Ah, finally we arrived in Buenos Aires to stay for longer than a couple hours loitering in a ferry terminal or outside the domestic airport among the hot dog vendors, or in the enormous bus station where we had it on good authority that nearly 50% of all passengers did not have anything stolen. But that wasn’t the only good thing we had heard, and in fact the praise was so consistent for this massive, sprawling city – unusual, as cities tend to be universally slagged by backpackers – that we decided to plan ahead and rent an apartment for two weeks at the end of our trip. Partially so we could spend a leisurely amount of time soaking in its reputed ambience, European sophistication and laid-back South American charm, with perhaps just a pinch of meat-induced heart disease for edginess, and partially because living in hotels means having your entire home life take place in the bedroom which, although it may sound sexy, really just boils down to a fierce and relentless battle for pillows. Eventually you start to feel a little smarmy, like if you didn’t brush your teeth for a couple days, or were to watch Big Brother by yourself.
As it turns out we are very happy with our decision as we’ve found the city to be vibrant, varied and relaxing – a difficult blend to achieve for any city, let alone one with more people than an Old Navy sweater sale. So many different types of neighbourhoods: from the cobblestoned streets and antique markets of old, charming San Telmo (where we were staying), to beautiful, green upscale Palermo, to pandering-for-your-tourist-dollars-after-pissing-on-the-sidewalk Boca. Even the vast downtown area retained a certain allure despite the throngs of well-dressed Portenos (people from Buenos Aires) scurrying around the streets like Colin Farrell after he’s run out of crab shampoo. Which led me back to a theory I’ve been enamoured with in the past, to Laynni’s extremely bored chagrin, in which I propose that one of the most accurate ways to evaluate the people of a particular city is by observing their behaviour on the sidewalks. Very clever, you say? I agree. How’s that working out for me? Uh, okay, I guess. Thank you, I will keep it up then.
Essentially I believe you can learn a number of things simply by dealing with large numbers of people on very narrow sidewalks and, if you are abnormally obsessed with numbers and have more time on your hands than that naked gay guy that won the first Survivor, you can then rate those things you’ve learned on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing the absolute worst (such as losing a national championship because you violated the first rule of the game you were taught as a child), and 5 representing the absolute best (i.e. Jennifer Aniston’s nipples):
– Politeness – 4. They don’t exactly dive out of the way but they, just like the girl who drank two bottles of Baby Duck and got left behind by her friends, are almost always willing to give a little.
– Intelligence – 3. The streets aren’t complete chaos like they are in places like Cairo (which, incidentally, would receive 1’s across the board, although I’d consider giving bonus points for all the full manly moustaches) but it’s definitely not an OCD wedding rehearsal out there either.
· Awareness – 4. With the obvious exception of women with umbrellas, universally accepted as more oblivious than I am to run-on sentences, Portenos almost always seem to be conscious of their surroundings, most likely out of necessity, having to constantly be on the lookout for dogshit (more on that later).
· Agility – 5. Practically masters of the last second shoulder duck to avoid a collision. Needless to say, if Rihanna was even half as nimble she might still have a boyfriend.
So, having boiled the residents of Buenos Aires down to a finite, and reasonably flattering number,”4″, I can now explain the dogshit comment a bit more. Hmm, how would I put this? Um………..there is dogshit everywhere. You can’t walk ten steps in San Telmo without having to dodge a pile the size of one of Geena Davis’ shoes. The prevailing caramel colour has led to its local nickname, Dulce de Leche, which literally means Sweet Milk, is one of the more popular candies in Argentina and tastes kind of like caramel. Obviously, this comparison has sort of ruined it for us. Nonetheless, that is what it looks like, and kind of how it feels when you step on it, your leg suddenly shooting out from under you like a greased trout, then spending the next 10 minutes walking through puddles (of water, you hope), stamping your foot on the pavement and miserably picking at the sole with small piece of wood. Hypothetically, of course. For reasons as yet unclear to us, everybody living on upper floors of these well-secured apartment buildings with plenty of deadbolts on their doors and the nearest patch of grass 6 or 7 antique stores away all have a couple of huge dogs. Dogs that bark, and need exercise and, apparently, need to shit on the sidewalk. Dulce de Leche. It’s the reference to food that I like.
On a more positive note I managed to get myself to two different Primera Division soccer games during my stay here in Buenos Aires, home of the most professional teams in the world. The first was Estudiantes – River Plate, the current South American champs visiting a down-on-their-luck BA icon. Exciting game in the best stadium in Argentina, La Monumental, which hosts everything from the Argentine National Team to the AC/DC – “We won’t stop strumming the same 3 chords until our illegitimate children win state authority to have us put in retirement homes” World Tour. One of the highlights, for me and every other camera-toting perv around, which was a fairly significant number, really, was the group of political lobbyists on hand to promote a certain candidate for President of the River Plate Athletic Association. Or something along those lines. Not too sure about the political details, but what I can tell you that short shirts, severe push-up bras, neck tattoos and thin red tights covering black thongs, lo and behold, get my attention far more than insipid, vague insults like “He voted NO to human rights”, or “Can she be trusted to govern like a man?” Campaign managers take note. Anyway, I am told it was an entertaining game in which River tied it up in extra time to the delight of the home crowd…but I can’t be certain.
