Saturday, February 7, 2009

musings of a lazy saturday

It's been quite a lazy day - I slept in after a late night out (late, by my standards, being 5 am), ventured out to buy a cell phone only to find the store closed, and walked around Recoleta. I came back to the apartment earlier than expected due to an upset stomach, and have been relaxing ever since. While I hate to be inside on such a beautiful day, I don't expect the good weather to end in the near future, my blister-covered feet need a break, and most cafes (where I wanted to get some work done) were closed. On those days when I do a whole lot of nothing I feel the need to justify my idleness. I hate to think that I'm wasting my time here, that anyone else in my position would be out and about - I'm in Buenos Aires, after all. But it's not going anywhere, and neither am I, so sometimes a day to recharge is good, and by tomorrow I'll be ready to take on San Telmo and its antique fair. 

So, Buenos Aires. It's certainly a vibrant city, even though I've been told it's quite empty as many porteños are still enjoying the last few weeks of vacation. I had heard that Buenos Aires is like other European cities; it's been called the "Paris of South America," but I'm sure that was just some slogan created to attract tourists. What I've found, and I don't think I'm alone in observing this, is that yes, there are several similarities between Buenos Aires and Madrid, for example. One can see the European influence in the architecture and layout of certain grand, wide avenues, such as the Avenida 9 de Julio. Cafés spill out onto the sidewalks, allowing old and young people alike to sit and watch the world go by. It was the expectation of a certain extent of familiarity which drew me to Buenos Aires, and I have found it. 

What I'm trying to accustom myself to now is the differences between the barrios. I've been several times to Palermo Viejo, a wealthy neighbourhood filled with upscale boutiques and chic restaurants. While it's definitely a pretentious area, its smaller buildings and tree-lined streets are a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Microcentro. Last night I met several other expats for dinner at a pizzeria in Palermo Viejo - no, it did not live up to my high standards. Curse you, Naples! - after which we had drinks at two different bars. I had a good time and enjoyed the locales, but I began to think that before long I would tire of the neighbourhood's snobby atmosphere. Or, before long I would become part of it. I suppose what bothers me is participating in 'that' sort of lifestyle in the face of poverty, which is  the other side of Buenos Aires, and the one which strikes me as more authentic, more true. On the subte (subway) to Palermo Viejo, girls of no more than twelve years old carry infants and pass out stickers, notepads, and bracelets and ask for moneda - or change - in exchange. It's nothing I haven't seen before, and it's the same feeling of guilt that you experience upon seeing homeless people begging for money in any city - the kind that seems to overwhelm you in a moment, but not enough to make you do anything, the fleeting kind. Only here, the poverty is more of a reality, the norm rather than the exception to the rule. I don't mean to imply that everyone here is on the brink of survival, but most people here are struggling. From what I understand, the Argentine economy has improved somewhat since its collapse in 2001, but inflation is still a major problem, among others, and with the current global economic downturn, the future does not seem very promising. 

It's this dichotomy which gives Buenos Aires its character: you can see the echoes of its more prosperous era, when it first emerged as world-class city in the early twentieth century. But one can also see, at times more prominently, the consequences of nearly a century of political and economic instability. While it may have strove to imitate Europe in its earlier days, the more recent turmoil has created a new reality. I know that my assertion that certain areas of Buenos Aires are more true or authentic is without proof and meaningless. But when this reality is pushed aside and out of one's vision, I can't help but think that I'm missing the big picture, and just seeing what I want to see.

I hope I haven't made too many inaccurate generalisations - I must admit to know very little about Argentine history. But that's what I'm here for, after all. To learn. 

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