When I traveled to Tokyo, I wrote a long post about 56 things I learned. For my 10-day trip to Buenos Aires & Iguazu Falls, I want to try something new: more stream of thought, more judgmental, even more random. And all typed on my iPhone while sitting in cafes, downtime at airports, chilling in my hostel bed.
ON THE CITY…
The sweltering heat makes me want a coke. So I order one. And while it’s cold, it doesn’t come with ice. The ice is key because it ever so slightly freezes your lips when you sip, creating a tiny chill that rolls through your body…
I wonder how a country’s weather pattern affects its ethos. We all know that shitty weather makes us feel…shitty. Bill Simmons believes that cold weather cities are more loyal to their sports teams…because that’s all they have. You really wonder how deeply and broadly the effect goes. Here in Buenos Aires, its so hot you don’t want to move. Siestas make total sense – I can barely think about moving with the overbearing sun, the heavy humidity, how every location feels so much farther than it looks.
Boy is it nice to walk around in a tank top, shorts, and flip flops. Like you don’t give a shit. Only remember feeling this way in Vietnam…if I did this in Japan people would think I’m a gangster, I’m uneducated, or worst of all…I’m one of those “bad gaijin”.
Even the dogs join in. I could start a whole photo album of lazy dogs lying outside lazy convenience stores in the lazy heat with the warm Quilmes beers.
In Buenos Aires we met some expats – those who live and work there. But there weren’t a lot, and they seemed more figuring-out-their-way-through-life than the usual expat communities I’ve encountered in parts of Europe and SE Asia. Expat communities – their numbers, their strength and vibrancy – are a great cultural and general “potential” bellwether.
It’s nice when the American dollar works in your favor. Certainly didn’t in Japan…and even in China…but here a steak costs $12. A pint costs $4. Nice!
“Argentina is the South American Paris.” Why do they say that? Sure there are some lifestyle similarities – the sidewalk cafes and preference for espressos…the general appreciation for art and fashion…the frequency of casual smoking.
And from my interactions with Argentinians, they do seem like Parisians – blunt, sarcastic, yet with a warmth and friendliness provided they see something in you.
But the differences stop there…in my 8 days in the Paris of the South, I found it to be hotter, dirtier, and less developed. It felt more like a declining metropolis than a high-culture hub (complete with its lack of deep cultural sites, top tier museums, etc). Don’t get me wrong, some spots are really nice (like Puerto Madera and parts of Palermo)
I asked our hostel receptionist about this. Her response? “Well…Paris with some Latin American flaaavor…you know…a little third world development.”
We forget how wired in we are. With GPS, wifi, and cellular towers everywhere, photo uploads, Facebook updates, and text messages are an unlock screen away. So when you take away that creeping omnitechnopresence, people overdose when it’s back. Case in point: when we find a lunch spot here with free wifi, there’s no talking at the table for 15 minutes. Too many photos to upload and status updates to post. Too many friends to tell about Buenos Aires. While we’re eating, in Buenos Aires.
ON THE PEOPLE…
Apparently (told this by a cool Hungarian dude), once an Argentinian dies, they celebrate the date of death and not the date of birth. Why? Because when you are born, you have accomplished nothing. It is only through life that you do good deeds. Sensible.
I do like the old people here. They have salt and verve. Walking the streets at 3am, they’re sitting at the street cafes drinking Fernet and arguing. Or perhaps, like everyone else, they’re hibernating in the day, coming out at night to opine on politics and pedantry. Old people and their opinions, like young women and sweets.
I once heard a man say that America creates the weakest 18 year olds but the strongest 30 year olds. Why? Because we coddle our kids, then let them loose into the monstrous rat race of American capitalism and competition. Having met my fair share of under 30 Europeans, South Americans, and East Asians, I’d say this is true with one subtlety: America, with its abundance of success role models, does a decent job providing opportunities and optimism in the midst of all that racing.
Do you think the differences in body image preferences between South and North American women (namely, skinny versus curvy, breasts versus ass) reflect a case of striving for some higher, culturally specific ideal, or more of valuing what you already have? In other words, do North Americans prefer waif-ish models because they believe skinny-ness is intrinsically good or because they’re naturally skinnier? Wait I just answered my own question, its both.
Amazing how rich people today still hate Eva Peron. We ask a businessman where her cemetery is. “Eva Perrrrron? I really hate her. I don’t know. I don’t know.” He looks around, making a half hearted attempt to provide a cardinal direction. “I don’t know,” he repeats, “I only come once every two years.” And then he walks away with his cellphone to his ear. Eva Peron. Did (do) the poor love her?
People here don’t care about being on time. Except when they’re waiting for you. Funny how that works. Ill take 20 minutes to offer you a menu, another 15 to take your order. But the taxi is here now and if you don’t come out in 10 minutes, they’ve got other places to be. I’m being overly critical of course. That’s taxi drivers everywhere.
And personality? Does hot weather make you easier going? Maybe only to a point, though. It’s like you don’t care about anything and couldn’t care to be bothered. But when – in your heat induced stupor – you actually do care about something, you REALLY care. Maybe that’s why Latin women are so passionate and fiery.
Why do so many people have tattoos? is it because everyone’s so tan and beautifully sweaty that they need something more to standout. After all, if you live in Canada and you must wear a coat everywhere you go, you buy nice coats. Your coat with its different colors and fabrics helps you stand out. And no one sees your skin, except exactly the people who would probably be least impressed with a tat (ie mom, a date). Another reason could be their history – if I remember correctly, Hollywood depicted ancient South & Central American civilizations (eg, Incans, Mayans, Aztecs) as having many tattoos.
ON THE FOOD…
Jamon (ham) is very popular. Yet Argentinians also love beef. How did pigs become so popular then?
The steak’s good…tender and juicy. Maybe they just cook it for longer. Where are the veggies? After 15 hours on various planes, I need a good long poop. Heavy meats don’t help.
ON THE SITES…
Iguazu Falls was amazing. The sheer power of the water is yet another reminder of “the reverence and majesty of the universe”, in the words of Richard Dawkins. I’d go so far as to say that natural wonders like these could be the secular version of holy sites. Certainly for me they are a place for spiritual and mental renewal.
Bruce Lee once said, freedom is achieved when a man no longer cares about the impression he is making or about to make. I say: the only time this is true is when you’re homeless or drunk. Remember that scene in Bridesmaids when the main character (I forget her name?) craps in the middle of the street? My point exactly…
Is there something about sweat which changes not only how you feel (on an “ugh I feel nasty level”)…but how you act? Do you think people who sweat more tend to feel happier, like a runners high? Or maybe they’re healthier and thus their bodies and minds feel happier… I’m sure there’s some science link here.
This is just one datapoint but as I like to draw big conclusions from limited data. This morning I woke up early, feeling somewhat recovered from the night before’s mild fever and body aches. Matt and Tammy are sleeping on bunk beds opposite me. Both of them are asleep, both wearing their iPod earbuds, faint music leaking from their ears. Do a lot of people do this? Is this the step before technology literally merges with our bodies?
Click here to read about the daily habits that I track and why.