Obits: The Independent, The Guardian.
Mercer Human Resources Consulting came out with it's annual Worldwide Cost of Living Survey of 144 world cities and, once again, Buenos Aires landed squarely at #142. While Moscow took over the top spot, most surprising were the huge leaps that Brazilian cities made because the appreciation of the Real against the USD. Presumably, if the Argentine government ever lets the peso truly float, we'll see our spot rise too. Until then, raise a glass of US$3.00/bottle wine and enjoy the irreality.
And here, the relevant South American piece of the Mercer press release:
Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the most expensive cities in Latin America moving up from 119th and 124th positions to 34th and 40th place respectively. These movements are due to the strong appreciation of the Brazilian Real against the US dollar (more than 20 %), which has occurred as a result of solid economic growth and increased foreign investment over the last two years, together with reduced public debt and high interest rates. In particular, the cost of international-standard accommodation has risen significantly in these cities. Asuncion in Paraguay remains the least expensive city globally, in 144th position with a score of 43.5. Other cheap cities include Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Caracas in 142nd place (score 54.8.), 138th (56.5) and 136th (57.2) respectively.
Continuing its tradition of including intriguing trivia (only tangentially related to business) on its front page, yesterday's Wall Street Journal published a fascinating piece (if that link fails, check this mirror at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) on the history of the blue in the Argentine national flag, which boils down to a fight over shade and saturation between supporters and opponents of General Juan Manuel de Rosas during the country's 19th century civil war:
Dark blue is identified with the losing side, the Federalists, and their leader, the infamous strongman Gen. Juan Manuel de Rosas, who sought greater autonomy for provinces and close ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Lighter blue is identified with the liberal opponents of Gen. Rosas, especially the Unitarios, who wanted a more centralized government.Recently, Lorenzo Pepe, an ex-congressman with the dominant Peronist party, tried to pass a law darkening the blue just before La Crisis of 2001, to no avail.
* In Argentina , the student with the best grades is the flag carrier (the abanderado) for his class/school events.
* In English, Spanish actor Antonio Banderas's name means "Tony Flags", which gives him a bit of a Sopranos edge. Never had that stupid observation before, huh?
* Argentines call the main color of their national flag celeste (that is color of the day sky at the normal angles of sight). Followers of the Partido Justicialista (Peronists) prefer cyan (a mix of blue and green), those of the Unión Cívica Radical (Radicals) prefer whitish blue. Anything in between is also acceptable, but saturated blue definitely not. Gerardo W. Fischer, 22 Jun 1996
I may not have known of them before today, but they're my best friends now: the folks at TopTenSources.com have named GoodAirs as one of its top ten expat blogs (#7 actually). And we will comport ourselves with the gravity and throughfulness that such an honor deserves.
Minor news for all those who (like us) have Movistar cell phones: the company has extended its coverage in 30km of subte lines linking 53 subte stations. The service will be offered on Line A from Plaza de Mayo to Primera Junta on Line B, from Leandro Alem to Federico Lacroze and Constitución to Retiro on Line C, and from Catedral to Congreso de Tucumán on Line D.
To begin, a scene from the obstetrician's office. Cintra and I arrive at the office of Dr. R, who's scheduled Cintra's 6-month pregnancy checkup. Greetings, smiles, Cintra weighs herself, Dr. R waves her to the examination table and sonogram machine. All is proceeding according to plan. Then, just as he begins to palpate Cintra's uterus, Dr. R takes a sudden step back and turns to me with a concerned face. My mouth runs dry and heart stumbles to its knees. I'm not ready for the fear: Danger? Deformity? Death?
"I've got a question for you?" he says.
"Yes," I croak.
"Why has soccer never caught on in America?"
Yes, it's World Cup time here in Argentina. As I'd been repeatedly warned, Argentina is soccer hungry, soccer mad, soccer starved, soccer everything. And having been to a few games I had an inkling of the truth of the madness (a truth further imagined when a friend compared Buenos Aires during the World Cup to post-bomb Hiroshima--no one on the streets). But only this morning, sitting in a darkened bar at 10 a.m. with Grant of WhatsUpBuenosAires did the passion become real. The Argentine selection whooped Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 (the kind of result that could tear a country in two; now I understand why Montenegro was so eager to leave); if the competition had been over fan passion, I suspect the final result would have bene even worse.
As I've jokingly noted--and been roundly insulted for--on Goodairs, I've done my share of writing and publishing travel pieces about Buenos Aires that, following conventional wisdom, exposes the city's wonderful secret joy to all and increases the flood of tourists (of course, whether B.A. has ever been a "secret" is debatable, to say the least). In another piece, a radio story for an NPR show, I looked at article/tourism logical chain from another side--that a flurry of articles instead might lead to...more articles--and after doing both angles I can't say whether the chicken or egg came first, or even if there's a causal connection.
What I mean to say is that, having done a handful of travel pieces and having lived for a little over a year in a city that is a travel (journalism) mecca, I have no problem with existence of travel journalism, but I've begun to spend a lot more time thinking about what makes good travel writing--and the evolution it can and should take. For a long time, travel writing existed as the intrepid writer going off-map (the title of Graham Greene's "Journey Without Maps" says it all, doesn't it?), then had a Pissy Narrator period (Shiva Naipaul's "North of South" is particularly good) before settling into a clean-fingered guidebook/shopping phase.
This week has brought another pair of articles, both sybolic of one current trend of explaining a city or country through an event (like describing a human being via his toe): This Sunday, the New York Times had "Buenos Aires Beef, on Hoof and on Plates," a piece about the annual La Rural livestock festival, and on Monday Slate launched one of its weeklong travel diaries, this one by Slate culture editor Meghan O'Rourke and boyfriend James Surowiecki, the financial columnist at the New Yorker, about their trip to April's Bafici (B.A.'s annual indy film fest).
Both pieces try to inform and engage their readers outside of the traditional city overview--something I recently did for the Times--by using their respective slices of porteño life as a stand-in for the larger culture (a kind of travel metonymy). It seems to me that the success of such articles can be judged by whether they give readers context and explain the event, give whatever "service" information (likes times and dates) is necessary, reveal something that even surprises/interests/infuriates locals, and don't screw up. It's a difficult path to cut with articles like this, but the articles succeed mas o menos.
Not out of any inate cruelty, but rather because they stuck out and are endemic to the form, I'll mention the failings I saw. Both articles were informative and cogent, in the sense that I learned more about the film and lifestock festivals than I knew before. But while the NYT piece leads with historical context of the livestock industry, it lacks a discussion of the importance of beef in Argentine life (something we all noted here and here and, well, here kinda), which would make real that whole beef:Argentina metaphor thing. Also, curiously, it fails to mention that the industry has locked in a bitter fight with the Kirchner regime, which put a six-month export moratorium on most cuts of beef, and has even threatened a beef strike (such blindspots are a big problem for writers and editors of pieces like this, which are held for 10 months after the presumably out-of-town writer visits an annual event so they can serve as a preview of the next year's version).
While unfair to compare the two--because the diary entries have the advantage of cumulatively running about five times longer--I found the Slate pieces fascinating because I knew so little about recent Argentine cinema and now and because the authors (right) intelligently allowed Argentines to shoulder the lion's share of the article's cultural commentary. The diary, however, containted the proverbial context paragraph that I so loathe, the one where you cram broad cultural stereotypes and economic observations into 200 cliche-ridden words (Cheap! Paris of South America! Pretty people! Devaluation!). Here it is; I guess you just have to do it (god knows I've done it myself).
Buenos Aires is the closest thing Americans have to a Paris of the 1920s or a Prague of the 1990s. On a recent night out in New York, I heard four writers mention they were heading to Buenos Aires for a prolonged visit. The reasons are largely economic: In 2001, the Argentine economy collapsed, and the value of the peso went with it. The city is now very cheap for Americans, especially in contrast to Western Europe. A cup of coffee costs about 60 cents. A good bottle of wine at a nice restaurant is about $8. The atmosphere is cosmopolitan: Many of the city's residents are descended from Italian and Spanish immigrants who came here in the late 19th century during the nation's first economic boom, at a moment when the government was especially welcoming to European migrants. Today's residents—known as porteños—are talkative and good-looking (if also enhanced with the aid of a surgeon's knife).One semi-comic note: the writers of the Slate piece seem to have hit plenty GoodAirs faves in their travels, including Bar 6 (in the picture above), MALBA and Home Hotel.
Finally, a quote from Daniel Burman, director of the touching and entertaining El abrazo partido and Derecho de familia, from Slate: "For Americans today, 'Latino' means Ricky Martin. It will be that way for 20 more years. But when our sons grow up, hopefully it will mean something different."
In Buenos Aires’ recent tourism boom, boutique hotels like Hotel Home and bobo have gotten much of the press (and spots on Condé Nast Traveller’s 2006 and 2005 Hot Lists, respectively). But they are far from the only ones—in fact, B.A. is a-frenzy with new boutique hotels. Since the B.A. trend toward boutique hotels (not as anonymous as a Hyatt, not as nervously intimate as a B&B) launched in the late ‘90s, there are now some 20 in the city, with ones apparently opening every month, often under loose boutique hotel confederations like Ten Rivers & Ten Lakes and Rusticae. At the end of 2005 the 11-room La Cayetana opened in Montserrat; in March 2006 came the 10-room Krista (above; photo from La Nación) in Palermo Hollywood; in April it was another 11 rooms in 248 Finisterra, the first boutique hotel in the Las Cañitas nabe; in June Palermo’s La Otra Orilla (with four rooms) was scheduled to finish a renovation; recently opened is San Telmo's five-room The Cocker (named after the owner's dog brand, you dirty-minded fool); and later this year, the 12-room Mansión Vitraux Boutique Hotel Wine Lounge & Spa is planning to open on San Telmo’s Plaza Dorrego. Prices generally run from $100-$200/night and come with free WiFi and groovy interior design. So screw the Holiday Inn and the horse it rode in on.
I am far from the only journalist to say (and sometimes write) that the way to understand the Argentinean soul is through soccer, one of the few collective glues that provide a national conensus in the country--something that can be witnessed by the utter lack of anyone on the streets during an Argentine World Cup game. But beyond being a happy national obsession that demonstrates a love of fun and the like, soccer also reflects a darker side of the national soul. Peeling back the public thrill of the top league, one is confronted with the shady dealings, the exploitation and the poverty that have seeped into Argentina as its economy and worldwide importance have sunk lower in the water over the last half century.
To this end, a recent English issue of the German magazine Spiegel has a impressively incisive article on this, titled Survival Training in Argentina. Ostensibly a biography of the rise of Sergio Agüero (above) from a Quilmes villa miseria to the next $20 million + export to European soccer, it uses the profile form to delve into Argentina's DNA.
I'll leave it to you to read the lengthy piece and form your own opinion, but one interesting theme the piece dribbles about is the equipoise between Argentine pride (whipped to froth by former Pres. Menem's actions and jokes like "How does an Argentine commit suicide? He climbs to the top of his ego and jumps," it is more existent in myth--though all stereotypes are born from a kernal of truth--than in contemporary reality) and Argentine shame at its fallen status. A few quotes:
...Old World success is the key to star status in Argentina. In a country that has drawn millions of immigrants and refugees since the mid-19th century, there is both the desire to disown their Latin American heritage and a collective yearning for recognition in Europe - where most families trace their roots. No one has described this mindset more succinctly than Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes: "The Mexicans come from the Aztecs; the Peruvians come from the Incas; the Argentineans come from the boats."and
All these [famous soccer] exports are viewed as "ambassadors" whose achievements cast the nation in a favorable light. A "merciful act of self-deception," as well-known radio journalist Ezequiel Fernández Moores once scoffed on Radio del Plata. The disproportionate attention paid to the foreign-based footballers, he says, distracts from the fact that, "With the exception of a few recent accolades for avant-garde moviemakers, the country has made no intellectual contribution of note for years."Ay, que pena!
...to those who've missed (or been happy to miss) GoodAirs over the last month. We've been busy; we've been in los Estados Unidos (some of the time); we just haven't felt like blogging. But that all changes now. We're back and ready for action.
Be very, very afraid.
It's strange to be back in the U.S. after a year of Argentine living. Some observations:
- People talk loud -- and stand far apart while doing so.
- People are big -- and come in many more colors up here in New York.
- Terrorism looms large: In the subway, announcements tell you to report suspicious looking packages, suspicious looking passengers, and be aware that your backpack may be searched at any time.
- Toilets flush from levers or buttons way down near the toilet bowl -- not from buttons in the wall, up near eye level.
Our poor blog has been neglected after all of May's traveling. Soon we'll be back to our city of good airs.