Monday, August 18, 2008

WALKING AND TALKING IN BA

Last week I spent a very pleasant Thursday afternoon catching up with my friend Michael. I missed seeing him when I was in New York, and he was in Buenos Aires for one day en route to Santiago de Chile. We had lunch in Plaza Serrano, one of BA's most popular spots (with tourists and the locals who want to impress them) and walked around Barrio Norte and Recoleta. We tried to get into the cemetery so that I could show him Evita's grave, but we arrived just as it was closing. Instead we checked out El Pilar (above), the oldest church in Buenos Aires, next door and walked through Buenos Aires Design, a furniture mall where everything seems to have tripled in price since I bought my couch and dining-room set there nearly two years ago.

In fact, on Thursday I noticed how expensive BA is becoming--at least the areas where visitors tend to congregate. It's still a bargain for North Americans and Europeans, but with so many businesses catering to foreigners (real estate companies and most rental agencies accept only U.S. dollars--in cash!), I wonder how locals who are living off of pesos survive. Still, despite the rampant crime, the hardworking ones do. A friend of mine told me that his father makes 7,000 pesos a month after taxes, which adds up to about US$2,330. And his is a solidly middle-class one-income family. The mathematical wheels in my head started turning. The mortgage and maintenance fee for my apartment in NYC alone is more than that. I couldn't support my single self there on that income.

Thankfully, I don't have to. The truth is that BA continues to be an inexpensive place for expatriates, if not so much for tourists. I'm still not sure how peso-earning porteƱos do it, but more power to them. As for us expatriates, living here, one knows where to eat out and where to shop. Plaza Serrano is strictly for taking guests to the city or for hanging out and people watching on a slow afternoon. The food in the restaurants there isn't so great and neither is the service.

In general, going to discos and going out to eat isn't the ridiculous bargain that it was three years ago when I first started visiting BA. But when one lives here, one doesn't do those things on a daily basis. The cost of living is still quite low--if you are living off of U.S. dollars, Euros or British pounds. My phone bill, my health and homeowners insurance, my Pilates classes, groceries in proper supermercados cost a small fraction of what they would in the U.S. And if you avoid the trendy tourist traps over-populating Palermo Soho, Recoleta and now even San Telmo and eat out in the more traditional parillas, you get better food and the just-crawling-out-of-the-bargain-basement prices that BA is known for among world travelers.

And most importantly, you can still get an excellent bottle of wine for less than US $4. Salud!
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