It’s the end of summer time in Buenos Aires and there is a melancholic, almost sweet quality to the Argentine capital city that is palpable. While I would describe the city as one of those melancholic tango songs, where treacherous women only bring pain and suffering to their male counterpart, Jorge Luis Borges would describe his birthplace not through an allusion to tango ( which he ironically detested) but rather through his experiences as a child growing up in the northern neighborhood of Palermo; he writes “ en Palermo vivía gente de familia bien venida a menos y otra no tan recommendable. Había también un Palermo compadritos, famosos por las peleas de cuchillo, pero ese Palermo tardía en interesarme, puesto que hacíamos todo lo posible, y con éxito, para ignorarlo” (In Palermo there lived well-off families that have lost their wealth and thus their social status, and other families that are not “recommendable”. There was also a Palermo of compadritos, famous for their knife fights, but that Palermo was late to interest me, since we did everything possible, and successfully, to ignore it). Borges delineates two parallel microcosms: the Palermo of wealthy and modest Argentine families and the Palermo of gang fights, tango love affairs and prostitution. For Borges, the soul of Buenos Aires is twofold, one: it can be explained by analyzing and observing its encompassing neighborhoods such as Palermo and two: it can also be understood through reading Argentine literature, where the cities mythology, historical foundation and imagined spaces are all intertwined.
Because Buenos Aires is full of Europhiles, French and Castilian architecture, cafes with mediocre lattes and sticky medialunas, parks with old, shirtless men lounging in beach chairs and various public spaces which commemorate all the “desaparecidos” under the military juntas, it is thus a city that functions within its own paradox. It is a city could be so many cities, yet one that is like no other.
The idea that Buenos Aires as written by Borges in his poem, “Fundación Mitica de Buenos Aires” is as eternal as the water and air are boundless speaks to how many porteños feel about their city. Porteños are proud people and often claim that their city has a lot of “chiste” ( character) and is like no other Latin American city (debatable). Adjectives and nouns that I have often heard to describe Buenos Aires include the following: majestic, inflation, chimichuri, ultra-Catholic and Frankenstein shoes?
To know Buenos Aires, is to understand its surreal and often contradictory politics, its violent and mournful past and its funny phrases that porteños use in literally every sentence…”Che”(man or pal) “Boludo” (term of endearment meaning jerk or stupid)“Qué Quilombo!”(confusion or chaos, comes from African dialect that means brothel and is rooted in the idea that men would have to wait, frustratingly so, for their turn in brothels) and “Ni en pedo” (no way in hell/not even if I were drunk). Thus, BA can be characterized partially through its comical slang, neo-classical buildings, colonial streets, melodramatic tango songs and awesome grilled sausage sandwiches. Yet, I wouldn’t be doing the city justice if I left it there because for me, “el alma” (the soul) of the cosmopolitan city lies in its unique neighborhoods, aloof residents, and distinct spaces, which project as much as the past and they do the present.