Saturday, October 17, 2009

Forget Paris

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about my place here in Argentina, and since meeting two new friends who feel similarly, I've been discussing it as well. Earlier in the week I wrote about not feeling that I perfectly fit in here, or that something is amiss, but I couldn't quite tell what it was. I might be on to it by now.

One thing I keep doing is comparing my experiences here to those I had in Ecuador or other countries in South America. It's easy to understand why--I did after all spend a year there and it was a huge part of my understanding of Latin America. Now that Argentina is the second country I've been living in on this continent, it's only natural that I compare the two. But it's hard to match them up evenly and come away feeling totally happy, especially when I tend to romanticize the past.

That's one part of it. Another part might be all of the hype that Buenos Aires gets. A popular title for this city is "The Paris of South America." From the onset, you might think of that as a complement. But after living here for 2 months now,  I think it's a title given by outsiders that's actually less of a laud for this city as it is more of an insult to the entire continent. In my opinion, saying that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America is saying that this continent is so messed up that once you have made it through the terrors and backwards ways of the mountain and jungle countries and successfully arrived in Argentina, it will seem like heaven comparably. That doesn't make Buenos Aires a heaven, it just makes everywhere else a hell.

I've been to Paris. This is not Paris. It's not like the nickname is "Paris Jr," giving the impression that it's similar but smaller. Maybe this is Paris in disrepair, or as my friend Dan said, "Faded elegance." If Paris was badly bombed in World War II and was never properly rebuilt, maybe we have a connection. Don't get me wrong, this city is beautiful in many ways and I like being here, but while it's European, it's not Europe. And I think the difference needs to be made clear to those who assume they will find a small piece of Europe in Latin America.

The people say it all themselves. Whenever I tell them I'm American but I'm living here they ask the same thing. "Why?" Why would I want to live here when I was already squared away in the United States? For many, it's a hard concept to grasp, and while they love their country, they're the first to point out its many problems. If given the opportunity, many would leave.

Come visit Buenos Aires. Experience it and make your own decision. I don't want to give a wrong impression here. I never want to scare people away from traveling--that would be against what I'm all about. But just remember that you're still in Latin America when you're here. And if you ask me, that's a good thing.

Above: This aint Paris.

No comments: