Sunday, August 24, 2008

La vida cotidiana : la ciudad

I've been postponing writing about Buenos Aires itself because the topic somewhat overwhelms me. Truly, of all the cities I've spent time in, this has to be one of the most stimulating. Which is a good thing, but I have so many impressions, and there are so many sensations to try to capture, that it's hard to get down in any coherent form. So, forgive me if I resort to the slightly random bulleted list option, rather than aiming for any kind of linear narrative.

There is a slightly frenetic buzz to the city that is maybe best captured by the local version of a 7-11 store in the U.S.:


It's almost like there's a kind of hyper-industry, an excess of entrepreneurial spirit, that maybe results from relatively recent experience with economic catastrophe, and an ongoing sense of potential instability. It manifests itself in all kinds of little details. Thus, for example, the local tobacconist on the corner will not be restricted to selling sweets, tobacco and newspapers: there will also be a couple of tables in case someone wants to have a coffee and doughnut, as well as a couple of "locutorios" (phone booths to make long-distance calls), and often as not a couple of booths dedicated to internet connections at the back of the shop. Similarly, even the tiniest of cafés in the city center transforms to a lunch place from 11:30 to 3:00, even if only to offer three or four "menús del día". Furthermore, it's entirely normal to see the waiters from such establishments scurrying along the sidewalk, making full-service deliveries (complete with linen and silverware) to local offices. Invariably, whenever I've taken a taxi and engaged the driver in detailed enough conversation for him to know where I'm from, he has pressed his card on me, reminding me that he is available for airport service. On my way to school every morning, I pass the main court building, outside of which it's not uncommon to see distinguished elderly gentlemen (retired lawyers?) selling law texts on the sidewalk.

People, with the exception of the loathsome, snotty waiter at the vile "Broccolino" restaurant,

the loathsome BROCCOLINO restaurant

have been universally charming, and extremely helpful. This covers not only the teachers and staff at school, but also the charming Dr Gualtieri and her assistant, assorted waiters and attendants in shops, the doormen in the building, taxi-drivers and random passers-by. I am beguiled by the people of Buenos Aires.

I am less charmed by the pavements of Buenos Aires, which pose a significant health hazard to all and sundry. If you come here, be warned - these sidewalks are lethal! In two weeks, I've already witnessed three full-fledged spreadeagle accidents, and uncountable near-misses. Compared to the lurking pitfalls of the porteño footpaths, the quaint cobblestone streets of Guanajuato were a cakewalk.

Prices are almost uniformly ridiculously low. My most common experience is that I will look at the price of something, go through an initial thought process that it's a little bit on the high side, then make the realization "Oh, wait! That's the price in pesos". Dividing by 3 makes everything a lot more pleasant. The only exception to date, oddly enough, has been the price of stamps: to send a postcard to the U.S. costs 5 pesos, which is about $1.66 U.S., a bit on the high side. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, spending more than $20 U.S. for dinner is a challenge.

Further impressions to follow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beware the cruciferous restaurante!

vile food at the vile zephyr grill in kent, wa, last night served by a brusque woman 'manager' who whined about Hillary to people at a nearby table and said she was voting for McCain. On the plus side she took half off my half-eaten entree.

Greetings from suburban Seattle,