Monday, September 15, 2008

Week Four In Buenos Aires

Today is the four-week mark. I can't believe it's already been a month - and that I only have three more left! Now that I've had some more time to enjoy Buenos Aires I have a few more observations to make on the country, the culture, and of course, the cuisine (although that will have to come in another blog, since we all know how much I usually have to say about food).

General Notes

First let me say that I have been thrilled with my time here so far and every day I have new affirmation that I made the right decision to leave Chile. The people are warm and welcoming, funny and outgoing. The Spanish is easier to understand and fun to listen to. Without giving away too much for the next blog, the food is fantastic and - despite insane levels of inflation recently - still relatively cheap. Public transport is easy to use and vendors sell used books and fresh flowers on the streets, two of my favorite buys. All in all, Buenos Aires has been a trip thus far.

Housing, Revisited

I've spent this first month in a posh neighborhood called Palermo, about a 20 minute metro ride from the heart of downtown, but by no means a suburb: this is very much part of the city, and definitely the dining/going out center of it all. Tomorrow I will move to my new apartment in Congreso, much more central but not quite the culinary center I've been enjoying these past few weeks. I expect to return many times to Palermo, but the new place is happily accessible to everything so it shouldn't be a problem.

I also wanted to mention, as an addendum to the last blog, that I spoke a bit too soon about my sweet new set-up. It turns out that a contract and even a deposit here provide you with almost no legal protection, and the very next day I got a call from the real estate agent telling me the landlady had come to her senses about the price and was asking for more. This was, quite frankly, probably my own fault; in my giddiness I mentioned to the person who showed me the place what a good price it was, not realizing she was a friend of the family. So, instead of $500 she now wanted $600 a month. If I didn't want to pay it, I could come pick up my deposit any time. After making a good case for myself I offered $550, which fortunately she accepted, especially since this apartment could easily go for $800. I am holding my breath until I am actually in the apartment sometime tomorrow.

What's In a Name?

I have noticed an abundance of oddly named stores and restaurants, some stemming from a weak grasp on the English language. Here are a few of my favorites:

*The Crack Café
*The Fly Lamp - literally a store dedicated to lamps in the shape of flies
*Diego Mother F***er - It wasn't open yet, but it looked like it would be a furniture store
*Te Mataré Ramirez - an artsy/punk restaurant, translated as "I will kill you, Ramirez"
*Beth Bilingual - less a weird name and more a random coincidence; this is the name of a primary school a few blocks from where I've been staying.

Paid Services

Buenos Aires is the city of doing as little for oneself as possible, and I don't really mean that in a bad way. For instance, it's highly common for people - not just rich people - to have maid service once or even more than once a week. Almost all the apartments I looked at offered this service, and I found out a going rate is about $10 for 2-3 hours' worth of cleaning. Insane! I have to admit, I sort of enjoyed the experience, and although the new place doesn't include servicio de limpieza, I may just hire one anyway...

In this same vein, I finally had to give in and send my laundry out, which ended up being an altogether pleasant experience. In other countries they charge you by the kilo, so I expected the 4 peso price to be on the same weight scale. When I went to pick it up a mere 4 hours after dropping it off, I found that, no, it was 4 pesos to wash a whole load, and 4 to dry - thus, all the laundry I could muster cost me approximately $2.50. It was even soft like they had used good soap! So, it makes sense to send it out rather than doing one's own laundry, especially since it isn't normal to have a washer (and certainly not a dryer!) in-home here. There is also an ironing service that I will definitely be taking advantage of. I am a wretched ironer, just ask my Dad.

For Your Consideration

Although I don't get any real sense of racism against Asians here, it is custom to call every Asian person a chino. I've pointed out that there is an abundance of Asian countries and that someone from Vietnam, for instance, looks nothing like someone from China, but I've been waved away by saying, "It's just easier. They don't care." I'm not so sure about that, as I had this conversation in a "Chinese" grocery store run by a family of people obviously not from China since the store owner rolled his eyes while his wife shrugged her shoulders at me, as if to say, what can we do about it?

I think the Chinese bit speaks to the general lack of consideration for others that is common throughout all of South America. In the U.S. there is a sense of anticipation that I think contributes to (at least in Seattle) a high level of consideration for each other. For example, if you see someone looking lost and holding a map, it's not uncommon in the U.S. to offer directions. If you see someone walking your way, it's general practice to move a bit to let the person pass. Not here! Crowded sidewalks are impossible to navegate as no one walks a straight line, and no one lets you pass even if they see you trying. It's much worse in bars and clubs: if someone sees you coming, they seem to actually try to make it HARDER for you to pass, stepping in your way, throwing an elbow, etc. Sometimes it makes me laugh, sometimes it makes me furious. I'm sure I'm hyper aware of this behavior since I come from the world's most polite city, while here it's just a normal way of life. They probably don't even realize they do it.

