Last weekend my girlfriend Claudia and I woke up really early Saturday morning (4:30!) and were soon off for Santiago Airport en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was really stoked; it had been my goal to see Argentina’s capital ever since I returned to Chile in February this year. It was actually a long weekend for us in Chile because of it being their Independence Days (oh yeah, this holiday is plural). So unfortunately I had to miss out on the countless barbecues, dancing and irresponsible drinking habits which characterize Chile’s Fiestas Patrias. Well hey man, I did all that already, like back in ’09. It’s 2011, so bring on some more South American flavor.
It was fun in the lead-up to the trip, because I had a chance to talk with people here in Santiago about Argentina. So I found out that Argentina is pretty famous as being the home of tango music. Tango has a really interesting history, which is linked deeply with the city of Buenos Aires. It’s really lovely music as well as a saucy, sophisticated dance. There are some really cool, modern artists who add a modern feel to classic tango (as if I know what “classic tango” is; I could be talking total nonsense here–I’ve only read a few blog blurbs and Wikipedia). So you might be wise instead to forgive me my ignorance and simply see here that it is not only lovely, but diferente:
I spoke with some students of mine who recommended checking out Argentina’s pizza, steak, Malbec wine, medialunas (“half-moon” shaped croissant) and alfajores (shortbread cookies sandwiched around dulce de leche or manjar). Happily, I was able to enjoy all items on the above list.I tried a couple different Malbecs while I was in BA, and the gulf in class between a cheaper bottle and a mid-priced bottle is indeed obvious. I began to appreciate the lower cost, high variety and general excellence of available wines in Chile, but that didn’t stop me from falling quickly in love with a certain Santa Julia Malbec Reserva 2009.
While the wine was a tad more expensive than over in Chile, many other things were definitely not. For example, one morning Claudia and I visited a very lovely coffee shop on a main avenue. For the equivalent of US $2.00, you could get one cafe latte and two delicious medialunas croissants (ooh, I almost forgot to add that we were also served a complementary dollop of Raspberry sherbet). Lunch at a small pizza joint was similarly fantastically cheap. For a large, multi-topping pizza, a pint of local bottled beer and a bottle of carbonated water, the check ended up at about $15.00. Delicious.
It should be pointed out that Buenos Aires is a very modern and metropolitan city. It is double the size of Santiago at 12+ million residents, and it feels as such. It is more diverse. There is simply more of everything, particularly traffic. Santiago has a main avenue that more-or-less slices the city into a northern and southern half. From this avenue a subway system runs below. This avenue is only 3 or 4 lanes each way, usually divided between a city block of urban buildings. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, has these massive avenues belching with traffic in countless neighborhoods out of reach of city centre. So basically it’s like Chicago, when the weather isn’t sucky cold. See here: they’ve even got a big, shiny, reflective art monument.
All in all I was in BA for 2 nights and 3 days. Another day or two would have been really nice, but Claudia and I managed to see a lot of neighborhoods. We visited Belgrano, Palermo, Chinatown, La Recoleta, Puerto Madero, San Telmo, and Retiro so far as I know. We enjoyed the subway rides on the “Subte” despite the awkward occasion of people and more often children who try to land some coins off you. On a couple of occasions, for example, a child would walk down the subway isle and place these little print-off color calenders/public transportation maps in every other sitting passenger’s hand (or lap) and walk along. They deliver these cards and silently continue on, while passengers either look at them to pass the time or ignore them completely. The child then returns and mechanically collects the cards from the majority and collects the donations from those few who accept the card. It’s really kind of an odd experience the first go around, particularly because it’s quite obvious that the child has been doing this for some time. Adults also did this on trips. Claudia had to hold onto a mapbook/guide of BA for a few moments, and one dude managed to balance a package of mint-strawberry burst gum on my knee long enough to force me to contemplate buying it. Unfortunately for the mint-strawberry burst gum business, I just wasn’t quite ready for this kind of marketing. Too soon Buenos Aires, too soon.
It was fun for me to simply people-watch in the grand capital. I heard a lot about how Argentinians are so much different than Chileans–more European, more liberal, more prone to make a scene in public, and less conscious of/less vested interest in social status. As I was accompanied by a Spanish speaker, I didn’t have to do much of any speaking, but I really enjoyed the Argentinian accent and attitude. Like the Chileans, they are largely very kind, and they clearly make an effort to help you if you have a question, for example, about how the heck to get to this-here-spot on this-here-map.
From the little I heard them speak, it is much clearer and easier to understand than Chilean. They also use “vos” as “you” which might not mean anything to you, but is a significant distinction from most of the rest of Spanish-speaking countries, which use the informal “tú” and the formal “usted.” Basically, or so it is argued by some, the flat use of “vos” for everyone levels the playing field so to speak, removing the social class and status barriers which get promoted and held up by distinguishing between tú and usted. I don’t know a lot about it, but it’s interesting to imagine what it might be like if we had one word for “you” to refer to, let’s say, moms and dads and other old people (jab jab), and another “you” for friends and enemies and vagrants. I’m imagining a society with a lot more walls man, a lot more walls. So gimme the “vos” then vos.
One of my favorite things about my trip was going to the restaurant La Cabrera in the snazzy Soho neighborhood of Palermo. This is a really cool area of town. Really nice: classic old houses, tons of great corner bars/restaurants, art, and even an outdoor market on the weekend. There was a mega-wait on this particular Sunday evening when we arrived at said restaurant at about 10:45pm.
Forty-five minute wait, por lo menos, entonces we’re gonna have to kill some time. It’s gonna be worth it, or so they told me on the internet. It was worth it. Even on Sunday night, even at 11:45pm, the place is jiving. At La Cabrera, all you have to do is order some wine and order the type and size of steak you want (we ordered a large steak in some foreign measurement, 600 of something?). Then, they just give you about a million glorious sides of their choosing. Best thing ever. No tricky decisions to make, no regrets. Just mashed potatoes of course, and then artichoke, hummus, apple sauce, squash, peppers, salad, etc. I’ll just say that the rib-eye was excellent too, mmmmmm..
Ok then. You stay classy Buenos Aires. I’ll always keep a nice, warm place for you, riiiiiiiiight here.