To Live and Die in BA: part 2
January 15, 2007
To Live and Die in BA: part 2
Buenos Aires is a city of too many sunrises. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that in just a few weeks here I’ve seen the sun rise at least twice as many times as the rest of my life put together. I mean seriously, this is probably the closest I’ll ever come to living like a rockstar (except the part where I sleep in a hostel dorm room with seven other smelly dudes). The nightlife is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; the ratio of pesos to dollars is 3 to 1, which means that I eat and drink quite well here, and half the population is very attractive while at least another quarter of it is definitely fuckable. Buenos Aires will blow your mind. Or at least ruin your liver.
***Buenos Aires at night***
When I was checking into my new hostel, Giramundo, the guy behind the desk looked at my last name and said, “Schuffman, huh? Are you Jewish?” When I answered yes, he said, “Me too, my name is Emmanuel Goldberg.” After we talked a little bit about being Jewish and how Buenos Aires has the sixth biggest Jewish population in the world, Emmanuel says to me, “If you would like to meet some other Jewish kids from Buenos Aires come with me tomorrow night to a boat party in Tigre. A lot of my Jewish friends will be there.” I agreed to go partly because I’m always curious to meet Jews from other cultures but mostly because it was a fucking booze cruise! Who says “no” to a booze cruise full of Jews? Never mind, don’t answer that.
Giramundo was a far different hostel than Millhouse. It was smaller and homier, and it also had two semi-permanent residents: Paloma the tranny who was a cocktail girl and go-go dancer at the tranny/gay/hipster bar down the street, and Manuel, the insane Italian guy who spent half his day walking around scratching his balls through his board shorts and the other half of it yelling at the computer in Italian. As for me I could handle this type of shit, what I couldn’t handle was that I was beginning to feel like I was having a relationship with Krista’s myspace page, not an actual person (she’s the one who came up with that analogy). I still had 3 or so weeks until she arrived, so I figured I’d distract myself the best way I could, by partying my ass off.
I arrived to the boat party at midnight (like a typical BA night, it went from 12-5am) thinking it was kinda gonna be like a Bar Mitzvah party for twenty-somethings. I was wrong though; it was about 10-15% Jewish, which is still a lot, but not quite the magnitude of Jewishness I was expecting. The girl behind the counter hooked up me and my friends (all Jewish) with some free ham sandwiches. I couldn’t resist cracking a joke: What’s the biggest Jewish dilemma? Free ham sandwiches…my rabbi would be so disappointed in me.
Like any place, hanging out with the locals allowed me much better insight into the how shit works. For instance, if you’re out at a club (or a boat party in this case) you’ll notice that a guy will go up and talk to a girl for maybe seven minutes before he tries to kiss her. This shit amazed me because in the States you often gotta talk to a woman for like half the night and then lure her outside, away from everyone else, with things like, “Hey you wanna get some fresh air?” before you try to give her a smooch. That is definitely not the case here. In fact I remember my first night in BA while I was looking for a place to sleep, seeing a pretty girl walking by herself, stop and talk to some guy for literally a minute, make out with him, and then hop in a cab to go home. And when people here do end up locking lips, it looks down right violent. When I first saw Emmanuel kiss the girl he hooked-up with, I thought homeboy was gonna chip his goddamn teeth. But down here everyone kisses like that; you almost expect them to start dry humping against the wall (which I actually did see at a club later in the week). Chalk it up to that passionate Latin blood, or whatever other stupid shit you wanna call it, but whatever it is, it’s certainly interesting to observe.
I didn’t get back to the hostel until 7am and spent the rest of the day sleeping and hoping that my hangover would dissipate. Sometime around midday I got a text from my buddy Greg who moved to Buenos Aires from SF about a year ago. Greg and I have a couple things in common: we’ve both done work for Lonely Planet, (him photography, me writing) and we both share a mutual good friend, Marina. Greg invited me to go out with him that night, so around 11ish I arrived at his place which was a super cool studio/loft in an old convent that had been chopped up and subdivided into apartments (nope I don’t have photos; I know I’m an idiot). All the apartments surround a lovely courtyard in which a big communal dinner was being held by all the occupants of the complex. It was the type of cool dinner where I got to sit down and practice my Spanish for awhile, before it completely devolved into a squirt gun fight. We took that as our queue to leave.
