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la ciudad May 16, 2006

Posted by tangoandthecity in Buenos Aires.
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Buenos Aires. They say it's more European than Latin American. They say it's the fourth noisiest city in the world. They say a lot of things about Buenos Aires and I'm sure much of it is true. But though the classical buildings of microcentro, and the French-style departmentos of the innercity barrios lend a kind of European appearance to the city, in my opinion, like all cities of its size and import, Buenos Aires is very much her own. She may not be typically Latin American but she's not exactly European either. And as for the noise, well, I don't know where they get these statistics from, nor how they calculate these things, but it doesn't really matter: with collectivos careening down the narrow city streets from early in the morning until late at night, and portenos' propensity for animated, exuberant conversation regardless of the hour, noise is a constant feature of the city. And without a doubt, part of her charm.

A flat sprawl of concrete spreading westwards from the muddy Rio del Plata, criss-crossed by a web of autopistos, with no real icon to speak of (one could hardly consider el Obilisco in the same class as Sydney's Opera House or Paris's Eiffel Tower) she isn't the most beautiful of cities. Her charms lay instead in the living culture of the city – the vibrant cafe life, the endless night, the weekend ferias and of course, the tango. Just being in Buenos Aires puts a spring in your step, despite the late nights and subsequent late mornings, despite the pollution and the noise. The artistic life extends from the hallowed halls of Teatro Colon to the neighbourhood arts centres and cafes of the city's barrios, and out onto the streets. You are surrounded by it wherever you go.

The city has its quirks of course, as all cities have. The obsession with keeping massive dogs in tiny inner-city apartments, the sight of the paseaperros walking the streets with up to 20 dogs of all shapes and sizes in tow, or the owners taking their mutt for a stroll themselves at 3am, always confounds and amuses me, even if the ever-present dog turds don't. Portenos' addiction to sugar, their horrendous driving, their ability to linger over a single coffee for hours on end, their generally lax approach to time…it can be infuriating but at the same time it's all part of what makes this city tick. And for me, part of the appeal. I couldn't live here forever – the natural beauty of Sydney, and family and friends, will always call me home – but for a while, for six weeks at least, I'm happy to experience what it's like to be a porteno. To stay up late and sleep until noon, to put up with the bags under my eyes, to somehow get by on a diet that consists almost entirely of carbs (pizza, empanadas and pasta) Malbec and cigarettes and, of course, to dance tango.

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