Buenos Aires 1
Trip Start Jan 25, 2007
31Trip End Jun 30, 2007
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I have now been in the mythical city of Buenos Aires for 3 weeks and after much urging (by a number of you who shall remain nameless), have been prevailed upon to jot down some musings and descriptions of activity.
The problem with having this blog is that you now expect me to always write sparkling text, tell funny stories, post beautiful pictures, etc. I have never kept a journal/diary before in my life (my previous writing has been confined only to business letters, proposals, reports, shopping lists, etc), and my approach has been to just to write whatever I can remember of the particular place I have been to, prompted by the pictures - I try and give it some structure but random thoughts keep intruding and I do virtually no editing, so forgive me if sometimes it's rambling and self-indulgent
Anyhow, where were we? Yes, Buenos Aires - I called it mythical, because to someone who dances tango, it is the mecca of tango, and so many friends of mine have been here (some many times), and I was the only one who hadn't been, so it had assumed this mythical status in my mind and I was very excited to be coming here.
My introduction to BA was a late flight arriving at 2am, tinder and heavy rain, and an enormously long line of people waiting to catch taxis. I finally reached my hostel at 4.30am, went up to my room, tried not to wake anybody up (I was in a 6 bed dorm), which was difficult considering how much luggage I have, it was pitch dark, trying to find a bed with no-one in it, not tripping over other people's backpacks, etc. Anyhow I managed to get some sleep and next morning had an excellent introduction to BA as on Sundays there is the San Telmo fleamarket, with sqillions of people wandering the streets, live orchestras and lone musicians playing music, fantastic second-hand shops, sexily-clad women offering tourists the chance to have a picture taken with them in a tango pose, and so on.
After weeks of dry and dusty pampa, snow peaks and glaciers, and myriad lakes and southern seas, BA was the complete antithesis - a huge city of 8-10 million people that is always on the go, beautiful in parts and crumbling in others. Forget our Australian cities with their small central city area with government and business buildings and shops, surrounded by a thin layer of inner suburbs, then by the vastness of middle and outer suburbia - in BA each barrio is full of apartments, shops, businesses, etc - there is no strong demarcation as there is in Australia and even if you go 20-30 kms out the pattern is the same - there is no large, quiet, private area as the Australian suburbs.The public transport system here is very good, with the subte (underground railway) fast and efficient (if often crowded, because everyone uses it), packs of buses roaring down the streets the streets engorging and disgorging passengers, and squads of taxis roaming around looking for pick-ups
I usually catch the train 3-4 times a day - sometimes I can sit down, other times I am squashed in like a sardine can, but I love travelling on it - every few minutes somebody comes along trying to make a living and earn some money - a young couple will play tango on their ghetto-blaster and dance for us then pass the hat around, a couple of blind musicians with their guide, someone selling universal remote controls, young kids come past with a variety of cards and put them on your lap and come back a few minutes later to see if you want to buy them (kids as young as 5 or 6), teenagers doing rap dancing or singing hip-hop or juggling, etc. These people methodically work the train, carriage by carriage - everybody is patient and tolerant with them, and often claps a performance appreciatively and gives money - I think everybody understands that there but for the grace of God go I.
After living in a hostel for a week I eventually found an apartment in an area around 5-6 kms from the so-called centre of BA (the obelisk). It is centrally located (50 metres from a major crossroads and the subte), and is a very typical neighborhood with no tourists at all. I have an embarassment of choices for everything I need within 100 metres - home-made empanadas, mercery, specialist olive oil shop, half a dozen fruit & vegetable shops, small supermarkets, cafes & restaurants, laundry, fish shop selling fresh fish and huge variety of seafood meals, internet and telephone kiosks, etc
It was so wonderful to have my clothes washed and pressed and hang them up in a wardrobe, buy some basic essentials (extra virgin olive oil, lemons, tomatoes, lettuce, bread, butter, fruit, cereal, yoghourt, etc), and generally make myself at home. My street is named after a famous composer and tango band leader (Anibal Troilo), and I have a balcony on to the street, with french shutters. The only drawback is that I have to be aware of the neighbours a bit as I walk around naked in my unit (no I'm not going to publish any self portraits, shirtless is as far as I go), as there are several blocks of apartments facing me with people often sitting out on their balconies. In case you are wondering what I am doing wandering naked around my apartment, it's because it's hot and humid here, and it saves on washing clothes (always important for a traveller as you have limited supplies).
