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One of the Best Museums in Buenos Aires - MALBA

malba-best-art-museum-buenos-airesMALBA is the museum of modern Latin-American art located in the center of the city.  It is the most visited museum in Buenos Aires and renowned throughout Latin-America as one of the best museums. While I am generally reticent about going to museums in large cities because I can get bored with them (very quickly), MALBA was the first museum that I can honestly say I was excited to see all the way through from beginning to end (both of the times that I went..).

History of MALBA
MALBA was constructed in September of 2001 during a harsh economic downturn in Argentina.  Despite the economic limitations, the government decided to build MALBA to foster the development and acknowledgment of Latin-American art from the beginning of the 20th century onwards.  Furthermore, it was intended to educate locals and visitors about the dynamic and ever evolving culture, history, and diversity that shapes Latin-America.  Since its inauguration, the museum has received exceptional reviews and become well-known throughout the world as a paragon for modern art museums.

Architecture
The building itself is a spectacle.  Modern and bold, you can tell that it is a museum of contemporary art solely based off of its appearance.  Despite the impressiveness of the architecture, the building doesn’t distract the visitors and upstage the art inside.  Huge stark white walls and simple decorations make all of the artwork stand out.  Likewise, there is just enough segmentation of the rooms and architectural dissimilarity so that you don’t feel like you’re looking at art inside of a blank and empty warehouse.

Art: Permanent Collection
More importantly than the architecture, the art within the MALBA is some of the most avant-garde and revolutionary modern art in the world. There is a permanent collection of Antonio Berni, Diego Rivera, Juan Gris, Frida Khalo, Ernesto Deira, Xul Solar, Guillermo Kuitca etc on display.  Many of these artists travelled to countries in Europe at the onset of the 20th century where they were influenced by avant-garde movements such as Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism.  During the twenties these artists returned to their home countries in Latin-America and started movements that would redefine Latin-American art.  During this time period Neocriolism was started in Buenos Aires, Anthropophagia in Sao Paulo, and Vibrationism and Constructive Universalism in Montevideo to name a few of the more influential ones.  The permanent collection in MALBA illustrates these movements and gives the viewer a glimpse into the economic, political, and social transformations that transpired and continue today throughout Latin-America.

Art: Temporary Exhibits
The art that is always displayed in MALBA is worth the visit within itself, but the temporary exhibits that are constantly being changed are what make MALBA truly unique.  They change drastically and frequently, perhaps a metaphor for many of the countries in Latin-American.  I have been twice, and each time was so distinct from one another that it felt like I had been to two different museums in two different countries.  The first time was a collection of Berni.  The exhibit told the stories of Juanito and Ramona. Juanitos life symbolized what many people experienced when they moved to Buenos Aires in the 19th and early 20th centuries; people that migrated here in search of a better life but struggled to find it yet remained hopeful.  Ramona, on the other hand, finds a way to integrate into the lives of the social and political elite through a life of prostitution.  Berni displayed their lives through a large collection of work devoted to each story that was clear based off of the way MALBA organized the exhibit.

The second time I went there was no art on any of the walls but instead a strange interactive exhibit on the top floor.  The first room was completely white and people were rolling paint on the walls.  At first I thought that we had come at an unfortunate interim period.  It then struck me that it was intentional and it was the first part of the exhibit.  It was already so different from the first time I had visited the museum I was eager to discover what would happen in the next room.  I cannot accurately describe what was displayed in the proceeding rooms so I won’t even attempt to explain them.  All I will say is that we felt a strange combination of discomfort and intrigue that was just as repulsive as it was tantalizing (not to mention an altered state of mind that felt drug induced). Perhaps that is what modern art is intended to evoke.

Conclusion
You will definitely see and react to all of the art in MALBA in a unique manner and it is something you need to see for yourself.  Regardless of how it appeals to you, it is a museum that you must experience in Buenos Aires.  Hopefully your trip to the museum will help you understand what life is like in Latin-America and give you some insight into the complexities that make Buenos Aires so intriguing.

Warning
The exhibit we went to was incredibly strange and made us all feel like we had consumed drugs prior to going.  Thus, if you decide to go in an influenced mind things could get very weird depending on the exhibit they are showcasing.  Also there is some art that simply makes no sense – whatsoever and may infuriate you.

