Sunday, November 27, 2011

¿Como es Buenos Aires?

It's easy to say you've fallen in love with a place. Travelers do it all the time, we have too. But this is a different kind of love, not the typical fantasy day dream produced by whirl wind traveling escapades, (see Vienna, Paris, etc) but true love. The better or worse kind where practicality and daily life supersedes romance. Not that romance is dead, but instead of  Palaces and the Eiffel Tower, you get date night in Palermo. Admittedly, the closest experience we've had to home yet.

Such a perspective is deepened when thinking of these neighborhoods as mash-ups of familiar places back home. Palermo is reminiscent of Park Slope and Forte Greene (there's actually a Palermo SoHo too) with designer boutiques, restaurants, cobblestones and remnant colonial charm. Puerto Madero blends Red Hook's revived waterfront look and feel with the restaurants and prices of the meat packing district; the cranes still stand, the steak is abundant and shit is expensive. There's even a China Town, which aside from Paris, is the only other we've encountered on our trip. We've made similar associative comparisons between home and our destinations before, but being a couple of Brooklyneers it's inevitable. Whether or not its true in this instance is questionable though as we're near the end of our trip and are greatly looking forward to going home. I could just have Brooklyn on the brain and see it everywhere.

For clarification, a Brooklynite is someone who is born, bred and lives in Brooklyn. A Brooklyneer is someone who has moved to Brooklyn and made it their home (think pioneer). A term coined by my friends father, Sgt Lynch of the NYPD, (retired) current resident of Bay Ridge. </shout out>

Running through these neighborhoods are an infinite number of Collectivos (busses), dozens alone going down Santa Fe, the nearest artery to our apartment. It runs for several kilometers straight into the heart of the city and is lined non stop with commerce. Most of the high end and chain stores are relegated to the malls, but every manner of mom and pop, boutique and local establishment can be found in this endless stretch of a shoppers paradise. Not the Barney's sample sale kind, but in it's own Buenos Aires way.

Like any city, there are numerous construction sites littered throughout the booming neighborhoods. Buenos Aires is a city on the upswing, it's construction sites are fully operational. We haven't passed a single stalled site that was so common back home.  Instead, we live adjacent to a site that has a daily grill going for the workers. Everyday, Around 10:30 in the morning, the smell wafts it's way into our apartment and reminds us that it's almost time to go to class. People build their own Bacon alarm clocks, but this is far safer and easier to manage. I  imagine that some clever Argentinian has seen the Bakon alarm clock and is now hidden away in his secret lab/BBQ working feverishly to create the Asada Alarm Clock. Did I say imagine? I meant hope. 

There are more parillas per square block than pizzerias in Brooklyn. Which is a good thing because the pizza here quite frankly sucks. Thankfully, Argentina eats more beef per capita than any other country in the world. We've eaten more steak this past month than we have in the past year. Any weight I lost in India has been healthily restored thanks to Argentinian steak and Beer. The latter of which, I know have an obsession which. The beer of choice here is Quilmes, my favorites being the red lager and the bock. Quilmes controls 75% of the market share and was founded by a German immigrant back in the 1800's (impressive beer credentials). They're real beers. Eastern European quality and taste. None of that piney, over hopped, over flavored micro brews that are so common in every bar in Brooklyn. I may not be able to find it when I get home, so I've been drinking a liter a day to get my fill. I'm not becoming an alcoholic, that's just the size of the bottles they come in.

Don't get me wrong, it's not all steak and beer in Buenos Aires. There's enough culinary options here to hold it's own with other big cities, but you'll always be known for what you do best. Here, it's steak, wine, empañadas, and dulce de leche. We've already taken to making empañadas at home and put dulce de leche on everything (except the empañadas). Though there are traditional empañada filling recipes, you can actaually put anything you want in them. We're even going to make banana and dulce de leche empañadas for breakfast tomorrow (ignore the last parantheses).

Before your think all we've done here is eat, we've actually spent hours walking around the city, have met numerous locals and Claire can even speak a little spanish now. What little we've met of the people and have read of it's history, it's easily apparent this is a city of survival. Life goes on in the face of adversity, a little hard to judge from our perspective of swanky shops and fine dining in Palermo, but you can see it lying just underneath the surface. The homeless encampments in the city squares are neither vagrant filled squatter slums, or smelly homeless enclaves you'd find tucked away in places like New York or London. It's not the slums of Delhi either. They appear full of people just trying to get by, but definitely steps above the aforementioned. On two separate occasions to date, we've seen make shift Asadas in progress. I guess when you're country has the highest per capita beef consumption rate in the world, even the homeless eat meat. Sad, but impressive at the same time.

Also sad and impressive is the life of Eva Perone. She came from a small town, became a famous star, married a powerful politician, empowered the impoverished (creating enemies by doing so) and was nominated for Vice President all by the age of 33 before she was stricken down by cancer. Then, her corpse was hidden for 17 years by the military after the Coup. Though it was later returned to her husband, it had been badly desecrated and eventually laid to rest in her families tomb. Her enduring popularity is ever present in the city. She's the only historical figure we've  seen prominently who isn't some old general, on a horse, pointing (we've lost count of these kinds of statues throughout the city). Given her unofficial title of "Spiritual leader of the People", it would be easy to draw comparisons between her and Gandhi. There are similarities in both the legacy of their work and their lasting endearment, but I've already written about Gandhi and wouldn't do her any justice. Gandhi defeated the British empire and her life was cut short, I'll leave the debate up to the historians. Sadly there's no good documentaries on iTunes and I would never endorse Madonna as an actress. However, if you need a floor filler remix while DJing a chelsea nightclub at 5am, that's another story altogether.

There are millions of stories this city has to tell. It would be impossible to recount all the ones we've created ourselves alone.  I've always heard that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America and I've made several allusions to NYC myself, but the truth is Buenos Aires is itself. Calling it anything else dilutes the brand so to speak. Why not just call it what it is? A grand metropolis, full of history, charm, struggles, and achievements.

And steak.

- Bill

*Editorial note: we learned today that the expression "Paris of the South" comes from the countries strong ties to France and subsidized immigration of French people to Argentina in the 1800's.


  1. Hi, Claire and Bill! We met at the empanada class at Teresita's last week (I chose "backpack"). My parents and I are back in DC now, but I just wanted to say hi and that your blog is great. I hope you had a great time in Mendoza, and keep up the good posts! I haven't had a chance to try out making empanadas again since the class. How have yours been turning out?

  2. Hi Marita! It's good to hear from you, thanks for reading our blog! We have tried to make the empanadas, they were good.... But somehow not as good as Teresitas... Maybe years and years of practice will do the trick :)