I've become quite the local, exchanging buon dias with the gentleman in the shop next door, and being well-known at my local internet kiosk (I joke that they should reserve a machine just for me), the supermarket across the road, and the specialist olive oil shop deli down the road.
I'm afraid I'm living a rather dissolute and irresponsible life here, and I'm only glad my daughter and son (hello Giuliana and Michael) and sisters (hello Rosalba and Flora) and cousins (hello Claude, Laura and Valerie) aren't here to see the bad example I'm setting. Most of you know me as a model of rectitude and discretion (and stoicism, James) :) but I fear standards may be slipping, but don't blame me, it's the environment :).
Life here is always on the go - the city is throbbing with life and I usually go to bed between 3 and 7am - most meals are had around 10-12 (loads of meat and wine, and I usually have to have extra strong coffee - a ristretto, and a grappa or other liqueur to help digest), then you go out to a bar or a milonga, and before you know it's some ungodly hour and you drag yourself home (actually you catch a taxi, although I often walk home - the streets are quieter and cooler (although there's still a fair bit of activity), sometimes having a coffee and pastry at the cafe opposite my apartment, before going to bed - I don't know what it is but there's something meditative about walking home several kilometres at 5 or 6am over cracked and broken footpaths, watching the waiters in some places cleaning up and putting chairs on tables, while at other places they are setting up for the day
Like most cities of a relatively young age (and like Melbourne), there are lots of new and nondescript offices and buildings, but again like Melbourne, there remain lots of 19th century and early 20th century buildings - you have to take your time and look around, and especially up to see them, as some streets are fairly narrow and you wouldn't see them otherwise.
Although seemingly placid on the surface, there is a strong undercurrent of political unrest here, as it seems the government hasn't fulfilled it's promises in giving people access to records about disappeared persons, and there is still an occasional 'disappearance'. Just yesterday there was a huge rally and march in the city, and the night before there had been one directly below my terrace attended by several hundred people.
The weather here has been hot, sunny and humid most of the time, occasionally interspersed with a heavy thunderstorm, which is happening just as I write. I am going to get drenched on my walk back to my apartment even though it's only about 100 metres away.
The people in Argentina have been very friendly generally - I remember when I first arrived in Mendoza several weeks ago and went to the tourist office in the bus station to ask about help with accomodation, the lady gave me the information then kissed me
I have met a few local people in BA and had dinner with them and have even been on an excursion to Tigre, which is an area in the delta of the Rio Plata (Plate River), about 35-40 kms from BA. It's amazing to think that such a short distance from a huge metropolis there is an area of islands, canals, lush foliage, little huts and new holiday homes (and mosquitoes - there seems to ba a mozzie epidemic here at present).
I have also run into a number of Australians (boy, you can't get away from them anywhere), and am hanging out with them a fair bit (well, they tolerate me at least), as well as people from a variety of countries here for Cosmotango, and even a girl from Siracusa, a city about 10kms from where I was born in Sicily. She was amazed to think she could meet in BA someone from a little town like Floridia (even more improbably, via Australia).
I'm enjoying the challenge of learning and speaking Spanish, although I'm only doing it by ear - was hoping to do a course but just don't have the time. It is infuriatingly close to Italian in some ways, but has enough differences to confuse and frustrate me, but it hasn't proven to be a problem at all, and have created a sort of hybrid Italianish which gets me by pretty well.
Ok, Ive done my duty and despatched my first report from BA. Will soon do one on the tango scene, which is fantastic and overwhelming, together with beautiful (if fuzzy) pictures.
I have booked to fly to Peru on 10 April, returning 24 April
On 4 April my father will be arriving in BA. Before I came on this trip I knew Dad had cousins in Uruguay. I got the address from relatives in Italy, and we wrote to them, and Dad got so excited he decided (at 86), to come over here and meet them - he last saw them about 75 years ago, when they were all children. It will be good to see Dad again and I think it will be very emtional for all of us when we go over the river and meet them. He will spend time with them while I'm in Peru, then I'll pick him up and we'll go to Italy together at the end of April. As the saying goes, better late than never, and Dad is looking forward to meeting his cousins at this late stage of life.
Hasta luego and adios to everybody