Is Buenos Aires a kind of twin city to Sydney? Despite some obvious similarities of geography between Australia and Argentina and plenty of local eucalypts, the answer is no. BA is overwhelmingly European, reminding me that Sydney, in fact, does not resemble any European capital that springs to mind.
Assessing the passing crowd here, you could never imagine for a moment you were in Australia. The locals are dark, small, intense. They dress with flair. Young and old, men and women sexily bare lots of brown flesh to the early summer sun. Their Spanish and Italian origins mix with the Amerindian heritage to produce a suave handsomeness, custom-made for the tango. This iconic snaky dance is performed all over town, to the delight of tourists who pay huge tips to have a go, but also it seems for the pleasure of the gorgeous performers.
The streets, the avenues, define this grand and ambitious city. The Avenue of 9 July is claimed as the widest is the world. It looks it, and the other seemingly endless, tree-lined avenues that crisscross this stately checkerboard of a city are not much less massive.
Parks, framing monuments to numerous national heroes, abound. This is a green, green town. Whoever planned BA had great ambitions for this place. Like the city it feeds, the River Plate has been created on a massive scale. It seems like an ocean. Slipping along one of its tributaries on a catamaran, it’s hard to believe you are not out at sea.
And the scale and size of the place make for a relaxed populace. Despite recent economic collapse and centuries of political turbulence, the locals are purposeful, cheerful, willing and able to support the thousands of cafes that punctuate every block.
Politics are up front. Local elections are on. Citizens are involved. They carry banners, hold vigorous and noisy rallies, hand out truckloads of material, and blare their horns endlessly at opposing groups. Women only got the vote in 1952, but there are many female candidates. Now, machismo is on its last legs.
For all its political and social energy, however, Argentina’s welfare provisions clearly fall short. Healthy, attractive young women sit on the streets, babies in arms, begging. Six-year-olds approach cafe patrons, begging.
I met a Sister of Mercy who works in women’s refuges. No government support is provided. In response to extensive poverty, the Sisters have given up their schools to live and work with the poor.
Despite the ubiquitous tango, not every one is dancing, and the successful candidates after next weekend ´s election will have plenty to do.
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