YOU CAN HATE IT OR LOVE IT
This year, 50 Cent and The Game’s inspiration ballad “Hate It Or Love It” turns 9. Despite its advancing age, I still hear it on the semi-reg, as I live with an ~older man~ who loves to play 90’s and early 00’s rap every single morning to wake me up.
I actually love this song, and once while dually PMSing and prepping for Prom 2008, I almost cried in a tanning bed while listening to it. Like Compton, Buenos Aires is hard as fuck. Muggings and murders errday and yet it will still shine until it’s metaphorical heart stops. In the spirit of this beautiful city which I have come to temporarily inhabit, I will share some things which I hate and love about Bs As:
1) Palermo and Recoleta
Palermo, the neighborhood where I live, is split up into a bunch of sub-sections. I reside in Palermo Hollywood, since allegedly there are a lot of studios and stuff in the area. I have yet to see one. Palermo Hollywood is a mixture of an older barrio and chic glass high-rises with doormen. Unfortunately my building is part of the former rather than latter, but it is still a great location near parks, restaurants and most importantly, Palermo Soho.
Palermo Soho is the most ”downtown” area of Buenos Aires filled with trendy high-heeled Birkenstock wearing portenas taking their Maltese mascotas on a stroll. That said, it is not at all comparable to the real Soho in terms of aesthetics. A lot of parts of Palermo Soho are still pretty dingy and non-gentrified (by American standards), but compared to other barrios there are a plethora of design and clothing stores/trendy bars/fun clubs/~edgy graffiti~. I wish I had paid a little more for an apartment in the heart of Palermo Soho, but luckily, it is only a 10-15 minute walk from my current apartment so I have been spending ample time there.
While Palermo Soho is often cited as the “It” place in Bs As, Recoleta is where you will find the old money honeys toting real LVs and swinging their perfectly highlighted blonde manes. The architecture of Recoleta is amazing… Many of the building materials were imported straight from Paris and commissioned by Parisian architects, so it is easy to feel like you are in the Old World not New. If I were ever to move to Bs As permanently (which I could see happening one day), I would hope to be able to afford an abode here.
2) Shopping In Buenos Aires
If anything, I am very self-aware. I know that I no longer can fit into the size 26 jeans that slid effortlessly over my ass in 2010, and that my face and figure no longer look svelte in selfies. But guess what… I actually do not give a fuck. In lieu of being able to fit into sample sizes, I have an amazing job, enough disposable income to enjoy eating out whenever and wherever I want and a partner who reminds me everyday how attractive he finds me. What I don’t have though is the ability to shop wherever I want for clothes in Buenos Aires. While I may be tipping the scale in one direction, the women of Bs As tip it dangerously in the other direcccion. Anyone who does not have a sizeable thigh gap is a gordita, and most boutiques stock clothes which would only fit my 70-pound, 10 year old sister. I have been able to find things to fit me at Zara and a couple of other random stores, but generally, most places consider a size 4 to be XL. Recently, I saw a woman the size of Jennifer Aniston trying on bikinis from the “Large” section. Argentina intentionally sizes clothes smaller than the American norm so that women are pressured to be tiny. The country is tied with Japan for the highest occurrences of anorexia and plastic surgery procedures are as de rigeur as going to the dentist. I have nothing against plastic surgery and will probably get something done one day, but to have such strong social pressure to be 120 pounds or less or not be able to shop at normal stores is not cool. (Note: Argentina apparently passed a law a few years ago requiring more variety in stores sizes, but it has yet to take effect on a macro-level)
3) The price of life (for an American with USD)
There are two prices in Argentina: the official rate and the blue market rate. The official rate is set by the government and is approximately ~6 pesos to 1 USD. The blue rate varies but when I changed my money, I was able to find someone to give me 9.5 pesos for every 1 USD. This means that the sublime glass of Malbec that I am sipping on right now costs $2.62 USD instead of $4.16 USD. Or that the amazing 1960’s vintage Murano glass necklace which I bought at the San Telmo feria and wore out for NYE was a mere $24.21 USD instead of $38.33 USD. To get a rate like 9.5, you will probably need some basic Spanish skills, but even a monolingual gringo should be able to get 9 or 8 pesos to the USD. Calle Florida proved to be the best place for me to exchange, however there are also many cab drivers, store owners or Bs As friends who will you meet and will be eager for USD. After seeing how much money I save under the blue rate, I really wish I had brought more USD as I am already running low. If I do run out of pesos, I am probably going to try to use Xoom.com, a website which I read about in my favorite guidebook. Xoom lets you send money from your bank account to yourself in Buenos Aires, for a rate somewhere in between the blue rate and offical rate. As of today, it is about 8.8 pesos for each USD.
Getting more money for doing essentially nothing? Gotta say that I heart <333 the blue rate. (Although make sure to do research on what fake bills look like, only exchange with people you trust in places that make you feel safe, etc. because no discount is worth compromising your personal safety!)
In general, I am pretty chill about safety. I have been going to NYC by myself since I was 15, and more than a couple of times have found myself roaming the streets in a state of inebriation. Hell, I even slept at Grand Central in a drunken stupor twice circa 2008. Nothing bad has ever happened to me.
However, Buenos Aires is far more dangerous than NYC. Every single time that I leave my apartment, I have to take inventory of all of my belongings and decide if they are absolutely necessary to bring out to the street. Would I be devastated if I lost 500 pesos and my new Lazaro bag? No, but definitely annoyed. Would I be devastated if I lost my Prada bag, iPad, computer and second iPhone of the trip? Absolutely, so I won’t bring any of them out. Getting robbed in Buenos Aires is essentially a rite of passage. It happens to 95% of everyone with anything worth coveting. Most girls in Bs As I’ve met who own smart phones don’t even bring them out to the street, since they are way more expensive here and constantly at risk. They just have their friends leave messages with their doorman or communicate via Facebook. Everytime I Instagram with my iPhone outdoors, I am essentially being Evel Knievel (so more of you motherf’ers should like my pics as there is high risk involved…)
Recoleta is the only place where I have seen girls with designer bags and accessories out in the open. I am lucky that most of the designer items I brought here (Chloe, Stella McCartney) aren’t as recognizable by the masses as LV or Chanel or I am sure they would already be gone.
awky-sauce asked: I seriously love reading the blurbs about your travels!!
Thank you so much… I am very excited that someone besides my mom is reading!
Obsessed With Olsen
Without a doubt, my favorite non-puerta cerrada in Buenos Aires is Olsen. I didn’t have extremely high hopes for it going in, since many blogs cite it as a past-its-prime place for expats rather than Argentines. To be fair, I did go there once with 5 other Americans for a round of pre-boliche drinks. However, the other two times I’ve visited (once for drinks and once for lunch), I only heard castellano spoken.
(The bar at Olsen by day… At night these seats are filled)
Even if Olsen is filled with expats, rest assured they are chic, young expats befitting the gorgeous setting, and not fanny-pack wielding tourists with crying babies. The architecture of Olsen is clean yet interesting, with a variety of settings for different situations. In the mood for a cozy chat over a couple of G&T’s with close friends? There is a fire pit in the middle of the restaurant, perfect for intimate conversation. For those seeking a romantic setting, the outdoor garden space is ideal for grabbing a pre-dinner drink with a significant other. The few tables on the second floor provide an eagles-eye view of the restaurant and the grounds, although those tables may be better for those enjoying dinner and not too many drinks, as the stairs up to them are rather vertiginous.
(Olsen’s garden area… All that is missing is Gareth and a Pink Flamingo)
The drinks at Olsen are all traditionally made with Absolut, as it is a Scandinavian restaurant (Sidenote: I have found that Grey Goose is an anomaly here… Weirdly, many places only have Absolut or Skyy). My favorite drink was the delectable Pink Flamingo, crafted in front of me using generous chunks of fresh grapefruit and mint leaves. Both times I ordered it, it was refreshing and sweet (but not too sweet). Beware that it was also quite strong.
