The world turned upside down.

This was written in November 2008, shortly after our arrival

They said we were mad.

They didn’t, in fact. They said we were brave, that it was a fabulous idea and that they wished time and circumstances allowed them to do the same. If it appeared that they made sure we never got between them and the door, this I am sure was my over-active imagination.

I am joking of course, family and friends have been wonderfully supportive of our decision to throw up a perfectly good job and use the proceeds of our SSIAs in travelling halfway round the world, setting up in Argentina for nine months before taking the long way home. My father, a great fan of fiscal rectitude, has expressed concern about the state of my pension but recognises that in the current climate I am likely to do it less damage than the Bank of Ireland is already.

So it is that barely a week after leaving Clonakilty I am sitting typing this in an apartment overlooking the Botanical Gardens in Buenos Aires, where the jacaranda trees are in full bloom, the blossoms falling around them like a purple snow, their beauty perfectly illustrating the contrasts to be found in this mad, busy metropolis as we at first took their slightly acrid smell to be associated with the vast numbers of scraggy semi-feral cats that live in the gardens and are fed by well-meaning locals. Somehow the smell seems much more acceptable now we’ve accurately identified the source. The children are settling into new schools, though only a few days remain before they will start their second summer vacation of the year, and life in general is beginning to acquire a certain level of routine, though we will do our best to make sure that every day will bring something new.

The jacarandas in bloom in the Jardín Botánico

The jacarandas in bloom in the Jardín Botánico

It is tempting to say that there could be no greater contrast than that between living in West Cork and Buenos Aires, and while that is clearly not true – Bolivia, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh all spring to mind as potentially more different – it does provide plentiful contrast in language, culture and lifestyle without being somewhere that we would feel uncomfortable bringing the children. This is a city, indeed a country, full of contradictions: lush green spaces mixed in to a chaotic urban sprawl, luxury apartments cheek by jowl with shanty towns where migrants from the campo or other Latin American countries eke out a precarious existence on the margins of Porteño life and tiny local shops doing a thriving business alongside the new shopping centres full of overpriced brand names. It is a city full of life – although, as the author Terry Pratchett might say, so is a rubbish tip – with its broad tree-lined avenues full of people, cars and the ever-present roar of the colectivos, the fleet of buses that between their hundreds of routes and thousands of vehicles transport 3.8 million passengers each day (equivalent to almost the entire population of the Republic). Meanwhile the subte – the metro – adds the population of Northern Ireland and the overground trains a bonus Dublin – and all that before I even mention the two million cars.

The waking city: the trace of a colectivo (bus) passing our local subte station.

The waking city: the trace of a colectivo (bus) passing our local subte station.

In amongst the cacophony of horns, diesel engines and teenagers playing hide-and-seek outside the window at 4 am, there is a logical organisation to the place that almost, but not quite, manages to keep pace with the chaos. The logical block numbering system makes it easy to find your way around, while most streets are one-way and parallel streets alternate direction, improving traffic flow no end. The logic is overwhelmed by sheer numbers though, and it all grinds to a bad-tempered halt several times a day. For the pedestrian this at least means an extension to the generous three seconds the green man usually gives us to cross a 14 lane road before being targeted by drivers full of more anger than is really good for them. It’s mad, frenetic, wild, smelly and above all crowded; cracked pavements with their strategically placed piles of steaming dog shit make every trip a lottery of minor dangers for the unwary and in short it combines almost everything I ever disliked about big cities but on a bigger scale. I think I’m going to like it here.


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