5,443,200 Seconds in Buenos Aires, Mas o Menos

Reflecting on our two months in Buenos Aires was a thought-provoking mental exercise. What did we do in Buenos Aires? We decided to stop and be stationary for two months midway through the trip because we figured that after almost 5 months of being on the move, we would be glad to settle down and just relax. And that is a fair overview of our time there. During the weeks that we weren’t taking our Spanish lessons, we fell into a fairly familiar routine that went something like this:

9:00 AM – Adam got up and read the news. I stretched out full length on the bed and went back to sleep.

10:00 AM – I got up and made toast.

10:15 AM – 8:30 PM – Maybe we took a walk. It depended. Was the housekeeper coming? Then yes, we took a walk. Was it absurdly hot outside? Then we turned on the air conditioner and read all day.

8:30 PM – We ate dinner at a time that is still laughably early by Argentine standards. The equivalent of the early bird special.

9:00 PM – 1:00 or 2:00 AM – We read if we hadn’t gotten a chance to earlier, had some wine, watched movies with Spanish subtitles (to practice our Spanish, of course).

4:00 AM – I woke up convinced that there was someone in the apartment, laid in bed with the thought tormenting me and every little creak alarming me until I finally got up the courage to go downstairs and scour the apartment for intruders. Once or twice Adam gamely, if groggily, accompanied me.

4:30 – Resolving that the apartment was clear after looking behind the shower curtain, I used this opportunity to drink some soda and use the bathroom before going back to bed.

So it was quite a regular groove that we fell into during our time in the city. I don’t mean to say that we didn’t do anything in the way of sightseeing. We did end up walking around most of the city during our time there. And we did see some things of note. Previously I discussed the ecological reserve which we took walks in frequently, and El Ateneo bookstore. We also saw all of the famous streets and squares: Plaza de Mayo, Plaza San Martin, Avenida 9 de Julio, etc. And, of course, there were some other highlights.

The botanical gardens and zoo:

The botanical garden in the middle of the city is severely incompatible with its surroundings. No amount of foliage can drown out the noise and air pollution that blast the garden from all sides. And, having become something of a connoisseur of botanical gardens during this trip because they are usually free, I would rate the gardens themselves as so-so. What makes them more palatable is the addition of around 100 stray cats that the garden generously cares for by providing food and veterinary care. After we had circled the garden once, I claimed that I would like to see the side nearest the entrance one more time; I hadn’t quite gotten a good look at it. Adam eyed me suspiciously. “You just want to go back over there because that’s where all of the cats are hanging out.”

How does he know these things? But I got my fill of animals since we visited the zoo that day as well. The Buenos Aires zoo is actually not bad as far as zoos go even if they consider cows an attraction worth having. The nice thing about it was that they had several types of animals that I had never seen before including the adorable Patagonian hare which roams free on the premises and looks like a cross between a capybara and a wallaby. I also saw a tiny species of monkey that I think will work perfectly in the atrium of the house that we are going to build when we get back. Of course, the atrium will have to be enclosed so that the monkeys don’t accidentally fall into the moat and get eaten by one of the hippos.

The Recoleta Cemetery:

I feel quite comfortable saying that the Recoleta Cemetery is the gaudiest cemetery in the world. It is famous for being the burial place of Evita, but hundreds of other famous and/or incredibly wealthy people are buried there too. Recoleta differs from other cemeteries in one important way. There are no burial plots with simple headstones or even elaborate headstones for that matter. Everyone who is buried in the cemetery had to have enough money to build a huge monument. Therefore the entire cemetery is full of tombs that are the size of small houses or churches each designed with their own special (and highly unnecessary) decorative features: stained glass windows, towering marble statues, enormous plate glass windows eerily displaying the coffins inside. It is like a small town except for all of the inhabitants are dead. Considering the problems that large cities like Buenos Aires have with abject poverty and homelessness, you would think that a cemetery like Recoleta would really rub some people the wrong way.

Puerto Madera:

Puerto Madera is the place that you want to go if you want to feel like you are back in the United States. Puerto Madera is the expansive river-walk area that consists of shops, restaurants, bars, and theaters, all catering to the tourist crowd. Don’t get me wrong; the area is attractive. Even though the river is the same color as Willy Wonka’s milk chocolate river, the brick buildings and cobblestone walkways give the area a kind of…materialistic charm. Walking through the area you feel as though you could be in San Francisco or San Diego, or any other waterfront city. If you can ignore that fact that there is not only the ubiquitous TGI Friday’s but also a Hooter’s, then you can pass a reasonably pleasant afternoon walking through the area. It is definitely more peaceful than the rest of the city.

Meat:

Even though I cooked our meals most of the time, we did get the chance to go out to dinner on several occasions. I must say this about the people of Argentina: not only do they know their meat, but they understand their meat. They gently caress the meat and whisper to it and the meat whispers back all of its secrets. As a result, the person sitting at the table in the restaurant will receive some of the highest quality and most well-cooked meat that he has ever had for a fraction of the cost of a dinner in the United States. And the portions are huge. At one meal when we ordered the tenderloin, we did not get a small steak cut from the tenderloin. We each got what amounted to half of an entire tenderloin. At another restaurant when I ordered the grilled chicken and vegetables, I received approximately half of a chicken accompanied by a whole onion, two bell peppers, a half of an eggplant, and a large potato. Each of these meals were the kind where after every bite you roll your eyes and sigh, “This is so good.” And each of these meals for two, including a bottle of wine, cost between $30 and $40.

Will I miss Buenos Aires? I don’t think so. I don’t regret our time there, but it isn’t one of those cities that I will long to go back to. The city has some beguiling qualities, but I have never been to a noisier city in my life. There are a few things that I will miss. I will miss the three-legged dog that ran contentedly around the open-air market with his useless front leg flopping around wildly in circles. I will miss the view of the San Telmo cathedral dome from our front window and the soothing piano playing from the apartment next door. I will miss drinking sangria by the light of the moon in the Plaza Dorrego right outside of our apartment. It will be the little things that I miss in that big, noisy city.

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