Macri-economics

Macri facing an uphill struggle to reverse Argentina's economic fortunes

A snapshot of Buenos Aires life right now, the ubiquitous Mauricio Macri was spotted in billboard form on Saturday evening in Recoleta. With the flag fluttering behind him, atop one of the capital’s many splendid art museums, a beleaguered President was being urged to keep his word on yet another issue by yet another of his growing number of detractors. If he looks fed up now, well he might, as the relative calm before the storm has long since passed.

Upon coming to power in 2015, the former Boca Juniors chairman was clear about the economic challenges ahead and how he would face them. A perennial problem, Argentina was broke. Macri therefore set about curbing state spending and attracting foreign investment through the issuance of short-term bonds.

In a bid to stem the frankly ridiculous flow of inflation in the years immediately preceding Macri’s tenure, these LEBAC bonds initially stimulated an influx of more stable currencies such as the Dollar being traded into the country for Pesos. Yet just over a week ago, interest rates here were upped to 40%. Many overseas investors have long since left Argentina in anticipation too, effectively quitting while they were ahead.

What does this all mean for the man in the street then? Yesterday I broke the rules – 1984-style – by taking a quick break from looking at or thinking about Macri, to go out and purchase a new iron. Heading to the intimidatingly large Carrefour, just around the corner from my office, I found what I was after and went to pay the AR$ 750. How shocked the woman at the till was when I asked to pay for it all in one go as well, rather than ten cuotas as is the norm.

Indeed, the current state of the economy is so shambolic that a common marketing ploy is for customers to pay for almost anything in instalments, or cuotas. The attraction of this system is that there is no interest or even price-relative-to-inflation payable (i.e. By the time the tenth and final payment of AR$ 75 has been paid for the iron, the AR$ 750 that you have paid is far less than the AR$ 750 you would have paid if you had paid the full amount 10 months ago). Not sufficiently au fait with the black magic of the Argentinian economic system however, I paid my £25 or so and was happily on my way.

When I arrived in November the exchange rate was AR$ 17.5 to the Dollar. This has since gone up by about 40% to over AR$ 24 in just 6 months. In my job we trade in both currencies, and the novelty still hasn’t worn off that we must revise the rate almost daily. Most of my colleagues seem unbothered about the whole thing though, accepting it as part of life in the same way that there are seven days in a week and twelve months in a year.

That said, as I discovered not long after starting my job, in Argentina there are apparently thirteen months in a year. Known as Aguinaldo, all workers are given a 50% additional bonus on top of their usual monthly pay every June and December – these two extra amounts hence being termed the ‘thirteenth month’.

Whether this is chicken or egg re: economic malaise, I’m not sure, but something for certain is that Macri’s proposal to scrap Aguinaldo has been one of his more unpopular reforms in the last 3 years. That remains up in the air for now though, as does a mid-year 10% pay-rise rumoured to be on its way at my work, to vaguely track inflation. In any normal course of events, everybody would be delighted with such a sizeable, unconditional increase in salary. This isn’t a normal course of events though, and so here they are almost disappointed that it won’t be more. How absurd the whole situation is. How Argentina.

The view from the top

Panamericano Buenos Aires, 9 de Julio

Last Thursday was a day of celebration. Not only did it mark 6 months to the day that I first touched down in Argentina, but it was also my young lady’s 24th birthday. Somewhere I had always wanted to go, since first spying the strikingly brutalist twin towers that impose themselves so decadently over Avenida 9 de Julio, was the 5-star Hotel Panamericano. Finally, with an excuse or two to hand, I booked us a staycation for the following night.

Something helpful about CABA (used in common local parlance to refer to Buenos Aires federal capital, rather than Buenos Aires province) is that the barrios within its clearly defined city limits are particularly well serviced by public transport. An example of this is the SUBTE metro system, where the respective 6 lines all remain within CABA from start to finish. This makes the place very workable therefore, and it was just as well as I had a spate of journeys to cram in before luxuriating in the Panamericano’s marble magnificence.

A few trips later – clothes/bags changed at home; room checked in; birthday girl collected after her exam in Recoleta – we were sipping G&Ts in the hotel’s in-house stylish Celtic Pub. Adjacent to the cigar room and billiards table, the bar oozed Gatsbyesque panache with its tasteful lighting and hum of smooth jazz.

