This City is Controlled by Pigeons

Buenos Aires is incredible. I arrived on schedule at 10.20am on Saturday, but have been unable to blog because I lacked a 110-220v outlet adapter… which — GREAT SUCCESS — I have finally managed to miraculously procure at seemingly the only electronics store open on Sunday. Tomorrow is the St. Martin’s holiday so I’m relieved to have this errand accomplished now. As you can tell, reaching minor goals has become a Genuine Big Deal in my culture-shock-addled state.

Let’s rewind a bit. [COMMENCE MONSTER POST]

My trip itself was mostly non-eventful, despite my best efforts to self-sabotage it through various acts of absentmindedness. I have no doubt that Laguardia and JFK are in chaos at times, but when I was there — not exactly at non-peak times either — everything ran smoothly. The shuttle between the two airports is basically 15 minutes by bus (not, as rumored, 1hr+ total hassle), though it ended up a bit longer for me since my terminal was one of the last. I’m pretty sure I’ve never flown into NYC during the day, so seeing the city from the air was pretty awesome. Downside: paying $12 for a ham-n-cheese sandwich + muffin in the airport. The journey via LAN Airlines was very nice: decent food + window seat + personal entertainment system (150+ TV shows, movies, CDs, etc). The only surprise was a plane transfer in Santiago, Chile that nobody at my travel agency decided was worth telling me. Ever since JFK I was also traveling with these guys, who were mercifully un-rambunctious.

My first introduction to BsAs (aka Capital Federal) was a pre-arranged taxi trip to my dorm. Intellectually I knew that portenos spoke less English than, say, the Philippines or Belize, but I was still unprepared for the tidal wave of Spanish that assaulted me here. The first two people to greet me & check me into the student residence spoke no English, and I am still surprised I managed to get a room & keys (Nobody from GIC, my actual language school, has yet contacted me). I am living by myself temporarily — late this week I am either moving in with someone or someone is moving in with me (language gap makes me unsure). Most everyone else here, as far as I can tell, are local university students. The banos are shared, but single-occupancy and much better than expected. Unexpectedly, re-adjusting to dorm life after 5 years on my own has been one of the biggest sources of anxiety.

On Saturday I took a nap after arriving then spent the rest of the day alternating between sitting in my room silently panicking (bad idea), and walking around my neighborhood (better idea). I’m living at the Azul Residence in the San Nicolas district, which is essentially downtown BsAs. The streets here are very narrow, which originally disguised the fact that I’m on the corner of some major roads. You really couldn’t ask for a better location: I’m one block from the Congreso Nacional and Plaza del Congreso which makes finding home very easy. All around me are supermercados for groceries, little shops, and locutorios for phone calls/internet access.

This morning & afternoon I walked about 1.5 miles to Florida St., a long pedestrian-only stretch that is a shopper’s mecca. On the way I crossed Avenida 9 de Julio which, depending on who you ask, is either 12, 18, or 20 lanes wide, and either is or is not the widest avenue in the world. Regardless, it’s pretty impressive when you’re standing in the middle and the whole thing is a nice change of pace compared to the narrowness of most other streets (almost all one-way too). Also, I was close to it but didn’t actually go to the obelisco that’s in the middle of the avenue.

Florida has several galerias, the most impressive of which is Galerias Pacifico. I ate lunch at Di Caprio Express in the mall’s food court: my lomo ahumado meal was a delicious sandwich with smoked beef, ham, cheese, and eggs. I did a little people-watching — portenos are, on average, more well-dressed, well-mannered, and beautiful than the Yanks I’m accustomed to — but didn’t stay long because of my one-track obsession with finding un transformador for my laptop. Close to the Pacifico was Harrod’s, which has a designated tango area just inside the door. I don’t know how often it’s used, but today the floor was busy with seemingly free, open lessons with a surrounding crowd of onlookers. I discovered that the body language of inter-gender awkwardness translates universally: it was amusingly obvious that most of the dancing pairs were strangers which turned the normally-passionate tango into a de-eroticized shuffle.

I didn’t actually bring any maps with me today so unfortunately I had stick with what I could remember. I think I came up to the edge of Plaza San Martin but in looking at photos online it’s clear that, other than the statue of San Martin himself (whom we celebrate tomorrow), I didn’t see a whole lot. By this point I was pretty chilly since it’s in the 50’s today (which, judging by their thick coats, is much colder to portenos than myself) so I just headed home via essentially the same route.

So I apologize for the length, but I know at least a couple of you are interested in detail upon detail and this doesn’t even begin to describe what the last 48 hours have been like. A few random observations:

  • “Culture shock” is not a joke. Argentina is not just a more Spanish version of Estados Unidos. My language skills are beyond embarrassing. Unless people speak to me like a deaf two-year-old, I’m totally lost. Despite my efforts, this language barrier is overwhelming — I last felt like this in Seoul, but there I was with other norteamericanos who could help.
  • My one major advantage has been, obviously, my childhood in Manila. In practical terms, this means that the city itself does not shock me. Eight years in the cornfields of Ohio have not entirely erased my big-city street smarts. In terms of noise & air pollution, cleanliness, order, etc BsAs is several notches above Manila. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two, but I don’t have many other references.
  • As part-owner of G.M., I’m offended by the dominance of Fiats, Peugots, Renaults, etc.
  • It’s all one-ply here at the dorm, but at least we have awesome bidets.
  • No, seriously: this place is over-run with pigeons. Big, fat, Italian gangster pigeons.

Classes start tomorrow @ 10am. They’re sending a taxi for me, even though I discovered that the GIC office is well within walking distance. I hope there’s some major orientation time so I can get some help getting a grasp on this city. In the meantime, I actually have homework to do.

4 thoughts on “This City is Controlled by Pigeons

  1. Great to hear you made it!
    Glad you to took the time to write out all the details. Keep the posts going throughout the week!

  2. Sweet kevers! did you see the fresco paintings in the Galerías Pacífico? They look sweet in pictures.
    speaking of pictures… did you bring a camera? you should take a before and after picture of your beard. And lots of other pictures. I’m happy for you.
    I’m glad to see you weren’t sold into sex slavery too.

    1. I brought a camera but haven’t busted it out yet. I feel like an uber-tourist dork already, so I’m going to get a little more acquainted before getting snap happy. The frescos in Pacifico are pretty great… it’s just odd seeing them in a mall. The whole building is beautiful really — it’s nice living in a city that cares about architecture & aesthetics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *