I believe that though my heart loves to travel, and I am often filled with wanderlust, I will one day make my home in one of two places: New York City or Buenos Aires. Something about these cities speaks to me, although to pin down exactly what is tempting me is difficult. A large part of Buenos Aires’ siren call, besides glorious amounts of dulce de leche
, is the character that fuels Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires is a city that is made by its inhabitants, the porteños
who imbue the city with life. Many people call Buenos Aires the Paris of South America, but I do not understand the comparisons…having been to Paris, I did not sense the same warm and slightly mischievous spirit that flows in the Argentine city.
The best embodiment of the attitude of Buenos Aires would be in the local card game, called Truco.
(The value of cards in Truco...http://i82.servimg.com/u/f82/14/42/39/05/truco-10.jpg)
The rules are too complicated to explain here, it is a strange mix of of BS and Poker, but, like much of Argentina, comes with a complicated history and rules that must
be argued between players before the game can start. This game is usually played between friends, who probably have been playing together for years, and the best match is with six people in two teams. Together, one team tries to out-bluff the other team, using facial signals and strategy. As my grinning friend told me, the game is all about lying, and whoever lies best is the winner—“A perfect representation of Argentina!” Unlike Poker, the players are supposed to talk while they are attempting to win—the blank, concentrated look of a competitor disappears and is replaced by a constant stream of commentary, some of it a tactic but mostly a genuine conversation.
This social aspect of the game reminds me of Buenos Aires on whole, and what makes this city completely different from NYC. Though I do not believe that New Yorkers are the cold, aloof statues often depicted in the media (we are just busy!), but the importance of social interaction in other place I have been does not compare to Argentina. I expect lunch, even if I am sitting alone, to be an occasion lasting at least an hour and a half. Someone will come up to me and talk to me, whether I like it or not. One of the most culturally distinct practices in Argentina is drinking mate, a tea-like drink that is passed around as people are talking. Everyone here is greeted with a kiss on the cheek. One time, I was buying a steamed corn from a street vendor, and I was chastised for not greeting him correctly! Truco demonstrates how important, and yet quotidian, regular conversation is. The game would not be the same without that person who always is ragging on the other players or the girl who can’t bluff and starts to stutter every time she has a good card.
If I can imagine the spirit in the old sense of the genius loci
of Buenos Aires, it is a playful creature, which watches the daily life with a touch of absurdity and an impish grin. But no matter what tricks this spirit plays, it is most visible to me when I see the warmth of the Argentine community.
(Picture is of my friends and me playing Jenga, at a bar where every table is filled with different games)