Zesty Mumma's Words

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Archive for the tag “Buenos Aires”

The Argentine Art of Exaggeration and Land Mines!

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My first few days of pounding the pavements of Buenos Aires were fraught with peril. The mean streets of BA, as the residents like to think of their city, definitely hold many dangers for the unsuspecting traveller, but not all are what you might imagine. Yes there is crime and all the usual suspects; pick pockets, bag snatchers and worse. However, in spite of all the poverty and human woe it is surprisingly safe. What I like to term the “Agentinean art of exaggeration” without a doubt can take some responsibility for this belief by the city dwellers. If it wasn’t safe the Argentinean habit of going for dinner after 10.00 pm would have been extinct along time ago. 

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The volume of people moving around the streets of the capital late at night proves that this aspect of their culture is alive and well. One of the most endearing aspects of Buenos Aires, the abundant small cafes and restaurants, with their outdoor seating and twinkling lights, would likewise have closed their doors for good. The public transport buses run for 24 hours a day and while their regularity is questionable in the early morning hours, they do eventually turn up, so you can get home.

 

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Which brings me back to my early days in BA and my steps laden with perilous pitfalls. The culprit; Buenos Aires shocking (truly this is not an exaggeration) footpaths. Consisting essentially of large tiles that often spurt water up your legs when the slightest pressure is exerted on them, made me feel like I was picking my way through a field of land mines. These are not the only land mines pedestrians have to navigate. Those left by the canine inhabitants are everywhere, as well as their pee. So when the tiles spurt water after the rain, it’s not just water that you get hit by. Then there is the holes. The only thing I will say about them is if you have ever seen photos of bombed roadways, pock marked by mortar shells in a war zone, then you have seen many of BA’s footpaths.

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Those early weeks spent wandering the city resulted in many evenings of pain because of the twisting torture my ankles and knees experienced. Then I noticed something remarkable, I leant to walk like an Argentine and this is a very particular skill. Buenos Aireans  through necessity walk great distances to and from public transport, to work, to their homes and anywhere else in the city they need to go. All this walking as I have already explain could be very dangerous for your health without this skill. How do you walk like an Argentine you may ask? Simple, you never fully plant your foot down completely when you take a step, being ready to quickly glide over a tile that shows signs of movement. At the same time your vision is both directed to the distance and directly in front of your path. In this way you are also able to avoid falling into bomb craters.

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You would be right in thinking that the poor condition of the footpaths really limits the type of footwear the women of BA can safely wear and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are more joggers worn here than I have ever seen in my life. Having said that, we all know however, that women have a particular love for shoes and to deprive the female members of Buenos Aires citizenry of heels would be a crime. 

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Now let me introduce you to Frankenboots. This particularly unique Porteno fashion statement answers a need by utilising my old friend, the Buenos Airean “art of exaggeration”. These oversized platforms keep women raised above the the splashing water, while the soft rubbery sole minimises the impact of any smaller holes  they may miss. The sky is the limit with these platforms, just when you think you’ve seen the highest or most outlandish example you notice a version that boggles your mind.

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So while I walk the streets in my low open sandals, squealing inside everytime a splash of putrid water touches my skin, my Buenos Arian sisters glide around their city.

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Peruvian Grannies Selling Flowers In Buenos Aires Are Not To Be Messed With!

I first saw the colourful Peruvian Jasmine sellers at the end of my street. The family were strategically stationed in a prime position to attract passers by as they existed the subway after the daily commute. Grandma, mum, a little girl of about four years and a baby boy around six months of age. The baby had caught my attention on that cool, damp BA evening, wrapped warmly in his vibrant Peruvian blanket. Strands of black hair sneaking out from under the traditional bonnet and a happy little smile on his face, he was just so cute as he sat snuggly in his cardboard box on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help myself, the photo opportunity was too good; but as I pulled my phone out of my bag the grandma reached into box and took the baby out.  

When I saw the same family only a couple of block from my house I was again struck by how cute they were. Different location but exactly the same scene, minus the Granny. The opportunity to get that shot I had so desired a few weeks previous was invigorating, I couldn’t believe it. The sun was shining, the air was clear and life was good. I got the first photo no problem but I new it wasn’t good, so I walked half way across the road preparing for the next. That’s  when granny came barreling around the corner, screaming Peruvian unpleasantries at me. I did attempt to explain, for about ten seconds, but there was no placating her with my limited Spanish. All I could do was turn and walked away, granny still raging.

I have no idea why she objected, it could have been any number of things; fear of the authorities as there has been recent changes to immigration laws, maybe fear that the baby would be considered at risk. Really though it didn’t matter what the reason was or how picture perfect I considered the scene to be. It wasn’t just a photograph op for them, it was their life and that was hard enough without worrying about some foreigner taking photographs of them.

In a land where welfare support is virtually non existent or you aren’t a citizen you do what you have to, it’s all about survival. The number of people estimated to be living below the poverty line is approximately about 20% of the population of Buenos Aires. With another 10 – 20% considered vulnerable should prices increase or the bread winner unable to work. Considering the inflation rate for 2018 was 40% i that could be sooner rather than later

Sellers of every description inhabit the streets, alleyways and metro of Buenos Aires. The Subte (as the BA metro is called) provides the perfect market place for street hawkers. Sometimes they begin in booming voices explaining in detail what circumstances have let him or her to be in the position of needing to sell a product on the train. Other times they weave through the carriage placing their product on your knee. It could be chewing gum, a pair of socks, chocolate, hair ties or any number of other items. After they have covered the carriage they come back to either take the product back or take the money. On some lines you can be approach by three to five sellers in a journey of 15 minutes.

The “Cartoneros” though, take the award for the most original occupation and definitely fall under the banner of “only in Buenos Aires”. Hauling their huge carts around the street they serve the city as recyclers and actually receive a basic retainer. They are also able to sell whatever they find in the huge bell shaped recycling bins placed around the suburbs. There are approximately 5000 government appointed “Cartoneros”, however another 50000 also work the streets illegally but only get money for what they can sell. The dirty, hot and tiring work is not for the faint hearted.

… And what of my Peruvian flower sellers you may ask? Yes I have seen them at the end of my street once again but the baby now has his own pram. So I’m guessing that the main concern of the granny was the baby. I even think that on the very first occasion I noticed them, she had also noticed me and my attempt to get my camera out. Don’t mess with a Peruvian granny I say!

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