Thursday, April 25, 2013

6 Things I'd Forgotten I Love About Buenos Aires

It’s not exactly La Grande Jatte, but I love Plaza San Martin anyway.
I'll never forget about all the great friends I have in Buenos Aires, the delicious ensalada de fruta, the tree-saving bidets (How did I go so long without them?), or those ridiculously cheap Pilates classes -- which are included in the 380 pesos (or roughly US$45 at the black-market exchange rate) I just paid for a one-month membership at my old gym. But the joy of six other great things about BA had almost slipped my mind.

1. The scenic running routes There are so many of them in Palermo that the Buenos Aires barrio rivals the entire city of Melbourne as an ultimate jogger's paradise. The heat and humidity isn't so disagreeable here that one must do his or her running around town at the crack of dawn, as I was forced to do in Bangkok last year, but if you choose to sleep in, it's your loss. Buenos Aires is loveliest in the half hours just before and after sunrise, which I'd also forgotten until I woke up on Tuesday at 6am for my first BA run in more than two years. The low-rise layer of fog floating over the lake in the center of Plaza Holanda as an orange glow started to peek over the brightening black-and-blue horizon almost stopped me dead in my jogging tracks. Going around Holanda's 1.5-kilometer running path was a breeze with such a lovely view to distract me from the pain in my feet.

2. Its R-E-S-P-E-C-T for retro pop stars As far as I know, BA hasn't hosted the Queen of Soul lately -- or ever. But Liza Minelli has made it here several times, including one trip in 2007 for a Liza-inspired cabaret show, in which my first Pilates teacher moonlighted as a dancer. ("She was amazing," he said, predictably, the morning after meeting her at the after-party.) And during Tuesday's early morning run, I passed a sign announcing the BA arrival of another golden oldie: Peter Cetera is coming to town -- again! How could I have forgotten about all the random vintage music acts who used to come around here, ones you might not even expect to have much of a South American following, like Dionne Warwick, Michael Bolton, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, Boy George and the former lead singer of Chicago, who played Luna Park in 2010 and will hit Teatro Gran Rex on April 30. Hmm... I wonder if someone can convince Bobby Womack to swing by BA before his Melbourne gig on May 21, the day I fly back into Sydney.

3. The soundtrack No, not tango, which was never really my thing. If you aren't willing to shell out the pesos required to see your favorite vintage middle-of-the-roader live, there are always unexpected pleasures for free courtesy of pop radio in BA. I can still remember walking through the supermarket while singing along to random non-hits like Tracey Thorn's "It's All True" and Keane's "The Lovers Are Losing" playing on the loudspeaker, which would probably never happen anywhere else. And who needs reading material during lunch when you've got a radio playlist that includes Keane's "Is It Any Wonder?" followed by Santana featuring Michelle Branch's "The Game of Love" to keep you entertained?

4. French fries I don't know what they do to make them taste so good here, but they don't even need ketchup. In the U.S., they were always too skinny or too soggy, and in Melbourne too dry or too cold -- except at Burger Edge, where the burgers are just an excuse to get to the fries. It's that way all over BA: People rave about the prime Argentine beef, but for me, the meat has always been pretty much just a side dish (una guarnicion) to the fries, not the other way around.

5. Spanish I'm a timid perfectionist, so speaking Spanish was never really my forte. As with English, I was always a greater communicator when writing it. But one really has no choice when dealing with customer service personnel in person or on the phone. Getting my point across and understanding theirs always gave me a certain sense of accomplishment second only to completing a writing assignment (in English or in Spanish) or a particularly grueling workout. I imagine it must be something like how Ikea addicts feel after they've assembled a shiny new white shelf.

6. Siestas It's so good to pass out in bed in the middle of the afternoon and not be wracked by guilt, for according to Argentine custom, that's right where you should be. So please, close the blinds on your way out. Zzzz...

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