Note
Wednesdays are discount days, general admission only costs 30 pesos.  Also, if you have some sort of student card it is free.  Tuesdays closed.

Alex

The Life and Legacy of An Argentine Literary Giant - Jorge Luis Borges - Part 2

jorge-luis-borges-paradise-quote-writer-from-Argentina

Continuation from The Life and Legacy of An Argentine Literary Giant – Jorge Luis Borges – Part 1

Jorge Luis Borges was a pioneer of abstract thought and was labeled by his contemporaries as “irreal”.  He was a deeply imaginative thinker and writer and challenged many of the preconceived notions that defined writing and thinking during the middle of the 20th century.  His prose was free and abstract, yet intellectual and simple.  “You have wakened not out of sleep, but into a prior dream, and that dream lies within another, and so on, to infinity, which is the number of grains of sand. The path that you are to take is endless, and you will die before you have truly awakened.”  His views of reality and time were complex and he investigated the topic through thought provoking stories and poems.  To Borges, time revolved in a cyclical fashion and everyone was repeating the same actions over and over.  Even more abstract, he proposed that everybody was actually just one being living out all the possible existences.  Furthermore, he viewed man’s attempts to understand reality and existence as vain and nonsensical because of the chaotic and infinite nature of the universe.  His style of writing not only challenged the formulaic approach to writing, and popular theories about the complexion of the universe, but he also confronted political ideologies that were popular in Argentina and other countries.

Borges was a key revolutionary amid the political turmoil in Argentina during the middle of the 20th century.  At this time in history, Marxist thought was increasingly popular and the then president of Argentina, Juan Perón, had established a ruling era based off of these capitalistic fueled principles. Perón was an advocate of corporate socialism or nationalism (state controls big business and what is good for corporate groups is good for the individual members of society) and was enforcing his dogma through the State.  Borges’ aversion to this style of governing was evident through his writing; he believed that “the individual should be strong and the State should be weak” and that he “couldn’t be enthusiastic about theories where the State is more important than the individual.”  Thus, he was adamantly opposed to the Perón regime and Peronism, and lead a counter-movement, called SADE, in an attempt to restore intellectual freedom to the people of Argentina and disrupt the political progression of Peronism.

Although he was a well-known figurehead concerning the political issues of Argentina, he is most famous for his jorge-luis-borges-bookliterary accomplishments. Despite his current popularity, Borges was relatively unknown for the majority of his life, especially outside of Argentina.  In 1961, Borges (62 years old) received the Prix International award, was named Commendatore by the Italian government, and appointed a position at the University of Texas at Austin and toured the U.S.  These distinctions elevated Borges’s reputation as a scholar and he became notable internationally.  In 1962, two of his anthologies, Ficciones and Labyrinths, were translated and published in English.  Next, Borges toured across Europe further increasing his repute.  He would continue to be recognized with awards for the remainder of his life, including a special Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Balzan Prize, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca, the Cervantes Prize, and the French Legion of Honour.  By the end of his life, Borges was famous in many literary circles and had his work translated into multiple languages and dispersed all over the world.

Borges was so influential to post-modern literature that an entire genre has been dedicated to his name. Borgesian literature is anything that embodies the deeply imaginative and erudite concepts associated with reality, time, labyrinths, identity, and infinity that Borges manifested.  He was an author of indisputable genius and an activist who fought to uphold his moral principles and restore autonomy to the Argentinean people. Mario Vargas Llosa, a well-known writer and thinker from Chile, acknowledged that the Spanish language was instantly “purified” and “intellectualised” by Borges’ writing.  Thus, Borges had a dramatic effect on the politics of Argentina, the literary world, philosophical ideologies, and his mother-tongue; all of which resulted from his fantastical stories that blurred the lines between fact and fiction, reality and make-belief.

Alex

The Life and Legacy of An Argentine Literary Giant - Jorge Luis Borges - Part 1

jorge-luis-borges-quote-writer-from-ArgentinaAs La Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires, one of the biggest book fairs in Latin America, is coming to a close this weekend and to keep the literary mood going, let’s take a look into the life of one of our most famous Argentine writers – Jorge Luis Borges:

Jorge Luis Borges was the most influential Spanish-language writer and thinker of the 20th century.  He actively shaped Latin-American literature through his short-stories, poems, and translations.  Even though Borges spent many years of his life abroad, he was nevertheless deeply involved in the cultural and political dynamics that were shaping Argentina during his life.  Simultaneously, he redefined a generation of thinkers, populated ideas that would challenge political ideologies around the world, and championed a new style of literature.

