Villa Crespo or Bust

My philosophy up till this point has been to take whatever housing that destiny or chance offered me. I moved from living with friends in Caballito (2 months) to living in a stark one room cell with kitchenette and toilet in Congreso (5 months) to a nice 2 bedroom in snooty Palermo. Now I’ve been given the oppurtunity (spelled g-a-r-a-n-t-i-a) to live wherever I want and so I’m lifting up my skirts and hightailing it to Villa Crespo.

Everyone likes Villa Crespo except for some foreigners who count every block further from Palermo as blocks away from the fashionista bars they attend nightly. No worries expats, Villa Crespo is still comfortably near your nightclubs and, as a result, prices are soaring.

Buenos Aires Housing: The Garantía

So a friend of mine very kindly decided to give me a guarantia and so
now I’m moving from ultra rich Palermo Chico to nice, normal, good vibey Villa Crespo. The first thing to understand is that are weird archaic housing laws and customs here. At least on paper, in the USA it doesn’t matter where you come from or who your family is, more what your actions are. Anyone can get a credit card, make payments, build a credit history. When you go to apply for renting an apartment they use your public credit history as a way of seeing your financial character.

Here in Buenos Aires it is much different. There is much less banking infrastructure than in the States and many people don’t have accounts. I, for instance, can’t open an account here without having a DNI (it’s like a social security number). I get paid in cash every month. Apartment owners here can’t check anything about me or most other people. Furthermore there are these medieval, complicated renting laws and it’s virtually impossible to evict anyone.

In my second apartment here, in Congreso, I heard a horror story about a bad previous tenant. The renter stopped paying rent and but the owner couldn’t evict them without a court order. What the owner can do, however, is make a double-or-nothing bet and pay all the remaining rent owed in the contract to the court as a kind of escrow while the renter was evicted. If the owner won the case, she would get her money back and be able to evict the tenant (and presumably get back rent) but if the owner lost she would lose all that money. After a huge battle, which dragged on for months and months, she eventually won and got her money back from evicting the woman.

So, in order to protect themselves, most landlords require a garantía. A garantía is essentially a note written from someone who owns property in the city who will guarantee that you will pay the rent or they will take responsability for it (and face losing their property). It’s a big thing to give one to someone and needless to say, most foreigners don’t know someone who will. There are some seedy places that sell them for about 10+% of the rent you need to pay but this is expensive.

Consequently there are two markets: One for locals who are from the city and run in circles of local property owners and those who don’t. A typical apartment for locals comes unfurnished (no fridge, nothing) and a typical two year contract. One for foreigners comes fully furnished (frequently with television and appliances), no contract, and costs three times the price. Most expats start with the fully furnished places and, after some time, work their way towards a nice nepotistic deal. This could be finding an owner who trusts them enough not to require a garantía or it could be a room in a house where someone else has one.

Luckily, one of my friends has offered me the holy grail of garantía and now I am starting my adventures in househunting local style.

Ña Serapia and El Preferido

Ña Serapia and El Preferido are awesome argentine restaurants in very different ways. both are small and both are super established in the community. both contain mostly locals but both are known to tourists. both have great “normal” homecooked food, though different types and with completely different vibes.

the main difference is that they both capture a different and well preserved part of the buenos aires culture. Ña Serapia is from the north and serves awesome comida criolla: empanadas, guisos, soups, tamales, etc. I get the tamale every time. They have an excellant couple of hot sauces that aren’t chimichuri and that’s really great. But this isn’t the reason why it’s great. It’s great because every time I go there the owner comes up to me and looks into my eyes and shakes my hand in a very serious way. Also, even when he’s not smiling, which is rare, he has this lighthearted look about him like he’s doing what he wants to be, like this is his first day of owning a restaurant and he wants to make a good impression on the customers.

El Preferido is completely different. The food is also homespun. My favorite dish is the tortilla de papas (potato omelete) During lunch it has many waiters wandering around and they never speak to you. This is another classic porteño thing. They ignore you perfectly, always finding a distraction elsewhere in the restaurant when you need the check. On the plus side this means you can chill out for hours with your orange juice as they flutter about you obliviously.

Both are intimate in their different ways.

Chinese Food: Buenos Aires

Wherever you go in the world you’ll find Chinese food. I have not been anywhere but I know this is true because there are literally a billion chinese people and most of them eat chinese food. Also it is very tasty. Also it is easy to make. Also it is cheap to make. And finally, it can taste really good.

You can go to the Peruvian Andes, Lesotho, wherever and there is chinese food. It is so ubiquitous that I’m surprised they can still keep their nation identified with it. You would think it would have splintered into “Rice with Meat” but no… it’s just called “Chinese Food.”

The other weird thing about Chinese food is that it can be really good or really bad but it’s generally impossible to tell anything by looking at it. It all looks the same and costs about the same. Even the taste can be deceptive because they might add tons of MSG, a “flavor enhancer” and very popular ingredient. The Chinese food where I live (Palermo Chico) is three times the price of anywhere else in the Buenos Aires but that has, as you shall find out, nothing to do with the quality.

The first time ate Chinese food in Buenos Aires was at Lysa’s house. Unlike the states, everyone delivers and Porteños prefer ordering out to actually going to restaurants. Though tipping isn’t so common here (5-10%), drinks are expensive and there is frequently a significant cover charge for the table (a la Europe) so it’s usually cheaper and more comfortable to have them bring the food to you for free. Lysa and I ordered Chinese food from this place all the time. It was delicious. Then one rainy night when my parents were visiting we decided to order Chinese food from Lysa’s house. We feel bad about making the folks walk to the house in the rain so we decide to walk the 5 minutes to pick it up ourselves.

When we got there I was surprised; I had been envisioning the place as a nice sit-down restaurant. Instead it there was a single table where you presumably waited for your food to be finished to take away. During the few minutes that we waited for our food to be ready a woman hurredly took orders on the phone while a half-dressed boy of about seven years ran screaming around the room, waving his penis and throwing things. Every so often the woman would ask the customer to hold, look at us, look at the boy, and say “Hey, calm down” and go back to taking orders. We thought it was funny until the boy gave an especially loud yell, looked directly at us, grabbed his penis and began to urinate on a toy of his. The woman on the phone looked at both us and the boy with complete disdain. Somehow even after this incident I continued to order Chinese food, at least up until last week.

Last week, shortly after eating half a plate of Spicy Pork I felt incredibly tired. As I lurched off to bed, I made a quick detour to the bathroom. Which became a longer detour… I felt sick… very sick… and it reminded me of the time when a year ago I had eaten some bad food at a restaurant and had been bedridden for a week with a terrible stomache virus. And for good reason: it was happening again.

Fortunately, I was supposed to be organizing a treasure hunt at work the following day and though I loathed to blow it off, I had no choice. I woke up with a fever of 102F (38.9C) and the hunt was postponed for several days… A doctor came to my house, which was awesome and only cost 12 pesos. Incredible. He was really nice and told me to take some things to bring down the fever. I don’t remember too much about being sick except that Anna took care of me by cooking me mushy things that wouldn’t make me sick for the next few days. Definately the worst thing about being sick is that you’re not well to enjoy it…