We are going to live here for about 3 and 1/2 years, and are nearing the halfway point of that period. Here being Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lately, I’ve had some conversations with people about what it’s like living here, from the foreigner point of view. These are some of my general impressions of the city. But first and most obvious (see above) it is really big. The population of the Federal Capital of Buenos Aires is about 12 million people, although the city itself, which is simply the capital of the federal district, is closer to half that number, a paltry 5 or 6 million.
Drivers in Buenos Aires are proof of the old maxim that you can take a basically normal person and put them into a car and create a flaming idiot. These are the worst drivers in the world: madly aggressive, dangerous to themselves and especially to pedestrians (see photo below left), taking rudeness to a level equal to insane rage … it’s a long list of stupid. A man in a car in Buenos Aires is encapsulated within his manhood, it is not a car, it is an engorged cock, and get out of the way because it’s looking for another car, or especially a poor pedestrian, to rape. If you think a car cock is dangerous, consider a bus! Their pure anger at anyone else with the audacity of putting another car on the same street they want to be on will produce a maddening cacophony of horn honking that makes Manhattan seem as quiet as the Kansas prairie.
The hapless pedestrian, if he survives getting across a marked crosswalk (a completely meaningless concept here, where everyone knows that cars have right of way over people in all circumstances), then has to zigzag through the no-man’s-land minefields called sidewalks. Has anyone lived in Buenos Aires longer than a year without a broken leg, or at least a twisted ankle? Usually injuries result from the dog shit tango, dancing your way through the animal latrines that are sidewalks here. Photos below.
The next thing is not really a complaint, it’s just remarking about a radical cultural difference that makes Buenos Aires difficult for people from other ways of life. Porteños (how people from Buenos Aires refer to themselves — people of the port) reserve the most interesting and entertaining aspects of living for the very late night. Which means they sleepwalk through the day, pretending to work, and if there is to ever be a coherent explanation for why a country so rich in natural resources and abilities remains so backward, this may be it: they are dead tired during the time they ought to be creating, studying, or working. People do not go out at night until after 9 p.m., do not order dinner until after 10 p.m., do not finish eating until around midnight, and then go out to clubs, to dance, to drink, to party, often not ending the night until the approach of dawn. Then they sleep, or not, for an hour or two and then go to work or school. Even small children follow this habit. We often see children of 4, 5, or 6 years old having dinner with their parents at midnight. When do they sleep? Probably at work and during class. Again, accounting for why a country that ought to be fully-developed and a leading economy of the world is so backward and trivial. They can’t stay awake in school or work long enough to accomplish much thinking. Not easy for someone used to having the evening meal around 7 or 7:30. I go to bed here about the time most people sit down to dinner.
On the other hand, parts of this city are quite beautiful — admitting that most of it is decrepit, rundown, broken, poor, and crime-ridden … maybe if they just got a few hours sleep now and then? Here is a photo of a street downtown. There are many streets like this in the central city.
Although the poor sucker crossing this street probably just missed being raped to death by bus penis. The woman is smarter, waiting until there are no wild-eyed vehicles in sight.
As the photo above indicates, Buenos Aires is about as European a place as one finds in the Americas, north, central, or south. Judging by the gait, clothing, and physicality of people you see on the streets, it would not be inappropriate to suppose you are in Madrid or Milan. This is only true of Buenos Aires. In every other major city in South and Central America, you know you are with the descendants of Indians: Mayan, Inca, Aztec. In Argentina, the native population was wiped out almost entirely, leaving only Spaniards and later immigrants, mostly from Italy. (Following the US policy of “manifest destiny,” it seems.)
It spite of the brutal dangers lurking everywhere, that is what I like most about living in Buenos Aires: its European feel. This is as much as cafe society as one finds in Paris or Vienna. Places like this (below) are literally all over the city, one on almost every block.
It is no secret to regular readers here that I work almost exclusively in cafes. It often takes a while for me to find the right fit, and for the first few months I may try four or five or six. It seems I have settled on this one. (Photos below) It is just far enough away from where I live (a 30 minute walk each way) to give me some exercise, it has a comfortable “look,” an attentive enough staff (and it doesn’t hurt that they are all nice-looking young women), and following the European cafe tradition, enough sense to leave you alone for as long as you indicate you would like to be left alone. This place is called Mama Racha, and if you are in the city, it is on the corner of Armenia and Costa Rica in the barrio of Palermo. I work there most mornings.
It is the cafe life that makes Buenos Aires most livable for me. I believe that a city needs at least two key features to make it worth living in. One of these is a river, particular if it runs through it; the other is a cafe life. It also helps if the architecture is interesting, and I am certainly a fan of security and some cleanliness. Good markets are nice. Some variety in cuisine. Buenos Aires excels in a few and fails dismally in others.
Now that brings me to cuisine. Abject failure here. Yes, the steaks are good. But after a while, if you are eating steak all the time, it just becomes another version of macaroni and cheese. You just get sick of it. And steak is about all they do well here. There is no fish cuisine; there cannot be more than five or six restaurants in a city of six million that can produce interesting, edible fish dishes. They relish their empanadas, but basically it’s just a street size miniature wrap that gets warmed up. The only spice they can handle is salt — and they handle a deadly amount of that.
No, you do not come to Buenos Aires for the food. They may like to think they have more than a passing acquaintance with Paris, but except for sidewalks littered with dog turds and occasional pieces of old-looking French architecture, they have absolutely nothing in common with Paris, and especially not cuisine.
Okay, the weather is really fine much of the time. As close to San Diego as I’ve ever experienced. It is more often than not sunny, there is a continual breeze (the buenos aires?) that helps clear the air from the more brutal pollution of millions of people and their decrepit cars, most of the time the temperatures are mild — it snowed one time in the last 100 years in Buenos Aires — the temperature almost never gets to freezing, and summers are more often warm rather than hot. Yes there are cold days, and yes there are hot humid days, and yes it rains sometimes, but add up all the various forms of bad weather days and I doubt you could get to 20% of the total weather picture.
Here’s another overview photo of the city.
It is a big city. But it is also a city of separate and distinct neighborhoods, barrios, and much of one’s time is spent in the barrio where one lives. I live in Palermo, which is the largest barrio in the city; so large it is for practical purposes divided into smaller segments: Palermo Chico (mostly embassies and parks), Palermo Nuevo (new high rise apartments and big shopping complexes), Palermo Viejo (the older section of the barrio, now filled with cafes and bars), Palermo Soho (restaurants and night life), and Palermo Hollywood (because there are some TV and radio studios there, and some artsy people hanging around). I can’t figure out just where Palermo is in this photo, but based on the high rises and green spaces, I think it’s the upper center part.
This is not Europe, and I have a European soul. But it is as close as one can get to it in this hemisphere. It’s an interesting place to spend a few years, but it would be a horror to be stuck here forever.