This is by my latest guest blogger (it's been a while!). My friend James is currently living out an adventure working in Argentina for a year (don't mention the war!). I'll explain all about James another day, but here are some initial thoughts on his life 7,000 miles away:
My first impression of Argentina when I arrived was that it was cold, crisp and with lots of really nasty concrete high rises on the way from the airport into town. Queen were playing on the radio in the cab and not a day goes by without my hearing an 80's anthem....
In the city center there are huge expansive roads and large blocks of buildings clustered together. On foot, the city sprawls and is full of surprises, grand architecture of all different types and influences, mostly really scruffy, way past its prime. Lots of litter, smashed pavements, graffiti and murals break up the spaces between different buildings. Tourist maps are very deceiving. Places look clustered together, but the amount of pavement to cover is considerably more than meets the eye. I must have walked for 3 hours at least to make way from the serviced apartment into the financial district and back again. I passed many independent shops and cafes on the way. One of the charms if you like, is that there are very few chain stores - Tesco has yet to make its ugly way here and dominate an otherwise healthy mix of family run businesses.
The strangest thing I have seen is the people who pick through bins outside the office at the end of the day. Small armies of guys efficiently pick through bins wherever they happen to be, for plastics, paper, electrical, cardboard etc and take the good stuff away with them. Weekly there are marches through the financial district and around the political centre, really big drums, fireworks that sound like bombs - this took some getting used to.
I recently saw a podgy little kid who walked through a pretty packed train carriage with a satchel and a well rehearsed speech, that I could not make out. He then produced 4 juggling balls and then effortlessly went onto skillfully throw these things into the roof of the train and catch them on his head as they fell, whilst juggling others and catching those on the back of his neck in a 2/3 minute rendition that left me speechless, all the while the train was moving and lurching around - it did not distract him one bit. I wish I had filmed it and put it on YouTube - his skills were incredible!
San-Telmo, whilst not strange per se, it is in a time warp - it has the largest collection of brick-a-brak imaginable. Huge indoor markets full of stuff. Old stuff. The type of stuff usually only found in the odd shop found in Greenwich, Brighton or Crystal Palace. There is a whole indoor market that sells old stuff, clothes, watches, records, furniture etc but also has butchers and green grocers set up in the same market also - an unusual combo!
I'm missing the British staples of Indian and Chinese takeaway. The Argentines know absolutely nothing about spice nor flavour! Most food is unseasoned but of good quality and generous portions, but almost always bland! Apart from the ice-cream which out here is second to none. I never knew about Dulche du Leche - it's on every menu and is hard to avoid if you find it too sickly sweet - which it is really. It's true also what they say about the steak and red wine, great steaks! Different cuts of meat that you cannot get in the UK. The flesh of the cow is the same (obviously) but butchered differently to give cuts that I think just simply do not exist back home. It's true also though that they over cook, a rare here is really a medium and if you are not careful they go for well-done 9/10. I also would not order a 'Don Pedro' as a dessert again - look it up!