Saludos de Buenos Aires!!!
My apartment is in a building which used to be a hotel by the name of Hotel California. There are no mirrors on the ceilings or pink champagne on ice like in the Eagles song, but it has a great location.
The area where I live is called Barrio Norte (Northern neighborhood). I think a more appropriate name would be Barrio Anorexico. (Anorexic Neighborhood) The Argentines are very image oriented and are second only to the US in rates of eating disorders and plastic surgery. I was shocked when I went to the financial district on Buenos Aires to open my bank account. With the extreme heat and humidity, the men were all dressed in suits. If I were dressed like that I would faint in my own pool of sweat. The women however, wore very, very little. Their clothes don’t leave anything to the imagination. In a Puritan Anglo Saxon world, their clothes are appropriate for dance clubs, discos and nighttime activates, not for professional use. From my US perspective, I can’t understand how these women are taken seriously. The Argentines are amazingly friendly and open. Since it is so expensive to get to Argentina and the country itself pricey, there are not many foreigners here. So Argentines, are very surprised when they f nd out that I am here for a year. They also seem to find it very interesting that I am Russian. I have been asked several times about how my family came to the US. After showing me my apartment, the girl from the real estate agency invited me to her parents house for a drink and then for lunch. Her father is Russian and her mother is Ecuadorian, so we had some things in common. In the US, you rarely meet people so casually and then go to their house for lunch. I also find them to be very, very open about their personal lives. The other day I was speaking to someone for the first time, and I was surprised at what interesting intimate details he told me about his life. At home, we would share that type of information with friends we have known for a while.
Buenos Aires is not Paris as many would say it is. Though it has many huge parks and boulevards. In many ways, it reminds me of Russia. Beautiful buildings in decay. Potholes on the street and sidewalks, etc. At the beginning of the century, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world because of its beef sales. After 2 world wars, exclusionary economic politics of Juan Peron and a military dictatorship, Argentina is a country in decay. The people want to be European but are depressed with the decline of their country and its descent into the ranks of “developing countries”. I am so impressed at the variety of free concerts, cultural activities and classes open to everybody. Last Sunday, I went to San Telmo, a middle class and lower middle class part of the city for the tango performances for tourists and a local International Women’s Day celebration. It was good to see the difference in how people dressed from the rich central part of Buenos Aires and the more normal San Telmo. No anorexic bodies and more people with indigenous roots. Argentina is mostly made up of European immigrants. At one point, the government went on a killing massacre to cleanse the population of ¨indios¨, indigenous people. Yesterday, I went to a neighborhood near the central part of town and I thought I was in a lower middle class Latino neighborhood in the States (minus the savory Mexican food). The central part of town is very trendy, but it seems like the rest of the city is more typical of Latin America.
With the Argentine peso at a fixed 1:1 exchange rate to the US dollar, prices here are insane. Coffee $2. In three days, I spent $30 in local phone calls from payphones and call centers. I do not understand how people survive with such high prices for everything. Unemployment is high and will get worse with the tide wave from Brazil´s devaluation on the horizon. People seem pretty depressed about the future and in general do not see their lives getting better anytime soon.
My first week was an inferno. 42 degrees Celsius with 98% humidity. I was constantly sleepy. When it rains, it pours. I had an appointment at the US Embassy; in the 10 minutes I had to walk from the bus station to the embassy, half of my body was drenched. The raincoat and umbrella didn’t protect me very well. As I had to traverse some puddles to get there, my feet were also wet. It was so embarrassing to enter the Commercial Section looking like I just came from a hurricane.
I have realized something very important about myself: I like organization, order and structure. Though I am not always very organized, orderly or structured, I like living in a society that is. Living in an Anglo Saxon organized world, it seems like order is natural and chaos is not. For a society to be chaotic as in Argentina, one would think that you would have to make a special effort. In the university, they didn’t know the class schedules until practically the day before classes commenced. The Opera has no printed schedule to give out. It is not completely chaotic, but I can’t understand how people can plan work, school and social activities with a lack of information in advance. (Most Argentine university students also work.) However, I have used this lack of organization to my benefit. Since most of my classes start two weeks later than I thought they would start, I have time to explore this wonderful city. I will also be at the US Embassy part time in the commercial section.
I am thrilled to be here in Argentina. There are so many places to discover here. As in the US, the distances between cities in Latin America are very, very large. I will be spending a lot of time on buses. Please keep in touch with me in this next year. Email access is not as easy here as at home. The government adds huge taxes to the price of computers, so they are quite expensive. Internet providers are not very efficient as servers often cut service.