Superficial views of Buenos Aires

It is autumn here, and today was a bright blue day with just a few leaves drifting down from the trees. Buenos Aires has many leafy boulevards, and on one of them I encountered an amusing tree, the palo borracho (drunken stick). All of them have the rounding middle.20130426-231219.jpg

BA has a distinctively European feel to it, reminiscent of Madrid but more retired. It displays many handsome 19th century buildings alongside more modern examples, there are expensive shops and attractive restaurants, but not so much glass and dazzle. It is a big city but the pace seems comparatively sedate. I don’t know any city that has so many bookshops–filled with books, not cards and gifts. My companion, Esteban Fernandez, tells me that bookstores are not in decline here, even though the Internet is ubiquitous.

It is also very European in its population, in fact considerably more European than Europe. It is a nation of immigrants but all from Europe. You hardly see Asians, Africans, or even dark Indian faces such as are plentiful in Mexico.

Apparently racial homogeneity does not guarantee national unity, however. The day I arrived the Congress was voting on measures that would make the judicial system subservient to the president’s administration; they passed, and the streets near my hotel were jammed with protestors. I am told that the country is deeply polarized between the populist administration, which admires Venezuela’s Chavez regime, and a divided opposition. The country is in something of an economic crisis, with currency controls that make it virtually impossible to do external business. (Though there is a “blue market” exchange, so called because it is not really black. Indeed, our hotel openly changed dollars at the blue market rate, which is about double the official rate. In fact, the blue market rate is published daily.) But crises have happened so many times, people go about their business without worrying more than they have to.

My favorite experience came last night in a bar and heladeria (ice cream store), El Vesuvio, desde 1902. The patrons were not present at the first opening, I think, but close to it–the mean age was 70, it appeared. They were there for the tango–singing, not dancing–and they all knew each other and were having such fun! One after another men and women took the mike and, accompanied by guitar and accordion, sang the tragic stories of adultery and reconciliation. Though it looked like talent night at the senior center, it was musically terrific.

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2 Responses to “Superficial views of Buenos Aires”

  1. David Graham Says:

    Your impressions of Buenos Aires are like mine. I’ll never forget the surprise of comparing Buenos Aires with my other experiences of South America: it really does feel like you are over in Europe, a different continent, and not at all like being in South America. Things actually run on time in Buenos Aires and walking down the pedestrian-only streets bring the Old World to mind. And yes, Buenos Aires is a melting pot of mostly European immigrants. One waitress told me that she was studying Hebrew because there were so many Jews there (and, in fact, Buenos Aires has the largest Jewish community in Latin America).

    And yes, the American dollar is quite popular (and even preferred) in Buenos Aires.

    You mentioned Chavez’s model in Venezuela and making Argentina’s judicial system subservient to the president. In Ecuador, the executive branch is not over the judicial branch, but is allowed to make laws that monitor the other governmental branches to make sure they are doing their job. Whether this creates a subservient system or not depends on whom you ask.

    BTW, the word for ice cream store is “heladeria” (not “heraderia,” unless this is one of Argentina’s wacky deviations from standard Castellano Spanish, of which Argentina has many.)

    Buenos Aires is definitely a fun place to visit, and for non-vegetarians, their steaks are terrific.

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