....or maybe the Portenos are a little more reluctant to take care of them than their cousins in Santiago. Whichever way you choose to look at it....that ...and the inordinate amounts of litter that seem to plague the city are , in my humble opinion ,suggestive of a deeper malaise largely generated by the GFC and the corresponding declinine of the Peso in global financial trading.
Whereas Santiago shines like a new pin Buenos Aires is a noble rusty old sword
One commercial activity however which appears to be flourishing is the "oldest profession".......I could write a whole book about the blatancy of the "Love for Sale" marketing ploys in many of the countries I have visited. In BA whilst it is illegal for the touts to hand out advertising material, every lamppost, telephone box and window lintel is plastered with tear off pictures with telephone numbers and addresses resplendent with an image of some ample Argentinian female derriere ! An interesting fact is that these discarded leaflets represent at least 50 percent of the litter that I mentioned earlier.
Yet somehow, and Im not quite sure of the reason.....this city remains breathtakingly beautiful in most of the areas I was able to visit, for example whilst Graffiti is a widespread...it somehow seems to fit in with the character of the place.....artfully and tastefully contributing to the overall palette.
This is strongly apparent in the fashionable suburb of St Telmo......where I stayed during my time in the city.
The architecture here is amazing. Elegant tasteful and largely Italianate and I spent a whole day exploring the area.
Of particular note is the Plaza Dorrigo, site of the very popular weekend antiques market) and a perfect place to while away an hour or two on a sunny afternoon, nursing a cool drink, whilst being entertained by the exponents of that most famous Buenos Aires art form...The Tango..........which has its roots in the Boca (translated as "mouth"...and in this case of the Rio De La Plata) one of the oldest suburbs of the city and home to the famous Boca Juniors. ( More of my experiences of Argentinian football culture in my next instalment!)
It was on that day that it struck me that, not only St Telmo...but the whole city, has a strong parallel with Keith Richards.......A man whom I admire for his incredible ability to simply survive despite the rigours to which his body has been subject ! Yes I know...bear with me !!
Keith has often been described as being "elegantly wasted"...... a phrase which could have been designed for St Telmo in particular. He also gives the impression that he's stuck in a time warp when he utters words such as "The chicks still dig me man" . That's Buenos Aires....stuck in a time warp......and dreaming of glories past. A little like a champion bullfighter....still wearing the same costume he wore in his early twenties ,resplendent then...but faded and slightly ill fitting as middle age approaches.
Tellingly the most popular and prominent national figures continue to be Eva Peron (Her image looking down across the city from two sides of the tallest building along the Avenida 9 de Julio....and Diego Maradona. Figures from a bygone age and somehow a symbol of the yearning on the part of the 21st century Porteno for a return to days of yore when this port was an elegant prosperous powerhouse.
He certainly carries the swagger that is missing from his Chilean counterpart in Santiago and an elegance that is missing from his Brazilian neighbours but your average inhabitant of BA is seemingly happy to bask in glories past without really knowing how to fix the issues to hand.
As it happens my time in Argentina has coincided with a renewed focus on the part of the Argentinian people on the Malvinas islands...or the Falkland Islands as we British call them...the conflict around which during the early 1980s did much to set in stone the legend of the "Iron lady" Margaret Thatcher. Relations with the Britain since that time have been Lukewarm to say the least... frosty would probably be a more apt description...... Recently tensions have intensified and the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner has begun to fan the flames of anti British sentiment....rapidly gaining favour and status amongst the people for her own "iron lady" like stance on the Malvinas issue.
In my opinion it's a little like Argentina ruling the Isle of Wight......I don't believe this is about the rights of a few rich Falkland Islanders to remain British (rich enough already)...its about oil.....I say relinquish British rights....let them have their oil and use some of the proceeds to restore an already beautiful city to its earlier glories.
Since the early eighties the Argentinians have taken their revenge on the football field.........noone wants hostilities to extend beyond this benign environment so hopefully diplomacy will win out.
So if you fancy a quick shufty into what its like to live Like a Latino and haven't much time to tour South America... if you like to party hard...you think that sleep is overrated....and you're a lover of succulent Beef....( a friend alerted me to a blog where the author had relished his steak so much he wanted to cut it in half ...take it home and use it as a pillow so he could lick it during the night). Get yourself to Buenos Aires.