The following weekend we got to see a Boca Juniors game, probably the most famous team in South America (muy loco Diego Maradona’s alma mater), in no other than La Bombonera, aka “The Chocolate Box”. I don’t know exactly what that is supposed to mean, only that it’s considered too racy to say on TV in many Latino countries and has been copyrighted by the Mexican porn industry. Incredible fans. Maybe it was the steep, crowded stadium, maybe it was the disappointing lack of half-nude political activists, but the fans never let up all game despite their team’s mediocre spot in the standings, a crushing second goal by long-time rivals Independiente that proved too much to overcome, and cement benches hard enough to stop time. I do, however, suspect the real source of their unwavering enthusiasm may have been the weird arm pump they obstinately hurled in the direction of the visitors that either represented the lightest arm curl known to man or else they all have the unlikely ability to shoot invisible spider webs.
As for touring the city itself we made sure we visited at least one new place each day, ok, maybe every second day, either way, by the time we were done we’d toured most of the city’s highlights including the impressive Recoleta Cemetery, like a mini-city for rich dead people; the Obelisk, surrounded by “the widest street in the world”, rampant capitalism and several McDonald’s. And, just to make sure we had all our bases covered, we also signed up for 48 hours of unlimited hop on / hop off excitement on the Buenos Aires Tourist Bus. It doesn’t say so on the brochure but I think it is safe to say that if you want to truly feel like a clueless tourist in an unfamiliar city there is no better way than sitting upstairs in a bright yellow open-roofed bus wearing huge “80’s hip hop is where it all started, son” headphones like we were auditioning for the part of crass tourist #5 in the next Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy. One of the most interesting things we learned on our giant yellow bus, right after the fact that there’s no good way to save face after nearly sticking your head up an old lady’s dress while climbing up really steep, narrow stairs, was that of the 10 advertised languages you could listen to the tour in, only three are real languages, four are just static, Japanese and Chinese are very quiet and Portuguese, lo and behold, is apparently just Spanish spoken in a woman’s voice. Which does help to explain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Coincidentally, as I type this Laynni just saw a TV commercial about dogshit on the city’s streets and walkways. Unfortunately, though, it was in Spanish so she can’t say for sure whether or not they are for or against.
One place that was very unique in the overall scheme of the city was Puerto Madero, the old port district that has recently been “rejuvenated” (as though it was a porn star’s vagina) to include a sleek new promenade lined with chic stores and posh restaurants. Just a few blocks further out is the Wildlife Estuary which includes several nice, wide paths for walking, jogging and biking. The fresh, natural greenery and open swamps stand in stark contrast to the contemporary skyscrapers in the background. One of the city’s free tourist guides describes it as follows:
“There are also many birds and small animals. Ideal for bird watching, taking pictures, riding bicycles or jogging. And an excellent meeting point for gays.”
Suddenly all those innocent looking grassy meadows and dilapidated benches took on a more sinister feel. Not to mention the dozens of overweight men cruising the walkways shirtless and out of breath, or the wiry little gnome of a man feeding fruit to the fish in nothing but his saggy blue briefs.
Merry Christmas to all, and Happy New Year from Mazatlan…
Canadian Couple Spurns Tango
Buenos Aires, Argentina – Two Canadian tourists ranging from mid- to mid-late 30’s were arrested Tuesday on charges of failing to enthusiastically embrace “The Tango”. Authorities allege that despite the fact this was their first time in Buenos Aires, they carried their camera everywhere and actually went on the Buenos Aires Tourist Bus of their own volition, still they failed to cultivate even a semblance of a “Tango Lifestye”. The city’s Manager of Tourism declared this to be an unprecedented snub.
“Buenos Aires is “The Tango”, and “The Tango” is Buenos Aires. They are one and the same, just like the Olsen twins, or Uruguay and Paraguay.”
Sources close to the couple admitted they had noticed an abnormal lack of affection for BA’s most famous activity but that they never suspected it went as far as complete indifference. A “close friend” explained,
“They thought they were being real Porteno just because they were staying in a tiny little apartment on the 7th floor of an old colonial building with claustrophobic elevators built sometime during the Korean War. But they just didn’t get it. It’s not just about how many times you eat a 20 ounce steak at midnight, take your dog for a dump on the sidewalk or convince your grandpa to go to the park in his underwear. You can’t be a true BA expat until you pretend to love ‘The Tango’.”
The defendants were unavailable for comment, reportedly busy eating at McDonald’s, watching American movies and loitering in the Estuary.