Saturday, March 8, 2008

Grumpy, Blissful, Melancholy, Overjoyed...what are you, Argentina?

The past few days in Buenos Aires have been busy, in a good way.

Wednesday I went to my dentist, who is Valeria's sister, and I've realized that if I have one phobia in the world, it's probably the dentist. That 11 year old falling off a cliff and having a metal bar across my teeth has apparently scarred me for much longer than I had originally anticipated.

So just to put some things in perspective…in the US, when you go to a private dentist and you have a cavity, you pay somewhere between 100 and 200 USD to fill a cavity. Here, you pay 70 pesos to have the nice white fillings…23 USD. I’m not proud of it, but I had 6 cavities. A total of about 130 USD, which would have been the price of 1 in the States…wow.

Apparently, a gynecologist appointment including a pap smear at a private clinic is 20 pesos – 7 USD. So now I’m thinking I need to make annual visits to Buenos Aires to get all my regular medical checkups done. I mean, the money saved easily pays for the flights and the expenses while here, even with liberal doses of Malbec and carne…it’s kind of ridiculous.

It was absolutely wonderful to see Valeria’s family. The father has got to be one of the most gregarious, constantly laughing, joking, friendly, gentle people I’ve ever met. I’m starting to suspect my previous image of Argentina and portenos was greatly distorted because of the Quiroz Paolo family I’m close to, who in fact seem to not be normal Argentineans now that I’m here a second time. The bloodlines of this mixed family come from Portugal, Lebanon, and supposedly Italy and Spain, but they basically look Portuguese and Arab. So yes, they’re all quite attractive and act somewhat like Lebanese Brasilians. I love it. Anyway, we had a great lunch with lots of wine, which was of course ok for me but I wondered how they were going back to work after.

Thursday I finally got my act together (which I don’t even really necessarily think had to be done) and got up early to go into Capital Federal. I was meeting Michael, a Sydneysider who I met in Sao Paulo and Rio…it was really interesting, because when I had a long talk with him in Rio, we both discussed a lot of the things that were frustrating us about Brasil…and obviously, that transformed hugely for me, but not as much for him. That’s ok. However, we seemed to agree on a lot of things about Buenos Aires this time around. The general grumpiness, the trash everywhere, the horrible air pollution (the aires here are not so Buenos anymore…) – we decided to take a bus down to La Boca, an ultra touristy part of town, so that I could take a few pictures. We asked the hostel owner how to get there, and we were told Bus 53. Simple. We were supposed to go down two blocks, take a right, and we would see a bus stop. Except we didn’t see one. So I hop into a small bar/cafĂ©, ask the girl, she says “No se”, turns around, and walks away. So I go across the street to the kiosco, wait while she chats on the phone to a friend about a party the previous night, then she says to me “Ni idea.” So we go down to the next block, I ask a cop, who doesn’t know, and then in a bakery, who also doesn’t know. I found it strange that we had literally asked 5 different people and none of them know, and none of them seem to care that they don’t know. When I was first in Bs As in 2004, I never took a map anywhere because anytime I needed info on where to go, I could hop in somewhere and ask for directions, and if the person didn’t know, they would do their best to find out or find someone who knew, who could help me. So we are wandering around aimlessly and finally come to the big plaza, where I decide to ask the vendors selling snacks on the side of the road. I felt pretty strongly that I was being glared at, so I finally went to a Bolivian or Peruvian lady who had a nice, genuine smile. She immediately helped us, walked away from her stall to point us in the right direction, and said have a good day – all this without purchasing anything from her. Hmm, the only person who knew/was willing to help me was not Argentinean…

So we get on the bus, the driver gets all grumpy because I have to have him repeat the fare to La Boca because he’s chewing on a stick, and then when I ask him to let me know when we’re near El Caminito, he rolls his eyes and says, If I remember. Let me tell you…every tourist must go to El Caminito, and judging by the fact that the bus is empty, and we were occupying the front row seats, how on earth would he forget?!

