Tag Archives: recoleta

Class Struggle in Buenos Aires

20 Apr

A Polo Match, Enjoyed Mostly by the Upper Class

Today I had an interesting conversation at lunch with the guys. Reading a brochure on Buenos Aires, we came to the discussion of the differing realities of life in Argentina, and most notably, in Buenos Aires. The brochure had quotes from writers dating from the 1920s and 30s, talking about how beautiful the city was and how most families had a dozen servants. We laughed at how ridiculously outdated these quotes were and compared modern times to what was sold as the image of this city. The problem is that many people read these kinds of things and hear the phrase “Paris of South America” and think of something totally different from what you get. Those who visit for a few days and stay in Recoleta or Palermo might find that it’s an excellent place to visit, but if you stay longer you’ll notice how it’s not all the rosy picture some people would like you to think.

Buenos Aires can be such a divided place, with a large difference in neighborhood and social status. For a large majority of those who come from Recoleta or Palermo, their lives are in their eyes normal and what you would expect in Buenos Aires. Streets are safe, architecture is magnificent, and everyone is affluent and taking trips to Punta del Este in Uruguay. But far from that sort of life is another reality, in which people struggle to make ends meet each month and have to be careful as they walk in the streets late at night. It’s not to say one is correct and the other is false, but they are unique to the people who live in them.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think Argentina has some of the best marketing geniuses around. Ask most people what they think of when Argentina is brought up and they’ll likely say one of the following: beautiful people with European features, the best soccer players in the world, the best meat and wine, tango dancing, and a cosmopolitan hub in Latin America. For one end, that is true, but it’s also just a small portion of the larger picture. There are a huge number of Argentinians without European features, not everyone plays or cares about soccer, there is a difference between a good steak and a great steak, and on and on. Somehow, the rest of the world has come to see Argentina is a pretty positive light, which isn’t a problem, except that it overlooks the fact that not everything is perfect.

Protests--A Reality for the Majority

This reminds me of the typical architecture in Buenos Aires, with that classical touch and a lovely facade, but turning the corner you notice that the whole thing is a sham. The sides are dirty and faded concrete and inside could be a similar disappointment. It’s like they put so much concern on the front which will be seen by everyone else, that nothing remaining was dealt with much care. In a way, you can say the same thing about the country as a whole. It’s a sort of facade, with many different faces which sell you on various points. Getting to know it a little better and entering, however, and you might not feel like staying too long.

Those who reign in the upper class and sit upon a perch, assuring the world that everything is fine, are essentially digging a bigger hole and burrowing further into a problem which won’t fix itself. Only fixing the problem in one neighborhood or putting more guards in one school will not help anyone in the long run, and only creates a gap which ends in resentment and mistrust. I won’t get into the end result which history has already spelled out in various examples. The point is, you need to hear someone when they say that, yes, those beautiful people who are talented at soccer and dancing are Argentinian. But so are we, and we are just regular, everyday working stiffs. So why don’t they figure into the reality that most of the world sees?

My Last Night in Recoleta

25 Dec

It seems like only yesterday that I was moving out of my own apartment in Palermo to a shared one in Recoleta. It was the beginning of July and winter was picking up steam. After living alone for six months I was looking forward to having some company again and hopefully getting some more friends out of the experience. It would be slightly cheaper and closer to work, allowing me to walk to work, which is a gift in this giant city. In better weather it would also give me the chance to go running right out of the front door and down a stretch of road perfect for a street runner. The 4th move since arriving less than a year earlier in Buenos Aires, it was supposed to be my last, but now at the end of December I find myself spending the last night in Recoleta before moving back to Palermo tomorrow afternoon.

Again, the choice to move out was made by financial reasons, and as inflation continues to rise, it became necessary to find something more stable. Living hand to mouth while working so hard got too old, and knowingly paying way too much for rent was no longer something I could consciously do. So this is my last night in “the most exclusive neighborhood in Buenos Aires.” I never felt totally comfortable here because in reality it’s just not my kind of place. The upper class-snooty-boutique world makes for a nice pass through occasionally, but it simply wasn’t for me on a day-to-day basis. Of course, the part of Recoleta that I live in is considered the most elite part of the whole neighborhood, so not all of the barrio is like this. You won’t find many small shops or businesses that actually suit your normal needs. This proved difficult to me. Transportation was slim because most people have cars.

Now I’ll be moving back to Palermo, but this time in front of the Botanical Gardens. With more transportation, stores and little cafes that are in my budget, I think I’ll be happier. With the possibility to enjoy myself more comes the improvement of the quality of life. So goodbye Recoleta. I’ll still have some fond memories, but it just didn’t work out.

