The Argentinians are a pessimistic bunch, that’s one thing that become very clear to me upon touching down at Ezeiza Airport on Friday night. Never has there been such a collective sigh-come-rapturous-applause greet the culmination of a smooth flight until then. Then during taxi, to celebrate the man who had inexplicably landed the plane, the gushings of an air hostess over the intercom firstly in Spanish and then English: ‘I think we all owe a MASSIVE thank you to our pilot for landing us in Buenos Aires safe from Madrid tonight!’ And then back on the carousel of relieved outpourings of emotion we went.
Meanwhile I need not have worried about travelling through on a single ticket after all, as I sauntered through customs with free abandon. A loop of weary smile/‘Estoy muy cansado’ seemed to somehow successfully answer every question I was asked in Spanish. LHR > MAD > EZE all in a day’s work – I had arrived!
Resisting the first opportunity to trade my US Dollars for Argentine monopoly money – Pesos are regarded as a ‘closed currency’ outside of Argentina’s borders due to its volatility – I located my ride. We respectfully spent the three-minute walk to the taxi sussing out our immediate travel companion’s competency in his unchosen tongue. After little prods of pleasantries, it was tacitly agreed that I had won/lost: the next 45 minutes or so were going to be in broken Spanish. Claro.
After a slow start using proper words, in our mutual language of football and exaggerated hand signals we bonded over the upcoming River-Boca Super Clásico. His eyes came alive with an expertise in restrained passion, a tango dance almost. Not long afterwards it was concluded that his Boca should extend their winning streak to 8 games, but they probably wouldn’t. Another sprinkling of pessimism.
What is the cure for this national affliction? Well, religion of course. This was made abundantly clear by the Virgin Mary that immediately greeted me as I entered my Airbnb apartment in Palermo Hollywood. Devoted her own mini-chapel space carved into the wall, arranged so that the requisite amount of holy light could be spectacularly projected on to her, the flat’s design had obviously been built around Maria.
Probably not without coincidence, this truism manifests itself in the naming of girls here in Argentina too. Clearly, to have a Maria is to have hope – or rather, cause for less pessimism.
Yes, in this religious country you don’t have to look far for a Mercedes, Mariela, Mariana or similar enough that all seem to go by our same eponymous heroine. A myriad of Marias perhaps? Quite apt. A ubiquity of Marias? Better still.
Where Europe meets LatAm with unapologetically Argentinian sass, there is a multisensory charm yet chaos that endears Buenos Aires. For the single extranjero the place can be a playground of porteñas. Indeed Maria is everywhere and yet, for now at least, nowhere.