For drinkers accustomed to Manhattan prices, Olsen is a bargain. Their specialty cocktails cost approximately $8 USD each according to the official price, or $5.50 USD at the blue market rate. In NYC, artisanal cocktails of this caliber easily run $20-$30 USD each at a comparably chic restaurant.
Although I would most recommend Olsen for its drinks, the lunch which I had there was also very good. In a country synonymous with steak, it was a genuine delight to find a tofu wrap on the lunch menu. The tofu came wrapped in blini, and was served with a side of white bean gazpacho with nuts and greens. I didn’t love the white gazpacho, but the tasty tofu more than made up for it.
(Tofu lunch at Olsen)
I also enjoyed stealing some of Gareth’s home fries, which were perfectly golden and just the right balance of crispy and soft. He also had ordered the white bean gazpacho to compliment his main entree of salmon. Gareth is not one to typically order fish, but he only had good things to say about his pescado treat.
(Gareth’s slightly heartier ~fashion food~)
I am definitely planning to come back to Olsen one more time for drinks, or maybe even a full dinner. In a country where a restaurant’s aesthetics tend to take a backseat to food quality and/or price, it is refreshing to visit a good, reasonable restaurant with a design scheme as strong as its vodka drinks.
Feria de San Telmo: A Must-See for Fashion Enthusiasts
I have been in a bad mood since Gareth left yesterday afternoon. I miss being around him so much. He always puts me at ease and makes me feel better, and without him all of the shitty little things about travel (like cab drivers trying to rip you off or the air conditioner leaking everywhere and the apartment owner not caring) feel so much more annoying and stressful.
To cheer myself up I decided to indulge in my favorite activity, shopping. The San Telmo feria (or market) on Sunday is one of Buenos Aires’ famed weekly traditions. There are blocks and blocks of streets filled with vendors selling everything from horse grooming equipment to sexist airbrushed shirts to endless mate cups. My favorite stalls, of course, were the ones with vintage jewelry and handbags. I only brought 700 pesos ($73.68 USD at the blue market rate which I exchanged them with locals for, or ~$116 USD at the official government rate) so that I wouldn’t buy anything too crazy. I wish I had brought a little more, or tried to take the bus instead of cabs to save myself 130 pesos because there was a lot of jewelry which I loved but couldn’t buy or I wouldn’t have had enough pesos for a cab home.
(Made just for me? The CMD bag)
Nevertheless, I got some pretty cool things, considering my relatively modest budget. The first thing I bought was a leather bag with my initials on it. Pretty much since kindergarten, I have been doodling “CMD” in bubble letters everywhere, so to find a personalized and gorgeous leather bag with my exact initials monogrammed on the hardware felt serendipitous. I tried to walk away from it, but then felt compelled to walk back to buy it after a couple of minutes of dithering. I definitely overpaid a little, but if overpaying means spending $30 USD instead of $18 USD on a one-of-a-kind bag seemingly made for me, then I am fine with that. Aside from the quasi-bespoke nature of the bag vis-a-vis my exact initials, the quality of the leather is great. It has unexpected neon yellow stitching and a strong shape which makes it seem very contemporary, almost Proenza Schouler-esque. Definitely the best $30 USD that I have ever spent on a handbag. (Update: Google revealed that CMD is the name of a design school in Buenos Aires, so likely this bag was made by one of its students, and not owned by someone with the same initials as me… Still cool either way)
I also bought another leather bag for the whopping price of $4.21 USD. The chain was added with buttons (which are only visible if you open the bag up), and you can’t store anything on the inside, only in the zip pockets, but it is a very cool and unique bag. It looks almost like a ranch ledger or estancia diary was repurposed into a handbag, since there isn’t a true bottom to the bag, and the shape of a bag looks like a journal turned sideways. This is further evidenced by the hardware on the side, of a horse’s head inside of a horseshoe, and the fact that I bought it at a stall which mostly sold horse grooming accessories. An amazing find with a potentially interesting provenance, for the price of a Starbucks latte.