Borges was born in the Palermo district in 1899 when it was a less developed suburb outside of the affluent city center of Buenos Aires.  He was raised in an educated family and his father had amassed a large collection of literature in both Spanish and English.  Borges began reading works by H.G. Wells, Shakespeare, Cervantes and other famous writers before he was ten.  At the age of 9, he read and then translated Oscar Wilde’s story “The Happy Prince” from Spanish to English; this translation was later published in a local newspaper.  Later on in Borges’ life he reflected that “if [he] were asked to name the chief event in [his] life, [he would] say [his] father’s library”.  Thus, his precocious childhood laid the foundation that would inspire him to become the prominent literary figure he is regarded as today.

Proceeding his childhood in Buenos Aires, Borges continued to develop his writing abilities abroad.  In 1914, his family left Argentina and moved to Switzerland.  There he attended school and eventually received a degree from the Collège de Genève and learned French and German. After he got his degree, Borges and his family moved frequently, mostly through Spain.  While traveling, Borges was exposed to various avant-garde writing movements where he and his contemporaries would challenge pre-existing styles and attempt to develop new and liberating forms of literature.  As a result of his exploration with various unconventional writing movements, Borges became an advocate of free-verse, imaginative style and content, and experimental modernist prose which was known as the Ultralist movement.

Borges finally returned to Buenos Aires in 1921 and he brought with him the Ultralists mentality.  Back home he rediscovered the city and began to comprise a series of poems celebrating Buenos Aires in the avant-garde style he engendered in Spain. He continued to write poems and articles for journals during the next nine years.  However, Borges was forced to change his style after a series of dramatic events – including the death of his father and a severe head injury he suffered and subsequent blood poisoning – nearly killed him in 1938.  This dramatic moment in his life is regarded as the impetus that would unlock his creative potential and lead to the philosophical and fantastical themes quintessential to Borgesian literature.

More on “The Life and Legacy of An Argentine Literary Giant – Jorge Luis Borges – Part Two” next week.

Alex

Closed-Door Restaurants: The Hidden Gems in Buenos Aires

ilatina-best-closed-door-restaurant-buenos-airesThere are many restaurants worth lauding in Buenos Aires, but behind closed doors exists an entirely different dining experience throughout the city.  While you are here everyone will undoubtedly recommend their favorite parrilla, or “the best steakhouse”, but one of the less well known eateries is the closed-door restaurant, or las puertas cerradas.

Interspersed throughout the city are chefs who are willing to invite you and nine or so other strangers into their home to make you a unique and intimate meal.  Oftentimes you will be joined by a very eclectic assortment of international people and a few locals.  This makes for interesting conversations and is further compounded by the lack of conventional proprietary that is generally required in fine dining restaurants.

Depending on where you go you will receive either an interesting adaptation of classic Argentine food, or a fusion of Argentine influences with some other culinary genre. Furthermore, the meals can be very diverse and I have heard of some having ten courses.  Generally, the chef will pair certain dishes with favorite wines or champagne and your glass will not run dry.

These meals offer a new and liberating dining experience.  Imagine having an intimate dinner party except with strangers in a stranger’s home. It creates a unique atmosphere where everyone is slightly less comfortable than they would be at a normal restaurant or dinner party where they actually knew the other guests and the host.  This is by no means a bad thing.  It makes for very interesting conversation because you are sitting at a table with complete strangers in a strange place.  The only thing that everyone has in common is their desire to have an unforgettable dining experience and eat some amazing food.

The meals are renowned for being bold and adventurous.  They are a nice divergence from the at times bland read meat and simple flavors of Argentine food.  Spices, foreign influences, and creative approaches make all of the closed-door meals special.  I strongly recommend that you try one, or all of the recommendations highlighted below.

