Saturday, June 21, 2008

At Home in Buenos Aires

Over the last several years, Buenos Aires has made frequent appearances in the travel sections of daily newspapers and in travel magazines of various orientations. Now, though, it's starting to crack the mass media in other categories, as happened last week when, fortuitously, we saw our own Palermo apartment on HGTV's House Hunters International.

That's a little misleading, as I'll try to explain. In the program in question, a couple from Punta del Este (Uruguay) were relocating to Buenos Aires for professional reasons, and needed to find housing for themselves and their two Labrador retrievers. It meant downsizing, especially for the dogs, and one of the apartments they visited was a spacious flat in a new building just two doors away from our rather more modest unit (whose exterior was visible in some of the street shots). The view of the café across the street (pictured above) is virtually identical to ours but, in a city where people often leave their dogs on balconies during the day, this apartment's semi-circular balcony was not large enough for two 80-pound Labs (one of our neighbors has a rather shy and quiet Rottweiler who spends much of the day on theirs). Eventually, the couple settled for a smaller but luminous Recoleta apartment with a larger balcony.

Buenos Aires's idiosyncrasies, as seen by a foreign resident, also come out in an insightful article by novelist Maxine Swann in last week's New York Times Home & Garden section. Swann points out, for instance, that "Mentioning you have an appointment with an analyst, or that your child does, is comparable to saying you have a hair appointment," even though "the Argentines I was meeting did not seem particularly interested in self-improvement." That may be the case, of course, unless you consider "Tango Therapy" as a means of self-improvement (a few years back, during the 2002 economic meltdown, one dance instructor offered "Self-Help Tango" during the annual Festival de Tango).

Swann points out some of the pitfalls that anyone living in the city may encounter, such as improvised repairs in her Chacarita rental that led one plumber to say "What the hell is this?" Her landlord, meanwhile, built a rooftop pool that once flooded her apartment, and she missed the opportunity to buy an apartment after the meltdown, though she and her Argentine then husband managed to rent a spacious Recoleta flat at bargain prices.

Nothing that Swann writes will really surprise anyone who's lived here, rather than just visiting as a tourist, but she does a good job of summarizing the rewards, as well as the drawbacks, of this fascinating city. It's essential reading for anyone considering a leap into the Baires real estate market. For what it's worth, she says her next novel will be set in Buenos Aires.

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