(The horse bag)
The best bargain of my San Telmo trip was a red leather and metal fringed necklace, which I acquired for $3.19 USD. I liked the whimsical bow charm in the middle and thought it would be a cute way to accessorize and feminize Gareth’s baggy gray J.Crew teeshirt which I have taken to wearing in the searing daytime Bs As heat. I have seen (and bought) similar pieces which were not made with real leather at Zara for 15 times the price, so it was definitely a true bargain.
(Murano glass necklace from the 1960’s)
Slightly less of a bargain, but still an awesome find was the oversized Venetian Murano glass necklace from the 1960’s which I purchased at my favorite jewelry stand. I was running low at pesos by this point, so I couldn’t get everything I wanted. I chose this necklace over the Hermes bag-shaped rhinestone pin which was so adorable but I don’t wear pins really, and the cool snake bracelet made of leather and metal (seeing as it was painful to get over my obese hand and the vendor yelled at me when i tried to put it on normally by stretching out the snake a little). Despite the vendor’s paranoia, her stall was definitely my favorite as the pieces were high-quality, interesting and truly vintage. I love how this necklace started out its life in the famous Murano glass factory in Venice, was flown across the ocean to Argentina and now will be coming home with me to Connecticut. A really special and beautiful piece, with a provenance spanning 3 continents.
(All of my treats from the feria)
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly in Uruguay
La playa, or “la plasha” as it is pronounced here, is beautiful. We were excited to encounter soft sand instead of the rocky beaches in Bariloche, which made one yearn for 90’s-era water shoes. Although inflamed with jellyfish, we managed to avoid getting stung and had fun splashing around in the cool and clear water. The apartment in the beach house which we rented was a 5-minute walk from the beach and a 20-minute walk from a beach club (appropriately called “La Espanola”) with terrible food but strong drinks and fun bartenders whom we befriended. We spent a lot of time at the beach during our first few days until we were trolled (details forthcoming in “The Ugly”) by a shitty new restaurant and forced to walk 7+ miles roundtrip in the blistering sun and scalding sand, thereby transmogrifying ourselves into crustacean-colored, semi-functional hybrids of our former selves.
(My sunburn, after a day and a half. I still have disturbing color patches, but they are now gradients of tan)
As in Bariloche, canines are everywhere in Punta del Este. Fortunately, they seem less inclined to leap into the road every 12 seconds, risking life and limb while giving me angina. My favorite sedate dog lives at the beach house next to us and is named Gitano, which was delightful to find out. He is probably 10 years old, due to his noble graying of fur as well as his penchant for sleeping. I was highly impressed when I threw him a morsel of empanada and he did not immediately charge at it, but instead leisurely meandered over to inspect it a few minutes later. Opie Marissa would never.
Perhaps the most exciting canine moment occurred last night, on Christmas Eve at Soho, a restaurant/bar/club which featured several dogs (and babies) partying at 3AM on the dancefloor. The canines were eventually persuaded to leave the club via food bribery by the staff, but I greatly enjoyed their presence for the 90 minutes or so which it lasted.
(Gareth and a canine friend at Soho)
I thought Punta del Este would be like Ibiza/Miami/The Hamptons, since that’s what it is often compared to and everyone from Naomi Campbell to Shakira has been spotted here in prior years. However, the going out scene was weird last night… All of the locals were still botelloning (or pre-gaming/tailgating, depending on your preferred vernacular) at 3:30AM, showing little urgency in actually getting to the club. I am used to going out late in Spain, but all of the botelloning usually wrapped up around 1AM, not closer to 4AM.