Recommendations in random order:

1) Casa Saltshaker: One of the most well-known closed-doors.  It is run by a chef and sommelier named Dan Perlman.  He pairs every course with a new wine and changes his selections on a daily basis.
2) Cocina Sunae: Southeast Asian cuisine.  Rich in spices and sweet and savory flavors, this place offers a nice break from the food in Buenos Aires.
3) Casa Coupage:  If you want to learn about wine, and how to pair it with meals, this is the place for you.  They have two sommeliers that join you for the meal and recommend wines to pair with modern Argentine food.
4) Casa Felix:  Good if you want to experience Latin American influences with spices and local ingredients – many of which are grown in the backyard.
5) Paladar:  Romantic ambiance, delicious adaptations of Argentine food,  and great wine.
6) Adentro Dinner Club:  A classic Argentine asado, maybe the best meat you’ll eat while in the city.
7) iLatina:  This place falls somewhere in between closed door setting and restaurant.  It has received amazing reviews and is a seven course meal that embodies the wide and unique cuisine of Latin-America.

Note:  Make sure to make a reservation and see what time you need to be there.  Also bring cash to pay for the meal.

Alex
vamospanish

Running in Palermo Parks, Buenos Aires

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Staying in decent shape in Buenos Aires is a difficult feat to accomplish once you get to the city.  Everything is red meat this, or ice cream that, and chances are whatever it is it’s covered in cheese (even some of the ice cream).  There are no hills anywhere and the only energy I expend is walking to and from the subway system.  However, everyone in Buenos Aires is in extraordinary shape, despite the seemingly unhealthy lifestyle, and I could not keep up.  I have looked at everything – yoga classes, boxing, climbing gyms, aikido classes, push-ups on my floor – but nothing was enticing enough to get the job done. (Check out our indoor workout blog if you like classes and exercising indoors.) After 100 too many super panchos (hot dogs) and a couple of kilos of helado (ice cream), I had to do something before the walk to the subway became my primary workout.

One day I finally laced up my boots, literally because I didn’t bring anything better than my hiking boots, and over-eagerly pranced out my apartment door.  Looking like a lost tourist from Patagonia I began to run like a headless chicken first to the right and then decided to turn around and go the other way.  Call it divine intervention that I should have changed directions for no apparent reason because I ended up in the expansive Bosques de Palermo, or Palermo parks, with hundreds of other people.

The parks are massive and full of commotion, and I was optimistic that I could run forever.  However, ten minutes later I was as red as all of the malbec I have been drinking, lumbering around in my boots, and sweating litters harder than anyone else; I made that park and everyone in it look good by comparison.  Needing a break from running I came up to a playground set for adults; random bars and benches that people were using to defy gravity.  I did a few pull-ups, some crunches, and then sat on the grass pretending to stretch and looked across the lake.  People were peddling around in those bike-boat contraptions that seem to move way too slowly considering how fast their legs churn the peddles.  The sun was setting, dogs were wagging their tails, people were lounging with family and loved ones, and I forgot about my workout.

After I had taken in enough of the sunset and the commotion around me, I got back on my feet and set off again with all the other walkers, runners, and rollerbladers.  I finished my loop around the lake and headed back towards home knowing that I would easily be able to make this a routine.  Since then I have been running in the parks every other day and utilizing the workout equipment with a little bit more virility.  My overall energy has picked up and I don’t feel as bad consuming copious amounts of helado, red meat, and vino tinto.  For anyone looking for a good distracting place to workout check out Bosques de Palermo and run around either of the three lakes.  Or forget about the running aspect and head to the parks for some relaxing respite from the traffic of the city for a few hours.

For other outdoor exercising ideas, also see How to Stay in Shape in Buenos Aires Part 1: Outdoor Edition.

Alex
vamospanish

The ice-Cream of the Crop in Buenos Aires

rich-ice-cream-in-buenos-airesIce cream does not need an introduction.  I won’t regale you about its history (it was invented in China around 200 BC), or what my favorite flavor is (it’s chocolate).  I won’t even go into how the waffle cone was introduced (at the world’s fair in St. Louis in 1904 a vendor needed help and asked the owner of a nearby waffle store for assistance).  You don’t need to know pointless facts about ice cream, just that it is amazing and you love it.  In fact, if you don’t love ice cream then you possibly don’t love life.  However, if you’re normal and have an affinity for frozen milk then you need to come experience the ice cream in Buenos Aires.

