For years, Buenos Aires has been loitering near the top of my travel bucket list. Everyone I know who has been to Buenos Aires has loved it and has told me I would love it. A Spanish-speaking Latin American city with a heavy European influence fueled by red wine and grilled steaks? Sign me up! For years I have had this idea of renting an apartment there and exploring everything that such an amazing capital of culture has to offer. And what do I think now that I am finally doing that?
I love it.
For me, Buenos Aires is a perfect blend of all the places I love: Italy, Chile, DC, London.
The Italian influence is very obvious here. At around the same time that there was mass immigration to the U.S. (specifically, New York) from Italy, there was a parallel flow to Argentina. BA reminds me of my beloved Florence, but on a much larger scale. Italian restaurants abound, there are cafes on every corner where you can actually find good coffee (instead of the instant variety they are serving over in Chile), and they take their ice cream pretty seriously. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve had ice cream for dinner… more than once. The Italian language even infuses the Spanish here.
To be honest, it reminds me of some of my less favorite things about Florence too. Both are cities of stone, and green spaces can be hard to come by (something that London definitely does much better). No one knows how to drive in a safe and ordered manner. And Portenos, like Florentines, are not particularly skilled at picking up after their pets. Between doggie droppings, litter thrown about, and dumpsters lining the streets, I realize how much I take the cleanliness of DC for granted.
While it is not similar to DC in sanitation, it does have a surprising bit in common with DC. Although I love it very much, DC is a fake city – a city that evolved not naturally but in an otherwise undesirable location with the specific purpose of being the capital. Likewise BA was a fairly small port city that became the capital of a united Argentina through much debate and struggle. It was never much of a big city until it was forced to be so. Plus, the city was practically leveled and redesigned beginning in the 1880s with the wide avenues and Beaux Artes architecture that are all-too-familiar to Washingtonians. And as I sit through a heat-wave (with humidity bringing us feels-like temps close to 100), I also can’t help but be reminded of DC’s swampy summers…
The British also left their mark here, as they were desirous of access to the port that gives Portenos (people who live in Buenos Aires) their demonym. As such, there’s an Argentinian Big Ben, you can find the classic red phone booths, and the trains on the Subte drive on the left (the whole underground in general has a very tube-vibe). And like London, a truly international city, you can find people and food from just about anywhere. Just don’t ask anyone about the Falklands/Malvinas…
Surprisingly, Buenos Aires probably least reminds me of Chile. Although they speak pretty much the same language, the Argentine accent is super distinct and I have to learn a whole new set of modismos. The food culture is also similar, featuring empanadas and wine and a diet heavy in meat (and sushi with cream cheese in it). I, however, do not feel the same warmth and welcome from most of the people here (and those in the service industry would feel right at home with the notoriously snooty waiters populating Parisian cafes, but I digress…).
Nothing is ever perfect, though, right? I think I will fully enjoy my month or so here, especially now that I am starting up with my Spanish classes, which I am really excited about. But more on that later.