So what’s so great here? Well, I’m a city guy, I like the country for a day but give me the city each night. Beaches? I hate sand. And I’ve travelled a lot, had offices in London, New York and Amsterdam, used to visit Paris, Geneva, Zurich, and Frankfurt (and Nice for the weekend) twice a month and I can’t think of any city that can equal BA at the moment. It has everything I want and while it shocks Argentines to hear it, it is unequivocally the best city in the world.
Why? This city has “movida” and a population that is interested in everything. In the last ten years whole areas have sprung into life. The social heart of Palermo used to be one little square. Now it covers several kilometers full of bars, restaurants, clubs and venues with a huge range of browseable non-chain shopping: The government is determined to entertain you and the Ministry of Culture has such a wide definition of culture that there is something for everyone. And the culture is normally free and if not, heavily subsidised, so it accessible to everyone. So is transport, allowing everyone to get to it. And of course the city is open all hours. A little post show coffee at 4.00 in the morning? No problem and nor will it be to find a taxi home.
Furthermore, the city is beautiful, not just the classic French architecture, the Italianate or the art-deco but even the mongrel mix of styles, old and new butting together, the stunning and the ugly juxtaposed, give it more interest than the “pickled in aspic” traditional tourist venues. It is a city to walk around and be surprised by what you find, while the density of trees lining the the frequently still cobbled streets, protects you from the summer sun.
Unusually for a city of this size, small shops still predominate here. Greengrocers and butchers, bakers and pasta makers. It may take a bit more time to do your shopping and choice may be more limited, but you know who you are buying from and get the quality you want. Protectionism’s positive effect shows in the resurgence of small local designers, producing clothes, shoes, furniture and art that is genuinely original: Gastronomy is finally dragging itself up to international standards. No longer are you limited to an all steak diet. Young chefs and indeed groupings of them are returning with European ideas, determined to produce more eclectic food. While it is still hit and miss and you can still reduce an Argentine to tears by waving a chili pepper at him, the last year has produced some undeniable successes. Wine? Malbec is no longer the only choice. New grapes are hitting the shelves at either end of the quality spectrum and when you discover a fruit rich un-oaked chardonnay or one of the fine pinot noirs you will be pleasantly surprised. Food and wine pairings are the new obsession here, now there is so much affordable choice. Over the next ten years I fully expect to see Buenos Aires join the map of foody capitals of the world.
For a Londoner its an unaccustomed pleasure to know your neighbours, not just the people next door, but people all down your block. I feel more at home in the “barrio” where I’ve lived for one year, than I did in Fulham after ten. Need a favour? You know who to ask. Nor do I feel that there is a constant barrage of new restrictions designed to make life miserable. The government of BA seems more interested in introducing new festivals or augmenting the regular ones. The six week summer festival (for us porteños who don’t or can’t flee the heat) encompassed 100 events this year. Every month seems to bring a different festival now. Even urban planning is genuinely designed to enhance the city’s pleasures. Things like extending street corners into the road to give restaurants more room to put tables outside (overtly to slow traffic too) and installing free wi-fi in all the parks. They are also building protected bicycle lanes all over town (pretty sensible in a flat city) with free loaners at strategic points. Most big events now include secure bike parking areas at their entrances.
There are downsides of course, mainly at the national level. Erratic politics, currency controls, protectionism and just the speed the regulations change, make it an insecure place to try and earn your living. But maybe it is the fact that they expect a crisis every 10 years, that keeps the people real. I’m expecting travails ahead but also have a sense of optimism that what make BA so special will prevail.
For an Englishman, waking up in the morning to the sun’s rays is probably enough but I am also looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm for this vibrant city with the readers of my blog and my guests at the 5th Floor.