Our paths cross several mornings a week as I walk up Borges Street toward the subway, dodging the errant streams of water as people hose down their sidewalks, resisting the call of the bakery’s mountain of sugary croissants, and sighing – again – about that once-beautiful neoclassical corner house that’s made the sad transition from faded elegance to just junky and shabby.
The man is kind of short with a belly, sports a thick mop of jet-black hair and exudes an amazing sense of calm even though he’s the critical nexus of an impossible system of movement and instinct that seems preprogrammed for chaos.
He’s the dog walker. And he’s got nine charges on leashes most mornings, the smallest being a German shepherd.
It’s a strange but common sight in this city of dog lovers, where you can get anything delivered, from a latte to your laundry, from empanadas and ice cream to your weekly grocery shopping. For those busy porteños (Buenos Aires residents) with a little extra cash, why not hire out the walking chores?
I like this particular moving human-canine mass; it retains a kind of stately flow despite the thundering buses, uneven sidewalks and enough dog shit laying around to drive any pooch to distraction. Better than the mini-herds of smaller dogs you see occasionally, yapping and nipping and just making life miserable for everyone concerned.
The dog walkers are just one of the more colorful aspects of life here in Palermo Soho, my neighborhood in la Capital Federal, where I’ve been for about three weeks. Friends had recommended the area as a desirable place to be, and turns out Lady Luck was on my side when I rented an apartment over the Internet.
It’s quite the place to be these days, full of cafés and leafy oaks, parks and squares and a wonderful mish-mash of architectural styles, from the aforementioned neoclassical beauties to modern, minimalist high-rises (luckily not too many, yet) and everything in between. There are even a couple of half-timbered houses that wouldn’t look out of place in Bavaria.
The neighborhood’s gotten the Soho designation because it’s become quite hip and trendy, and expensive for Argentines. The big Palermo neighborhood has been further subdivided into Old Palermo, Little Palermo and, most oddly, Palermo Hollywood, since there are a bunch of television studios there.
My area has fewer Klieg lights and more hip clothing boutiques, staffed by impossibly beautiful Argentines who must have either just stepped out of a Greek sculptor’s studio, Pygmalion style, or are just killing time until they’re scooped up by some telenovela producer. I step out of these places happy with my wardrobe addition, but wanting to put a bag over my head.
Luckily, the hipster epicenter is several blocks away. Right around my apartment, it’s a bit more down to earth and every-day. There’s the supermarket around the corner run by Asian immigrants (they’re ALL run by Asians with a grasp on Spanish that seems worse than mine), where I can buy my sweet but deadly-to-the-waistline dulce de leche.
There are the fresh vegetable stands on every block, where you can get a bag full of greens for a song. There’s the gym next door where Argentines work off all that beef and cheese that make up their diet. And there’s the laundry where I take all my dirty clothes and drop them off with the kind old woman who continually takes delight in the strangeness of my name. I pick them up later that day, washed and folded, all for about three euros.
It’s pretty certain that one of the city’s most famous sons, writer Jorge Luis Borges, would find it somewhat odd that the area has become so chic. He spent his childhood in a house just around the corner from me, on the street that now bears his name. (It’s now a hair salon with a plaque.) But back in his day, Palermo was a semi-rural area on the outskirts of town, frequented by gauchos and knife-carrying thugs who liked to drink and fight in the local bars.
Just down the street at the next corner is where Borges, in his poem “Buenos Aires,” set the “mythical foundation” of the city. Well, today at the intersection there’s a hamburger place where I got some disgustingly greasy French fries the other day, a designer furniture shop and an ultra-hip bar that’s all flat metal planes. But at least on one corner there’s still the “Almacén el Preferido,” a pink building that dates from the 19th century.
Borges wrote about the sometimes nefarious goings-on in the place and the atmosphere of potential violence that fascinated him.
Yesterday I peered in the window. Not a sign of a glaring gaucho on his fifth whisky or the glittering flash of deadly metal. Instead, an amorous couple stared into each other’s eyes and two tourists, outfitted with fanny packs and Crocs, dug into a big hunk of Argentine beef.
At least the food part of this particular Buenos Aires scene is eternal.