“Oooooooooh hoooollllaaaaa hermosa,” croons an old man in my face as I walk past. I am in jeans, hiking boots and a waterproof anorak with the hood up. Not exactly hot stuff. However this does not deter the men of Buenos Aires “having a go.”
Yes that's right - sexual political correctness has yet to reach the capital of Argentina. Men think nothing of coming up, having a good old stare and speaking leching right up in my grill. The fact that they are oftentimes accompanied by their wife and children or old enough to be my grandfather also doesn't seem to deter.
Pervert count today so far: 5.
Talking of walking the streets (not like that...) Street art is every where in Buenos Aires... and their graffiti really is an art form. I'm intrigued as to why. A quick google informs me that the Argentinian government's attitude towards street art is much more relaxed and laissez faire than Europe. Its an offence to graffiti public monuments but as long as the owner of the building agrees pretty much anything goes. Interestingly the movement saw a boom or should that be a sudden explosion of colour across the city around the time of the economic recession of 2001.
Any alternative art movement often has has a political resonance behind it and Buenos Aires and its Portenos are a politicised and impassioned collective. Every day people have taken to the streets to protest or strike about a different subject. In the same way the music scene here is still dominated by American and British Punk Rock of the 1970s. The Ramones are still massive and play sell out gigs. Art forms such as Punk and Graffiti resonate with a country in turmoil - when people want to rebel against the authorities and the people of Argentina have had a lot to want to rebel about from their governments of the past fifty years.
Punk music i like - i still have The Pistols on my ipod (well did before i wiped all my music...) but if there is one thing you can also be sure of in South America its that ( as well as the obligatory airing of Rolling In The Deep - Adele seems to be compulsory in pretty much every country i've visit) every single local radio station and cafe will have on their play list – Midnight Oil – Beds are Burning, Nina's 99 Red Balloons and anything by Roxette. IN addition the old musak tapes in the supermarkets seem to have been replaced by Cold Play. As if supermarket shopping were not depressing enough.
Today I make a female Portena pal - Paz (Peace.) We have been introduced by a mutual friend and have a “shared history.”
She is a cute little munchkin with blonde hair, big brown eyes and a soft breathy voice. I have to bend over double to speak to her. (I have a very different body shape to Argentinian women – long and slim not small and curvy.) Her sister Sol (Sun) turns 24 and wants to celebrate by doing an organised pub crawl with her friends, Paz and I. I'm pretty sure the British invented the pub crawl -and although i've never done an organised one in London i'm sure i've been on many an impromptu one from one boozer to the next. I think the best way to enjoy this particular activity would be to try and catch a beautiful English sunny day in the summertime (rare to say the least) and move from one pub to the next along the river enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass, cheap crisp rose and a good old fashioned british bbq. The way not to enjoy this particular activity would be to do it in Buenos Aires on a crawl around some sub standard dimly lit bars, organised by Americans and crammed with randy 18 year olds necking and trying to get their leg over.
Erica - one of the friends - with long shiny black hair, and leggings and black leather jacket to match - is the fox of the group and suddenly announces:
"I want a 35 year old man with a big cock!"
Everyone giggles and look at me expectantly -
“ And an even bigger bank account ?” I enquire.
Every single woman in Argentina has amazing, long, sleek, shiny hair. What is their secret? Even the old ladies take themselves for a blow dry once a week to achieve smart, shining bobs. I have weighed down the back pack with new keratin products, I am, frankly, obsessed.
The next day Paz and I go to Tigre together - a little town just outside and to the North of Buenos Aires that's around a 30 min train ride from the main train station at Retiro. Nico is worried I won't find my way around the train station. I think – if there is one thing I know how to do by now...its find my way around a bloody train station. . .
The town gets its name (translation: Tiger) from the tigers and jaguars that used to live there and it has been built around a series of canals and waterways. The Argentinian Rowing House is situated on its banks and there are lots of antique shops, market stalls, cafes and restaurants along its waterways. Its a popular tourist destination for this reason - and a very pleasant way to while away an afternoon -strolling along the market stalls or taking a boat down the canal. We wander around the Puerto de Frutas (fruit market) and stop for coffee and to share a platter of Queso y batata in a local cafe (a traditional dessert of cubed milk cheese and a jelly made from sweet potato.)
Then we take a walk past tea houses and little restaurants and I get the train back to rejoin Nico around 9pm at night. He has had to work today, but is sick from a dodgy empanada. We go to eat at a fantastic steak house just near the hostel - for one of my final doses of red meat. Its true steak really does taste better there than any where else i've tried it. I started with Kidneys - expecting the ususal sized ones from home about 3inches across - but these must have come from a bull -they were huge - about 10cm long but very tasty - grilled on the traditional Argentinian Asado (BBQ) and the steak was divne. Nico is stil ill so just watches me eat - its a bit like watching a dog sitting at my feet. He's salivating and feeling very sorry for himself. It doesn't stop me finishing every last bit.