In February I went to Argentina with my friend Carolyn. Partly to see a bit of Argentina, mostly to visit some wonderful friends of ours in Patagonia (natives, who had decided that north Wales would be a nice place to spend a few years). Because who could pass up the opportunity to go to the bottom of the world?. It was a fairly epic trip, filled with the sorts of experiences that are best left to you and your memory, quasi-spiritual moments that hold tremendously poignant meaning for you at that particular moment in time but sound stupid as you recount them in the context of grim-faced suburbia.
I can promise you that these tales will go on for a little while, right until I’ve run out of things to say about the country, but any tales of a British person abroad invariably start with the weather. Now, it was absolutely boiling in Buenos Aires – this is what happens when you suddenly drop yourself into a country that has carefully eased itself into the middle of summer while you weren’t there. I was constantly aware, as I sweated my way round this megalithic city, that I really shouldn’t moan about the weather given the temperature of -4 degrees that I left behind as I got on the plane.
Buenos Aires is a city of bitty chunks, a lot like London in that you can be in a hip, well-to-do area one moment and two streets along in the sort of run-down warzone you’d sprint through. There’s no real centre or a structure to the place, it just keeps rolling ever onwards. The different districts and areas have real character – our hotel for the first three days in Buenos Aires was in Palermo Soho, an achingly cool mash-up of Soho, Knightsbridge and the swingingest parts of Clapham. One night at dinner there were three separate photo shoots going on, including one in the café where we ate, and a television show being broadcast from the hotel bar.
They call the place ‘the Paris of the south’, which I imagine is solely because there is dog shit everywhere. There’s this wonderfully laid-back approach to life in the capital: on the first morning we were there we foolishly got up and out of the hotel early to try and take in as many of the wonderful sights as we could. We found ourselves the only ones on the streets of Buenos Aires at 9am, aside from the other blinking tourists, dog walkers and street cleaners. No-one really gets going until about 10am, and they don’t stop going – apart from perhaps a siesta in the middle of the afternoon – until right in the middle of the night.
Dinner became this big game of chicken, where we would see how long we could hold out before finally succumbing to an impending starvation that threatened to eat us from the inside out. Argentineans don’t bother with their evening repaste until at least 10pm, and to eat much earlier than that is considered fairly louche, something more like an early snack. You can’t do that holiday thing of judging a restaurant by how many people are inside because by the time any of them have more than a couple of tables full you’re invariably back in bed and ready to sleep.
It’s nice to visit a place with such crackling energy though. New York might be the city that never sleeps, but Buenos Aires is more like the city that has a lie-in and really makes the effort later on.
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