The city of Buenos Aires is large. It has 12 million people. A lot of people say it is very like a European city. Perhaps this is because almost no Argentines have Argentine grandparents. The vast majority have grandparents from Europe who came over during the early 20th Century because of the wars. Also they were encouraged to come by Argentine immigration policy. Once the Indians had “gone away” the Argentines had an immense country to fill and no people with which to do it. In the same way as the USA settled “The West” they gave free land to anybody who wanted it and wasn’t Indian.
Most of the new immigrants came from Spain and Italy and, as a result of this their food is fairly European: their pastas, pizzas, and ice-cream rival those of their mother countries. The city certainly has a kind of cosmopolitan European feeling. It has lovely old buildings, a bustling yet tidy city center, and a fascist past. People also might say Buenos Aires is like Paris because the sidewalks are littered with dog poop. If you step in dog poop in Paris, they will tell you it is good luck. If you step in dog poop in Argentina they will growl under their breath something nasty about “living in a third world country.” The Argentines carry a heavy load, having previously tasted the first world only to have it snatched away by international loan sharks (read: IMF, the World Bank, USA, etc.).
I arrived in Buenos Aires and immediately went to stay with fellow traveler Anna, with whom I had traveled from Salta to Cafayate. She had some French friends in the city who were working on an architectural project together. Apparrently they don’t get on. Partly because one of the girls is cheating on her boyfriend back in France who is also the best friend of the other girl. Anna tells me there are more issues like this. It’s remarkable how people stay in relationships in which they get no joy: always arguing and never at peace. They become enmeshed in each others lives like ivy and slowly strangle each other. They are unhappy but sedentary, too scared to leave the safe stagnation of each other’s company. Happily the day I arrived they left for France to report on their architectural findings and left the apartment to the travelers while. Anna and I got to use it as a base to explore the city.
Buenos Aires is filled with parks, which are sometimes neat and tidy, and McDonalds. McDonalds are everywhere where there is a demand for 40 cent dulce de leche ice cream. Here McDonalds are different. They are much much nicer. People here have apparently figured out that you don’t get a lot of real food for your money at McDonalds and so McDonalds is now pretty nice looking. Every location has a second story with a balcony to overlook the city streets. Also they are made with shiny wood and brass, not yellow and red plastic from the 1960s. They are the kind of McDonalds where they waiter takes your tray as soon as you finish your last freedom fry.
We wandered the streets and hung out in the parks San Telmo, a historical neighborhood famous for it’s tango bordellos. I bought a small travel guitar at the Antigua Casa Nunez, which is well known store in the city for good, reasonably priced guitars that are all made in house. Some days it was sunny and others it was warm and nice.
Anna soon returned to Paris and I began calling SERVAS hosts for places to stay. You’re supposed to call days or weeks before to let them know you’re coming. Technically I had done this but no one had answered their phones. I think that this is a gray area in SERVAS culture. Anyways, I called about 20 people. Calling 20 people you do not know in a language you hardly speak and politely asking them if you can sleep on their couch can be frightening. Eventually, I got hold of an incredibly friendly girl who had traveled with SERVAS in the USA and Canada. She said I could stay with her but she was going out to a music show and we would have to meet there.
The show was a band of a standup bass, 2 guitars, a ukulele, a flute, two drummers and a lady on the bandoneon. It was at that show that I discovered Buenos Aires has ton of cultural events. Free cultural events. All large cities have “The Arts”. But Buenos Aires is passionate about them: they have hundreds of theatres, art galleries, dance venues and music shows, including an incredibly beautiful opera house. The city also has the rare egalitarian idea that fine art should be accessible to all levels of society. For instance two days ago I saw an opera in one of the finest opera houses in the world for a dollar. Every weekend there are free concerts in the city’s many parks.
After the show and a late dinner it was about 12:30am. They returned to the apartment to drop off me, my backpack and my newly bought guitar and, the night being young (about 1:30am), they left to go dancing.
Due to a recent economic collapse the dollar goes a long way here. Quality of life is much higher in Buenos Aires than in any of the countries I had visited so far and, if my faulty memory can be trusted at all, the USA as well.
Over dinner I had mentioned to my new SERVAS hosts that I was considering staying awhile in Buenos Aires. By the morning sleep had solidified these words into an immediate plan to set up roots and get a job and an apartment.