Buenos Aires: A City Of Contradictions

Mixed Messages: Old meets the new

So what’s it been? About a month? For me, that’s a long time in one place. I didn’t plan to stay this long in Buenos Aires, but that’s the way it goes in the world of no-hurries, no-worries travel. I get to any given place, remove my hat, wipe the sweat from my brow, look around, survey, take stock,  go!

I should have been gone for weeks from Buenos Aires. Instead, I stuck around, looking for something more, something extra or extraordinary out of the place. I’m not always sure just what that one thing more might be. That’s Buenos Aires. You get a sense that you’ve had enough of the place, but you stay one more day, and another for something you fear you may have missed or could miss or absolutely don’t want to miss.

On the "A Line" old wooden trains from a bygone era are still in use

Look at me, talking about “you”. That “you” is of course me. There is something about Buenos Aires that I simply  have found mysterious. In one month, just when I think I have my finger on  South America’s second largest city, it’s a faint beat. Is Buenos Aires dead to me or to die for, I ask. I want more, I want to hear more, experience more, and the more I do and see, the more I want to do and see. So I stick around.  It’s hard to leave.

And what have I learned about Buenos Aires?

I’ve already written about the peopleof Buenos Aires. That still stands. I’m not going to rehash that. I’m all about the place this go round. And what I’ve seen is a great city. Truly one of the best. Striking architecture. Imposing. A mix of styles and eras. I love the buildings in Buenos Aires.

Unusual Sight: A deserted subway. This almost never ever happens in the second largest city in South America

If you come to Buenos Aires, look up! You will see buildings straight out of Europe. There is good reason Buenos Aires is labeled “the most European city in South America.” Hands down, it is! Walk the city – it’s easy to do, but while you are casually strolling looking up, every so often glance down – the sidewalks are unfortunately a minefield of dog poo.

I could live in Buenos Aires. That’s a huge endorsement, people! But I don’t think I could do it forever. Some cities I know I could spend a lifetime there. Buenos Aires is not one of them. I don’t exactly know why, I just know. Like every large city, there are good things and there are bad things about the city. I believe the good outweigh the bad, but the bad – for me the lack of diversity, for instance – is a biggie. I am currently in the city next door – Montevideo, Uruguay– much smaller than Buenos Aires, but far more diversity of people. You see a spectrum of people and that makes Montevideo a warmer, more inviting place.

Evita's final resting place, in the Recoleta Cemetery, a tourist mecca!

That is of course my opinion. For others, the fact that they can go all day without seeing a black person is just fine, even welcomed. I think Montevideo is a richer place because of its diversity. And it’s just across the La Plata River, the widest river in the world. It took three hours to cross the river by ferry and every time I look at the river it feels more like an ocean. You cannot see the other side from one shore to another. Amazing.

Anyway, the bottom line about Buenos Aires is that it’s a world-class city with Third World oddities. You will still see horse and buggies driven by men who go around the city rummaging through trash to find cardboard and other recyclable. On the subway trains and buses, peddlers peddling everything from bootlegged movies to chewing gum; and people riding outside overcrowded trains, hanging on for dear life! And yet, you can spend a night at the opera in one of the finest theaters in the world. Spend time in some of the most beautiful parks. Dine at a myriad of super fancy restaurants. In short, Buenos Aires is a city of contradictions.

So come to Buenos Aires and spend a little while. You might find it hard to tear yourself away. I did.

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2 thoughts on “Buenos Aires: A City Of Contradictions

  1. Hey Paula, thanks for your comments. I do appreciate them, whether they agree with me or not, but especially when they offer a different point of view. Your comments are not obnoxious at all. They are very welcomed.

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  2. Paula

    Hi, Michael! It’s Paula, we came back from Mar del Plata together. Nice to read your blog! I have one (long, obnoxious) comment, though. While I do agree that there are very few black people in Buenos Aires, I really can’t agree that that means the population is not diverse–it simply means that there are very few black people. Although the ratio of black people to white people may be a visually striking way of judging diversity, there is more to it than meets the eye, I think. You must have run into thousands of people of Native American descent from all over Latin America (Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay are the clearest examples, as well as people from the north, west and south of Argentina). Perhaps they didn’t strike you as different enough visually to notice, and many of them may be of mixed backgrounds, but they do bring lots from their own particular cultures to Buenos Aires, and they don’t look European, at least to us. Asians are another large population in Buenos Aires (though clearly more recognizable). It is true that most Porteños are of mostly European descent, though somehow we have blended more than other immigrant countries. Every person you meet who looks “European” will have no less than two different backgrounds, probably three or four, and that is just the grandparents. Of course, when ethnicities mix, darker skin, hair and eyes usually prevail, so there are not as many blond, blue-eyed people as in the US, but that is a good thing, in my opinion. It means that the contents of the pot did really melt. My best friend, for example, is one quarter Russian, one quarter Polish, one quarter Italian and one quarter Spanish. She has light brown hair, green eyes, but an Italian look altogether. Her sister has dark brown hair and dark eyes, and could pass for Spanish. Her family gets together for pasta on Sundays, but they also celebrate Rosh Hashanah with her grandmother. And they also barbecue, because we’ve also developed our own identity that is a composite of all of the others.
    As regards Montevideo, their ethnic background is almost exactly the same as ours, and there is no way you can tell a Porteño from a Montevidean (?) apart. Unless they are black, of course. For some reason, most of the black people who had been living in Argentina chose to stay in Uruguay after the Paraguayan War in the 1860s (not to flee slavery, which was abolished here in 1813, by the way).
    I myself don’t particularly like the fact that there are so few black people here. They are becoming a more common sight lately, though unfortunately it is mostly men who have fled terrible conditions in Africa and women from the Dominican Republic who prostitute themselves, so it is not something to be very happy about (sigh). I wish it wasn’t so. I agree we’re far from becoming Washington D.C., but Argentina has always been open to immigration of any kind (not the current Mayor of Buenos Aires, sadly, but that is a different story altogether).
    I’m sorry the comment ran this long. I didn’t even mean to contradict you, just to add a different point of view. 🙂
    Best regards, and keep on having a fantastic trip! (and feel free not to publish this comment if you find it inappropriate)

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