All I knew of Argentina before we decided to come here, and we began researching the place in earnest, was that it was a Spanish-speaking country with colourful politics and rich history. (And other than the name “Eva Peron”, even the details of that history were foreign to me.) We soon learned, from our weekly “Argentina lessons” and our chance encounters with people we had serendipitously begun to meet who were somehow associated with Argentina, that the country is not unlike Canada in its geographic and cultural diversity. For centuries, people from around the world have immigrated to this place and made their home amidst the Patagonian countryside, the mountains of Bariloche, the rain forests of Iguazu or, more commonly, the booming metropolis of Buenos Aires, the country’s capital.
As we spend yet another Sunday afternoon at the park here, nearly two months after our own arrival on Sept 17, 2013, I am suddenly aware that I myself have finally begun to discover a little bit of what makes this place so irresistible to the people who come here, and why so many of them elect to stay for a few months, a few years or forever.
In the midst of the late spring greenery bursting forth around me on this Sunday afternoon, I find myself additionally surrounded by the strains of five different musical genres, among them a live marching band, a blaring radio emanating from a nearby empanada stand, and the Argentinean crooner singing – amplified -- Sinatra and other classics across the street to a crowd of adoring fans (how do they manage to tune out the other music while listening to the Spanish Crooner??!)
It occurs to me that this auditory smorgasbord is a fairly effective analogy for Buenos Aires in general; at any given moment, day or night (usually night), there are at least five songs blasting simultaneously from the proverbial playlist of life in Buenos Aires.
After picking up some lunch from a few of the stands in the park, our party splits up for a while. Alex and I wander across the street to watch a grandmother, mother and daughter make, bake and sell fresh tortillas. They are smoking hot, fresh from the Parilla; for ten pesos, Alex and I devour half of one, wrapping the remainders for Simon to enjoy later. We pass the steps of concrete façade, where a tango singer is entertaining the masses while an elderly couple and an ancient woman with a cane dance. My mind lingers for a moment on the question of how many milongas the wrinkled soloist has danced in her life, and how long it took before these tangos of her younger years worked their way into her blood so that she simply could not enjoy the music by sitting and listening alone.
We cross a wide street crammed with parked cars to another park to meet the rest of our crew, who is already there.
Everywhere are families spread out on benches, blankets or under trees, the ubiquitous Tim Hortons or Starbucks cups of North America replaced with mate containers which are passed around from person to person and, occasionally, refilled from a thermos someone has brought along (or, if they have forgotten their thermos, or it is empty, from a nearby stand selling “agua caliente”: “hot water”).
Many parks, like this one, feature some sort of playground equipment or carnival-type fare such as bouncy castles, slides or even trampolines. Others include chess tables around which are huddled clusters of men of assorted ages, jeering and cheering each other on in the game. Our own group today includes an older gent who is playing Simon and Tatsy, sight unseen (the latter two are playing on an iPad while the former has the board and its moves memorised n his mind).
Looking around me it occurs to me that what makes this city so very different from my own and most others in North America is its zest for life. Despite the country’s bloody history, despite its latest economic crises, despite its dilapidated, dog-shit-covered sidewalks and its uncertain future, the optimism of its people is infectious. They are determined to relax and to party at least as hard as they work; family is at least as important to them as their careers.
The success of their work-life balance is evident all around me here on this Sunday afternoon at the park, as is the boundless hope these