As I approach the date marking a year i’ve been living in Buenos Aires, I’ve begun to reflect on how my life has changed and the experiences i’ve lived over the last twelve months.
Here are some of the valuable lessons i’ve learnt:
BA puts NYC in the shade, this really is the city that never sleeps and i’ve been tired for 359 days.
For some unknown reason, porters of apartment blocks ‘water’ the pavements, making loose paving stones enemy number one, unless you’re a fan of fetid gritty water splashed up to your knees.
Argentine boys kiss like washing machines on a fast spin cycle and foreplay is something they need to google (unless you’re lucky).
It’s a mystery as to why there is such a coin/small bill shortage in this city, with many urban legends/speculative theories in circulation as to the reason. Most kioskeros would prefer to part with their left kidney than their shrapnel, most merchants would prefer to part with their right kidney than give you change for 100 peso bill on a purchase of anything under 20.
Queueing is a national pastime: the express lane is anything but and death by red tape is not uncommon.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. I’d rather go dutch.
Sex hotels (telos) are as cheesy as they sound, an LED display counting down your minutes of ‘intimacy’, wall to ceiling mirrors, kitsch furnishings, jacuzzis, themed rooms, sex toys on sale, some even offer loyalty cards (no joke). You can’t help feeling like you’re in some dodgy 70s porno.
Thursday night is apparently ‘cheat night’, when people frequent after office happy hours and play away from home. Not the smartest thinking if you’re trying to keep it on the down low.
Public displays of affection are perfectly acceptable, on the underground seat next to you, on a park bench, in a restaurant, often noisy and within earshot.
Most Porteños can’t handle their spice. Just the mention of black pepper and they run for the hills.
Here acelga (swiss chard) is King, but it gets a raw deal and is sadly anything but ‘raw’ in its final incarnation, an overcooked green mulch parading as veg.
There is no logical explanation for how much things cost here: for the price of a litre of milk you can travel the equivalent of London to Brighton, twice.
It’s all about the old biddies as far as fashion is concerned in this city, i get my style pointers from octogenarians these days.
january mixtape : download
The day of the Critical Mass dawned grey and threatened rain. Buenos Aires has a micro climate, with annoyingly unpredictable weather patterns, so I knew that any decision making would be left until last minute. I badly wanted to start cycling again, and this was to be my first venture out on the streets of the city, yet on a bike I was unfamiliar with, I was taking the fair-weather cyclist stance. Buenos Aires is a mad bad city, where rules and conventions are flaunted at every light, cross section and turn, and that’s just on the traffic front. But as luck would have it, the soot black storm clouds and torrential rain dissipated and made way for the afternoon sun. I threw caution to the wind and embraced its warm early evening gusts to make my maiden voyage on my newly serviced vintage steed down Salta street to the meeting point, the obelisk on 9 de Julio Avenue.
Critical Mass started in BA two years ago, and a month ago the idea of a nocturnal event by the light of the full moon was trialled successfully. It doesn’t parade as a politically motivated venture and prides itself on not being represented by any one individual, rather as a body of like minded cyclists, involved in spontaneous gatherings which create social space via the bicycle. Originating in China for purely practical reasons, cyclists would negotiate busy cross-sections where there were no lights by pooling together and forming a ‘critical mass’ thereby crossing the road in relative safely.
As the minutes passed and more and more people arrived, the mounting sense of anticipation and excitement was palpable, not knowing exactly when we would pull off or where we were heading, destination very much unknown.
As the ring ring of expectant bells reached a crescendo, it was clear that the start of our adventure was imminent. We pulled off onto the main road encircling the obelisk, to the dissonant beeping and honking of the cars whose flow we’d interrupted, something we’d quickly become accustomed to during the two hour pedal around the city. There was a varied collection of bikes, ranging from vintage sit up and begs to fixed gear, with racers, mountain bikes and ‘playeras’, the ubiquitous beach cruisers, with high arching handlebars, and a counter pedal breaking mechanism. Some people had come on skateboards and there was even a jogger giving Forrest Gump a run for his money, who kept up with the mass throughout.
The silly grins and euphoria was infectious. As we turned onto the main strait of Leandro Alem Avenue my friend Mati Kalwill pulled up next to me on his folding Boardwalk bike, on the back of which he’d strapped his parents old JVC boombox and rigged it up to his iPhone, earning brownie points for both style and ingenuity. We weaved in and out between other cyclists, Of Montreal providing an ideal soundtrack.
The general feeling I got was one of invincibility, in spite of the fact that at one stage I was at the tail end of the group, with the aggressive cars and buses nipping at our mudguards, I still felt this sense of safety in numbers, and that together we were achieving something wonderful, seizing the streets and making them our own, albeit momentarily. There were seasoned participants of the mass who took it upon themselves to oversee the safety of the group, cycling up ahead to form a human barricade to halt the traffic on either side whenever the lights turned green.
We’d pass under bridges and whoop and shriek in a childlike regression. We’d wave at passersby, some who waved back, others who clapped and cheered with approval. Friendships were forged along the way, with animated conversations played out between boys and girls en route, a hotbed of flirtatious activity, with one smitten participant’s quest to track down a mysterious girl in a red cape played out on the Facebook page in the days to follow.
The crowning moment was when we peeled off onto the motorway, making a brief ballsy claim for both carriageways of the Libertador underpass, a steep incline which we tackled, to then to be rewarded as we doubled back on ourselves and made the most of the delicious steep drop to freewheel and howl wildly in unison.
The mass ran out of steam when it reached the Planetarium, it was clear that some were flagging from the evening’s exertions, although I got the impression many were game to continue pedaling well into the night. The lure of an impromptu full moon party was the deciding factor, with a guy selling ice cold beer from a cool box providing the much needed refreshment and tribal drumming the soundtrack into the early hours. For all that the mass had dispersed in physical terms, the energy it created continued to unite and lingered for hours and days after, many already counting the days until the next gathering, others waxing lyrical about the experience on blogs and social networking sites. I ended up going for late night pizza followed by a gentle ride home with Mati, his friend Flavio, the boombox and The Tallest Man on Earth for company through the deserted streets of Palermo, grinning like a cheshire cat as I played out in my head the magical experiences of the last couple of hours.
non official critical mass buenos aires website www.masacriticabuenosaires.com
non official critical mass buenos aires blog www.masacriticabsas.blogspot.com
non official buenos aires critical mass facebook fan page www.facebook.com/masacriticabsas
pedaleando buenos aires (masa critica) non-official facebook group
argentina fixed gear forum www.simplifijate.foroactivo.net
The ultimate divine idylle, Vanessa. Not only did her song inspire the feature but she also exudes an inner strength and fierce independence which encapsulates what the women I choose are all about.
From her precocious beginnings as a a doe eyed 14 year old singing ‘Joe Le Taxi’, to collaborations with irrepressible lady’s man Lenny Kravitz at the height of his career, to modeling intermittently for Chanel, her career has been as diverse as it’s been enduring. She’s blossomed and improved with age having seemingly not succumbed to the surgeon’s knife or the orthodontist’s handiwork, her gappy smile (much like that of Madonna’s) becoming a trend setter and bankable distinguishing feature.