I´ve been in Buenos Aires for nearly three weeks now and finally feel like I´m starting to be a part of it – just as I get ready to end my Spanish course and wave goodbye to the bustling city that supposedly never sleeps.
It´s been a productive few weeks – I´ve become semi-competent in Spanish (managing to make it past the “my name is Laura and I like listen music” stage), checked out the local bars and boliches a respectable number of times and met my fair share of interesting characters – among the latter a Canadian who lived with inuits in the Arctic for a year and a South African-German who spent ten days not speaking in a medidation temple (and subsequently acting like the gap yah twat in The Inbetweeners 2 movie). Personally I´d rather not go insane and “see my soul shatter into pieces around me like tripping on DMT” in an attempt to “find myself”, but each to their own.
I´ve also galloped horseback through an Argentine ranch with a local gaucho, eaten the equivalent of several cows in steak and (gradually) got to grips with the slow pace of life that shows itself in everything from the average walking speed to the amount of time it seems to take to get a cup of tea in a caf (and this is the country´s most cosmopolitan of all).
But it´s a breath of fresh air for someone who´s used to charging through the City at 100mph and running for trains for the sake of saving a few seconds – and it´s been nice slowing things down a bit.
It´s also been great getting to know the local culture – and it hasn´t disappointed. From my experience Argentines are as a whole extremely warm, open and only too willing to help – pretty useful given my questionable map-reading skills and abnormally high frequency of general fails (which spiked at the start of my trip and usually involved embarassing clearly-a-tourist moments in various supermarkets/cafes/streets across the city).
The creative scene here is huge – perhaps unsurprising given the fact freedom of expression was pretty much shut down under the dictatorship just a few decades ago – and it´s at parque centenario, a huge green space filled with yogis, charango-players and jugglers, that I noticed it the most. Self-expression seems to be something important to almost every “porteno” I´ve met – some have been fairly vocative about their political views and the Plaza de Mayo near the government house sets the scene for a dozen protests in any one week (/day).
Meanwhile at the weekend almost every public space comes alive with some sort of music and it´s that outdoor culture I´ve come to love. On Mondays an impressive drum show called La Bomba de Tiempo takes over an artsy cultural centre – it´s a festival-type affair full of rusta-types and tourists and I´ve already been twice to throw some shapes.
La Bomba tells something of the diversity of the city – Recoleta and Palermo, well-to-do areas full of al-fresco diners and bourgeois brunches, wouldn´t look out of place in Paris. Centro/downtown combines yet more French-inspired architecture (such as the ornate opera house, Teatro Colon) with a slightly rougher-round-the-edges feel that extends into neighbourhoods like San Telmo (host to a huge market on Sundays) and La Boca, full of brightly-coloured buildings that whisper something of the South America I envisaged before coming over here. It´s also the source from which the tango sprung.
To stereotype, the culture here is generally a lot more sensual/warmer than back in old Blighty and the tango seems to embody the whole thing. Both men and women greet each other with kisses and there´s none of the awkard to hug-or-not-to-hug/how to shake a hand appropriately politics that exists in Inglaterra. Embracing it with a salsa class was comical and an experience I´d probably rather not repeat due to my questionable coordination skills, but it´s another cultural thing I – a girl who appreciates a bit of personal space every now and then – am gradually getting used to. Given I´ve got an 18 hour bus ride tomorrow that´s probably for the best.
Next stop is wonder-of-the-world Iguassu Falls – and if it´s anything like my experience here so far, I´ve got a feeling it won´t disappoint.