Monday, July 1, 2013

Notes from Buenos Aires

While Brazil was exploding over the past couple of weeks, I was further south, in Buenos Aires. It was weird being out of the country while all of our friends protested in the streets, but we had no idea what was going to go down when we bought the tickets. We got back to Rio this past weekend, just in time for the final of the FIFA Federation Cup, which Brazil won, and which immediately had everyone speculating as to how much the Brazilian government paid for the win. I'm not normally into conspiracy theories, but it was far too convenient for the Brazilians to win just now, even more so with an opposing team as strong as the current Spanish one. The protests continue on but less so...

Every time I go back to Buenos Aires I experience it differently. Some (mostly) trivial observations from the last week:
-If I'm not paying attention, I can go a week without eating a single fruit or vegetable.
-Everybody on the subway looks like they want to kill themselves.

-Apparently I'm far more worried about security in Rio than I realized-- I felt myself slowly relaxing and not automatically fearing every dark, person-less street. An Argentinean friend said to me, "People here constantly complain about how dangerous Buenos Aires is, but if you look at the statistics, it is far safer here than most other cities in Latin America and in the states." 

-Catcalling in Argentina is several orders of magnitude worse than it is in many other South American countries-- imagine Latinos crossed with Italians, and, well, you get Argentineans...

-In a sea of blacks and greys, me and my turquoise trench coat stand way, way out.
-Even if the coffee is terrible (and it is), it's lovely to be able to sit down and relax in the elegant, Old World-style coffee shops.

-Argentinean Pesos these days feel like monopoly money-- I was spending 100 pesos/day without even trying. (100 pesos used to last me a week.) The Argentinean government has severely restricted the buying of U.S. dollars, which has resulted in a massive black market. The official exchange rate is around 5 pesos=1 dollar, but on the black market it's more like 8-10 pesos=1 dollar. I went to change dollars into pesos at the black market rate, and it was probably the oddest business interaction I've ever had. Picture a jewelry store with 4 men in black standing by the entrance. You walk in, past the customers actually buying jewelry, and just stand at the back of the store until a guy ushers you into one of many small rooms, each with a guy behind a desk drinking mate. Nobody asks you what you're there for, and you don't say, they just say "hola linda" and you say, "hi, it's 8 to 1 today, right?" and they say yes, you tell them how much money you want to change, and two seconds later you're walking out the door, currency in hand, feeling kind of illicit but really not, because all you did was change money. 

-I had forgotten what it's like to see people reading on buses instead of zombified over their smart phones. I had forgotten what it's like to be able to take buses home at 4 in the morning! Honestly, I'd forgotten what it's like to be in a country with such a tangible middle class, where everybody takes public transportation, public art events and book fairs are packed, and the country doesn't come to a halt because of the telenovela.

On a more personal level, I love going back to Buenos Aires because I get to visit friends and eat empanadas and dulce de leche ice cream (not in any way similar to what is sold in the states, btw) until se me para el ombligo (until my belly button stands up). And you always gotta love dark Argentinean humor, appropriate for the grey streets and 0ºF weather. 

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