Food: Argentines know their beef. After about the third or fourth course at the family asado I wrote about last night, Katelin and Kenna were inquiring about an interesting looking piece of meat that was being offered. Nic’s uncle Rodo shrugged his shoulders and said “Un parte de la vaca.” A piece of the cow. What else do you really need to know? The next time the food was passed, we properly noted that it was “una otra parte de la vaca“. It sure tasted good, whatever part it was. In addition to straight up cuts of steak, we also ate many empanadas (little stuffed pastries, usually with flavored beef, although I also really liked the corn ones), morcilla (blood sausage), milanesas (sort of a thin-sliced chicken fried steak), and a delicious pastel de papa (potato pie, with meat and eggs). We also ate out one night at a great Spanish tapas restaurant and a parilla, an Argentine steak house, and a few little neighborhood restaurants, most of them serving traditional Argentine fare. On a non-carne front, deliciously fresh ravioli and ñochi (gnocchi) are common as well, given the strong Italian heritage and tradition in Argentina. Wine is plentiful and affordable, and the native Malbec grapes are used to produce some truly world-class vintages.
Tango: In most of the busier pedestrian shopping districts, at all times of the day, there would be dancers dancing with small bands egging them on with the romantic music that fires the dance. We also went to a formal evening performance at Tango Piazziolla, named after and featuring the works of famed composer Astor Piazziolla. The dance is amazing to watch, both in terms of the body chemistry between the two people spinning in such close, intimate proximity, and in terms of the physics of the performance, the way that legs and arms and body position are used to move between different elements of the dance, giving it an amazingly kinetic flavor. I’m probably a ñoño for noticing that, though. (See below for explanation of that term).
Travel impacts: Other than the physical toll of time in the airplane, jet lag issues are low since there’s only a hour difference time-wise between New York and Buenos Aires (though that may change plus or minus depending on which of us are on daily savings time). No special shots required. We ate and drank whatever we wanted to without worry. The quality of the accommodations and services was, frankly, generally higher than what you typically encounter in urban centers in the United States. The airports in Buenos Aires (both the international Aeropuerto and the domestic Aeroparque) and Mendoza were far more pleasant to spend time in than either O’Hare or Miami International were. While airfare to get to Argentina is pricey, once you get there, it is tremendously affordable right now. We felt comfortable walking the streets late at night in both cities, obviously being aware of our surroundings and taking the same common sense precautions you take any time you’re out late in public.
Cars: Argentines appear to have a nearly supernatural sense of their autos when they drive. I saw people split moving traffic gaps at high speed that I wouldn’t even attempt with both other cars in park and me crawling at 5 mph. Nic described the general approach as “you drive where you fit.” We used cabs a lot in Buenos Aires, and generally had a great time talking to the drivers, although we quickly learned that Americans drive B.A. cabbies crazy because of the way we slam car doors. We made a deliberate attempt to be suave in closing our doors after one driver explained to me that we needed to close our car doors the same way we close refrigerator doors, and that we should treat our cars with the same gentleness that we use on our fifteen-year old girlfriends. Well . . . that’s what he said!
Politics: I’m pretty politically interested and aware, so I at least knew who Argentina’s current and recent Presidents are and were, and have some sense of the nation’s political history, so don’t think I embarrassed myself with any stereotypical American ignorance abroad. Argentines seemed to have a deeper sense of our politics even than that, though, as we were routinely asked in Buenos Aires whether we liked Obama or Clinton (McCain doesn’t seem to be of much interest), and when we mentioned being from New York, were called on the explain Spitzergate. Much laughter then generally ensued. Argentina was (and remains) embroiled in a national farmers’ strike related to export quotas and food prices. The general consensus among the folks we spoke to was that President Kirchner’s administration wasn’t handling the situation at all well. One driver told us that the only thing she had done since taking office was to mess with the clocks, instituting daylight savings time. I didn’t bother to note that our government was fiddling with the same this year.
Language: It’s beautiful to listen to Argentines speak, as they pronounce both the “ll” and “y” sounds as “sh”. So “pollo” (chicken), which is pronounced “poy-o” in most Spanish speaking countries becomes “poesh-o” in Argentina. It gives everything a smoothness and sibilance similar to Portuguese, which I consider to be the most fetching of the Romance Languages. Think about how languorous and smooth and suave bossa nova sounds, then apply that to a conversation. That’s what speaking in Argentina is like.
Best word of the trip: Nic and I were being shushed by Marcia and Allison for being plane nerds at some point during the trip, and I asked him how to say “nerd” in Spanish. The correct answer is: ñoño. The “ñ” is pronounced “ny” in English, so the proper transliteration is “nyo-nyo.” Excellent.
Airplanes: So, for the Plane ñoños, our trip involved two Embraer Regional Jets (Albany to Chicago, Chicago to Albany), two Boeing 767’s (Chicago to Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile to Miami), two Airbus A320’s (Buenos Aires to Mendoza, Mendoza to Santiago de Chile), and one beat-up old Boeing 757 (Miami to Chicago). I liked the cabin configuration of the LAN A320s better than I liked them the last time I flew on them with a domestic carrier. It was this point that got me shushed.
Stars: And for the Space ñoños, I saw the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri, among the most prominent objects in the night-time sky in the antipodes. I hadn’t realized you could see Orion that far south, but he was there too.
Again, I can only conclude with a recommendation to visit Argentina if you are looking for something new and different to try. I’ve only seen two cities and relatively small part of the countryside, and I’m smitten, if that’s not already plainly obvious.