Saturday, April 20, 2013

Thank You, Buenos Aires, for the Harsh Reminder of Why I Left You?

The thing is, I was willing to overlook so much. Since my arrival in Buenos Aires two days ago, I'd noticed several bright red flags that clashed with Argentina's blue, white and yellow one. I thought I might have just been imagining that the city seemed a little dirtier than I left it. (Melbourne, after all, must be one of the cleanest, most orderly places on the planet.) Then my friend Roberto confirmed it for me on night two: Buenos Aires is definitely kind of a filthy mess.

But that was always part of BA's appeal for me. I used to tell anyone who'd listen that I loved it for its "tarnished glamour." It was like an aging beauty queen who may have lost her youth but not her stunning looks. The wrinkles and imperfections only enhanced her character. But after spending three and a half months walking and running through the pristine white-washed streets of South Yarra, what I saw from the window of the taxi en route from Ezeiza to Palermo Soho didn't look so much like tarnished glamour as ordinary grime.

Then there were the prices: bright red flag No. 2. The cost of nearly everything has doubled in the last two years, while the exchange rate has only gone from US$1=AR$4 to roughly US$5=AR$5. I haven't been able to work everything out perfectly because as I admitted in a previous post, my memory of BA isn't what it used to be. But I'm pretty certain I was paying a lot less than AR$7.50 for yogurt two years ago. For a moment, I thought I was back in Woolies on Chapel Street in Melbourne!

Now a car to Palermo from Ezeiza Airport, which was around AR$90 the first time I took one in 2005, and definitely not more than AR$130 the last time, is AR$220 -- and the guy who handled my bag demanded a tip! My favorite lunch -- omelette con queso y papas fritas con jugo de naranja -- once roughly AR$30, is now AR$40, sin jugo! Taxis now begin at AR$10.90, which is how much it used to cost me to get from my apartment on Guatemala y Carranza to Cordoba y Gascon, the corner where I always got off en route to Sitges or Amerika.

The cover charge for Sitges is now AR$40, which is now the cost of two Quilmes beers, and Friday night's Canilla Libre is up from AR$40 to AR$65. The cover charge for Thursday night at Glam, once AR$30 is now AR$60. At least you still get one beer, a glass of wine or gaseosa for your expenditure. And the scenery still rocks: The guys are as hot as I remember them being, possibly even hotter, since the ones with whom I used to tangle, several of whom I ran into at Glam last night, are wearing those two extra years quite well.

I paid the new prices grudgingly because it actually felt good to be back. The weather has been gorgeous, much warmer than drafty Melbourne. My rental apartment in Palermo Soho is almost perfect. And it's great to be AR$30-$40 away (by taxi) from my old BA friends and in a time zone that's only an hour or a few ahead of my people back in the U.S. Shortly after my arrival, I updated my Facebook status -- "Buenos Aires, baby" -- and minutes later, I received an email from an old NYC friend. He'd just arrived in BA, too. What a coincidence, I thought to myself. Obviously, I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

Oh yeah, and Facebook strikes again, bringing together people who haven't seen each other in years. Just two weeks ago, I discovered that another old NYC friend I hadn't seen in years was in Australia when I happened to see his Facebook check-in at the Sydney international airport in my news feed. Now this.

It's a good thing Facebook is so effective because today, anyone who wants to reach me will have to do it on Facebook since I won't be taking any calls. For the first time in more than two years, I lost my cell phone last night. More accurately, it was stolen. One minute it was in my left pant pocket, the next it wasn't. Someone must have noticed me checking out my big bulge every few minutes to make sure it was still there, and then gone in for the kill when I wasn't feeling it.

It's something that happened on a near-monthly basis when I lived in BA, but it had been so long that I almost forgot what it felt like. A wave of extreme emptiness swept over me, like the sensation of waking up alone the morning after a horrible break up. This morning, I would have been a lot happier to have found my phone lying next to me than one of my exes, though.

But as the last one would say, "It is what it is." The phone is gone. I wasn't too crazy about it in the first place, so it's a good excuse for an upgrade. But it's the thought that counts, and right now mine are revolving around all the reasons why I'll never live in BA again. And it only took two days and three red flags!

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