Also, Punta del Este seems less busy in terms of nightlife than any of the places it is compared to, and has significantly less architecture porn or yacht porn than Ibiza or Miami. Next week is the “biggest” week for Punta del Este, as evidenced by the predictable David Guetta concert, so I am sure it will be a lot crazier then, but we are still technically in the high season In all fairness, we didn’t check out the La Barra region where most of the clubs were, but we did spending Christmas Eve hanging out at the port section which was recommeded to me by a Playboy centerfold-esque Punta del Este friend in the know. Unfortunately we won’t make it to La Barra since we have to head back to Buenos Aires fairly early tomorrow, and couldn’t be up tonight just pregaming until 4AM followed by Crobar until late morning. Our wallets also probably wouldn’t love it, considering what we paid on drinks at Soho yesterday…
We thought things would definitely be cheaper here, considering that it is Uruguay but we have paid close to American prices for a lot of mediocre things. A shitty chicken fingers lunch for Gareth and a “salad” for me, which consisted of 5 tomato slices and 5 slices of processed cheese on a plate, cost us $45 USD at the beach club. Drinks last night at Soho (1 bottle of Chardonnay and 4 mixed drinks) were $265 USD. That seems kind of unreasonable at a place that wasn’t even popping at 3:30AM and contained numerous canines and children (not that I am complaining about the former… But clearly there wasn’t a Stalin-esque door policy in place)
Our worst experience was at a new restaurant (something like Blas?) where we had the slowest service on 2 paninis which promised to be made with mozzarella, but instead had some sort of processed cheese thing, a ton of olives and tomato slices on a baguette. Even I, the Official Empress of Ordering Out, could have made one of these paninis in like 3 minutes. It took them the better part of an hour, despite the fact that the restaurant wasn’t even busy. We weren’t thrilled, but we had just walked 4 miles in the hot sand into town, so we were okay with paying $40 USD for a sub-par lunch to satiate ourselves.
Noone had warned us that we could only pay in cash until we tried to pay the bill with a MasterCard, thereby unleashing a clusterfuck of irritation and annoyance. We only had the MasterCard and 500 pesos (~$25 USD) on us since we had been hanging out at the beach all day, and clearly didn’t want to bring a ton of cash with us… Just enough for a cab home and maybe a beer. Since the restaurant’s credit card machine was broken, the waitress kept trying to tell us that we could take our credit card to an obscure Uruguayian bank somewhere in Punta del Este and withdraw money. The credit card isn’t linked to a bank account, let alone a Uruguayian one, so this didn’t seem feasible to us but the waitress seemed inclined to harangue us incessantly about how she once worked at a bank, and was essentially Punta del Este’s incarnation of Jamie Dimon.
After endless bilingual arguing, the waitress agreed to take our 500 peso note in lieu of the 850 peso bill, but then we had no cab money since cabs don’t take credit cards either. So, we had to walk another 3.5 miles home in the searing hot sand, feeling like contestants on the first episode of The Biggest Loser who are forced to run a mini triathalon or some other physically grueling activity far out of their normal range.
Luckily, we had an amazing beach house to return to. Notttttt. Our Internet stopped working entirely (it only worked maybe 10% of the time that we were here), we had no hot water (and the whole house smelled like rotten broccoli for hours when we tried to turn on the hot water heater), no air conditioning and our bed was covered in sand which pricked at our sunburns everytime that we moved. We were beginning to feel akin to neo-medieval saints bodily and spiritually tested, an appropriate metaphor considering that it was Christmas Eve. Which brings me to… The Best!
As a life-long vegetarian, I have always hated McDonalds. However, one of the best moments of our trip thus far was finally figuring out how to connect to the McDonalds wifi and contact our families on Christmas, thus lifting ourselves out of the Digital Stone Age which had been thrust upon us. (“Are we in the Bronze Age?” “No, actually the Jurassic Period”, etc. was one of our favorite jokes as we slowly lost our minds over the past few days.) Gareth and I both audibly cheered at the moment of wifi connection in a McDonalds booth, alarming the Uruguayian hipsters who were Facebook chatting next to us.
