Sunday, May 13, 2012

buenos aires: i can't quit you

sunset over buenos aires, argentina.
we came to buenos aires planning to stay for a month and welcoming the opportunity to sit still after 9.5 months of constantly moving around. we loved it so much that we added two more weeks, and then tried to add yet another two weeks. alas, the airlines made that impossible but we would have if we could have!

we were sitting around the other day asking ourselves what makes buenos aires so uniquely wonderful, what sets it apart from other destinations? aside from quirks like milk in a bag, or dinner at 10pm, street salesmen selling everything everywhere, its obsession with the falkland islands, wine served in porcelain penguins, the talented dog walkers, people with mate cups and thermoses of hot water permanently attached to their bodies... well, we'll get to those in a minute.

the inescapable eva peron.
what's really at the core is summed up in a quote we read the other day. "buenos aires is full of people that WANT it to be great." they really love their city, and have an urgency to help you see it through their eyes. never have we met so many locals who not only take time to tell us about their favorite places, but also actually offer to take us there. they're very concerned about what's wrong with their country and city  -- and, like in the US, there's plenty right now, economic, political and social -- but somehow they manage to think and talk about it without being overly earnest.

they have this tremendous capacity for looking inward and facing out all at the same time. we can't think of another densely populated place that's been so friendly, so curious, so interested in us. and thank you spanish 101 for allowing us to answer "de donde son?" so many times.

the city itself is in on the act. all over the place you see people in bright yellow t-shirts handing out information about health, sports, music, culture & public events. over the course of six weeks we've seen free, city-sponsored concerts of classical music, a tango orchestra, a string quartet, free movies, a percussion ensemble (well, they can't all be winners, i mean, it's free), art exhibits. each and every time some complete stranger has asked "so, where are you from? do you like buenos aires?" and a test of our spanish, and their patience, begins anew.

now, about those quirks...

mate at concerts, parks, class, cafes... no wonder they stay up so late!

mate! (mah-tay): we swear, every citizen of buenos aires comes out of the womb with a mate cup, a metal straw and a thermos of hot water and they're never apart. doesn't matter if they're in the park, on the subway, in class, at work, taking a pee (lots of mate!) or walking down the street, there's a mate set somewhere in reach. and, probably not too much further away, a stand selling "aqua caliente." took us weeks to understand why there would be places selling hot water all over the city.

evita: we can't even get into the "peronism," the unbelievable hate/love war with the story of eva peron, or evita, and her legacy. everyone has an opinion and we've tried our hardest to get our heads around the history. but like so many other stories that are used for political gain, it takes much more time than a few weeks to peel back the layers. let's just say, wow. you can come here for months on end and spend your time doing nothing but studying eva peron and the political/social ramifications of her story. you think american politics is twisted? buenos aires and argentina gives some serious competition. feel free to dive right in and get back to us on this one. got some hours to kill? start here, and good luck.

would you like your yogurt on the floor or the wall?

milk in a bag: or yogurt in a bag. seriously, worst packaging idea ever. my favorite quote: "when you're drinking milk from a bag, that's when you know you're ballin' it in buenos aires." um, no.

can't tell you how much yogurt has been squirted all over the kitchen since we've been here. of course, now that we're about to leave, someone tells us "oh, we have these cheap plastic holders for those. you cut the corner, pop it in the plastic thing and no worries." oh, thanks!

nostalgia for home in the form of a ford. 

ford falcons: having just arrived from several months in southeast asia, where the scooter is the king of transport, we noticed these old fords sitting around the streets, you know those late 60s, early 70s ford falcons? it felt refreshing until we realized, "wait, we're in buenos aires, right?" every block has one amidst the audis and VWs. turns out, ford had a manufacturing plant down here for ages. it just felt good to see some solid, old american cars.

tango: not a quirk, of course, but part of a rich history and a curious transformation happening here. in every guidebook regarding buenos aires you read something akin to "on every corner you'll see tango dancing. it lives in the hearts of every citizen of buenos aires." sounds cool, i guess. but it ain't true. well, it's sort of true. the fascinating thing is there's an entire generation that doesn't seem to care about it at all. when we searched out some tango (not on every street corner, by the way), what we found were older couples moving quite slowly across the dance floor mixed with couples from a much younger generation. the old folks are remembering, and the young ones are "rediscovering." there's a generation in between that seems to have considered it "their parent's thing."

first round, la ronda primera, of the buenos aires tango competition, "milonga" category.
our favorite tango night came when we made our way to an old "milonga," the traditional dance halls of tango, that was hosting the first round of the 'buenos aires tango competion," an event that takes place over two weeks across the city. i swear we were sitting in my dad's old lodge meeting hall but with a dance floor and a decor from the mid 60s. to our right was an old couple who'd been dancing tango for years and years. they spoke not a word of english but wanted to chat so badly. the woman kindly took us in, pointed out the dancers she thought were worthy, said things completely incomprehensible to us yet i'm pretty sure we learned a lot.

words can't describe how enamored we've become of buenos aires. we've written before about how easy it is to feel at home no matter where you are, and the melancholy attached to leaving someplace. very few of our stops have been disappointing and we grew attached to most of them in some way or another. but buenos aires has kept us engaged for six weeks and we still want more. there's something aching this time as we prepare to leave. it's a funny arc, too, because our first impressions were "wow, this is a big city. wow, this is an expensive city" and "wow, this is the first city where someone has attempted to pickpocket us."

when we started traveling we thought "well, maybe along the way we'll stumble on a place where we could imagine living." we have to say, rampant inflation and yogurt on the walls aside, buenos aires is a wonderfully livable city.

with that, we leave you with a few more visuals from a city we now love.

wine served in penquins! el penguino. makes you want to keep ordering wine. seriously, trust us on this.

did we say it was a big city? 10 lanes! one way! 

el homero, as in "homer" simpson. donuts filled with dulce de leche. can you say "yum?" sabor!
"a country with good people." and it's true, too, as far as we can tell.


  1. > "a percussion ensemble (well, they can't all be winners, i mean, it's free")

    What the hell, man? Percussionists are people, too, hermano.

  2. Ohhh, I remember having milk in a plastic bag when I was a child, in Spain, before Tetra Pack took over the world (yes, I am THAT old!). We used to put the bags inside plastic jugs so the milk wouldn't get all over the place (now you're making me feel nostalgic and wating to travel to Buenos Aires). Where are you off next?

  3. Hey guys, wow, that beach looks nice...I've been getting rained on up and down the Rio Parana..but BsAs is a lovely city nublado too! You capture it well :)