The City of “Good Air”

Buenos Aires, Argentina

In the Edgar Allen Poe classic The Masque of the Red Death, the Prince and his minions are partying heartily in the castle while outside the peasantry is being ravaged by the dreaded disease. Eventually Death himself makes an appearance as a masked guest, spreading the fatal illness to the horrified attendees. If the story had taken place down here, Death would arrive on a hot afternoon, be enticed with a curbside table at a fancy cafe, then spend the rest of the day nursing a mineral water with his friends Pestilence and Famine. In the laid back, live-for-today atmosphere, he’d eventually conclude that even a plague would not cause these inhabitants to change their behavior.

Welcome to Buenos Aires, where ambition takes a holiday. The name, by the way, translates to “good air”. Rather ironic when the tailpipes on the diesel buses are adorned with Surgeon General’s Warnings.

The history of Argentina is typical of what you would expect to find in Latin America. There’s a national holiday celebrating the overthrow of the Spanish, then another holiday for the overthrow of the dictator who tossed out the Spanish, and so on. The constitutions down here are about as stable as a Windows beta release. Despite an admittedly raucous past, the beginning of the 20th century found this country as one of the wealthiest in the world, ahead of even France and Germany. But then exports dropped off during World War I, the Great Depression hit a decade later, and the country never quite reclaimed its former lofty standing. The final indignity came some seven decades further on with the country’s default and collapse of the peso in 2001. Not that I am lamenting Argentina’s fall from the upper echelons. The devalued currency means everything is dirt cheap for us winter refugees from up north despite the nosedive the U.S. dollar has taken this year. It is also nice to know that regardless of what dregs the American economy may descend to, there will always be someone below us.

Thanks to a combination of diligent internet research and good fortune, I have found a pleasant apartment for my stay in a perfect location in a middle class neighborhood called Palermo. Within walking distance of my abode there are huge parks, a variety of restaurants, the zoo and the museum for Evita Peron — the country’s answer to the Kennedys. The big project for me has been improving my laughable Spanish. I’ve found a very understanding private tutor plus a neighborhood friend who has taken pity on my earnest efforts and offered to help with my everyday language needs. For listening practice, I watch Miami Vice in Spanish. However, this has caused some misunderstandings when I combine parts of that program’s often violent dialogue with the materials from my instructor. For example, the last time at Burger King, I ordered “Una hamborguesa mas pronto o voy a matarte” (One hamburger right now or I will kill you.) It didn’t get me any better service. 

A Glamorous, Haunting Past

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