When I first came to Buenos Aires in 2000, it was to dance tango. I was overcome by the faded elegance, the beauty, and the seemingly simple life of the Porteños. Everything appeared to be in slow motion comparted to my life in the Bay Area.
Here people had time to have coffee and chat for 2 hours, to sit all day reading the newspaper. Waiters in dapper little jackets and bow ties brought you not only coffee, but a little glass of orange juice, water, and a plate of cookies - all for the price of your coffee. The cafes themselves were museum pieces from another time. Wooden tables and chairs, lineoleum or tile floors. It was intoxicating.
I would walk the streets of Buenos Aires and look at the beautiful old buildings. They say that there is architecture here in Buenos Aires that you can no longer find in Europe. I was mesmerized by the French, Italian, and Spanish architecture. There were times I had to remind myself I was in Argentina, not Paris, or Madrid, or Florence. The similarity was amazing. It was like being in Europe with a South American flair.
Of course there was the tango. My main reason, at first for coming to Buenos Aires. You could dance in the milongas starting at 3 in the afternoon until 6 in the morning everyday. In my first years in Buenos Aires, there were many more men dancers than women. I remember going to milongas and being surprised at how many men there were. There were few tourists. Those of us that came were exotic. The Argentines could never figure out why someone would want to travel to Buenos Aires to dance tango.
It was before tango became a business. There were maybe 4 places to buy shoes. Finding a teacher was not easy. It was word of mouth mostly. The idea was to learn the music, to walk, to practice, and then eventually come to the milongas to dance. It was a different world.
If you didn't dance well, if you created problems on the dance floor, you were asked to leave the floor. If you were not dressed appropriately, you were not allowed to enter. The tango had its codes and they were followed. I was in love with all of it. It was like going back in time.
I spoke Spanish, but not like now. 8 years of living here in Buenos Aires has given me fluency. Before I had a Mexican based Spanish that was good for living in California and traveling in Mexico. I thought I spoke Spanish, I learned quickly after I moved here, that I sort of spoke Spanish.
I came to Argentina when they were on the brink of financial default. In 2000 the people I connected with talked about the inflation, politics, and the corruption. As an American I couldn't really understand all the negativity. I understood, the situation, but not the depth. The politics of Argentina are nothing like the politics of the U.S. or even like any of the other South American countries.
I danced my way through all of it. In 2001 I came for 3 weeks and ended staying almost 2 months. It was the time of the correlitos. When the country defaulted on its loans. It was a terrible time for the people. Yet I saw something different.
I saw people pulling together. Trying to help each other. I saw people giving food to the poor. I saw people trying to shop at Argentine owned businesses. There was lots I didn't see, because I didn't understand. I didn't know what was really going on. I was a tourist.
I never stopped dancing. The milongas were full. It was 4 pesos to enter the afternoon milongas and 6 pesos for the evening milongas. I danced everyday until 6 in the morning. I would leave with friends and then go to find a place to have cafe con leche with medialunas. There were lots of places open. It didn't matter what time I left the milonga, one could go have coffee, take the bus home. Taxis were cheap. The meter started at 1.10.
Life could not have been better. I was so in love with the tango, the lifestyle of Buenos Aires. Or what I thought was the lifestyle... When Argentines tried to explain to me how it really was, I would blow it off and describe what it was like to live in the USA. "You have no idea", I would tell them, "what it is like there. You think Hollywood is the life we all have."
Every Sunday I walk my barrio with Maximiliana my dog. We take a long walk. I used to walk the same route. The last few Sundays I started to walk different blocks. There are many empty buildings. Stores, restaurants, service businesses are now gone, and the stores have not been rented. The streets are dirtier than ever. One Sunday I took my camera and shot pictures of all the garbage and griffiti in a 3 block radius from my apartment and loaded it on my Facebook.My Beautiful Barrio Photos on Facebook
I live in Palermo, a supposedly upscale barrio. Guests and friends who had stayed at my apartment were shocked. "What happened?" they wrote to me or posted on my wall. Others didn't understand why a no-graffiti law had not been enacted. How do you explain that if one were, who would enforce it?
Locals can no longer buy dollars. Real estate after October will not be sold in dollars. Last week it was announced that foreigners - tourists who want to buy pesos must use their credit cards or debit cards to do so. They can not use cash. They can try the banks, but banks
I never used to understand the attitude of living for the moment. It was once explained to me by an Argentine friend. "You only have this moment. You know what it is. So you must take it." At the time I tried to explain the concept of the future to him. "But that is an American concept." he said to me. "You Americans always live in the future. We have no future." I thought that was so fatalistic.
After living here 8 years, I have adapted. I too live for the moment. Things are so crazy you never know what is going to happen, so you must live for now. Still, I am sad. To see the city I love lose its elegance and my barrio become something it never was.