Postcard from Argentina: part five continued

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye’s constant quest for adventure has taken her back to Argentina – the land of gauchos, glaciers, football, tango and beef

Continued from yesterday

The low-down on what I have learnt while living in the land of gauchos and glaciers…

Buenos Aires is barmy about books
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Book shops may be shutting down left, right and centre in every other city, but Buenos Aires is brimming with bookshops. According to a recent study by the World Cities Culture Forum, the Argentine capital has more bookshops per person than any other metropolis in the world. Why does Buenos Aires cherish its printed books, papers and magazines so? It’s partly because Baires residents are sceptical of their postal system and so shy away from shopping online at Amazon et al for books. And in Argentina, books are exempt from a sales tax meaning that literature is  an affordable indulgence. It’s also down to the fact that Argentines are proud of their strong literary heritage – this is the land that has produced Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Sábato and Julio Cortazar.
Lastly Argentina’s love of literature can arguably be attributed to its troubled past and present. The Portenos have watched their beloved Buenos Aires plunge from its lofty position as economic powerhouse during the late 19th and 20th centuries to a city stuck in a permanent financial crisis, so it’s not surprising that they seek solace in literature – one of the greatest comforts there is.

Don’t date an Argentine

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The first obvious problem is the language – Argentine castellano bears little resemblance to the Spanish you may have studied at school. Case in point? Y is pronounced J here so expect to here plenty of Jo (I) rather than Yo. There’s also a lot of slang words which are almost impossible to decipher, leading to many misunderstandings..
Language issues aside, Argentine chicos and chicas tend to be more than a little histerico (hysterical) with an ability to create a drama out of nothing – something that is entertaining and exhausting in equal measure. They also like to play games (this may include disappearing for a few weeks to see what happens), often live with their mothers – who mollycoddle them – well into their 30s, and struggle to make or keep dates. They say: Our country is so unstable both economically and socially, that it’s difficult for us to make plans. We know that whatever we aim for, will ultimately fail. I say: Let’s call a spade, a spade. Argentines suffer from a cultural affliction called colgado (flakiness). As lovers of life, Argentines will say yes to everything but keep in mind that a date isn’t a date until it actually happens. Nine times out of 10, said date won’t materialise (acceptable cancellations excuses include rain and a particularly bad Boca Juniors defeat.) On the plus side, if you do make it out with an Argentine, expect your date to open doors for you, take your hand when crossing the street and tell you at least 20 times an hour that you are “hermosa’”(beautiful). Latin lovers are also ridiculously easy on the eye meaning that, after a glass of Malbec, you’ll forgive them for murder.

After a fortnight, the food isn’t all that
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On arrival in Argentina, chances are that carnivores will be in seventh heaven. Argentina’s meat obsession is intense and, as such, parrillas – aka steak houses – serving at least 10 choices of cuts of steak, coated with chimichurri (a delicious sauce made of olive oil, garlic and parsley) abound. But the best place to satisfy  that craving for a succulent steak is at an asado (a friend or family’s barbecue which usually happens on a Sunday) so, should you be lucky enough to get an invite, go! Your tastebuds will thank you. However when you’ve had your fill of meat (if you stick around longer enough, it can happen), meals revolve around pasta, pizza and helado (Argentina is largely a country of immigrants and a sizeable number of Italians swapped their boot shaped country for BA at the beginning of the 20th century, when Italy was facing social and economic disturbances). This will invariably be washed down with mate – the herb tea that this country is hooked on – Malbec or a bottle of Quilmes (Argentina’s national beer, sold in litres). All of the aforementioned is fine for a fortnight but linger a little longer – you wouldn’t be the first to do so – and you may declare your day to day diet to be “bland.”

Argentina is football mad, but Lionel Messi has fewer fans than you would think
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It’s a cliche, I know, but this country is crazy about the beautiful game with Boca Juniors (Maradona’s former team), River Plate, Racing Club, San Lorenzo (Pope Francis is a fan) and Independiente inspiring the most passionate devotion. Yet despite his undated genius, not all Argentines love Lionel Messi – aka the best player in the world – with many calling him “cold chested.”
The accusation arises largely from the fact that Messi left Argentina for Spain at the age of 13 and – his naysayers bleat  – has achieved more for Barcelona than “he ever has for his country.” By contrast, the controversial Diego Maradona managed to restore national pride to Argentina with a World Cup triumph in 1986 (it came four years after the Falklands War). And no football fan of a certain age can forget that image of Maradona pumped full of pain killers and playing on what was, in effect, one leg, dragging his country into the 1990 World Cup final through sheer determination and strength of personality. 
But I think the real reason that Argentina hasn’t, this far, managed to take Messi to heat is down to the fact this his story, unlike that of Maradona and Tevez, lacks drama. (See point one, in yesterday’s postcard).

Don’t mention the Malvinas
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Whatever you do, don’t mention the Malvinas (Falklands) to an Argentine, all of whom have strong passionate opinions on The Falklands. Make no mistake: the amount of anger and sadness that still surrounds this conflict, has caught me by surprise. The war took place some 30 years ago and yet posters reasserting Argentina’s claim to the Falkland islands are a common sight on the streets of Argentina. Meanwhile many young people – many of whom weren’t even alive at the time of the skirmish – sport tattoos of the Malvinas in the national colours. To the Argentines, it’s obvious that The Falklands belong to Argentina but were wrongly captured, occupied and defended by Britain. They see the islands are part of their identity – it’s tied up with their performance on the world stage – and can’t comprehend while Britain won’t just hand the islands back… Don’t make the mistake I made (when asked for my opinion) of stressing that that while I sympathised with Argentina, I respected the islanders right to self determination (all but three islanders opted to stay British in a March 2013 referendum). Just nod your head sympathetically and simply say that it’s a difficult situation…

Macri is the main topic of conversation
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Argentina has a new president: step forward Mauricio Macri. The former mayor of Buenos Aires who defeated his Peronist rival, Daniel Scioli, in a run-off election late last year is the first centre-right leader to come to power since Argentina returned to democracy in 1983.
By and large most Argentines I’ve encountered, are ecstatic that 12 years of Kirchnerismo (a political movement named after the late President Nestor Kirchner and his spouse and successor, Cristina) are over, heralding it as a the beginning of a new era not only for Argentina but for South America. Since assuming power, the new president – a wealthy businessman of Italian descent – has introduces more pro-business policies, cut deals with foreign creditors and forged closer relations with the US (Obama is due to visit Buenos Aires later this month) and UK (as opposed to Venezuela and Iran). But the blue eyed businessman has plenty of critics too: demonstrations take place on a daily basis around the country, as Peronists protest the departure of the previous president – ‘Queen Cristina’  – who controversially chose to skip the swearing in of her successor.

Talk to you in two weeks,

Kaye

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To read part one of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part two of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part three of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here

To read part four of Kaye’s Postcard from Argentina series, please click here and here

To read part five: part one, please click here

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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