So I had been talking to some local friends who advised me that in the last 2 years, the number of international tourists has quintupled. And that’s very apparent by walking anywhere in Capital Federal…so I guess when I was here, it was winter, and there were very few, if any, Asian tourists around…so everytime I got on a bus people were treating me like novelty and going out of their way to help me. Another funny thing that I suspect might be happening is that now that I speak Spanish way better than before, it is not uncommon for people here to think that I am Peruvian or Bolivian. Apparently, over the past few years, there has been increasing numbers of Andeans coming to work in Argentina, and the same process that immigrants face on other continents is transpiring here. Locals claim that the immigrants are stealing jobs, when in many cases they are doing jobs that locals would never dream of doing – handing out flyers in the streets, housekeepers, babysitters…there is a lot of growing resentment (according to the few people I’ve talked to, and just the general interaction I see on the street, but I do recognize I just got here and haven’t been here long etc etc…) So if people think I’m from an Andean country, maybe they’re treating me as inferior. Who knows.

Anyway, we get to El Caminito, a lot of people trying to sell you crafts etc, and I felt that there were way more tourists than previously. So as Michael and I are wandering around discussing all of the above, a guy who was so stereotypically Peruvian comes to hand us flyers for the restaurant where he works, and I (probably a bit rudely) told him no and kind of waved him away, and then he flashes me this brilliant smile and says, well it’s ok if you’re not hungry but can we talk for a minute? So I’m like, uhh ok. So he asks me where I’m from, why I speak Spanish, why am I in Argentina and not Peru (hm I was going to ask YOU the same thing)…he mentioned that he does feel discriminated against here…the other day somebody told him dirty Peruvian, go back to your own country…I asked him how he survives without Peruvian food and we wistfully discusses huancaina and aji and papas rellenos and ceviche…So again, the really friendly person who stuck out to me was a foreigner. Hmm.

In the afternoon I met Sacha, Niko’s cousin, at Belgrano, where the Chinatown is, and, incidentally, we went to eat Peruvian food. Yum. We then walked around the small Chinatown, I taught him what a lot of the produce and sauces were, and it was good. I headed back home after, and in the late afternoon Gustavo came and got me and we went north past San Isidro to the river and to walk along a bike path. It was a great, relaxing day.

Cooked handmade pasta at home, which was DE-licious, and in the evening had a little Japanese lesson with Dife and Vale at home, which was great. They actually learn really quickly and they laminated my hiragana and katakana sheets.

Friday I woke up and went immediately to Virreyes where Valeria’s parents were meeting me. I had been invited to a family asado in Valeria’s grandfather’s house. So various aunts and uncles, their husbands and kids, showed up and we had our fill of chicken, chorizo, morcilla, and asado…my first proper parrilla in Argentina this time around, and not a disappointment in the least. They must be the friendliest, least shy, most tarada/tolola (crazy, silly, stupid sorta thing) family in Olivos/San Isidro. I love them. They have won me over again, first in 2004, and now again in 2008. They joke about how they want to adopt me, they’ll help me find a good Argentinean guy that I can marry for the paperwork, and once I get Argentine citizenship it’s easy for me to get permanent residency in Brasil because they’re Mercosur countries etc etc.

So I had a horrible dentist appointment today (my fault, not Vero’s) because I had to get double doses of anesthesia on my bottom teeth so she could work on the 4 remaining cavities (my joke is that the fillings cost 1/6 of what they do in the States so I got 6 cavities instead of 1 because it’s the same price…I have a feeling my parents aren’t going to approve of this humour…)

This evening, it was the weekly Friday night get-together at our house, when all the friends come over and Paula cooks an amazing feast. Tonight it was Patagonian Roast Lamb in a tomato sauce with roast potatoes, paprika…and lots of red wine. I’m realizing that my love affair with Buenos Aires is over…but perhaps it was never actually Buenos Aires that I loved, it was the people in Olivos and San Isidro…and I’m pleased to find that that love affair has not ended, and that suggests to me that it never will.

We were listening to Orishas tonight…my favorite song, El Kilo, blasting…and somehow listening to Cuban music in Argentina speaking Portuguese to a friend just felt so right…

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