This morning I walk Roxie. On Sundays Juan doesn't come to walk her. It is "our time together." Normally I walk her for 2 hours or more. This morning I have a bad cold, so the walk will be short. We are a real pair. Her with her constant sniffling and me with my cough.
I stop at the Fruteria. They are just starting to open up. I ask if they are open. Not everything is out. Although it is Sunday, everything still looks fresh and delicious. "Las frutillas? Cuanto vale?" I ask. (How much are the strawberries) The young man smiles and tells me 6 pesos for a kilo. I ask for 1 kilo. I love strawberries. I buy 2 heads of butter lettuce and 3 bananas. He tells me $9.80. (pesos - about $3. USD) The first thought to pop into my head is that he made a mistake adding, but then I realize that is correct. I hand him a 10.
I remember when 10 pesos would buy me enough fruit and vegetables for the week. Now it buys almost nothing. The Argentines continue to joke that it is too expensive to be a vegetarian. It is cheaper to eat meat. I haven't bought tomatoes for more than a month. A year ago tomatoes were $3.50 for 2 kilos. (1 kilo is 2.2 lbs) Now they are anywhere from 10.00 - 15.00 pesos for one kilo.
I open my expenses or what are called the Homeowner's Fees in the U.S. Another shockaroony. Now they are $497 pesos. I scan to see what caused them to go 50 pesos higher this month. Electricity, gas, the portero's insurance. 2 years ago I was paying $265 pesos. In January I was paying $325. It is not only my building, it is happening all over the city. My friends are complaining about their expenses as well.
I shudder to think of what my electrical bill will be. I have signs posted discreetly in my apartment for guests to turn off their lights. I am amazed at how many people leave rooms with the lights on. Worse than that is when they leave the heat on. They don't seem to understand that it is expensive and a waste of energy. One has to wonder if they do this at home. I feel like the electrical gestapo constantly following my guests and turning off lights; the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and their rooms when they leave.
While the tourists and longer term visitors still see Buenos Aires as bargain heaven, those of us who live here 1 to 1 are struggling. A guest and I went to eat dinner at a parilla. Large portions of chicken, french fries, salad, and wine. 47 pesos, or $15 USD. She laughed when she saw it. "Oh, allow me." she said grabbing the check. It was a joke for her. The same dinner last year was under 30 pesos. I thanked her, for me the 25 pesos I would pay for my half is one English class.
This is me, and I do alright. What about the rest of the people. How are they living? One thing I have seen is the use of credit cards proliferating. During the crisis most places suspended the use of credit cards. Now everywhere takes them again. Worse than that, everything is quoted in payments rather than the price. You have to look closely to find out the actual cost of an item.
My cleaning lady asks to "borrow" 100 pesos. I tell her no. I do not like to lend money. This leads to a conversation about prices. She tells me that her family has stopped buying potatoes. Potatoes used to cost less than a peso for a kilo. They now cost 4 pesos. I ask her what they are eating these days. She tells me eggs. A little bit of meat. Empanadas. Pizza. Hamburgers. Comida chatera. Junk food. No wonder she loves to eat at my place.
I just gave her 4 huge bags of clothes I don't use anymore. She was overjoyed. We are about the same size. She feels like a millionaire. I am a confirmed clothes-a-holic. I know how to look good for cheap. Just like when I lived in the U.S., I have my favorite haunts here. I have never spent a fortune on clothes, I just look like it. Now my cleaning lady feels like she hit the lotto. There were clothes I bought in a mad moment, that I never wore.
She worries about buying clothes for her 10 year old daughter. Her daughter keeps growing out of her shoes and jeans. I tell Mabel to feed her more. That way her daughter will be the same size as us and be able to wear her clothes. She laughs. It really is not funny.
My cleaning lady is a widow. She is a wonderful person. I adore her. I feel lucky to have her. She never cleaned apartments before. She raised 4 children. Then her husband died. She was pregnant with her last child when he passed away. She has a small widow's pension. It was more than enough for her to live on until this year. Now she needs to work to supplement it.
At her age never having worked before, living in a small town in the province, she didn't have many choices. Cleaning apartments seemed to be the only option for her. She feels happy to find me as well. It was frightening to her to think about having to work the first time in your life at age 51. Especially cleaning houses.
I am starting to notice something new happening. Before when a business moved out, almost immediately a new business moved in. That does not seem to be happening these days. On Paraguay, the block I live on, there are several storefronts for rent. Santa Fe still seems to rent rapidly. The backstreets are slowing down.
They are still building apartments like crazy. The majority of the ones that have already been built are empty. They are too expensive for most Argentines. With the foreclosure crisis looming in the U.S, most do not want to put their money outside of the country. The cheap prices no longer exist. Yes, prices are still cheaper than they are in California. But they are no longer cheap. The tower apartments a couple of blocks away are selling a 35 sq. meter (about 375 sq. ft.) apartment on the 4th floor, with a view of a building is selling for $85,000. The higher up you go, the more expensive the same apartment is. The construction is not that great. I could never buy my apartment today.
You have to stop and wonder what is going to happen. Will prices continue to skyrocket? Will this crazy economy top out? I don't know. I just want to buy tomatoes.