Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No Hay Monedas, what's going on Buenos Aires??

The thinking, thinking, and thinking continues. Portenos, please please don’t get all mad at what I write…you know who you are.

Argentina. I came here first in 2004, bought a one way ticket from Lima, and thought that in my 5 weeks I could go down the coast of Argentina, back up the coast of Chile, and return to Peru overland. That didn’t happen. Not even close. I ended up staying a total of 3 weeks in Buenos Aires, shooting back and forth between different parts of Patagonia and other regions such as Mendoza and Iguazu. I was head over heels in love with all things Argentine. Asado, parrilla, vino tinto de Mendoza, alfajores, glaciers, mushrooms (of the gastronomic variety mind you), dulce de leche…it was all all all great. And it still is. But what I’ve realized that I have changed immensely during the past 4 years, and Argentina has as well.

Buenos Aires feels completely different this time. I came in the winter in 2004, so much less tourism, cold brisk days with a chilly wind. Now it’s hot and heavily humid. What’s struck me is how the energy of the city seems to be different to me now. Of course, it could be because I am coming from Rio de Janeiro, which is the definition of laid-back, everything will work out ok because there are palm trees swinging in the breeze under a sunny blue sky. But I think there’s more to it than that.

People seem stressed. Really stressed. In a rush, rude, not smiling, panicking. I arrived Tues nigh/Wed morning in Buenos Aires and went to stay with Julio, a lovely porteno I met in Rio de Janeiro. He lives in Palermo, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Beautiful European architecture, French trees and brick lined streets, boutiques, specialty restaurants…it is lovely. Probably some of it was self-constructed, but I felt very much at unease there, so much so that I went running the other day…now, anybody that knows me at all knows that I DO NOT RUN. So something was definitely going on.

There is a coin crisis in Buenos Aires. Now, please, explain to me how a society can possibly expect to function smoothly if there is literally an upheaval anytime anyone needs a coin. Oh, and wait, it’s not like Myanmar which doesn’t have coins. No, in fact, they’ve got lots of coins here. Buses and trains MUST be paid for with coins…if you get on the bus and you don’t have monedas to pay for your fare, well, you’re getting kicked off. So some people literally have to buy something at a kiosk every time that they have to take any form of transport. That’s a lot of extra chocolate bars and gum that you don’t really need or want. Oh, and some of the kiosks have alarmed “NO HAY MONEDAS” signs. I went to have a medialuna (yes, I still love the food here) the other day. Medialuna means half-moon in Spanish, and that is what it is – a croissant shaped like a half moon, with some delightful sugary glaze on top. It was 1 peso. I gave the girl a 2 peso bill, and she looked at me as if I was evil. “Pero no tenes un peso?” “No.” Upon telling her I didn’t have a peso, she literally asked me WHY “Por que no?” Umm…sorry?

When I went to take the metro and told the guy I didn’t have coins, he told me I had to buy enough credits on my metro card so he wouldn’t have to give me any change. Hmm.

I went to an internet café which had a clearly posted sign about making sure to ask first if there was change for any bill larger than 50 pesos. That’s fair. I had a 20, so I sat down to use the internet, and afterwards, went to pay with my 20. And was met with more evil looks. “Por que no preguntaste antes si tuvieramos cambio para 20?” Umm I didn’t ask if you had change for a 20 because it says only to ask if you need change for a 50. So I asked if they had change, she haughtily replied no, and then I said, well, I guess I can’t pay you because I’m not giving you 20 pesos for a 1 peso usage. And then she opens the drawer full of change. What on earth is going on in this city?!?!

There are, of course, a lot of wonderful things about Buenos Aires. The Europeanness of the city didn’t strike me so much the first time I was here because it was a period of my life when I had been going to Europe very very frequently – as much as 3 times a year. However, the last time I have been to Europe was in December 2005…so about 2 and a half years now. Considering that since I was in Argentina in 2004, I have traveled through the Middle East, West Africa, South and Southeast Asia, lived in Japan, Australia, and most recently through Central America, yes, the European aspects shock me, and yes, they are beautiful. The city is architecturally stunning, with the facades and walls and lanterns and number plates on doors and carving and woodwork.

On Wednesday night I went with a group of CS to the Jardim Botanico for a free poetry and music night, and it was lovely. I was struck by oh-how-far I felt from Brasil. Cross a border and you’re crossing a continent, it felt like. Or 3.

Thursday I met Mariano and we went for a stroll on Avenida Corrientes, which is the epitome of crowded, busy working people but we had a great time looking at bookstores and discussing music, literature, and film…he’s macanudo.

I got back to Olivos on Friday afternoon. Arrived to meet Dife and Valeria, the couple who had adopted me in 2004. They were friends of a friend of mine in LA, and I met them at a birthday party, and proceeded to spend 3 weeks at their house. I was really apprehensive and hesitant about seeing them this time, because I was worried that our dynamic would be so different. Apparently, there was absolutely no need to worry because it is exactly the same love, warmth, humor, and acceptance that I had here in 2004. Which leads me to believe that they are my friends for life. They remember exactly what I love, the jokes we used to make, the words I used to mix up, the lunfardo (Buenos Aires slang) they used to teach me…I mean, really, they are absolutely lovely special people and I am so lucky to have them in my life.

Friday night the entire group of friends from 2004 came over for dinner, and it felt as if not a day had passed. A feast with lots of red wine…heaven. Saturday we did a surprise party for a friend, and I made 10 rolls of sushi – a huge success. Because everyone knows how much I love choripan with chimichurri – Chorizo is the type of sausage here that is melt in your mouth delicious…pan is bread…so it’s a sausage sandwich…and chimichurri is a sauce that came from the Europeans who told the locals Give Me Curry…chimichurry…so legend says…Anyway, we had sushi and choripan. No complaints whatsoever.

I headed into Caballito for a CS party where I was able to speak lots of Portuguese : )

Sunday was sleep, sleep, sleep…then in the afternoon Rogelio and Anahi took us to Plaza Franca for the Artisan market, and to La Florida. We cooked some milanesas for dinner…mmm…

Monday Gustavo, who was one of my first Couchsurfers who stayed with me in Tokyo in March 2006, took me out for lunch. Bife de Chorizo to die for, and we somehow decided to drink a bottle delectable wine, and indulged in carrot cake…I didn’t move much that afternoon…

In the evening I met Niko’s cousins who took me to La Bomba del Tiempo, a percussion event full of marijuana, Argentineans with dreads, and lots and lots of foreigners. It’s shocking how full the city is of international tourists these days. Seem to be North American and European…still don’t see many Asians at all.

Which leads me to my next topic….

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