Signs of history and class differences are all over Buenos Aires, and all you have to do is step outside to see them in front of you. Yesterday my friend Pablo helped me move a few bags to my new apartment in Recoleta, though I won’t be moving in there until the end of the week. He also brought over a book for me to read. “A Short History of the Argentinians,” by Félix Luna, which was translated into English, isn’t a greatly written account, though it keeps the text simple and more like a lecture from a professor. But I’ll get back to that later.
We took the bus to Recoleta and got off on Posadas and Callao, a very exclusive address in this city. Pablo’s eyes lit up as he said, “Qué cheta,” meaning how upper class/snobby/posh, etc. It’s true that though my rent will be cheaper, I’m now moving into the most exclusive and expensive parts of the city, which gives me mixed feelings. First, the cost of living might go up a bit in terms of food and local activities. Pablo estimates that food at the supermarket will cost 10% more than in Palermo, where I currently live. Second, I don’t want to get that same response from people when I explain where I live. “Ohh, look at you, rich American guy.” Nada que ver, nothing to do with it, I’ll have to say. I’m there because an opportunity came up, but otherwise I never would have looked for housing there. My progression has been truly Horatio Alger in Argentina. I arrived to La Boca, emerged to the Microcentro, found legs in Palermo, and am now hopefully retiring to Recoleta. Rags to riches to inevitable rags.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–Buenos Aires is one of, if not the most eclectic cities I’ve ever seen. You take the bus two stops and go from Paris to New York, wait in traffic a few minutes and then pop in to the North End or Italy. It’s all there, but doesn’t mean it’s all good. The architecture, and I suppose as I’ll find out in time the culture in Recoleta is Parisian. Living there gives a certain characteristic to you, whether or not you were born and bred there. As they say here, es muy fashion.
Today I started the book Pablo gave me. It was another beautiful, sunny day, so I kicked myself out of the apartment and went to the park to read, maybe for the last time before the move. I find that Luna’s style is somewhat awkward, going between conversational tones to textbook dates and names. Several times I had to re-read just to wrap my brain around the concepts I flipped through. Luckily through experience and work I have learned a great deal about this country already, but otherwise one might find themselves lost reading this history of Argentina.
Of the first two chapters, what stood out to me most was the note at the end of the first, stating that Buenos Aires was essentially left on its own by Spain and thus out of a necessity to survive, turned to illegal trading and forms of pre-gaucho cattle “elimination.” They came to the defense of Colonia del Sacramento in modern day Uruguay against the Portuguese and made their own name, so that by the time the provinces were formed and needed protection, they were able to offer it. Whenever Tucumán, Córdoba, or Santiago del Estero needed support, they were always willing to help. Yet Buenos Aires always had an excuse and wouldn’t come to their aid. They were too into themselves. I can’t help but see the parallels to today.
While reading this I though about how I’ve been here 9 months and that even though my friends are few, I know it will be hard to leave when I do over a year from now. It’s inevitable to feel nostalgic for something, regardless of how it is at the time. I thought about what it would be like to go home for a vacation and come back here. Suddenly the feeling came back to me without leaving. It’s cool to be here, after all. I’m doing something amazing that I can always look back on. I still have over a year to go, but now that nearly a year has gone by, that means that a sort of countdown is beginning. The second half.
I thought about when I should go home, and what I should do. I want to spend some time in Boston before moving to Washington D.C. for grad school. I want to go to Crescent Ridge for some ice cream one night with my friend Fish as the lights have already dimmed and flies are hovering everywhere, and as we wait in line behind 100 other people we’ll complain about how the price of a frap went up again.
By the time I was done thinking about that I had mixed feelings. Suddenly the idea of losing out on those little moments made the life here seem a little less fulfilling. I go back and forth with these moments on a weekly basis, though in general I try not to think about it. In the back of my mind I know that one day my time here will be history too, so the present is all I can hope to get out of it. I’ll let you know how the book ends.