After spending the better part of the morning in a Firefox-less den of solitude and cold showers which we have grown to despise, McDonalds was a refreshing oasis for reconnecting with the rest of the world. They served better and fancier coffees than Starbucks in the US, and had several chic blonde MILFs and Brazilian model-types as patrons. Who would have guessed?
I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that McDonalds would be the zenith of my Punta del Este trip. Then again, never doubt the power of a reliable wifi connection, functional air conditioning and strong espressos.
Again, we find ourselves eagerly awaiting a return to Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires Bucket List
I love, love, love Buenos Aires. I am so excited to have over a week to still spend there, since our first 4 days were not nearly enough to explore all of the colorful neighborhoods, chic restaurants and cool clubs. Unfortunately, Gareth has to leave me and return to work on Saturday night, but I am confident that I can traverse Bs As (as the locals call it) on my own, due to its extensive network of buses, subways and cabs. Here are some of the activities which I most look forward to in the “Paris of South America”:
Rompiendo la discoteca
Rompiendo la discoteca, or literally “breaking the club” in Spanish, roughly equates to “balling out”. I am excited to party in a variety of different places, from the exclusive row of boliches on the water by the airport (Jet, Tequila and Pacha) to Niceto which was recommended to me by a Brooklyn-bred expat, to the nouveau-riche nightlife scene of Puerto Maduro, to Terrazas where we are going tonight. I need to start powernapping more in preparation, since most of these places don’t get started until 2AM or later.
(Pre-Pacha Bs As after a fresh blowout)
A luxurious head and scalp massage/hair cleaning followed by a blowout is ~$20 USD at most Bs As salons, less than half of the cost of a typically blowout bar in the tri-state area. Accordingly, I plan to get cheap blowouts every couple of days as needed, since straightening my own hair is one of my least favorite ways to waste 90 minutes of my life. Even though I just got my highlights done 2 weeks ago, I may also go for a rubia touch-up next week since it will be cheaper here than the states and my roots seem to grow in literally overnight.
Art galleries and museums
MALBA, the contemporary/modern art museum of the city, is definitely on my to-do list, as well as an afternoon or two of gallery hopping. I would especially like to go to an opening, and have to do some research to see when/where to find one. I am also strongly considering a guided tour of the Buenos Aires graffiti scene, which is unparalled and fascinating from what I have seen so far.
Some of the most amazing pieces I own(ed) have a vintage provenance, from the olive green 1950’s-era Balenciaga heels which I scored in high school and finally had to throw out a couple of years ago to the most sublime leather and gold belt that I got in Madrid last summer. I recently found a list of great -sounding shops which claim to stock stunning vintage designer pieces at somewhat reasonable prices as well as the gorgeous leather bags and jackets which are ubiquitous in Bs As. I will definitely do a post just on my shopping adventures, if I find anything worth coveting. Something like 30% of portenos (people from Bs As) are Italian immigrants, so I am crossing my fingers that I will stumble across donated Dolce and Gabbana, Prada and Versace once worn in the Old Country by glamorous nonnas.
(Beautiful and free architecture in La Recoleta)
Buenos Aires is a really spread-out city, and what looks to be close on a map sometimes takes 45 minutes by taxi. That said, I havent’t explored as many neighborhoods as I would like, sticking mostly to Alto Palermo or El Centro. However, before Gareth leaves, I want to go to the somewhat dangerous but extremely striking area of La Boca, known internationally for its brightly hued houses. I also want to do deeper explorations of Recoleta, Villa Crespo, Caballitos, San Telmo, Palermo Hollywood/Soho and Puerto Maduro. Any other neighborhoods which I should visit?
AMENDMENT: No longer going to La Boca, as we heard of numerous armed robberies of tourists, even during the day there. We want Instagram shots, not gunshots please.