Es Un Tema

31 Oct

Those of you who have followed along throughout my time in Argentina know that one main struggle I’ve had is finding stable housing. In a year in Argentina I’ve already moved four times, with various problem in just finding a place which is affordable with sane people, semi-close to work and nice places to go out, with a close enough park to run by. It might seem like a lot, but what it all comes down to in the end is feeling truly comfortable in a home, rather than just like being in transit in a hostel. There have been many sacrifices on these points. First I had a cheap place but in a bad neighborhood, then living in an uncomfortable situation and no where near a park, followed by way over my price range.

Even on the 4th move to Recoleta (admittedly odd considering how expensive the neighborhood is) it was slightly cheaper than what I was previously paying. But with inflation continuing, the problem now becomes that planning ahead is nearly impossible. If I look at my monthly salary and what I need to get by, X, it unfortunately morphs to Y by the end of the month, and now even though I scrimped and saved as much as I could, I still don’t make it easily to the 31st. This is what happens when you live in a country with an unstable economy. For example, on the rare occasion that I don’t bring a small sandwich to work (cheapest option) I buy a couple of empanadas from a bakery around the corner from the office. In one week the prices of the empanadas, which were cheaper than most places for months, went up twice. Now they’re no longer a cheap and delicious option.

So with these things in mind, I’ve been looking for a new apartment yet again. The idea of moving for a 5th time makes me sick, but since paychecks don’t adjust for inflation, I’m left with few choices. It wouldn’t be my own fault if I barely worked, but I work too long and too hard to be so poor, so something’s gotta give, again. I began looking a couple of weeks ago and have seen many apartments already, but with little success. It’s always the same catch. One apartment is well-located but it’s a dump where I could possibly contract cholera. Another is a great apartment, nice location and affordable, but some odd rule like I can never have a friend over and need to be quiet most of the time. I might have a friend over once every two months and I’m quiet anyway, but I like having the option at least. Plus, if I’m paying to live there I want to feel like it’s my apartment as well, and not that I’m just a guest.

I was also burned twice on two other apartments where everything was great, but after talking with the guys they told me they preferred girls, despite the fact that it wasn’t in the ad. No worries, they just wasted my time and enthusiasm. Thanks. Jumping around town looking for the right place by the end of the month drained me and my body fell exhausted all week, and eating something bad on Monday night didn’t help, making me remember the good old days on the Ecuador diet.

But last night I was hanging out with my friend Pablo and a friend of a friend told me about a Web site which is better than Craigslist, the source I’ve been using. Craigslist for apartments in Buenos Aires is more for foreigners, I was told, but another Web site, CompartoDepto is for Argentines. As much as I hate revealing a secret which could then cause the site to be trafficked by too many people, it’s worth noting. These apartments are for sharing with people in the area, mostly students or young professionals, meaning the prices are all in pesos and very reasonable. I’ve only started to go through it today, but already sent out a few messages. I have to wait now to see if they get back to me and if it works out. But either way, I’ll let you know if this process proves to be successful.

Trying to Watch Football at a Mediocre Sports Bar

12 Sep

I don’t write too many reviews on bars or restaurants here, but after my experience this afternoon, I felt compelled to give my opinion on a place listed in reputable guide books like Lonely Planet. Like many a good American, I love (American) football and was very excited for the first week of games starting Thursday and really kicking off today. Because I’ve been out of the country for two years, I’ve been out of touch on most things sports relating, among other things, and I’m trying to change that. In Ecuador I could only watch a few games, but when I arrived in Argentina I had Slingbox which only worked for me until halfway through the season. After that my other option was El Alamo, a sports bar in Recoleta run by expats for expats.

It’s not a scene that I was particularly crazy about, but I really wanted to watch my Patriots play, but the hardest part was spending my Sunday in a dank bar when it was summer and beautiful out. I never really wanted to head back, but now that I’m in a fantasy league and trying to get back into the sport, I decided to head down there, only a 10 minute walk from my house, for the opening game. Oddly enough, I wound up at El Alamo last night for a drink and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The consecutive English songs, college football on the TVs, and general American bar scene was so familiar. I felt nice.

My joy was quickly brought to an end today as I walked over at 1:30 pm for the 2 pm kickoff (local time). I was a bit hungover and craving a cheeseburger and fries and the Patriots. That was all I wanted out of the day. I was the first patron there and unfortunately found that all of the TVs were down. I would have expected that for the opening day, they would have things ready to roll, but instead it was like they were caught by surprise.

