I have been here 14 days at this point. My head has finally emerged from the jet lag fog. I will say this again, I’ve never had jet lag like this, not in 56 years. 40 hours of travel from one side of the hemisphere to the other is just too much. But Doha, Qatar doesn’t seem the best place to take a break.
Anyway, I have been walking around Buenos Aires quite a bit now. It’s a beautiful city, although not the cleanest city in the world. The Argentinian seem to like having dogs, but are not perhaps as socially responsible as they should be, to clean up after the messes that their dogs make. But it certainly isn’t as bad as France. They take pride in their buildings, witness the gleaming brass work that is everywhere. Buenos Aires is a huge city. It doesn’t seem to have a lot of skyscrapers except perhaps in the central business district.
Most of the buildings seem to be 5 to 10 stories perhaps, and mainly apartment buildings. It reminds me ever so much of a slightly rundown European city. It is unfortunate however that there is a subset of juvenile morons, who seem to enjoy spray painting graffiti on to what would otherwise be beautiful buildings. It’s unfortunate they can’t catch them, whip them, and then put them into forced labor gangs cleaning up their own work.
Stores are plentiful, but other than the name brands in some of the higher in malls, the goods appear to be, how shall I put it, not exactly top-of-the-line.
My impression, unsupported by a lot of research or conversation, is that the country is recovering from years of socialism, the economy is not good, the new president Macri, is doing his best to reverse some of the ravages of the previous administrations, but is being fought at every turn. One would think that they only have to look to their neighbor to the north, Venezuela, to realize that socialism in almost any form is not the way to go. There is rampant protectionism on going here. All you have to do is look at the customs form where they want you to list down every cell phone you’re bringing into the country. Why? I gather that there is an enclave of about 4000 workers in Tierra del Fuego that assemble cell phones from Chinese components, and they are trying to protect those jobs. And, according to three Argentinians I have spoken with, those phones are pieces of crap. They last about a year and then the batteries die, and you have to get new ones. On the other hand, if you want to buy an imported Samsung phone, it will cost you 150% of what that same phone would cost in Hong Kong or the United States. Protectionism writ large as it were. Uber exists here, but seems to be underground. I haven’t taken the taxis much so I’m not really sure about the difference between Uber and the local taxis. As usual the argument is that the taxis are regulated, and Uber is not. So of course, the local taxi drivers, unionized I believe, are up in arms about somebody else being able to do the same job without having to go through all the regulation. Ah unions. What a blight on humanity. They need to read and understand “Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith. I’m constantly amazed that this guy, writing in 1776, hit the nail on the head so well. And 241 years later, people still haven’t figured out that he was right.
I will insert here a really brilliant summary of Smith’s magnum opus (from www.gradesaver.com by way of Wikipedia) : “An important theme that persists throughout the work is the idea that the economic system is automatic, and, when left with substantial freedom, able to regulate itself. This is often referred to as the “invisible hand.” The ability to self-regulate and to ensure maximum efficiency, however, is limited by externalities, monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other “privileges” extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others.”
I have discovered, maybe discovered is not the right word. How much can you truly discover in two weeks? But my initial perception is that the porteños are not the friendliest people in the world. They always seem to be in a hurry, and they have little patience for people who don’t speak Spanish. I am not saying, by the way, that I expect them to speak English. No, not at all. But I know, if I run into somebody who doesn’t speak English, I try to be patient and slow down my speech, so that it is easier to communicate with them. Porteños don’t seem to have that philosophy. It’s a look of frustration, speak just as fast as they always did and then express obvious impatience when they can’t get through. I have had several conversations here where after just less than a minute of trying to communicate I just gave up and walked away. And they didn’t seem to care a bit.
Buenos Aires is overwhelming. As a huge city, it has so many neighborhoods, so many restaurants, so many stores. I have set myself a huge task to try to get familiar with it. However, I have determined that the best way to go is maybe just select one area, one very small area, to try to explore every day. Maybe just a restaurant in a different part of town. I am trying not to impose pressure upon myself. I am, after all, here for the long haul.