Ice cream in Buenos Aires has become incredibly popular here since its arrival.  It made the journey across the Atlantic during the Italian immigration to Buenos Aires in the early part of the twentieth century.  Since then it has flourished and been adapted by the locals.  Certain flavors and preferences have slowly changed the classic Italian gelato into what it is today in Buenos Aires.  The current consistency falls somewhere in between gelato and hard packed ice cream common in the U.S.  It’s easy to scoop, but doesn’t melt in your mouth like gelato.

Ice cream shops/parlors, or heladerías as they are called here, are dispersed profusely throughout the city and seem to be on every other block.  They have a way of appearing right when you start to think that you need some ice cream.  The large silver vats full of some mouth-watering combination of flavors (usually something containing dulce de leche) will pique your interest and get you in the door.  Once inside, the large billboards full of all the options, most of which are difficult to translate, will make you want to try all of the flavors.  At this juncture you are sanctioned to try as many of the flavors as you please in order to determine which flavor to get.

In accord to enjoying all of the different flavors, this trial process of all of the ice cream flavors is a great must-try-food-buenos-airesway to learn some Spanish vocabulary.  The names of the different flavors are often words that you will not come across in everyday conversation.  Words like amargo, menta granizadaframbuesa, and frutilla will be remembered due to their association with that ice cream you ordered.  Thus, you can view your ice cream eating experience as a form of Spanish language immersion.

When it becomes time to determine where to go to get ice cream here, all of the locals have their opinions about which heladería is the best.  There are so many options, all of which claiming to be the best, that you may find yourself thinking way too hard about where you should go.  Generally you cannot go wrong but in case you would like to know for sure, here are a few recommendations.  There are a wide range of small family-owned stores and renowned big chains.  Persicco and Freddo (both very Italian sounding), 2 of the most prominent ones can be found in many of the neighborhoods.  Either of these stores offer a wide range of flavors of great quality (sometimes they offer cheese flavored ice cream; I have yet to try it but I have heard it is strangely addictive).  Here is a list of places that I have been and recommend or places trusted by like-minded helado connoisseurs have recommended to me:  Cadore (Corrientes 1695), AM Scannapieco (Nazca 5274), Fratello (Coronel Díaz 1521),  Jauja (Cerviño 3901), Arkakaó (Quintana 188 and Santa Fe 1257, Recoleta), Chungo (various), Furchi (Cabildo 1508), Freeport Heladería (12 de Octubre & Añasco, Chacarita), La Comarca (Juramento 2492, Belgrano), Primalatte (Junín 1414, Recoleta).

Alex

Over the Dining Table in Buenos Aires

argentine-dining-customs-buenos airesDining out in Buenos Aires can be the longest thing you do on any given day.  From beginning to end the meals can last up to 4 and a half hours.  Anywhere between 3 and 4 hours is commonplace.  Coming from North America where speed and constant service are expected and valued, the slower pace of the meals here have taken some getting used to but have been amazing.

Many people who visit Buenos Aires will comment about the slow service and how long it can take to get a check.  It should be noted that the waiter is not neglecting you to fulfill some sadistic pleasure of his.  Instead his apparent apathy is rather a form of respect for your space and conversation.  If he was concerned about making the most money for the restaurant he would be shooing you out the door to make room for the next wave of diners.  Instead you are encouraged to stay as long as you please without feeling like you’re overstaying your welcome.

This aloof mentality is different from other places in the world.  For instance, in the U.S. a waiter will interrupt a great conversation to ensure that you are enjoying your meal, he may even have an extended conversation with the table. This is deemed “good service” and if a waiter does not interject at least 3 to 5 times they were negligent and will get a bad tip.  It’s as if people need a guide to get through the meal and make sure that they are on track to finish in the allotted time.  At the end of the meal in the U.S. the check will be given to the customers, they will pay it, and then they will get out of the restaurant.  Bing, bang, boom to make room for the next wave.

In Buenos Aires you will never be given the check or even asked if you were ready for it. Here you will be seated, place your order, your food may or may not come out quickly, your waiter will make sure your drink isn’t empty, and then he will forget that you’re even there.  If you don’t get someone’s attention chances are they would close up the restaurant and walk out the front door without even noticing that you were still sitting at your table.  If you want your check you have to wave your hand like a madman, sign your name with an imaginary pen through the air, perform a secret handshake with your waiter and then he will think about bringing it.  However, before you even ask for the check you should be deep in conversation for at least an hour and a half.

