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12.16.2007

Volví!

The time difference between Buenos Aires and New York City is six months and two hours. The two hours aren't bad, once the strange feeling passes of travelling in an airplane for a full day and night and arriving still in synch with the local dinnertime. The change of season is harder to get used to. A little private blizzard saw me off from New York, and the next day I was walking through gorgeous northern(!) sunshine under rows of plane trees whose leaves were already full-grown but still had that deep green, right-out-of-the-box new leaf coloring. Today I caught sight of a fruitcake placard outside a panaderia, with a little santa hat and sprig of holly in the corner, but this just confuses my inner calendar further. I've never had a summer Christmas before.

Every eight months, the New York Times travel section seems to rediscover Argentina, like a goldfish in a bowl rediscovering its little plastic castle. On my first visit here, in 2006, the spotlight was on beautiful young investment bankers who had discovered that a Lower East Side rent could buy a whole Palermo town house and were "retiring" to a life of indolence, steak, and plastic surgery. Now that the dollar has taken such a severe drubbing, the focus at the Times is more on finding those few remaining places investment bankers can still afford to visit.

The latest article, entitled Where a Buck's Still Worth A Buck, is particularly satisfying because the author so badly fails to get her dollar's worth. Who pays $150 a night for a hotel when you can rent a fully furnished apartment for a week at that price? Where does one even find a $25 steak? Did the author accidentally leave on her "Hello! I am from the NEW YORK TIMES" lapel button? The city is not as cheap as it was two years ago - prices have risen while the exchange rate has stayed the same - but it still takes hard work to part with any substantial amount of American currency. Which is fortunate, since you will have spent it all on the plane ticket.

That painful transaction aside, I think the real limiting cost of travel to Argentina is time. Not only is the country too big and too distant to allow for lightning tourism, but the very qualities that make living here so pleasant are incompatible with being in a hurry. Part of the charm of the place is that things are not so urgent, and the pace of life is somewhat slower. You cannot build a society around steak and sunshine and expect life to move quickly. On those occasions when I forget this precept and let myself get stressed out over something minor - the waiter left and isn't coming back, the train ticket is being filled out by hand in quadruplicate - I try to picture in my mind one of those big magazine advertisements from the forties, with the cursive lettering, where a smiling woman's face is telling me "Relax... You're on Argentime!" And immediately I feel better.

It's too bad that time is even harder than money to gather in any substantial amounts. But I would encourage anyone (non-vegan) who can steal a few weeks to come visit this wonderful place. Try timing it just when another New York Times travel piece is about to come out; it's fun to gloat!

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