Monthly Archives: November 2010

Morning coffee

From the New York Times this morning:

Frugal Traveler in BA. The dripping pizza slice and wandering musicians in San Telmo are right on!

The queer tango festival.

On beautiful Tigre, where never once did I manage to get to the art museum while it was open…

Slideshow on an American womans’s path in Argentina:



One of the books I’m reading right now is Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa, the radical Chicana lesbian feminist poet. Mixing Spanish and English, she writes about psychological, sexual, and spiritual borderlands, saying:

“The Borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle, and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy.”

Borderlands, the way Anzaldúa thinks of them, can exist within individuals and between them, in physical ways and in ways that are felt, imagined, sensed, constructed. But where else could the spiritual, sexual, and psychological threads of the borderlands intertwine so strongly, so sadly, and so sweetly as between two lovers? How do we mirror and change one other? What dynamic whole emerges from the fragments of ourselves that we exchange with someone we love?

“Simultáneamente me miraba la cara desde distintos ángulos. Y mi cara, como la realidad, tenía un carácter multíplice.”

Interesting links

Here are some of the blogs and posts on this topic that I’ve found in my aimless, late-night internet wonders and wanders:

The BA Expat forums, especially in the Women’s section and the Expat Life section. In particular, check out this heated and highly entertaining thread:

I love this blog as much as I take offense to it. It doesn’t get updated much but I’ve heard rumors of a book on the way Look at especially this post (from an American guy’s perspective) and this one (from an Argentine girl’s)

Short and sweet. This and this

Some basic stereotypes.

And this one I just found, interesting.

To be continued!

Alejandro, Fernando, Roberto..

The way foreign relationships often work makes me a little uncomfortable. When I was younger, around 14 or 15, I participated in a school-sponsored trip to Mexico, where I stayed with a host mother and four other girlfriends. I barely knew how to put on makeup, but we would get dressed up and “go out” in a way we never had at home. As we awkwardly put our salsa lessons to use, men would come up and engage us in conversation or invite us to dance. It was completely terrifying, but oh so exciting. I felt that I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, say no. Now that I look back on it I realize just how innocent we were, how we played with fire and can thank our lucky stars that we didn’t get burned. Once in Acapulco we met a group of guys on the street who started chatting with us. We all spoke Spanish well, the language wasn’t a problem, but we had no idea how to behave, so we were perhaps over-friendly. They paid for us to get into a club, where we astutely watched one another’s drinks, but when they tried to take us to a private VIP room we hesitated and decided to leave. We had trouble finding the exit, though, and ended up alone with some men in a dark alley behind a locked gate, outside the club and far from the street. It turned out ok – they were just showing us out – but the incident sobered us.

The story normally goes like this. Young white girls seeking adventure, passion, and a certain type of “education” travel to Latin America. They are surprised by the forwardness of the men they meet, flattered by their willingness to tell them how beautiful they are, and seduced by their dark good looks and sultry dance moves. Latin men, on the other hand, find that their pickup lines are incredibly effective on foreign girls, who often embody something related to the Hollywood ideal of beauty exported en masse for about a century now. Maybe they think they’re wealthy, or a status symbol. Both parties seem to mix desire for the exotic with other, deeper psychological desires. In a way, they’re both using each other, both benefiting in different ways. I talk about Latin men and American/European women here, although obviously it could go the other way around, because I actually think this happens more often, and with a totally different dynamic than the other (it’s something I want to discuss later). Anyway, these brief relationships, whether they happen during a tourist visit, a month of volunteer work, or a study-abroad sojourn, rarely amount to a serious and lasting relationship. And when they do go in that direction, they often end in broken hearts. My mama warned me about this, and in some ways she was right. But in others, she was terribly wrong.

When it comes to Argentine men in particular, everybody has a horror story. An American friend of mine hooked up one night with a guy she met in BA, who later called and texted her incessantly about how  much he cared for her and wanted them to be together. He continued doing so even after she found out that he didn’t even live in Buenos Aires and had a girlfriend living in L.A., seemingly unfazed. An acquaintance had gotten very serious with her Argentine boyfriend after a couple of years together, and they began discussing marriage. She had been wanting to move back to the U.S. for a while, and they planned for him to join her there, but after she left he pulled out and virtually disappeared. Another friend took a trip to the countryside with a guy she’d been dating and some other friends. One night she got sick and stayed home while the others went out; her man came back with another girl and proceeded to hook up with her in the adjacent room. I could go on, but you get the gist of it. Two points I want to make: first, this is not a morality tale. I don’t claim that the women here were any less to blame than the men for what happened. One of the friends later had sex with a guy she knew to be the boyfriend of another American chick; in my view, they both messed up. But aside from human error, I really think that often it’s the misreading of signals, markers, and cultural norms that leads to these sticky situations. Not always, but sometimes.