The post meal conversation here is so common and practically mandatory that it has a formal name.  It is called sobremesa which literally translates to “over the table”.  As long as the conversation is flowing all topics are free game.  During this time you will probably drink a few more glasses of wine and maybe break down your entire political analysis and whether or not you like Cristina (the president).  If you want you can take your wine glass outside and smoke a cigarette almost like an intermission from the sobremesa.  To me this period is the best part of the dinner.  You are relaxed from the food, you have a drink in front of you, and you can have long conversations without worrying about the time or what you have to do next.  During your trip to Buenos Aires be prepared to have some long and loquacious dinners.

P.S. It’s probably a good idea to only go to dinner with people you like since you will be with them for a long time.

P.P.S. Even if you go to dinner with people you think you like, four hours at a table with them could prove otherwise…

Alex
vamospanish

Easter Celebrations in Buenos Aires

via-crucis-buenos-aires-easterArgentina as a whole is a very religious country.  According to the CIA Factbook, roughly 92% of all the inhabitants are Catholic.  Although only a fraction of this percentage actively practise their faith, it nevertheless illustrates how popular the idea of religion is here.  That is why the week of Santa, or Holy Week, is celebrated with fervor in the city of Buenos Aires.

One of the biggest processions is the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) that happens on Good Friday, which is a public holiday in Argentina. The procession will start from Plaza Lorea in Congreso.  The 14 Stations of the Cross will be reenacted by actors accompanied with choir and musicians as they move towards along Avenida de Mayo towards Buenos Aires Cathedral. This year’s Via Crucis starts at 8:30 pm and will probably last until around 10 pm.  Particpants are encouraged to bring candles and join from the start or along the way.

The processions during the week are great, and there are many interesting activities to do, but the primary reason that Easter will be such a enjoyment is the routine feast that happens on Easter Sunday.  It is a time for friends and family to gather and have an asado to celebrate the end of lent.  They generally cook more food than everyone could comfortably consume.  People will feast for a while, rosca-de-pascua-easter-buenos-airesstep away from the food for a break, and then return later for round two.  The last time I attended one of these I was beyond full but very happy.  Note: During the week and on Sunday, Tuna is very popular so expect to eat a lot of it!  After the meal(s) have finished, people will give each other chocolate eggs (huevos de Pascua) with small licorice flavored candies on the inside; if this isn’t enough for dessert, there will be a cake called “Rosca de Pascua” that will be served.  It looks like an oversized doughnut and can be topped with a wide variety of sweets and spreads.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Easter if there wasn’t an Easter mass on Sunday.  The largest mass occurs at the main cathedral in the Plaza de Mayo area.  It is given by the Archbishop but only in Spanish.  However, if you wish to go to mass in English, there are options elsewhere; at 10 am close to Retiro there is a church called Parroquia Madre Admirable and there is also the Christian United Community Church in Acassuso which both offer mass in English.

Alex
vamospanish

Getting To Know the City called Buenos Aires

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Half the fun of moving to a city abroad is learning about all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that comprise a place. Almost every major city has an international reputation that is validated by people who have never been but have heard about it, or people that have been for a short amount of time and saw everything that they needed to see (i.e. all the tourist attractions).  This mentality is best summed up by the expression “been there, done that”.  I’m not implying that this is an altogether bad mindset since we can’t expect to become familiar and see even a fraction of everything that all the big cities have to offer; however, it can definitely blind us from all the amazing things that a place hides in plain sight.  I’m guilty of judging a city by its superficial characteristics; almost every city in Europe intrigued me but I didn’t have the time or resources to really comprehend what made that city unique aside from its attractions. What shocked me about Buenos Aires was that I was immediately convinced of the uniqueness and personality that it possesses.

It is generally difficult to discern what makes a city unique with a first impression since we learn by relating unfamiliar things to familiar things. This occurs when we go to a new place and we try and interpret it by comparing it to places that we already know. For instance, when I go to a new city I try to make sense of it by associating certain characteristics from other places I have already been to my new environment. Buenos Aires is no different and many people refer to it as the Paris of South America. At first some of the streets, cafes, and restaurants were reminiscent of Paris and I agreed with the comparison. But as I slowly became more familiar with the city and how large and diverse it is, I realized that this was an unfair comparison.