As several employees struggled to figure it out more people showed up and scratched their heads as kick off drew nearer. A grumpy waitress with a cast on one arm asked if I wanted anything and I ordered the desired cheeseburger and fries, but she said the kitchen was closed. Two cooks didn’t show up and they had no bread. I’d have to wait an hour. It was hard to call it anything other than amateur hour. Now, I’m aware that everyone has off days, and that you can’t predict cooks calling in sick or satellite feeds not working out. But the night before every TV was on, and knowing that the bar would fill up should have been obvious to an expat bar scene where they make their killing on football Sundays.

Finally a few TVs were put on, but all we had was sound while soccer showed. I pulled together a New England corner booth, with three others wanting the Pats, and while we waited the wrong broadcasts came on. We could hear that the games had begun and were missing the action. I got there a half hour early to make sure I saw it all. It appeared as though they called in reinforcements to figure out the TVs, and we were told that our game would be in the back corner of the bar by a drafty window. So we shifted positions, and now that the bar was filling up nicely it was hard to get a good seat. With flat screen HD TVs, the best they could do for the Pats game was a feed from Slingbox (an Internet feed). Basically, it was like watching crappy quality stream videos at home. For that I went to a sports bar.

After a long wait I got my cheeseburger, and just in time because I was on the verge of getting sick. I hadn’t eaten all day and was dehydrated, but the greasy fries and giant burger looked incredible, just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps the Alamo had redeemed itself. I took a few bites and was loving it until I saw a cockroach crawling around on the bar by my ketchup packets. Yep, immediate fail. I know this isn’t the United States and the health inspector might not be quite as strict, but I don’t want to find cockroaches by my food that is supposed to be better than what I can make at home. I continued to eat my food because I’m not too high maintenance, but took a mental note that it was definitely necessary to write a review.

The final blow came when with seven minutes left in the 4th quarter, the lousy Internet feed cut out to a different game. Luckily it wasn’t a very close game, but there was still no explanation for why the channel changed, and the bartender couldn’t get it back, or at least didn’t try very hard. By that point enough people were there so that they couldn’t be bothered to focus on one game. But why would I wait through all of that mess and then not see the ending? It’s so unsatisfying.

In the end, the food was still pretty good (when forgetting about the cockroach looking for a handout). The drinks are fairly cheap and the scene, while aggravating at times, can be refreshing after months or years in Latin America. But it’s not the only expat sports bar in the city. For example, The Northside Bar in San Telmo has good food, atmosphere, and fair prices as well. I watched some World Cup games there in July and if I had the energy to make it down there after the fiasco today, I would have. So keep these things in mind when looking for a dank place to watch a game next Sunday.

Grabbin’ a Beer with a Townie

6 Aug

Last night I met up with Gareth Leonard of Tourist2Townie, a really interesting blog about making an attempt to come down to Buenos Aires and set up a life in which he’s not just a tourist living overseas for an extended period of time. The name says it all, really. Gareth suggested we meet at Buller Brewing Company in Recoleta, just across from the cemetery and where he worked for eight months. I’d only been there once before in May, and we sat outside shivering while enjoying some honey beer. This time, in the middle of winter, it was obvious that we’d be sitting indoors.

We pulled up a couple of stools at the bar and talking loudly over the music, shared experiences on traveling, living in Argentina as expats, and the blogging process. I always like meeting with other bloggers because it’s so interesting to me to find out what works, what doesn’t, and what drives them. Gareth comes from a business background, having worked with a start up for several years out of college. His marketing and networking skills are excellent and that’s one of his best points. He amazed me with the amount of contacts that he’s made in his time in Buenos Aires, deeply immersing in the expat society, which is a market I’ve not necessarily shunned, but avoided getting too involved with at the same time.

Just in our time in the bar two friends of his pulled up to chat for a while. There was Kent, a 60-something quality control engineer for a car company who, as he put it, “Gets paid a lot to do shit.” Then there was a Marine who works security at the U.S. Embassy and was all set to go to his next assignment in Tel Aviv until they told him at the last minute, “By the way you’re going to Beijing now.” Working at a bar doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to meet people, and it’s clear that Gareth has had a great time down in Argentina. It’s enviable, and though I’m been more outgoing with trying to meet locals, maybe I should try to meet more expats as well. That’s where the money is, anyway.

