Thursday, January 26, 2006

Drum and Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Note: For most of our stay in Buenos Aires (BA), the OC was joined by Louis (Jason's Dad), Erik (Jason's brother), and Karen (Erik's betrothed).

Karen Dearest,

There was a hard rhythm to life in Buenos Aires. I would greet each new day by sitting up in bed, flipping open my laptop, and bathing in the healing glow of The Internet for an hour or two. Our phat pad at the top of the Prince Hotel was happily within range of an open wifi network. There is nothing worse for OC productivity than easy access to the web. Having caught up on email, Fark, and the BBC, it was usually about time for lunch.

Like Peru and Chile, lunch is the big meal in Argentina. It is consumed with equal parts gusto and wine in three courses. Dinner is only slightly lighter, but it is more likely followed by coffee than siesta for cultural reasons that are obscure. I was rarely up for breakfast, but I have on good account that it is always of the bread and jam rather than the egg and bacon variety.

The traditional Argentine diet is heavy on beef and heavy wine and we felt no reason to fight the trend. We were all eating at least one steak a day, sometimes two. My one encounter with an order of seafood left me feeling foolish for my otherwise-mindedness and grateful of my regular inheritance of Karen's leftovers - in this case half of a perfectly cooked fillet. Bless her heart and her tiny stomach.

After lunch, an effort was generally made to "do" something or another. Buenos Aires is full of parks, monuments, and beautiful old buildings. Its broad, noisy avenues and leafy sidestreets easily recall European capitals. Public art is more of the "dead guy on a horse" than the "brightly-colored steel eyesore" variety that is heavily favored in LA. The city cemetery was unlike any I have ever seen. It is like a very densely packed block of zombie apartments. Mausoleums are shoulder to shoulder - each trying to out Christian the last and up the ante on ancestor glorification.

Many of BAs museums are closed for January, but we did get to see two collections of note. The arms and armaments museum was really worth the time. They have everything from fifteenth century pikes to 20th century tanks. Most memorable was a room of meticulously recreated uniforms from times past worn by a battalion of precisely arranged dolls. The national fine art museum was set to disappoint until I got up the stairs to the works by Argentine artists. The last 30 years seem to have evolved a unique style in this part of the world which is maybe best described as fun.

Shopping was also often high on the agenda. Karen helped Jason sort out a few holes in his wardrobe. She also took advantage of the happy pairing of the weak peso and a strong will to consume to get a few odds and ends for herself. The artesenal goods on display at a Sunday market staged in a downtown park seemed to be singled out for unique praise. Erik got himself a smart new suit (tailoring included) and Louis went out of his way to get just the right gifts for special people back home.

BA is not all monuments, galleries, and modern shops. However little we saw it, there does exist another side to the tracks. Our exposure was limited to trips to and from the airport and one poorly-planned outing to the suburbs west of the center in search of a phantom market. The outskirts of BA are circled by familiar collections of crumbling apartment buildings broken up by the odd shanty town. I'm not talking about a Bombay-esque level of total destitution, but you do not have to go far before you realize that not everybody in town shops at Prada.

The effects of lunch often had a diminishing effect on afternoon ambition. The activity de jour wound down early in favor of a return to the hotel and a siesta. Energy was at a low ebb from about 5 to about 8. After the rest, it was about time to start thinking about dinner. We tended to do our thinking over drinks and snacks. Since supper does not really start until 10, there was usually enough time for at least two or three glasses of beer or wine.

Dinner in BA is a lot like lunch, with the important exception that wine dosages are higher. Having filled up with even more beef, the OC tended to retire to a local bar (the Oasis was a popular choice) or cafe for a bit more drink and, in Erik's case, a fine cigar.

Despite best intentions, we never hit BA's clubs in force. Jason and I did manage to take in two nights of drum and bass hosted by Argentine DnB luminary Bad Boy Orange. Clubs do not get started until about 3, so our outings were prefaced by periods of quiet reflection and napping. I was impressed by the local scene. The kids are into the drum and have a more than passing interest in the bass. They are not the finely-honed hip hoppers that you get in LA and London, but it is important to set expectations too high on an island of urban dance surrounded by an ocean of salsa.

The instructions say to wash, rinse, and repeat, and so we did. The "up late / big lunch / indulgent afternoon / siesta / big dinner / drinks and conversation cycle" is a good pace - especially because I mostly managed to avoid the often correlated "drink like an idiot / wish I was dead" cycle. The rhythm in BA is not substantially different form elsewhere in the OC's South American travels, but all the details are done that much better. I am not sure if that is because of Argentine wealth or style or something else. Whichever the cause, the pleasant rhythm of latin life combined with high quality in the details of the rhythm earn BA a shiny entry on my list of places I might live in the post-OC universe.


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