I traded a self-lock digital keypad for an old-fashioned set of keys, modern elevators with digital boards providing time and weather forecast for accordion-gate elevators that gets stuck between floors, glass towers for old buildings, crispy reais for crumbled pesos.
“Cambio, cambio, casa de cambio!” shout the touts on Calle Lavalle and Florida. “Dollares, cambio… cambio? Cambio de—”
The tout pauses for a second and looks at me from head to toe.
“—reais, pesos chilenos?”
Clearly, I don’t look European or North American. Possible identities… Brazilian or from some place across the Andes.
I agree, I don’t really look Argentinian even though I have the Italian last name and French roots. Despite our common European features, there’s a major style difference. Many Argentinian women wear skirts, dye their hair blond, wear a lot of makeup and aim for the “posh Parisian” look—none of that beach bum or edgy look you see in Brazil, none of this shorts-and-t-shirt nonsense. I have the feeling if it wasn’t 30⁰C, they’d be wearing fur.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to switch from Portuguese to Spanish and it’s a real mindfuck. I stopped saying “obrigada” fast enough but Argentinians find it hilarious that I say “pegar” instead or “tomar,” “mais” instead of “más,” “procurar” instead of “buscar” or “então” instead of “entonces.” I mean, I get it, I’m using the wrong language like a badly programed translation tool. On top of that, I have to remember to speak “Argentinian”—“chevar” instead “llevar,” “chave” instead “llave,” which is incidentally exactly what I’d say in Portuguese, “chave.” Argh. Seriously, Mandarin is easier, no way I’d mix it up with English or French.
On the plus side, I can finally sing along when I hear music—Argentina is stuck in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Unlike Brazilian “classics” I’ve never heard of, I know The Mammas and the Papas, Led Zep and Queen. Pop music, like Michael Jackson, is a favourite among street performers—I hope they’ve heard he died a while ago… Hell, the Backstreet Boys concert was sold out last weekend. Yes, the Backstreet Boys, remember the Backstreet Boys? Well, Argentina does.
“So, what’s up?” Feng asks.
“Not much, same old, same old… literally in Buenos Aires. I’m walking in the street and I can picture us discovering the city in 2002, buying return tickets home in 2009, then pushing Mark’s stroller in Recoleta… It’s Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires doesn’t change, like ever. It must be against the law. The only thing that changes is the exchange rate.
‘Remember the lavanderíawe always go to on Lavalle? Well, good news, it’s still here. So I dropped off a small load today. They entered my name in the computer… no kidding, the computer was running Windows 95 and it had one of these giant monitor, the kind every household has in the basement because you don’t know how to get rid of it!’
Year after year, Porteños worry about the economy, the debt and the exchange rate, forget it all when watching football, then remember it when it’s time to protest. They grab a few slices of cheesy pizza topped with faina (why is the main chain named ‘Kentucky’, a state absolutely not famous for pizza?), go see uplifting plays about the state of the world like Les Misérables, joke about it all and tell themselves they are the best in the world—I mean, they gave us the Che, Maradona, Messi, Eva Perón, Mafalda and a Pope!
And I love them for that.