It takes two

Awaiting my flight to Lima, where I spend a day in the airport before flying to Cuzco the following morning. I will fly more on this trip through South America than I've ever flown in such a compressed time period. It's a big country. With international flight restrictions, that's a lot of hours sitting in airport lobbies.
Buenos Aires satisfied my urban hankering. It is undoubtedly a sprawling city, crowded, noisy, and fashion-conscious, with pedestrian-threatening traffic at every turn. You do not want to cross a street here assuming that any car will respect your right-of-way. The Avenida 9 de Julio is the world's widest street, with some sixteen lanes and three or four different dividers. It takes two changes of lights just to get from one side to the other.
Two things stood out for me. The first was my dining experience at a parrilla, or Argentine steakhouse. Most famous ones have a giant stuffed bull out front to frighten off any vegetarians, and the one I visited, La Chacra, had a circular, open charcoal pit right inside the front window, complete with several former animals spread-eagled on spits inserted into the ground.
South American love red meat. My dinner might just be the best red meat indulgence I've had in my life, better than Kobe beef in Japan and the churrascarrio in Brazil. The use of charcoal pits is part of it, though Argentines also insist that it's because their cows feed on grass rather than corn, and because they don't feed their cows the growth hormones and antibiotics that Europeans and Americans use in their feedlots. Whatever the reason, the meat, seasoned only with salt, is leaner and tastier than red meat in the states.
An order of the parrillada, or mixed grill, brought me one taster after another. Chorizo (spicy sausage) was followed by costillas (beef ribs) was followed by rinones (kidneys) was followed by lechon (suckling pig) was followed by cordero (lamb). I nearly fell over unconscious at that point from blood loss to the brain and the red wine. Carnivores who go to heaven end up with a seat at a parrilla. Fantastic.
Last night I attended a tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel, a tango house. After a forgettable dinner, the room full of mostly Spanish speakers and a few tourists like myself were treated to a dazzling display of tango dancing and tango songs. I'm not a huge fan of the tango songs which the legendary Carlos Gardel made famous, but tango is perhaps my favorite ballroom dance. It combines the haughty pomp of upper class dances like the waltz with the naughty sensual playfulness of dances like samba. Impressive--I think if you're going to prepare a wedding dance, you should treat your guests to a performance of the tango. I took some tango lessons in a social dance class in college, but I sure don't remember learning any of the moves I saw last night.
Actually, I'll add a third thing to the list of things I'll remember about Argentina. It's a place where you will feel ugly, unless you're a supermodel. Good genes here, indeed.
The Argentine economic and political difficulties were on display. Political graffiti marred most of the landmark buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral, and every several blocks a protest would be conducted while armed militia watched warily from their guard posts in front of government buildings. My travel agent had printed out an Intelliguide report on Argentina and sent it along with me, and I finally read it last night. The first line said that Americans should avoid Argentina until things settle down. Too late. I actually felt quite fine throughout my week here, but admittedly tourism is way way down.
I walked halfway across town yesterday to visit a skilled camera repairman named Jose Norres, but because I'm leaving today he didn't have enough time to fix my film advance mode problem. So I'm stuck taking photos with a two second self-timer delay. It will be frustrating photographing some of the wildlife in the Galapagos. Well, perhaps I'll run into a gifted repairman in Cuzco.
The bus system in Buenos Aires is confusing. I couldn't find great information about it in my guidebook or online, so my route to the Cementerio de la Recoleta was wayward, at best. The cemetery was under renovation so it was a mess, but a security guard read my intentions without a word and led me to Eva "Evita" Peron's grave, nestled tightly in between two other giant crypts on a side alley. The aristocracy of Argentina resent her presence there because she fought against them on behalf of the poor, but for the public it is by far the most popular of the lavish of the gaudy mausoleums in the cemetery.
One limitation of my Lonely Planet Argentina is that the restaurant listings are already out of date despite the publication date of April 2002. Since Lonely Planet only publishes updates to their guidebooks once every 3 or 4 years, it's understandable, but what was more frustrating was the paucity of good restaurant listings for Buenos Aires online. had the best list I could find, and it was woefully inadequate. Lonely Planet says on their website that they're devoting resources towards publishing more frequent guidebooks (as opposed to spending that time posting upgrades online). I still find it surprising that a city of Buenos Aires' size doesn't have a complete listing of restaurants somewhere online.
When I was in elementary school, I was more of a loner. Late in life, I've developed more of a need for socializing. It's a balance, but one that is difficult to maintain with my beginner-level Spanish here. In addition, every country down here speaks a different dialect. It's a lot to absorb. Trying to discuss camera repair with Jose Norres was almost absurd. How do you say, "I think the contacts on the film-advance mode selector wheel are loose?" or even just "my film is stuck permanently in self-timer mode instead of single frame advance?" Isolation because of language issues is particularly severe.
But friendly people abound, and hand signals and body language can go a long way. Off to Peru, where I have my free week in Cuzco. Need to find a place to stay there, and to book some trips into the jungle and to nearby Incan ruins.