Seatbelts, Please

As in all South American countries, the driving here is generally terrifying. People accelerate as fast as possible only to slam on their brakes five seconds later when they come to a stoplight or a car they can't swerve around. Busses are no better. Traffic control is more like 24 hour chicken. There are often no stop signs or lights (also common in Peru and Bolivia). Unlike our own uncontrolled intersections, however, there is nothing resembling an even rotation of one car from this lane, one car from the next. Literally, whoever has more pelotas to push through and hope the other peson doesn't run into him is the one who goes first. Often people will honk several times before and during an intersection to warn other cars "coming through!" The system, not surprisingly, doesn't work very well, and traffic accidents are common.

I have noticed something unique to Argentina's driving, which is that it is totally normal to drive without headlights at night, especially taxis. I'm not sure if this is a form of uber-conservation (do headlights really use that much of the battery?) but it definitely seems odd. They will flash their headlights at you if you are, for instance, a pedestrian they are worried might cross into their trajectory, but otherwise seem to rely on the infrequent street lights for illumination.

Craziness on the streets is not limited to driving. In the spirit of paying other people do to things for you, dog-walking is a very common service offered. (In general there are fewer feral dogs here as compared with Chile, but way more pets, which does not mean there is less dog poop on the sidewalk as very few people bother with the plastic baggie routine.) Perhaps in the spirit of saving time, perhaps out of laziness, many dog walkers do not walk so much as roll. I have seen countless such "walkers" holding up to five full-sized dogs' leashes while riding a bike through some of the largest and busiest streets of the city. This, to me, is sheer madness; with ONE dog it would be difficult to manage, but with five dogs who don't know each other and don't care if they pull you off your bike, navegating the streets with crazy drivers on either side is a death wish.

I wasn't kidding about the large streets: Buenos Aires is actually home to the world's widest street, Avenida 9 de Julio (it's very common to name streets after dates and dead people here). It is, I believe, 9 lanes wide with three traffic lights separating one side street from the other, and takes at least two light cycles to walk across it. The world's widest eschuary is here as well, Mar de la Plata.


On Monday, September 1 - two weeks ago today - I went to the World Tango Competition final event. First of all, that's just cool. Second of all, Argentina is RAD and the event was completely free. Even the snacks they hawked inside the event were reasonably priced! There were 16 couples from Argentina, Columbia and, oddly enough, Japan (tango is apparently big there) who competed for the world championship title, which earned the winning couple a whopping $2,000 plus a 2-month "artistic tour" dancing through Tokyo. The couple I liked the best took 3rd, and the couple I liked second best didn't even place which I think was sort of an upset, especially considering the woman's face when she realized she hadn't won. The couple that did win was definitely good and when they danced their encore "holy crap we're world champions!" dance they blew us away. It's amazing how much better some people can perform when the pressure is off. And, as the judges deliberated we were treated to a short concert by a world-famous tango pianist plus last year's world champion couple.

There were two final events, the one the night before was for more technical tango (I believe) and the one I saw - apparently the bigger event - let the couples be more artistic with the dancing. A few of the couples had really creative dances that told fun stories, including one that wore plastic wigs and even used props (they took 5th place). There was some jeering when not once but twice the wrong music was queued up, proving that Argentine audiences are unforgiving, but they were extremely supportive of the couples whose music was biffed and applauded extra loudly for them when they finally danced last. Overall it was an amazing night and I'm so grateful to have had the chance to go. (Special shout out to my new gringa friend Kirsten who studies here and let me use her ticket since she had class, and her visiting friend Maggie for agreeing to go with me instead!)

Photos, you say? No way.

It's true. I have finally posted pictures online! I've switched from the limiting world of Flickr to Google's superior Picassa. I uploaded 150+ from my vacation and will soon upload more from my time here (though I always forget to take my camera places, something I especially regretted on an epic walk on Friday). I was sad to discover that I had somehow deleted all my pictures from Copacabana, Peru, as well as my trip to Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca. I had some good ones, but my friend KaLeah took some that I will steal and share with you to get a sense of my time there. Otherwise, enjoy what I've posted: most of them have captions so it's sort of like my blog for visual learners / people with ADD. You can see the pictures here:

More soon! Please send positive thoughts my way tomorrow as I once again lug my luggage across town to my new digs. (Which, contrary to original information, does NOT have internet. I'm hoping the neighbors do.)


Tessa said...


Renée said...

So jealous.

Good luck with your new place girl!

Momma Archer said...

Loved your new pictures. Way to go on finding a great new apartment! Buenos Aires sounds like a wonderful place to spend the next three months. Enjoy--and watch out crossing those insane streets!

Sara said...

Good luck with your move! You should post some pics of you new place. Congreso would be a nice place to live, a little more central and cheaper than Palermo, I think.
Yes, the driving is definitely more terrifying in Argentina than in Chile, although both embody a certain unwillingness to follow basic traffic laws.

Anonymous said...

I also visited Buenos Aires and I had the best time ever!
I rent apartment Buenos Aires with my family near downtown.