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April 03, 2013

What we know so far (part 2)


We left Vancouver, on the left coast of Canada, before the end of September to spend three months in the Yukon, at sixty-four degrees north and, for the better part of one week, minus forty-eight degrees Celsius. January 2nd found us living in a sub-tropical city of fourteen million where the Humidex temperature hit plus forty-eight one day later that month.



After almost three months in the Argentine capital, a certain clarity has developed around a few things. Useful research this stuff:

1. Not all taxi drivers in Buenos Aires are bad, or crazy or possessed. Only some. In fact the taxi system has greatly improved over the past few years. Today, you are far less likely to be driven around aimlessly while the meter ticks at your expense. Thanks to efforts by the City Government drivers are now more accountable and responsible. Many taxis have GPS devices which are helpful in the unlikely event your driver doesn't know where you are going (and you don't either so that doesn't help). Most drivers are polite, even affable. It's true, some are daredevils delighting in hearing gasps from their passengers, but only one or two we rode with had anything approaching a suicidal death wish. Don't believe all you read in the guidebooks: taxis in Buenos Aires are safe and fun (fingers crossed and close your eyes).

2. Buenos Aires is not the scary place it is sometimes made out to be in guide books and on the interweb. The city doesn't change radically when the sun goes down. In fact that's when most portenos go out to eat! We wandered the streets of BA late at night and into the early morning hours from our very first days here, and always with little concern, if any. Common sense is a good plan, like not flashing a wad of money at a street corner for example, or speaking loudly American style everywhere you go. I read one article on the web that suggested avoiding the parks of Palermo after sunset. Unless you're actually looking for trouble, nothing could be more removed from reality. Many guide books and websites think everybody visiting Argentina is staying at a Sheraton or a Hilton, and many do of course. But if you can't manage without having USA Today with your bacon and eggs every morning, and asking loudly "How much is that in US dollars?" and if you really need CNN or Fox News on the television twenty-four hours a day, then yes, maybe you should stay in at night. Or stay home.

3. Dining out in Buenos Aires is great and portenolove eating, together, and late. Ingredients are nearly always fresh and of good quality, and restaurant meals, including the wine, need not be expensive. However, don't come to Argentina expecting a taste sensation in every bite. This place has not kicked it up a notch and isn't inclined to do so anytime in the future. To their credit not much salt seems to be added to restaurant dishes, but a little spice now and then might be nice, and a tiny bit of creativity would be great too. Argentinos prefer their food to be fairly basic in appearance and taste. That might change as immigration increases and the country is introduced to new dishes, but even with that expectation, current ethnic restaurants in BA lack the flavour and spice we expect. Sushi is popular here but has become a weird hybrid with cream cheese being a primary ingredient. Cream cheese? It's sushi, not a bagel. There isn't much adventure in Argentine cooking and most meals are rather bland. The real charm of dining out in Buenos Aires is the atmosphere: sitting outside at a sidewalk table, surrounded by other portenos, toasting each other, and life itself, into the night. That experience is delicious.

4. Coffee here is wonderful. Not necessarily at the chain stores like Starbucks (there are a few unfortunately) and the local brands like Martinez (a Starbucks knock-off) and Havanna (which features chocolate confections too and is the best of the chains), but at the neighbourhood cafes that still populate many streets with their own personality and their attending characters (hey, at Esquina Sinclair, Jeem was one of the local characters!). These are great places to get to know a neighbourhood, and to practice your Spanish. Sit. Enjoy. Relax.


5. Crows and gulls do not appear to exist at this latitude, or at least not in Buenos Aires. We should all be grateful. With the garbage piling up on the street corners everyday, crows and gulls are not what this city needs.



6. Identity is a big deal in Argentina. Don't be alarmed when paying by credit card and you are asked to show your passport. No one is trying to steal your identity. In fact, it's the other way around; they want to establish your identity, and everybody, nationals and foreigners alike, show ID. Happily and willingly. In a nation where 30,000 people disappeared because of state sponsored terrorism, it's a big deal. Be proud of your Canadian or Australian passport. Show it, and use it as an excuse to say you are not from the US, or the UK; sometimes the shopkeeper will nod her head and smile! Record your passport number on the paper if that's what the store or restaurant wants. It's a good thing. Trust me.

7. For its size, BA is a remarkably civil city. For all the traffic chaos, for all the crowding on the sidewalks and for the high density of people throughout the city, Buenos Aires is relatively free of road rage, yelling, and the bad manners we have come to expect in most of our North American cities. I have a theory. It's just a theory. I think one of the reasons Buenos Aires is a civil society is because portenos hug and kiss each other, both at meeting and when saying good bye. Men and women alike. That European kiss on the cheek thing; just barely in fact. There is comfort with embracing each other, and at the very least, if someone is shy, or a foreigner, shaking hands happens with each and every encounter. My theory is quite simple: how can you yell obscenities at someone in another car, or at a pedestrian, or at your neighbour two flights below because they are out on their balcony at three in the morning celebrating a futbol win a bit too loudly and waking the entire building, when you probably hugged and kissed them earlier in the day. Or might meet them tomorrow and go through the same process. If you physically embrace six or seven people before getting to work in the morning...  It's just a theory. Though it did feel better to yell at that neighbour two flights down.

If you didn't see the first What we know so far from early in our BA adventure, 
you can follow this link:

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