I’ve been thinking about this post for several days, trying to figure out how to verbalize many thoughts and feelings. I’ll probably be refining my thoughts in several subsequent posts. Here is the short summary:
Buenos Aires, like many other places I’ve visited in South America, is a place of extremes. There are buildings as grand and lovely as any in the world. There are many shops in Buenos Aires that would fit in perfectly on 5th Avenue or Champs-Élysées. The food (=Spanish for steak…) really is as good as I’ve ever tasted.
The people are wonderful, and most tolerate–even appreciate–our really bad Spanish. We are making an effort, and most of the time people humor and help us. I have discovered now, after several attempts to order a light vegetable dish for lunch, that most words seem to translate to steak. Atkins must have loved Argentina…
Mixed into the great food, beautiful buildings, fancy shops, and wonderful people is great poverty, broken infrastructure, and strange inefficiencies. For example, there is a very nice train that runs from our neighborhood in the suburbs to the middle of downtown. It is fast, runs regularly, and only costs about $0.25 each way (~30 min trip). It runs on the weekend, but when we tried to pay for a ticket, we discovered that the ticket collections are closed for the weekends, so it is free. There are mechanical barriers that close to prevent traffic and pedestrians from accidents, but each major intersection also has a person who waves a small flag to the train to let the driver know that it is clear. There must be hundreds of these flag wavers.
Most sidewalks are filled with holes that would seriously damage a car, and these are not limited to the poor neighborhoods. It is unusual to find a sidewalk that is completely flat and almost impossible to find one that is free from dog droppings, which are everywhere. There have been widespread electrical outages throughout the city, apparently from unusually hot days and a large demand for air conditioning. Last night we walked for a few miles in near dark, trying to dodge the holes and gifts from the dogs. Dogs are a regular and important part of the city, and there are about as many fancy pet shops as supermarkets. People here love their pets, and we have never been bothered by any of the many strays that we encounter daily.
We are staying near a very nice street with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. It is a real neighborhood, with very few tourists and many families. Along the nicest streets it is very common to find abandoned cars, which take up parking spaces and must interfere with the flow of traffic. The one shown here is “parked” right next door to a police station.
The extremes that I notice daily in Buenos Aires are also present in Gainesville, Fl or any other town or city in the USA. They may be more extreme here, but I think that it is easy to become blind to them in your own home. One of the greatest benefits of travel is that I am forced to look into a new mirror that I’m not used to seeing.
It was especially interesting to follow the elections in the USA from Buenos Aires. One of the major issues that divides our country is the role of government. People in Argentina have free and reasonably high-quality health care, and students can attend public
universities at no cost. There are large unmet needs in infrastructure: sidewalks, waste disposal, electrical grid. Many of these sort of problems exist in the USA too, as evidenced by major problems like collapsing bridges. There is clearly also waste here, as seen by trains that run with hundreds of human flagmen but no ticket collectors on the weekend.
I don’t have a conclusion or major moral to this story. It is really just many observations that reinforce to me that there are more similarities in the world than differences. Perhaps the most important lesson for me is that things are often more complicated than they first seem and that the world is not black and white or red and blue, despite our tendencies to try force it to fit neat categories.