It has been stressful. Yes, I have done this before. I.E. Go to a brand-new country with no safety net, hit the ground, and try to find my way around. I’ve done it in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Japan, and now here. But still. There is no doubt it has gotten to me a little bit. I have been fortunate that after the first week I found a wonderful place to stay, a small bed and breakfast, with wonderful hosts, who are very helpful and friendly. An incredible help. The lady of the house helped me get my membership at the gym, sorted me all out for things that are near and dear to my heart like changing money, a good laundry, Spanish tutors, etc. I’m only watching Spanish language news channels at the moment.
I will comment that as I watched the television channels here, as much as people like to say that their cultures are different, I see the same lowest common denominator of stupid TV everywhere I go. Talking heads on the news channels, stupid game shows, soap operas, and the usual range of Western shows, all dubbed into the local language. So much for people being different …
Up until today, I was starting to feel … well … not exactly thrilled about being here. But today, after my third lesson in Spanish, I noticed an uptick in my attitude. I am actually able to have a slightly above basic Spanish conversation. With my teacher, to be sure, but that is progress. I did, yesterday, have a full conversation with a taxi driver and determined we were both ex-military and had been in similar units (paracaidistas). That was really cool. So hopefully, my mood will improve. As someone said, I need to find my local tribe here.
This trip so far has underscored, for me, things I like … and don’t like. Touristy stuff just doesn’t do it for me. Although I did enjoy my visit to the Alvear Palace hotel yesterday for dinner. The first 5-star hotel in South America I’m told. Absolutely gorgeous building. And the reason I like hotels like that, is that they are usually not full of tourists. The lobbies tend to be meet and greet places for the upper echelon of society in whatever city they reside. A great place to watch people. And all things considered, the meal wasn’t that expensive either. I’d certainly go back there again.
I have another Spanish lesson today. I have chosen private tutors (2 of them) for one on one time until I’m more comfortable. But only an hour and a half each time, twice a week with both. So, 6 hours a week total. More than that would be too much for me I think. The rest of time I would like to spend some time getting back to teaching myself to draw.
I’m working hard in the mornings on remote stuff for the hotels. That is perfectly fine with me. My 4am wakeup fits in perfectly.
The fourth Spanish lesson today was at a bookstore called El Ateneo, an old theatre. Really stunning. You can see for yourself. Two lessons in one day was a bit much, but it all helps I am sure. I need practice moving my lips and tongue to form the words properly. Something I didn’t really think about before. But it is important.
Other things … There is a doorman’s union in BA. The door man in my building has worked here for 10 years and his father worked the job before him. He comes every day, from 12 to 1700 and opens the door for people going in or out. That is it. And other than that he stands there against the wall with his head phones for his phone in his ears. I can’t imagine how boring that must be. And his father retired with a pension that exceeds a doctor’s I am told.
They don’t have bacon here – the delicious bacon I get a breakfast is especially imported by a Texan.
The gym I joined is uber crowded. Still trying to find a time when it isn’t.
I saw a headline on the news today that inflación last month was 1.7% … hmmm … that was one month.
I looked at a 10lb jar of protein powder (same brand I get in the states) - $US146???!!! – I pay $30 for it on Amazon. Glad I brought mine with me.
All the elevators in the older residential buildings that I have seen are these antiques from 30 – 60 years ago. You have to manually close the inner and outer door. And if someone else is using it, you have to wait until they get dropped off and the elevator is unused before the call button works.
The taxi drivers here drive appallingly badly. And they love using their horns. I’m going to try the bus today for the first time.
Some restaurants have a cubierto charge. I thought it was a service charge but it isn’t. It is a charge that basically says “Take your time, eat as slowly as you want, no need to turn the table over quickly.” A nice thought. I’ve had three waiters in three different restaurants explain to me earnestly that the tip isn’t included on the bill. :-)
Well that is all for this week. I will have more to report next week. Things are looking up. I'm going to go explore Puerto Madero today, study my Spanish, read a TinTín book in Spanish, have coffee. :-)