Things I Love About Buenos Aires

So as I may have mentioned previously, I never thought I was going to be doing my ISP in Buenos Aires. “Why would I want to stay there?” I said to myself at the beginning of the program. “I’ll have spent so much more time in Chile by the time my ISP rolls around that I’ll be way more comfortable staying there. Plus I’ll understand the academic content from Chile much better than the Argentina stuff — I’d never be able to come up with a topic in less than a week! How cool can Buenos Aires be, anyway?”

Guys, it is SO COOL. SO. COOL. I love the topic I have, and feel like it’s even more relevant to my major and my interests than my previous ideas were, but a big part of my motivation for staying has been the city itself. I don’t know if I can explain it properly, so I will post some pretty pictures and let them do the talking for me.

1. The Food

Everything is delicious here. Everything. There’s pizza, pasta, vegetarian restaurants, delis, asados (which are not the same as a barbecue, I have been informed, even though both things involve grilling a massive amount of delicious red meat), pastries, cheese, ice cream, etc. etc. There’s a much wider variety of international restaurants, too — we had Koren food! It was wonderful! Also, anything sweet can and will be filled with dulce de leche, and probably covered in chocolate as well. THE BEST.

2. The Books

This may seem like kind of a minor thing, but here’s the deal: basically nobody in Chile reads for fun. The “bookstores” mostly sell school supplies; the libraries are mostly computers. If you do find a bookstore that sells actual books, those books are going to be prohibitively expensive even by U.S. standards, and much more so by Chilean standards. Over $25 U.S. for a skinny little paperback? No freaking way. Apparently a lot of the ridiculous pricing is thanks to a ridiculously high tax the government has placed on books — why, I can’t imagine. To me, taxing books until they’re actually unaffordable for everyone but the upper classes is stepping out of trying-to-raise-revenue territory and into trying-to-become-the-evil-regime-from-a-dystopian-novel territory. But I really like books, so I might be biased.

In Buenos Aires, on the other hand, there are bookstores EVERYWHERE. There are looooong sections of major streets were every third business is a bookstore. (The other two are shoe stores and cafés.) People read for fun! People can and do buy books! That third photo I have up there is of the Feria Internacional del Libro (International Book Fair), which ended yesterday after a more-than-two-week run; not only did it feature multiple HUGE rooms of publishers, stores, universities, etc. selling books at very reasonable prices, but there were also lectures from authors, presentations of newly published material, round-table discussions, cultural displays, and other programming, with at least two events starting every half hour. I went and saw Sandra Cisneros (author of The House on Mango Street) speak about her books and about belonging. She was fabulous. The fact that there are these kinds of events even happen in Buenos Aires, and that people (soooo many people) go to them, makes me really happy.

3. The Politics

This one also requires a bit of explanation: in Chile, you don’t talk about politics. You just don’t. Twenty years after their seventeen-year dictatorship, they have a right-wing government (which includes multiple ministers and officials who were part of Pinochet’s regime) that will crack down hard on any protests rather than trying to resolve the problems being protested. On top of that, a good chunk of the population is of the opinion that the dictatorship wasn’t actually all that bad, and any human rights issues were exaggerated/not that important. It makes the discourse just a leeeeetle bit tense.

Argentina also had a dictatorship with a lot of similar characteristics (including the human rights abuses), but the political situation today is very different than in Chile. As far as I can tell, the country swung way to the left sometime after the dictatorship; currently the government is left of center. Your mileage may vary on whether or not that’s a good thing, but what is pretty much definitely a good thing is that people talk about politics here. There are posters and signs all over the place for one political cause or another; my house is actually right next to the neighborhood office of a minor political party. I have no idea what position they take on any issue, but they’re always having meetings in the afternoons when I come home from class. The presence of varying political opinions is also made very public: you can protest here without a permit, and the police aren’t allowed to touch you/spray you with pressurized water or tear gas for just protesting, like they are in Chile. The current wave of activism in Chile is remarkable in that it goes directly against the current power structure of the country, at great risk to its participants; the pretty much constant current of activism in Argentina is remarkable in that the power structure is totally cool with it, so people can be as loud about their politics as they want. It’s pretty cool.

(Also, most everything the Argentinean legislature has done since I’ve been here has made me really happy, especially their excellent new gender rights law. Most everything the U.S. legislature has been doing lately, in contrast, has made me want to bang my head against a wall. Being here is a nice change.)


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