No, I haven't vanished. I'm still alive and in Buenos Aires. Though I had promised to keep writing from Buenos Aires, I decided to take at least a week to fully inmersed myself in it and leave aside as much as possible my ties to my daily life in the United States. This visit was the closest experience I had to what my life 15 years ago was, and I wanted to absorbe it before even wrting about it. I went out with friends, walked, saw Argentine movies (and Men in Black III too), discussed politics on a daily basis, and read. I went to see an Mogwai, an alternative indie band from Glasgow (make sure you listen to them first before you decide to go). I even stayed up until 4 in the morning at a bar without feeling tired!!!
The experience in itself is rather weird, when I reflect about it. I guess it points to the often squizofrenic nature of porteños. The second day in Buenos Aires, I felt overwhelmed. If traffic in Buenos Aires has always been bad, it has gotten out of control. The city is congested. The noise pollution is the highest I remember. That second day, I had taken a bus to go downtown, and it had taken the bus over 15 minutes to do half a mile in a straight line. The traffic was impossible, and all the cars were honking. I started feeling trapped, so I got out and walked to my destination (2 more miles). I just couldn't stand being in a vehicle that was not moving surrounded by chaos. I only felt slightly better walking by myself. However, if I was with a friend, I had no problem and the same chaos became energizing. Go figure...
One of the things that made this trip so different from previous ones was that I reconnected with my old friend R., and he is in a good place right now. Therefore, we spent a lot of time together and it was intellectually stimulating. That´s the kind of friendship I miss back in the States, somebody who knows you very well not only at a personal level but at an intellectual level too. He recommended books, authors, movies, and got me copies of a rare DVD for me to take back. I saw two important Argentine movies: Santiago Mitre´s El estudiante and Pablo Trapero´s Elefante Blanco. The first one is much better than the second one, but both are very relevant to my personal life. El estudiante is an incredibly accurate trip to my life as a college student. Elefante Blanco seems tailored-made for my next Contemporary Latin American Civilization course. In-depth reviews coming soon.
Why am I saying that it was a squizofrenic experience? On one hand, the city is thriving. It feels much safer than previous years. People walk on the streets at all hours, and it doesn´t feel dangerous. The bars and restaurants are packed, even though the difference between "tourist" Buenos Aires and plain Buenos Aires is startling. A beer can cost twice at much in San Telmo neighborhood, a tourist-attraction, or in residential upper-middle class neighborhood, than what it cost if you go a little off the beaten path. People go out an enjoy the nightlife. On the other hand, it was the first time since 2001 that I felt the economy is going to hell. It is not just that there are problems looming in the horizon. I have the feeling that the government has jumped the shark, and we are heading straight for a recession with high inflation: to tame the rise in the price of dollar, the goverment has restricted access to it in a way that has make the black market flourished. It has put as many restrictions to imports that economic activity has take a nose-dive in the past 6 months. Even worse, it looks like the president is convinced that you can just govern by making epic sounding speeches. And by denying reality. Even intellectuals very close to the presidency have voiced their alarm. My friends and the population as a whole are quite aware of this, but it doesn´t stop them from having a good time. The city is quite expensive for the tourist, with the exception of public transportation ($0.25 for the bus, $6-7 for a taxi ride) and upscale restaurants ($40 for having dinner at a fancy restaurant, wine included). Regardless, even though I can´t shake the feeling of impending collapse, I´ve been having an amazing time. I guess I am a porteña after all. No matter how long you live abroad, certain things don´t change.