There are tons of opportunities for native English speakers out there, and anyone with a clue could put their educations to use for something. I make a locals’ salary but pay a foreigners’ rent, and while I pay less now, I’m still not living the good life that other expats get away with. These realizations from time to time put me in a negative mood, and the only console is that I’m doing something which will be really worthwhile in the long run, not just financially but mentally as well. And at the end of the day, at least I’m not teaching English, which I didn’t want to do at all.

We ordered a couple of rounds of Octoberfest beer and a pizza with fried eggs and bacon. So basically, it was a nice night out. There’s nothing like getting a good beer after drinking Quilmes or Brahma for too long. It’s a shame that I just got to meet Gareth now because he’s headed back to the States on Tuesday, but there’s always the possibility that he’ll be back in a few months. I recommend you check out his blog and see his stories, and check out his many videos. It definitely provides a different look on Argentina than I have given, which I think is a good thing.

The Birthday Weekend Comes to an End

25 Jul

On Friday I turned 24, and walking into the office in the morning with a bag filled with croissants (the tradition here is the birthday person brings in food), my friend Vero immediately came over to tug on my earlobe 24 times. Apparently that’s also a tradition in Argentina, and by the end of the 24 tugs my ear was red and ringing, but I guess it beats the punches I would have expected. The day passed by easily enough, and two of my coworkers took me out for a lunch at a grill near the office. The plan at night was to go out to dinner and then hit up some salsa dancing in San Telmo. Though salsa isn’t very popular here, it’s more of a niche thing that people do sometimes for a different night. My birthday was the occasion this time around.

With some friends I headed to Cumaná in Recoleta. The restaurant is located on Rodriguez Peña 1149 y Avenida Santa Fe and is known for good food, a friendly atmosphere, and cheap prices. We got there are 8 pm which is pretty early for Buenos Aires, but still had to wait an hour for a table for eight people. Waiting outside in the cold, everyone slowly showed up, including Liz, a former volunteer from Ecuador who is working in Montevideo for a couple of months. She used the birthday excuse to come to Buenos Aires for the weekend and hang out.

Once inside and with the table squared away, we ordered out dishes. Ironically they forgot to bring out my dish but quickly brought it up once I spoke up, and we had a really nice meal. I was even caught off guard by the birthday ice cream/brownie dessert, and the entire restaurant started to sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish. After the dinner we went down to Cuba Mía, a salsa club down in San Telmo on Salta 508 y Venezuela. I’d been there a couple of times back in October and November but hadn’t been back since. It started out with a pretty elaborate show, but finally they cleared the tables to allow for dancing.

Overall it wasn’t a ridiculously crazy night and only a handful of friends made it out, but that’s all I really needed anyway. I’ve never had so many people ask me my age on my birthday and follow up the answer with, “Go to hell, asshole.” Apparently I’m still a young guy, or only know older people. Or both. Saturday was a tired and hungover day, understandably, but I walked around with Liz in the afternoon by the Recoleta Cemetery, and we were able to catch up. The last time I’d seen her was September of 2008. For the night we had plans on going out, but after a dinner in Palermo and hanging out with my friend Javier back at the apartment, we were too tired to do anything. In the end it was a better decision because I was still exhausted from Friday night.

Today was low key still, with cold, gray and rain. I showed Liz around by the Microcentro, Plaza de Mayo, and into the Casa Rosada for a bit before seeing her off. So now the weekend has ended quietly, and after a small steak dinner tonight that I’m going to cook, it’s back to work and the regular grind on Monday. The next milestone to look forward to is a year anniversary in Argentina next month.

First Impressions on the Move to Recoleta

4 Jul

I’ve been in the new apartment in Recoleta now for a few days, which is long enough to formulate the ideas for what I think of it so far. Before living here, Recoleta was an exclusive neighborhood that warranted a special reason to visit. It wasn’t simply a neighborhood that I’d be accidentally passing through. But now I live here and I can see that it’s quite residential, with hardly any useful shops. As Woody Allen said, “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.” The mystique is sort of gone now.

Take for example the idea of the shops. There are a couple of supermarkets nearby, but I can’t seem to find any fiambrerías or carnicerías (places for deli, cheese, and meat) which would generally have cheaper prices than a large supermarket chain. They could very well be around but I haven’t found them yet, but of course the farther I have to walk to find them means I’m less likely to go shopping there. I’ve already written about how the price of laundry is exaggeratedly higher here than in Palermo, and the price of food is equally intimidating. I don’t even want to think about going out to eat here. There is a nice looking cafe on the corner that I’ll always walk by and never set foot in. What a waste.

