Stories from my 14-month study abroad in Buenos Aires, my 16-month post-college move to Miami, and my get-me-the-hell-out-of-Miami move to Denver

Friday, April 3, 2009

Open Your Eyes

"Oh my god, Buenos Aires is so beautiful. It´s like the Paris of South America."

I can´t begin to explain to you how many times I have heard, and subsequently cringed, at the sound of study abroad students/foreigers repeating this overused guidebook phrase since I´ve been in Argentina. I, myself, even used to regurgitate this line back in Minneapolis when I was telling people about my future study abroad plans. Every guidebook, be it Frommers, Lonely Planet, or TimeOut, always introduces Buenos Aires in the exact same way...

"Welcome to Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America, where sensual tango music escapes from the confines of a San Telmo milonga while cigarette smoke lingers in the French-architecture lined cobblestone streets."

I have two arguments against this whole "Paris of South America" image that tourists and travelers cling to so strongly.

First and foremost, this is Buenos Aires, not Paris. Give the city credit where credit it due! Yes, French, English, Spanish and Italian architecture exist in the city, but these types of architecture also exist in New York City, yet I don´t see people calling New York City "The Paris of the New World." New York City gets the celebrated destinction of being called a melting pot, whereas Buenos Aires get the distinction of copycat. Buenos Aires is a smorgasbord for the senses with its slums and mansions, cumbia villera and tango, as well as the large and thriving immigrant populations nestled in the hidden corners of the city.

Argument number two never would have occured to me if it wasn´t for staying in Argentina for more than one semester, and actually seeing the REAL Buenos Aires. To all those tourists and students who boast about how Buenos Aires is the South American Parisian paradise, I pose the following questions:

Have you ever gone south of the Riachuelo, the southern border of Capital Federal, which seperates Buenos Aires City from Buenos Aires Metro? Do you even know what the Riachuelo is? Have you ever taken a train into the western metro area from the Once train station. Or, for that matter, have you ever gone south of Avenida Rivadavia, the north-south povery/wealth divide between the city. Have you seen the sprawling slums, like the one above, scattered throughout the city? Have you taken a city bus from somewhere besides Recoleta to somewhere other than Palermo?

To everyone who claims Buenos Aires is Paris, please break your comfort zone and get out of Palermo, Recoleta, Belgrano and Barrio Norte. These barrios are not a fair representation of what Buenos Aires is as a city. They are 4 of 48 barrios that make up this city. Take a bus from Plaza Constitucion and go south until you cross the Riachuelo, one of the most polluted rivers in South America. You won´t need any forwarning about its whereabouts. The horrid smell of the river is noticeable hundreds of meters before you ever cross the bridge. I translated the following quote from an Argentine news site:

"The problem is agravated by the more than 88,000 squar
e meters of industrial waste poured into the river on a daily basis by the 3,000+ factories that reside along its 40 miles of shoreline."

I am in no way trying to talk down or disrespect the city that I have come to love so strongly. I cherish my bike rides through the different barrios, each with its unique "vibe" and demographic. Everytime you turn a corner, you´re likely to be surprise by a unique building or a beautiful plaza. I am, however, trying to explain that if you claim that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America, you obviously haven´t seen the majority of it. If you really want to see and feel what Buenos Aires is all about, take the first bus south.

That being said, I understand that a guidebook isn´t going to direct its readers to the less beautiful parts of town. They try to make the city shine in the best light possible. This post isn´t directed at them. It´s directed at those travelers who come to Buenos Aires without ever seeing the other side of the city, without ever leaving the comfort of Barrio Norte.

Looking back at the last 14 months here, and all the experiences which I have had, I guess I could call this city "The Paris mixed with New York mixed with Milan mixed with Detroit mixed with Bogota mixed with San Francisco of South America" but I just prefer to call it Buenos Aires.

Capital Federal, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Anonymous said...

great post brother. i'm happy you got out of your bubble too!

hey, i realized that you have very few days to write a post in spanish, from BsAs. get on it!

maybe you could write a typical conversation between friends about going out at night. just an idea.

love you!

Charlie said...

well said patrick! estoy de acuerdo con todo lo que dices y me falta solo conocer todo este mundo captivante de buenos aires. extrano la ciudad donde pasemos 4 meses de una vida rapida, boracha, y llena de felicidad. espero que para ti fueron unos 14 meses inolvidables y quizas nos veremos alla otra vez en el futuro. quien sabe?

Nora said...

muy bueno el post, Patrick!

nacho sandobal (Portezuelo) said...

buenos aires tiene la particularidad de sorprender a alguien como vos, que viene de lejos, pero tambien sorprende dia a dia, a los que nacimos y vivimos aqui, y nos seguirá sorprendiendo. Un gusto haberte conocido y trabajado con vos.