Monday, October 26, 2009

Buenos Aires True Stories


As much as I dished on Morocco, I'll give you one thing: it was exotic. No place like it. I'm really glad, looking back, that we were able to go there, although the side effects (food poisoning, no air conditioning, roaches etc) were distracting, the atmosphere was unique. The desert, the clothes, tagines and couscous, Berbers and Arabs.


That level of cultural depth is not clear here. But we are enjoying ourselves a lot. It's been nice to finally be somewhere longer than a few days, and we've been able to get back to work again. Jacob has a gym with 10 floors, and I've had my best restaurants list.

But we've been surprised because Buenos Aires is like a beaten up Madrid, basically. It's Spain on a budget. It's younger than America, the first residents were European immigrants, and while the richest city in South America, it can't hide the fact that every night there are mounds of trash with people digging through them on every corner, and mounds of dog poo on the sidewalks (no one picks up after their dogs). But the buildings have a European feel, and you can drink the water.

The food is mostly Italian, with a lot, a lot of meat. They are super proud of their steaks. Jacob enjoyed his tonight, and he doesn't normally go for steaks. He let me try a bite...and I spit it out. Not a beef fan.

The Buenos Aires residents, called portenos, unabashedly admit to being arrogant. Nevertheless, they've been friendly enough. Here are some stories from the past couple of weeks:

#1. We had an awesome 13 hour flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires.

The entertainment system was broken. They'd come on the intercom, say, "We're rebooting. No one touch the screen until we say you can, or we'll have to start all over." Then, 5 minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I see people poking their screens even though we'd been warned. Half the people on the plane only spoke Spanish. It was a lost cause.

We sat in the direct middle of the row. The worst spot, because rather than ask people to get out all the time, you have to wait until they get up to go. If you're polite. Which Jacob was, I wasn't. I just ended up holding it.

It was a long flight.

#2  We stayed in a sweet hotel, not hostel, while deciding on an apartment.

I'll admit, I thought prices would be a little lower here. It's pretty much similar to the US. After the euro, though, we're faring well. We got an apartment from an agency, for $600. It's a studio. Lorena led us there. It's right in downtown. It was 11 am on a Saturday morning. We had our luggage, and were waiting at the door of the building for the landlord when a chubby early 20's dude approached us. Jacob had just returned from an ATM to get cash to pay for the apartment. First the guy asked politely for money. Then, he got more aggressive.

Jacob decided to walk away, since he was carrying 3000 pesos in cash.

There were people everywhere, and this is a main street. He only spoke Spanish, so I didn't know completely what was going on. Nevertheless, I could tell that he was acting like he had a weapon under his sweatshirt, and Lorena was trying to appease him with pesos. He wanted euros. She told him I didn't have any. He wanted my camera. (We'd been told not to carry the camera in sight. But I'd figured since we were at the door of the apartment, it was ok.) I refused. In fact, I got mad and pointed at the sign which said "security cameras." Finally, the door opened as our landlord finally showed up and the guy and his pal, who was waiting for him, decided to scram.

Definitely influenced my opinion of the city from the start.

From then on, I haven't carried the camera around on my wrist, and have to take pictures very discreetly. We only take money out of ATMs that have security guards nearby, and we cross the street when there are shady-looking characters. Which there are many, single men leaning casually against the side of grungy buildings. If people talk to you at night, asking for money, a cigarette, anything, you just keep walking and don't let them get close. And this is supposed to be the safest country in South America?

No, it's safe, but you just don't want to look rich. 

#3. Got my hair cut. I LOVE it! It's finally what I've been asking for but this guy seemed to get the vision (although he didn't speak a word of English.) Every time I get my hair cut, the hairdresser always says, "You have a LOT of hair." Every time. Well, this guy actually did something with it. He cut layers from the very top. So those are about an inch long, and then it just piles on my head and the front pieces are very long.

#4. I'd thought I would maybe go to a Spanish school. But I found the idea of having anything scheduled, where I had to be at a certain place every time, too difficult to handle. That's how spoiled I am. So I'm learning it on my own, and I. love. Spanish. It's soooo easy compared to German, all the rules make sense, and I'm using Jacob's method of learning a language, which as we all know must be a good way since he speaks 4 languages.

That is, focus totally on the verbs. Nothing else. I have a verb workbook and a verb conjugating book, and I can already read uncomplicated stuff pretty comfortably. Speak? Erm, I don't get the opportunity much. I try to avoid talking to people, actually. But I feel confident that if I had a few months in a Spanish-speaking country I'd be able to communicate. Me gusta!

#5. Buenos Aires is loud. LOUD! The city has a sort of franticness to it, a pulse that reminds me more of NYC than NYC actually does. It's what I'll remember most about the city. The buses drive by and you plug your ears they're so loud, but somehow you tune them out when you're riding on them. Protests, daily. Protests of the mothers against the 30,000 missing people from the Falkland Islands War. Protests of one faction of the government against another. Parades, street bombs, explosions, marches, banners, drums. The squeaks of the buses when breaking which sound like the shrieks of a girl. Music pounding from the Latin music stores.

It's pretty loud right inside our little apartment, actually. Good thing Jacob and I are deep sleepers.

#6. Shopping abroad is so overrated.

I know I should be buying stuff, but I hate shopping while traveling. One, shopping is a girl bonding experience. When you shop with a friend, it's kind of two against one, y'all against the storekeeper. I feel pressured when the saleskeeper is there, telling me it looks good, alone. And I like having someone around to tell me what they think.

Two, there's the whole language barrier thing. Makes it really difficult to get across what you want.

I ended up buying a 150 pesos pair of shoes that were uncomfortable albeit cute and trying to return them within 10 minutes and being unable to do it because of these factors.

That's it, I'm waiting to shop in America. What a pleasant experience. Plenty of options, girlfriends, laidback storekeepers, and you can always find a steal of a deal.

Although the street markets here are pretty cool. Authentic, handmade crafts. I'll probably stock up on those, although the idea of bargaining once again doesn't bode well with me. Any requests? Seriously, if you want jewelry, clothes, musical instruments, scarves, paintings, or small carved objects, let me know.

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wood0306 said...

LOL... You make me laugh! Your hair is SUPER cute! Thanks for the update, sounds like another fun adventure!

oh said...

Scott says, "Since you asked, bring me home a piano, please."

Adespain said...

I Love your haircut! Hope things are going well!

te extrano mucho! otra vez, gracias por venir a visitarnos aqui en ohio.


happy halloween

tallbrazi said...

So I ran into your blog today after a long time, and wow, you guys kept posting all this time! It was great reading about your adventures and let me say, I enjoy your writing skills. Now, is it wrong to covet your neighbor's trips? Have fun in Argentina, and stay safe. Hope you can make to the Falls and maybe to Brazil.

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