Buenos Aires is its own entity. It is not an offshoot of an European city, but the amalgamation of influences from so many cultures and people that it eventually engendered its own character.  That is not to say that certain influences don’t still exist within the city – there are many – but all of the foreign aspects have become influenced themselves by the ineffable psyche of Buenos Aires.

It is impossible to define what makes Buenos Aires as a whole so unique and gives it its personality, theatres-corrientes-buenos-airesbut many individual characteristics are noticeable.  When certain trends develop they seem to propagate rapidly through the culture – like popular fashion movements that periodically sweep through the city and don’t seem to exist anywhere else in the world (right now a common trend among the ladies is to wear these high platform shoes that have elevated the average women by about three to four inches). Similarly, the city breeds idioms that are unique to this region and will add some personality to your Spanish if you learn it here. Tango originated here in the 1980s and continues to flourish, and not just as a tourist attraction. There is the highest concentration of theaters in Buenos Aires than in any other city in the world. Fútbol is definitely not just a game but a passion. Meals are followed up with sobremesas, long discussions about anything that can persist well into the morning.  Porteños, the people from Buenos Aires, confident and well dressed, stride around the city. The list goes on, and changes daily. All of these things are amazing within themselves, but the product of their combination is what results in the powerfully enticing appeal of Buenos Aires.

Alex
vamospanish

Getting Cheeky in Argentina: How and When to Kiss People in Buenos Aires

(Aside from the obvious answer of whenever you can and however you want…)

Right cheek kiss demonstrated by Argentina President. (picture from Reuters)

Right cheek kiss demonstrated by Argentina President. (picture from Reuters)

In Argentina it is customary to give certain people a beso, or kiss, on the right cheek when you say hello or goodbye. If you are not expecting this to happen, or don’t know that it is a thing down here, you will definitely be caught off guard the first couple of times that it happens. The first time it occurred to me was with a very attractive Argentinean friend-of-a-friend. Right afterwards I was surprised by her forwardness and wondering when she would give me an actual kiss. When another one of my friends showed up and she did the same thing I was devastated. We had barely started our relationship and she was already kissing other guys. Furthermore, when one of her male friends came over to introduce himself and he kissed me I had no clue what was happening. Was this the most promiscuous culture in the world?

I was enlightened by a friend who explained to me how Argentineans, both male and female, give each other un beso when they meet friends or friends of their friends – they also greet family the same way – with a little kiss on the right cheek.  My next mistake came the next day when I tried to give a kiss back and actually kissed a woman’s cheek with my lips.  It turns out that you give people a little mock kiss, sound and everything, but don’t make physical contact other than cheek to cheek.  She took it well but I felt pretty awkward.

Once I mastered the cheek to cheek approach, I had to figure out what to do during the kiss with my hands. Place it on their left-shoulder, back, handshake, butt, or dangling dead-arm approach?  No matter how I approached the kiss the right arm seemed to forget what to do and would just droop in between us like a scared dog’s tail retreats between it’s hind legs. My hands wanted to get in the mix but they had no proper place. My current approach is to gently rest it upon the other person’s left shoulder and let my left hand hang to the side.  This has become perfunctory with Argentineans, but when I see or meet people from other countries things get awkward all over again.

Where I am from most people give each other hugs when they see one another. Usually there is an awkward moment after we say hello where each person is trying to determine whether to go in for the kiss or not.  This is funny to watch as a spectator as both sides seesaw back and forth until they have a quick and embarrassed kiss or just give up and hug or shake hands. When I meet someone from the United States I will sometimes throw in a reflex hug after the beso. This is a sure-fire way to confuse people since they won’t be expecting it and will be pulling away from the beso.  It also lets both of my hands do something but can be received unsatisfactorily and I don’t recommend doing it.

As a foreigner it is very difficult to have smooth and comfortable besos, even if you know what to do. People here will most likely realize that you are a foreigner and they themselves will be uncertain of whether to give you a kiss or not.  Alternatively, other foreigners have a hard time determining if you have adopted the custom and will most likely just shake your hand, which is probably for the better.  It is a cheeky culture and takes some time getting used to, but after you’ve kissed enough strangers you will start to get the hang of it.

Alex
vamospanish