Tuesday, March 15, 2011
As my recent photos imply, I am now living and studying in Buenos Aires, and have been doing so for the past two weeks. To say the least, it has been a rather unpredictable and turbulent two weeks. Finding an apartment, university enrollment, and other things, like buying a pre-paid phone (only to have it stolen) with no Argentine identification, and getting used to local customs, do indeed eat away at your time and well-being. Initially, things were a bit hectic, being in new-ish place, but as of writing, things are, at last, starting to appear more stable and permanent. I have made the (admittedly rare) decision to share with you a few of my observations and thoughts on living here:
There is a particular vibrancy and perpetual sense of uncertainty here I definitely enjoy. Enjoyed enough to come back, anyways. Mainly the architecture and way of life. The city’s much-loved architecture is plentiful and makes living here a constant visual treat for the eyes, whereas the social life-driven, work-to-live (and not live-to-work, as in the US) ethic and outlook is easy to appreciate. Coming from LA, finally living in a city that doesn’t shut down at 5pm, is wonderful. Same goes for living in a place life is routinely dictated by automobiles and the access they provide.
The food takes more getting used to than expected. Variety is limited, and basics, such as spice and vegetables (in restaurants, that is; I have no problem finding them in markets) are practically unheard of in porteño restós. Fortunately, the ample supply of Armenian and Peruvian food, as well as food from the indigenous-influenced north of Argentina, somewhat makes up for the slack. Unapologetically, I do miss how easy it was to get fresh, authentic Mexican, Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese food at cheap prices. And there is no way I could have predicted ham creeping its way into my diet, with a surprising regularity, to boot. Rarely did I eat it back home, but now that I am here, I have it in (or should I say, find it in) empanadas, on top of steak sandwiches, or served raw in dinner appetizers. Finally, being honest, at times, I do miss American (er, estadounidense) breakfast. Actually, I miss any sort of breakfast - American or otherwise; the only food porteños eat before noon are croissants, washed down with a cup of café con leche.
I have fared better with the adoption of customs unique to the River Plate region. I am gradually beginning to greet both friends and strangers, men and women, with kisses on the cheek. And somewhat begrudgingly, I begin most mornings with coffee and croissants (out of that being the only “breakfast” item moreso than out of pleasure). Too, a token few Argentine phrases have begun to trickle into my neutral Spanish (saying “chau” when leaving; “mirá vos” when congratulating friends; saying “eh” at the end of questions; gradually pronouncing Mayo as “Ma-sho” instead of “Mah-yo”). Conversely, I had no problem joining in on the city’s universal appreciation for classic rock, as well as the embrace of all things kitsch. Kitsch things, like bars themed after 1950’s, Nuclear Age America (Mundo Bizarro), and love hotels with Egyptian Pharaoh suites. My favorite is Picaflor, a sweaty, sultry Peruvian nightclub in Almagro, of whose cologne-drenched masses can be seen (and smelled, too) heading to/fro within a several block radius.
The lazy, inefficient, well-entrenched and -padded bureaucracy gets on my nerves, though. To live here is a matter of getting used to waiting. Waiting in line for the subte, enrollment processes for school, lengthy lines in the bank, and waiting for nonexistent restaurant service. Same goes for the levying of fees and taxes on imported goods mailed or delivered to you. No getting around that. Apartment searching was frustrating, too. The majority of the apartments here are drab, unadorned, 1970s efficiency units. Wi-Fi access is not nearly as common as it should be, and many of the said apartments, with their blank walls, and “views” of other apartments, are plain depressing.
Currently, I am in Palermo, living with two Colombian girls. Writing about the city’s largest nabe, and the love-hate relationship porteños have with it, could fill up a few paragraphs. Anyways, among other things, I enjoy the barrio’s abundant park space and plazas, for they are perfect for people-watching and passing time. On the other hand, its restaurants, of which there are many, is somewhat of a double-edged sword. There are indeed many, but a fair number of them, maybe even the majority, are super high-end, exclusive-type places where you pay $50+ (per-person) for “contemporary” and “refined” Argentine cooking, or a porteño’s (unfortunate) take on sushi. Having alot of restaurants nearby doesn’t make much of a difference if they are all overpriced. A few blocks away from the tourist hell that is Plaza Serrano, one can find still-affordable steakhouses, fruit and vegetable stands, and unsung cafés undiscovered by tourists and their big bucks. Eight-block hike to the subway aside, the quality of life here is pretty damn good.
Coins, like public green space, are highly sought after, and are treated with the kind of attention afforded to precious minerals, such as gold. Although I have always looked after, and kept an eye on my spare coins, their rarity means I have to take it to the next level. This is primarily because coins are the sole payment for riding the city’s venerable colectivos (buses). The city’s chaotic, incredibly unorganized system of buses, complete with each route run/managed by a different operator, actually comes in handy. Knowledge of buses is necessary for traveling after 10:45pm, or for visiting the vast portions of the city inaccessible by subte during the day.
That’s all for now. Here are some completely unrelated photos taken (mainly) in Once, a surreal Orthodox Jewish barrio that feels like something out of a Woody Allen movie.