Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Anger Management

Let me be clear, for the most part I am loving the adventure of living in Buenos Aires. There is rarely a dull moment in this city and the arts scene here is humming, which makes me very happy. And yet, I note that my blogs, which have been less and less frequent (due to a rhythm of life that is difficult to fathom after having lived in the Canadian prairies), have as of late focused on the negative aspects of living here. I'm not sure why that is, but my Argentine husband has always told me that Argentines make a hobby out of complaining, so who knows, maybe I'm becoming more Argentine than I think.

That was actually my thought the other day while out for a run in Parque Tres de Febrero in Palermo (where I am standing in this photo, which was taken shortly after I arrived in Buenos Aires in 2009, when I am still in my honeymoon phase with the city). I have been told that you know you have really learned how to speak a language when you can argue or swear in that language without having to think about it. While running the other day (I have started training for the Buenos Aires Marathon in October - I'm nervous already!), I came to a yellow light on the bike path, and like most Argentines, picked up my pace to make it through, when the old lady waiting at the light in a rusted up little car, the only car waiting to cross might I add, leaned on her horn and started yelling, doing the "come on" hand gesture that is so popular among the locals. Well, I'm not sure what came over me. Maybe it was the endorphins from running, maybe it the music blasting from my iPod, or like I said, maybe I'm just becoming more Argentine than I realized, but I turned around and let fly - a mouthful of filth in Spanish that I didn't even know I had in me. I stood there hand gesturing and yelling things I am actually too embarrassed to repeat here until I felt satisfied that I had let it all out before turning around and continuing my run in the beautiful park.

Later on, I was sharing my experience with a few Argentine friends, and my husband, who assured me that what had come out of my mouth surely got my message across just fine, when I realized, I managed to let all that out without even thinking. I guess my Spanish is better than I thought.

But I got to thinking about the anger thing, which creates traffic situations that are difficult to explain without having experienced what it's like. I still haven't worked up the nerve to drive in this city. It has something to do with the fact that, well, I don't know, there are NO RULES WHATSOEVER, or something like that. Drivers here tell me that you just have to "feel" where and when to turn, and yet that doesn't seem to alleviate all the honking, yelling and swearing that are a regular part of driving here at any moment in the day. If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be mess.

I'm not sure what it is about the culture here that makes people explode so quickly and with such fury. Another day out on a run, a van cut off a runner in front of me (for the record, runners NEVER have the right of way here), who proceeded to rip of his t-shirt and use it to beat the side of the van while screaming explicatives. This is just part of life here, and I do notice I am much more prone to angry outbursts than in the past. I don't know if it's all the people in this city, or what, but something keeps the public pretty pissed off for the most part. Maybe that's why this city has the highest number of psychotherapists per capita in the world.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Shitty Side of Buenos Aires

Living in Buenos Aires can feel like a roller coaster sometimes. You're up, you're down, you're elated, you're exhausted. One thing I've noticed is that when everything is going swell, you really see the beauty of the city and notice all of the amazing details that can get missed amidst all the chaos. But when you're down, you not only see the chaos, but also all of the unavoidable ugly things that you first saw when you got here. Over time, some of the things may not be as shocking as they once were, but some things are hard to get over.

The one thing I just can't get over is all the shit.

What I am referring to here is dog shit. It is everywhere. On the sidewalks, on the grass, on the streets, lodged into holes in the broken sidewalks, smeared into grotesque trails along the sidewalks where someone has been unfortunate enough to step on it and take a little slide, lying in the sun with flies buzzing around it. It is NASTY. I have stepped in it one too many times to have a good attitude about it. Don't get me wrong- I am a lover of dogs - I just don't understand why people do not pick up after them.

Dog shit on the sidewalks is a very common conversation among expats. The new ones or visiting ones just can't believe it. The more seasoned expats, while having grown weary of all the shit, simply sigh in defeat. I am one of the sighers, but things do get a little more verbally aggressive when I step on it.

I just about stepped in it the other day, and remembered that I have long wanted to take photographs of it. After nearly injuring my ankle in one of the many ubiquitous sidewalk holes, I whipped out my blackberry and took a couple of shots. And readers, for the record, these are very gentle shots taken in a very nice neighborhood, but there are some shitty things you can't avoid in any neighborhood.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ballsy Buenos Aires

Happy new year blog readers! I had all intentions of writing this blog over the holidays and titling it “Jingle Balls”, which would have been very fitting, but things got a little crazy before my trip back to Canada.

Now that I’m back in Buenos Aires (wilting in the summer heat might I add), I thought it time to address a topic I have been meaning to write about for some time—balls. Balls in many ways figure very prominently here in Buenos Aires. First off, there is football, which is more like a religion here than a sport, and which could and should be another post entirely. But the balls I want to write about here are of another variety.

Yes, I’m talking about testes.

You see, it all started way back in Canada when I met my Argentinian husband. I spoke almost no Spanish, but I was able to pick up un a few expressions that popped up very regularly in his phone conversations. These included no me rompas las pelotas (don’t bust my balls) and hincha bolas, which literally means a swelling of the balls swell and it is used when someone is nagging you. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, I realized that these two expressions are almost as common as how’s the weather in English.

But the prevalence of balls is not only evident language—it is also very evident in physical gestures. When posing a question or suggestion that is not welcome, it is not unusual to be met with men grabbing their balls and giving them an exaggerated shake. At this point you can safely assume the answer to your question is no. I’m not sure if the big shake would be caused by a busting, as in rompas, or a swelling, as in hincha of the balls, but the clear message is that one’s balls are not to be tampered with.

And this to me is very ironic, because I find Argentine men to be doing exactly that—tampering and tugging and shifting and scratching their balls just about any place I go. You may find me bold for writing about this, but I find it even bolder to watch these acts, which I previously considered private, in public spaces on a daily basis.

Walking down the streets, I see the porteros (door men), leaning against the door frames and shifting and scratching with pleasure while watching all the ladies go by. Riding on the bus, I see men change the ball positions almost as often as people change seats. And looking out the windows of buses, it is truly amazing what you can see – and none of it seems to be evoking any kind of embarrassment from anyone.

I have as of late started to speak my mind about all the shifting and tugging. At a recent lunch with Argentine friends, I was telling a story of being mortified with my husband for doing the exaggerated (and I mean exaggerated) shift in front of expat friends, who are less accustomed to seeing this sort of thing. Speaking as a Canadian, it’s not like I’ve never seen anyone do a subtle shift here and there, and this recent shot of famous Canadian Justin Bieber has certainly made news. But that’s just it—it made news because it’s not common to see that it public. Here, I must say, reaching down for one’s balls is like a source of pride, or even a kind of greeting. I asked my Argentine friends what this was all about.

Everyone just laughed, especially the men. I’m pretty sure that for them the whole conversation is a form of hincha bolas, and certainly served as a trigger to reach down and give things another tug. And the women? While sympathetic, they seemed resigned to the fact that a little tug here and there wouldn’t hurt anyone. I guess in Buenos Aires, that’s just how they roll.