Monday, May 28, 2007

Notes on Argentina (III): Random bits

-Meat. Much is made of Argentine meat. They themselves claim their meat is the best in the world. I must say, the meat is that good, as is the wine and alfajors (two thin cake-like cookies held together with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate). However, beyond that, Argentina’s food is not just not good, it’s straight up bad. Almost no vegetable selection, even compared to the U.S. (which, doesn’t have the greatest selection in the world), an extreme reliance on eggs and ham (neither of which taste very good for whatever reason), and generally just items that would almost be tasteless, were it not for the absurd amount of lard you can taste in them. I can't remember a time when I ate things that I generally like (ham, eggs, etc.) and felt like vomiting just from the taste, but that happened in Argentina. So for those who travel there - get the beef.

-Ambience. As great as the 19th-century architecture and the wide avenues in Buenos Aires are, in some ways it’s just not as scenic to me as Rio is. This may be bias, but I absolutely love Rio’s environment – you go from beaches to 3000+foot mountains in no time, giving the city a great natural landscape, even if the buildings are ugly. Buenos Aires has that great Belle Epoque architecture, but it’s all flat, so there’s nothing to see besides buildings after buildings after buildings. Even with all the pollution you find in economically marginal (and even not-so-marginal) areas of the city, I’ll take Rio over Buenos Aires in this regard any day of the week.

-While the dollar has died since I arrived in Brazil (last week, it went to 1.92 reais to the dollar, the first time it had been below 2:1 since 2001), it was great to be in Argentina, where everything is so cheap. They have recovered VERY well from the 2001 fiasco, and things are far more resonably priced there than in Brazil. Thus, I was able to go out to a REALLY nice dinner with my wife (steak, bottle of wine, etc.) for about 40 dollars total, and we picked up 9 tango CDs for about 42 dollars (nothing like less than 5 dollars a CD).

-Sinister hair. Argentina takes awful hair to a new level. If you’ve watched the World Cup, you notice an abundance of mullets on the Argentine team; however, the bad hair in Buenos Aires went WELL beyond mullets; faux-hawks on 30-something businessmen in suits, and all kinds of bizarre formations forged from a heavy use of gel were the norm, and it was, quite simply, awful. And this isn’t any “anti-hipness” on my part – it was clearly a contest within the male machismo to do extremely absurd things in a giant “hey everybody, look at me!” contest. And the women also were fans of bad hair (I have NEVER seen so many she-mullets, not even in rural Ohio). I used to think Santa Fe was the sinister-hair capital of the world, but it’s Buenos Aires, by light years.

-Evita. Even without Madonna (pardon the gaggins sound), the Evita cult in Buenos Aires is that big (though slightly smaller than the "Mardona is actually Jesus" cult). I got an awesome magnet, and even saw her grave, which was (of course) a tourist park. But you couldn't escape here. There really is a holy trinity of Argentine figures that dominate t-shirts, posters, books, magnets, cheap street paintings, etc.: Evita, Ché, and Maradona.