It’s such a beautiful and peaceful area, Recoleta. It really is quite Parisian, with tree-lined streets and belle epoque architecture that doesn’t seem in line with the rest of the city. Even in the middle of winter it has a sense of spring. So I don’t really belong here. I feel like such a sell out that I kind of feel queasy walking through the streets to work. I came to South America looking for something different, and I wound up in the elitist neighborhood. This isn’t what I really came here for, but that doesn’t mean I should feel resentful. However, I continue to walk by a familiar scene that drives me nuts. I keep seeing the maid walking a family dog or doing the food shopping, taking out the garbage, etc. They’re wearing their maid uniform and walking past me like I’m just another person from the neighborhood. But I’m not, and I hate that they have to do these things. It makes me feel awful. Obviously maid service wasn’t invented in Argentina and is a traditional profession throughout the world, but I hate it anywhere I see it. Pick up after yourself. If you want a dog then you can’t just pet it, you have to take care of it too.

To digress, I walk past embassies, five star hotels and the restaurants listed as the best in the city. But I don’t see any dives or corner bars where you can stop to mingle with some locals after work. I don’t see many friendly faces because everyone seems to have a car or taking a taxi. Recoleta is right next to Retiro, the large bus and train station. Yet no subway line runs through Recoleta, making transportation a bit more complicated. I’m not sure, but I get the feeling that this was deliberately done to not only keep other people from getting in, but maintain exclusivity. I find myself embarrassed in telling people where I live now, and don’t want to get the stigma of being some rich kid for living here. I think I’ll just tell people that I live north of the center.

As for the apartment, it’s a nice place to call home, though like with any new surrounding, I’ll need a few more days to adjust and realize that this is my home now. I can’t help shaking the feeling that I’m back in my host family apartment in Sevilla, Spain. Maybe because this is a semi-host family apartment, but it’s also the set up. The signs that people come and go frequently. A single, saggy bed with wire underneath the mattress. A makeshift spot for socks in the form of a plastic cubbie. Placards on the walls explaining the house rules and the lonely feeling it has when no one is around. Yet it’s not all like that. Family photos hang around and comfortable furnishing shows that someone took the time in setting it up for livability rather than to just accommodate someone who will be there briefly.

Considering I still can’t be sure of where all the plates are and which switch turns on which light, I say again these are just basic first impressions, and with time I’ll get the hang of it. But either way, I think I’ll always feel like a bit of a fraud here in Recoleta. We’ll see with time.

A Lonely Expat on July 4th

4 Jul

At this time last year I was barbecuing with my friends at the art studio in Cuenca, Ecuador. It was a mix of American teachers and Ecuadorian artists, and in the back courtyard of the studio we set up the charcoal grill and made far too many hot dogs, cheeseburgers, sausages, french fries, mashed potatoes, salad and more. We drank beer until nightfall and then later in the night met up again to continue festivities. It was a great day. This year I unfortunately can’t say the same. My scenery has changed and I’m in Buenos Aires now, with fewer friends and, sadly, not one American friend to speak of. So it’s a tough day.

Even though the past is always on my mind and I think too much, I don’t often dwell on homesickness or the U.S. I want to make the most of my time here in the now, so I avoid getting sentimental at all costs. I’ll think about the States when I’m back there someday. But days like today are always trump cards. On top of that it’s Sunday, which is the loneliest day in Latin America to be a foreigner. Everyone is with their family and you are alone unless you hook up with some other expats or locals who let you into their circles. And though Buenos Aires is sort of an exception to this rule because of its size, today I find myself alone in a giant city.

It’s winter and even though we’re having spring-like weather this weekend, I miss the summer of July. I miss the 4th of July of my youth, with barbecues, fireworks, friends and family. There are various ways in which traditional holidays can be made better by an abroad experience. For example, a beach vacation for New Years Eve or a special Thanksgiving dinner put on by locals for your benefit. But other times, when you find yourself without that support which keeps you going, it’s just downright depressing. I know that everyone back home is together with their families and friends. Maybe I’ll be mentioned in some sentence like, “Oh yeah, he’s still in South America,” but that’s the only way in which I’ll be present today.

I walked around the new neighborhood today, trying to spot out shops I could use and get a feel for my surroundings. Then I sat down in Plaza Francia for a while watching couples embrace and children run around. No one noticed me, nor passed me a hot dog or Sam Adams. So today I really wish I was home for just a few hours, to reach out and feel my America, my homeland. But I’m here in Argentina instead, working on other things. Independence, personal growth, field experience. Happy Independence Day.