Our first impressions of Buenos Aires were that this is a really cool city. And not that it’s not—there are many interesting museums, parks, architecture, restaurants, etc. but we’ve noticed other things. Like dog poo everywhere. Maybe not everywhere, but certainly often. This comes from an apparent plethora of dogs who reside in apartment buildings. In the absence of a yard, they use the sidewalk. I’m not sure if it is laziness or inability (some dog walkers have 5-10 dogs so it must be hard to stop and clean up), but there is a lot of dookie left on the sidewalks along with cigarette butts and general litter. All this makes the grassy park areas much less appealing. That, and the fact that sometimes there seems to be just as much grass as cigarette butts on the ground. Strangely, unlike Japan it is easy to find a public trash bin. But this shows there isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between trash bins and trash on the streets. This relationship must have more to do with people’s attitudes and sense of public responsibility and respect. Another sign that public responsibility and respect are low here is the abundance of graffiti on the walls from 2 meters and below.
It is quite possible that some of our negative reactions are the result of culture shock (though I won’t attribute that for everything—cigarettes, litter, and poo are gross all the time). We have, after all, just finished a year of traveling in Asia, and most recently, thoroughly developed Asia. Each day I see a couple Asian faces. And most of the time that is in a grocery store. I haven’t been around this many white people since…since high school. It’s not bad, just takes some readjustment in that I’m not in Asia any more. It has also been strange getting used to the public smoking again. I had grown really accustomed to in starting in chain-smoking Indonesia. But a quick bout of bronchitis, followed by six weeks at home and a month in Japan and Korea has apparently rendered me more sensitive than before. In particular, in many places in Japan you are not allowed to smoke and walk. I didn’t fully appreciate this until coming to Argentina and getting stuck on a crowded sidewalk behind a mobile chimney.
Buenos Aires is not without positive sides though. One very positive aspect of this city for us is the abundance of bakeries and cheese. Both products are delicious, varied, and relatively cheap in comparison with where we have been. The hot chocolate mix I found at the grocery is wonderful. And the water is safe to drink. There are a lot of arts and culture type things going on in the city, in fact there is a whole calendar of Spring/Summer outdoor events throughout the city including cinema, a jazz festival, and I think also some theater. Artisans can be found throughout the city, usually on the main plazas and walkways. Generally there is a lot of handmade jewelry for sale, but there are also lots of knitted goods, leather products, and other crafts. Shopping in general is supposed to be good in Buenos Aires, though we haven’t “tried” it, but based on the window displays this seems accurate. Apparently there is a buzzing night-life, though we are (perhaps lamely) not the type who go out much. Public transportation is relatively easy to use and also very affordable. Although, we prefer to walk to avoid the crowds and to enjoy a good stroll.
I’ve noticed a couple things about the people in Buenos Aires. Number one is that people here love to window shop, and its fun to watch people glancing in at the goods. Almost every single shop has stuffed their window display full of merchandise, and often including prices. Minimalist displays are a rarity; each shop has a cornucopia of goods spilling from the confines of the window box. If there is a mannequin it will be wearing a shirt, jacket, pants, belt, shoes, and have an additional pair of pants or shirt draped over the shoulder. Lingerie shops (and there are many) have everything from socks, bras, underwear (men and women’s), stockings, etc. hanging from the walls behind the glass. Spandex shops, as I like to call them, are easy to find too. These sell just about any conceivable form of spandex-shirts, skirts, dresses, gaucho pants, other weird looking genie pants (that re actually kinda popular though i don´t know why…they look like ooompaloopa legs), leggings, etc. all available in a raindbow of colors. Another common type of shop seems to sell a combination of watches, picture frames, and perhaps a random appliance or two. Anyways, if you can imagine, this is a window shopper’s dream (which is probably why there is such a window shopping habit). You can spend as long as you want gazing at the merchandise, without having to wonder about prices and without having to make that unspoken commitment of interest that happens when you physically walk inside a store. We often find ourselves stopping to take a look at the array of goods in store windows.
The other thing I have noticed, rather a personal opinion, is that in general people here wear extremely boring looking shoes. Loafers. Plain sneakers. There is, of course, the usual abundance of Chuck Taylor style sneakers, but there is nothing that is visually appealing. Especially not like in Japan where even if a person’s shoe looks weird, at least it looks cool at the same time. Shoes here just seem very plain and utilitarian. Also, there is an odd penchant for a certain style of Nike camel-toe mary-janes, worn by both men and women. To be fair, these shoes are a little bit too odd to be put into the “boring” shoe category. But they are certainly not good looking, particularly on men with big feet. To make matters worse, the cut and style of the fabric is pretty sporty looking, and they look strangely clunky (not like the more stylish and understated ones I have seen back home).
Actually, they remind me a bit of those sketcher sneakers that were so popular in the nineties (ha! The nineties!); I hated those. Not that I had much sense of style then (or now for that matter), but my personal opinion was that those shoes were ugly. And when I say ugly, I mean hella. But back to these Nike oddities (and I apologize if you own a pair): there is a Velcro strap and a split toe looking like a hoof in front, and I can’t figure out what purpose this would serve, nor does it seem very comfortable. However, one of my coworkers back in San Francisco did have a pair and she found them rather comfortable, so perhaps there is more than meets the eye, or maybe they just feel better for walking to work than a pair of heels. Anyways, I find the abundance of these camel shoes in the Buenos Aires population puzzling indeed.
McNifica: we are McLoving it…especially the part about the gourmet chef.
Down the street from where we live…
and a church (we always hear the bells)