My second point is that for every horror story, there’s a successful one. Maybe we just hear less about them because happy people aren’t as vocal. I know of several Argentine-American couples that are happily married with children. Every relationship has its specificities – it would be silly to claim that cultural and national origin matter more than individual personality or upbringing, which are infinitely diverse. But they do matter. To what extent, and how those issues are negotiated, is different for everyone. I have been with my Argentine boyfriend for over a year now, and we are very much in love. But the trust, respect, and openness we have built between us is the result of each of our particularities as people. Does that mean I don’t sometimes worry, in the back of my mind, that our fate will go sour like so many others? Of course I do. But as he often reminds me, I “have a good man by my side”. Relationships are hard, and even more so across cultures. But I’m young and in love, and I accept the challenge with relish.

How did we get here?

Why do we (foreigners) flock to Buenos Aires? How does it pull us in, what does it represent to us that once we’ve had a taste of it, we keep going back for more? What lies at the heart of its allure to ever-increasing numbers of Americans and Europeans,  sweet young thangs and retirees alike, people who go to start their lives, to change their lives, and to peacefully live them out? The economic argument has been made many times, and I think we all agree that the favorable cost of living to quality of life ratio is attractive. But this difference is becoming less profound with the years, and doesn’t explain why young people fresh out of school who haven’t had much of a chance to save up in dollars or euros still choose to test their luck scraping by on pesos.

I think Buenos Aires is a mecca of forbidden desires, of the dripping hot passion and decaying grandeur and utter unpredictability that is everything our culture is not. In the days before drug cartels, terrorism, and femicide, Americans used to cross the border into Mexico to briefly live another life, free of the inhibitions brought on by puritanism and sterile self-regulation. Places like Tijuana and the legendary “spring break” beaches still offer an alcohol-drenched, sexually promiscuous, hedonistic and delightfully exotic escape for tourists, but in my opinion, the playground of the elite has globalized along with the rest of the world. For the wine enthusiast, the non-conformist, the intellectual, the student, the artist, and the upwardly mobile, Argentina is a new type of escape, with Buenos Aires spinning at the center of this new dream. Cookie-cutter, middle-class suburban sprawl is fascinated by the chaotic enigma of this place. The tired office devotee sees an opportunity to reinvent herself and start her own business. The man who’s always played by the rules relishes the chance to live on the edge for once. The coddled university student grows up quickly in the constant consumption of experiences and thrill. And we all harbor a secret fantasy of getting swept off our feet by a dashing Latin lover, wild and slightly dangerous, unquestionably passionate, and excitingly mysterious.

Maybe volunteering to help the poor in the villas of Buenos Aires helps us forget that the U.S. has an abysmal record of poverty, failing schools, racial tensions, and with the current crisis, job loss. We feel more alive there, we feel like maybe for once we’re breaking out of the crowd, breaking out of the consumerist conformity we’ve been brought up to internalize. This isn’t too far off from the typical imperial and neo-imperial tourist narrative. The strange is fascinating because of how it lets us think about ourselves. We make comparisons that construct a positive image of ourselves and our culture – more rational, moral, better organized, and worldly. But Argentina is a particularly interesting case because this process of construction goes both ways. Argentines, many from European backgrounds, consider themselves a unique mix of European and Latin and don’t hesitate to negotiate identity in very similar ways. In other words, their relationship to foreigners in their country (Bolivians and Paraguayans as much as Americans) is far from passive, and that creates a far more complex dynamic than the typical civilized-primitive narrative, perhaps in fitting with a world when national borders matter less amidst flows of immigration and networks of information. I don’t claim any of this is a conscious choice. People who like to travel will always travel, but those who realize there’s something special about Buenos Aires are the ones who return. They spread the word, starting others’ journeys. The expat, long-term tourist and study abroad communities grow. A favorite old song sums it up pretty well…

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
Travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

Who exactly does the using and abusing, and who gets used and abused, remains to be seen.