Following dinner Greg took me to something very rare in Buenos Aires, a hip hop club, where I saw something even rarer for BA: Black people. You just don’t see a lot of Black folks in Argentina, they don’t live here, so when you do see them they are generally tourists from the US, UK or Brazil. In fact Argentina has a reputation for being pretty racist against Black people and Bolivians. I am obviously neither black nor Bolivian, so I can’t say from experience, but I can tell you that I was absolutely surprised to walk into a club full of Nigerians. I was stoked to get down with a little diversity and some hip-hop; it reminded me of being back in the Bay Area.
When we returned to Greg’s place the courtyard dinner had turned into a courtyard party and hippies had replaced the squirt guns. I got into a conversation with this really cool hippie couple (he from Uruguay and she from Colombia) and they told me how they’d been traveling around South America for the past 6 years, living off the income they derived from making and selling macrame jewelry. I like to adorn myself with tidbits and trinkets that I pick up during my travels, so I of course bought one of their amazing bracelets. I was instantly their new best friend.
***New bracelet made by traveling hippies***
The sun was rising and my cell phone read something like 6am when two Norwegians with London accents (they’d lived in London for years), started offering up lines of cocaine to everyone. Greg had already turned in for sleep an hour earlier, and I had absolutely no desire to start doing stimulants at sunrise, so I went into Greg’s apartment and passed out on his couch.
I was awoken at 11am by some type of pot banging and a chorus of voices amounting to what sounded like a marching song. The courtyard was obviously still alive and I knew that if I wanted to get any more sleep it would have to be back at my hostel. Descending the stairs, I hit the ground just in time to get swept into the procession of revelers who were now vacating the courtyard and pouring out into the street. The Uruguayan guy who I’d bought the bracelet from was a big bear of a hippie and he collared me around then neck and informed me, mostly in slang I didn’t understand, that there was no fucking way I was going home. Somebody had bought seven kilos of meat (over 14 pounds!) and it was now time to grill that shit up in the park.
Standing on the street in that San Telmo’s early afternoon light, it appeared that our numbers had managed to double while I slept. It was like feeding Gremlins after midnight. The pots and pans I’d heard banging were actually a giant slab of aluminum roofing and a five foot long grill that could have easily come from the front of a Mack truck. I was told that the two 15 year old street urchins that were now in our group had pinched them from one of their mother’s kitchens. I’m not quite sure where he came from, but by the time we got to the park we’d somehow managed to pick up a Native American guy too (unlike most other South American countries, Argentina doesn’t have much of an indigenous population left). Walking into the riverside Puerto Madero park that afternoon, amongst the Sunday family picnics and the teenage soccer games, we were certainly a sight to see: 15-20 drug-addled and sleep deprived people, consisting of hippies, Spaniards, street urchins, Norwegians, Argentines, a Native American and me, with everyone helping to carry part of the 7 kilos of meat, 2 armfuls of bread, a piece of aluminum roofing, a giant grill, coals, lighter fluid and a dozen or so 1.5 liter bottles of Quilmes beer. It was definitely a unique way to spend the first half hour of my day.
I spent most of the walk trying to figure out what the hell the aluminum roofing was for, but when we got to the park and set up in the middle of a dirt pathway (the Uruguayan guy said it was just as good a place as any) I saw that it was gonna be the bottom part of the grill, the part that actually held the coals, while the thing that looked like it came from the front of a truck, would be where the meat was placed to cook. Myself and the Norwegians kept wondering when the cops were gonna show up and tell us that we couldn’t BBQ on the ground in the middle of a pathway, but it never happened. Then at some point the Native American guy pulled out a bunch of indigenous instruments from his bag and started playing some of his tribe’s songs for us. I think it was at this point that Thomas, one of the Norwegians said (in his London accent), “I don’t know if I can handle this shit any more. This just keeps getting more and more bizarre. Fuck man, I didn’t even sleep last night!”
When I finally did make it back to my hostel at around 5pm I asked myself how this type of strange shit always seems to happen to me. I still haven’t figured out the answer yet, but I do know I wish I took more photos.
***Another South American sunrise***