Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nearly a week in Buenos Aires: Unas Cositas

Deposited at the bottom of the world six days ago, I've begun to subsist on a constant stream of rich, aromatic coffee and pure adrenaline. My fingers tremble slightly as I type this-- a signal that perhaps I should slow down. I've consumed more meat (which one can slice easily with a butter knife) since arriving than I have in the past two years combined. The food in Buenos Aires is as succulent and fresh as I anticipated. And, as evident above, its possible to sum up the culinary experience in four sentences or less.

As for the rest of Buenos Aires, I have tried and failed repeatedly to assemble my thoughts into a coherent blog post that could capture this peculiar city. And still, after nearly week, I'm stumped. I am incapable of succinctly describing my new home.

Consequently, I'm forced to borrow the apt words of the tour guide who showed us around on our second day in Buenos Aires. As she explained, the defining characteristic of this Argentine metroplis is its eclecticism. Its people, its language, its architecture, all extractions of an older tradition from somewhere north, for any further south and one falls off the map.
And surely this guide, a german-looking, castellano-speaking, elegantly dressed young woman with a beehive of blonde dreadlocks was the definition of 'eclectic.' As she moved around us, gesturing wildly, thrilled to offer up her home to us blockhead americans, I realized that four months will not be nearly enough to time to wrap my thumping, buzzing, over caffeinated mind around the anomalous Buenos Aires. So if you will, bare with me as I attempt understand how this cosmopolitan creature was born of the third world.

Some little things:

Tuesday it poured. Not a summer shower, but an end-of-the-world monsoon. The blue ceiling that on monday teased us norteamericanos with promises of bronzed skin and infinite afternoons of cortados and medialunas, fused into a solid mass, greenish and gurgling. By mid-afternoon the heavens (Argentina is a catholic country, at least officially) proceeded to dump buckets upon buckets over its congregation.

We took the school sponsored guided tour around the city despite the rain. From the comfort of our air-conditioned, cushy minibus, I feared for the lives of the tanned, blonde, small children who waded up to their knees to cross the flooded streets and for those unfortunate few who slipped into water-filled potholes, never to be seen again. Parked sedans—with paintjobs in colors that reveal that they, like myself, were born in the eighties— did nosedives, half submerged in liquid. The girl behind me asked if the rain was toxic.

Later, I split a taxi with a student who lives a few blocks from my home-stay. At 5 pesos, or $1.50, I think it’s okay that I get a mildly crippling sensation of terror when faced with the task of boarding the dilapidated buses with their peeling paint the color of brick and imperturbable drivers who demand to know why you don't have proper change. who insist you get off until you acquire proper change. who couln't care less that there is a national shortage of coins and small bills. no monedas, no ride. (More on that later). The subways meanwhile, (or subte as they are called) are pristine and put nyc's system to shame.

I arrive home to my host-family's apartment as the summer torrents ease and the pools drain and all is as before. Back to flawless skies and asphyxiating heat.

Wednesday, I learn a useful new word. It’s "berenjena." Or rather, I deduce its meeting only after my tongue begins to itch and swell and panic greedily bites into my brain like its a a luscious, argentine peach. Berenjena, or "eggplant," is in the quiche I have just consumed. It's the mystery ingredient I hadn’t thought to look up. I freak, quietly, internally, of course. No one wants to inform her new classmates that gee, i may or may not keel over in the next 20 minutes. Thankfully, the portions here are small and that purple fiend was no match for a benedryl. My allergy it seems, has grown mild.

The rest of the week was stuffed with activity, of dinners at 10:30 pm and BA's notoriously superb nightlife. Friday found us outside the city, lolling on the "beach" on a class trip to the mud stained rivers of the delta, Tigre, as its known. We spent the day lying in the sun, lying in the shade, dipping our feet in the pool, and chatting with the bartenders at the resort-like destination. Not a drop of academics, meant more for bonding I assume. I realize this post mostly contradicts my claim of not wanting this to be a 'dear diary' type blog. Ah well.

And finally, today was the culmination of a week adjustment, of bracing oneself for the culture shock that shall inevitably come, of struggling to remain lucid and coherent in spanish and english, of attempting to not be the lost gringa only to realize how eager the argentines are to help her. I awoke midday, chatted with my host family (an impossibly kind older couple with four grown children and several grandchildren who always seem to be milling about). I sat at a sidewalk cafe drinking cafe con leche and engaged in some highly fascinating people watching. Staring is encouraged, as is close-talking, hand gestures, and kisses on the right cheek. The 90 degree weather didn't even feel that stifling. I spent the afternoon with new friends in the air conditioned Museo de Bellas Artes. We crossed the Avenida Libertador to admire the astoundingly high quality leather goods at a street fair and later listened to an argentine rock band in the park. It was only upon spotting a singular cluster of pink, heart-shaped balloons, sponsored by KY Jelly that we noticed that today is February 14th, Dia de San Valentin. Perhaps I'm not that far south of the motherland.

I don't pretend i've discovered the wheel. I don't feel emboldened to write my own guidebook nor do I think i've uncovered a side to this city that no tourist or foreign student has ever laid eyes upon. Yet there is something thrilling about wandering through a new place without agenda or obligation and sampling whatever it is that one encounters.

I am wholly content to be lost in Buenos Aires.


  1. Hi Bella, We were so happy to hear about your adventures. I love reading your great and full descriptions, and hope that it all continues to be so rich for you.... We miss you terribly on West 4th street! We celebrated Valentine's Day by going to see the original version of Charlotte's Web with Edie, Cyrus, Peter, Alice, Michael and Sasha. I cried like a baby as soon as Charlotte started to get sick, and then there was the end which has one of the best lines ever written: "It is not often in life that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both." And you, our dear dear Bella, are both as well!
    We love you, Aunt Katie--and Guy and Natasha. p.s. Keep the installments coming--it is so interesting!

  2. I couldn't agree more with Kate's comment, you are both, dear Bella, especially the writer part. I can't wait for the next installment. I've always wanted to go to Buenos Aires and this is the next best thing! Keep 'em coming.

  3. Bella, so happy you are enjoying BA. The first time I went I couldn't believe I had arrived at the perfect combination of Mexico and New York only it looked like Paris. Every time we go I chide Marco with "Why weren't you Argentine instead of Chilean!" We went to Mexico two weeks ago and since then have been loafing around, enjoying the empty nest, late mornings, empty city, warm weather. We will surely go to see you in March, so get ready! Sue

  4. Hi Bella!
    I think the best areas that offer the best and coolest attractions in Buenos Aires are the blue-chip areas of Palermo. This high-quality neighborhood has luxury designs apartment in Palermo, Buenos Aires and the best restaurants.