Further subjective impressions of Argentina

by on January 1, 2006 at 7:23 pm in Travels | Permalink

I am not obese.  But if you have been reading MR this last week, you will know why my attempts to buy the Pierre Cardin suit for $230 have been thwarted...

…the good stores just don’t have the larger sizes for their finest items.  What else? 

Piegari was the best food, Olsen the best restaurant decor (they serve Swedish food, oddly enough), and Ataneo (the Santa Fe branch, set in a former Art Deco movie theater) is the most attractive bookstore I have seen anywhere.  If it wasn’t for that tiny matter of per capita wages, I would live here.  It is my favorite city, period.  I don’t care that I go to bed before most of them wake up; I am not that social anyway. 

The people here don’t seem very Catholic.  But most of the politics revolves what has happened to various dead bodies.  Older people still speculate about what happened to Eva’s corpse during its missing years, a topic fraught with political implications.  And for two decades the "desaparecidos" (disappeared ones), killed under the military dictatorship, have dominated the national consciousness.

When the New Year comes everyone rips out the pages of their old calendars and leaves them on the street.  It makes for a mess.  You can walk just about anywhere in the central bank without encountering hostile or even inquisitive security guards.

I recognized only one name on the top ten music charts, namely Madonna at number four.  The new Saramago book — not yet available in English — is number one in book sales.  Taxi drivers know not only Borges but also Ernesto Sabato. 

A quality apartment in an excellent part of town can sell for as little as $U.S. 50,000.  I have stocked up on DVDs of recent Argentine movies.

Have you heard of the appropriately-named "Faena Hotel and Universe"?  The Hotel as Womb.  The people who stay here (that’s not us) are pampered by a personal assistant and barely leave their quarters.  The modern world has not ceased to produce architectural wonders.

Get the bitter [amargo] chocolate ice cream.  Go to Uruguay with low expectations and you will be charmed. 

Tango shows are mostly a waste, unless you have an inside connection to a dance group or some good lessons.  And don’t be put off by the fact that two-thirds of your meals boil down to a choice of either lomo or pasta; both are superb.

Woe to the young Argentine woman who is perceived as overweight.

Our guide at Recoleta had indigenous features, but she insisted repeatedly (and to a foreign audience) that her family was white and she simply had too much of a sun tan.  She has been learning about the histories of the families in the graves since she was five years old; she can talk for hours about them without notes and has an opinion of each and every family and its moral character.  Auto-Icon, or the cemetary as Panopticon.

Why do so many stores and restaurants use the "ring the bell" system?  These are not diamond merchants seeking to protect their wares.  I suspect that clientele effects are especially strong in this city.  Perhaps "regulars" are more willing to ring the bell, and these same regulars are more valuable as customers.  Signalling is rampant.

Don’t expect major sights of the kind you find in a Frommer’s guidebook.  Use the Time Out guide to find experiences.

Contrary to what my wife thinks, people here are not happier than in the United States.  She won´t go to the parts of town that prove her wrong.  Nine years ago, there were no beggars opening taxi doors for you, expecting a peso in return.  The shanties near the airport are extreme.  The poor of Buenos Aires have it good compared to parts of northern Argentina, but Salta and Jujuy will have to wait for another trip.

Go to Kumana’ for the best corn empanadas, fifty cents a piece.  El Obrero is excellent Italian home cooking, with amazing soccer decor, again for a pittance.  Cafe Uriarte was first-rate.  La Brigada has the best baby lamb intestines you can imagine.

You have a status quo bias.  And like most people, you probably overinvest in goods and underinvest in experiences.  Get off your bum and go.  Many major cities in the USA have direct connections to Buenos Aires.  You fly overnight and sleep on the plane.  You wake up in a new universe. 

In the meantime, thank god or luck that you were born where you were, unless of course that was northern Argentina.  Happy New Year to you all.

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