Once we’d finally extricated ourselves from this rabbit-hole of relaxation, we crossed the world’s widest avenue in the lashing rain, passing the Obelisco en route to highly recommended pan-European restaurant Zum Edelweiss. Running to Argentinian time, it was just before midnight when we sat down among the alpine panelling and ornate stained glass for dinner and a bottle of the house Malbec.

Probably the best meal I have enjoyed here yet, this was rounded off with limoncellos as a parting gift from the waiter. Willingly defeated, we crossed back over 9 de Julio and retreated to our generous four-room seventh-floor chamber which was more like a penthouse apartment.

This theme of timeless European décor and classiness continued the next morning at breakfast. Situated in a grand old hall with high ceilings, pristine tablecloths and cutlery, there was an endless array of everything one might conceivably want at this time of day. The immaculately turned out hosts were attentive too, keeping the operation moving along seamlessly yet without the fuss of table service.

Saving the best until last, we had a quick costume change in the room afterwards and then headed up to Nivel 23. Situated on the twenty-third, and top floor is a health spa that boasts spectacular views of the city. Opting firstly for the sauna, I subsequently jumped into the swimming pool and dived under the hatch to its outdoor rooftop section for a most pleasant of light reliefs. Some hard-earned poolside dozing, obligatory photos and then repetition of the sequence proved an altogether dreamy Saturday morning-come-afternoon.

This clutch of hours, beginning on the Friday evening, were so enjoyable that they really concentrated the mind. Briefly tasting the high life, I didn’t want to give it back all so soon. Indeed, these kind of snapshots into what my life could look like, with enough hard work, always have a profoundly aspirational effect on me. If this is what ‘making it’ feels like, I am even more motivated to ‘make it’ than I already was.

The railway children

Ferro Carril is a typical Argentinian sports club and centrepoint of the community

Watching Ferro Carril Oeste play their final Primera B Nacional game of the season, against cross-town rivals Nueva Chicago, is how I spent Monday afternoon. Having told my workmate that I was keen to join him in the terraces at his local beloved Ferro one day, we quickly set the date for the first of the two consecutive public holidays this week.

Like many sides here, Ferro’s story is one steeped in history. Translating literally as ‘Railroad west,’ the club was founded in 1904 by a group of railway employees. Some thirty years later it cut ties with the railway company and was renamed to reflect this. In the meantime, it was in 1911 when the club had settled on its home colours. More than a century on, green remains synonymous with Ferro, as does the sense of community in the Buenos Aires barrio of Caballito which has the club at its epicentre.

Indeed, annexed to the right-hand side of the wonderfully-lidded main stand is a basketball court, for example. This is just one of many sporting facilities available at the club. Others include taekwondo and table tennis in the sports hall under this stand; swimming in the pool on site; and athletics on the track adjacent to the pitch. Oh yes, this is more than just a football club. We were reminded of this at half-time too when the club’s respective sports teams were paraded in full kit to warm applause.

With regards to the game itself, there was not much of note as Nueva Chicago edged it 1-0, ensuring their survival. Or at least I think that’s what happened, based on their ascension from 25th position (of 25 teams) to 23rd as a result – and the wild celebrations on the pitch at the end. One caveat I would add is that, for anyone familiar with the incongruous Argentinian promedios, you will know that a calculator is always needed for this kind of thing. Originally designed to protect the so-called ‘Big Five’ – of Boca, River, Independiente, San Lorenzo and Racing – this format decrees that average points haul over three seasons determines final standing. Ironically this worked against River Plate in 2011, when they were relegated.

An admittedly rawer experience than my occasional trips to El Monumental to watch the aforementioned domestic giants, the tone was set by the barbed wire and zoo-like cage securing the perimeter of our stand. This was just as well, as Nueva Chicago’s matchwinner Lucas Baldunciel was pelted with bottles, lighters etc as he celebrated his close-range strike immediately below us.

The real villains of the piece however are captured in the photo, both cutting isolated figures as play goes on elsewhere. Running the line on our left was ‘el gordito,’ the overweight linesman targeted by a frustrated crowd after a couple of inopportune waves of his flag. Subsequently it was manager Alejandro Orfila, a man forlornly watching from his technical area throughout, who bore the brunt of this frustration at the end. The biggest footballing insult in Argentina, vitriolic cries of ‘PECHO FRIO!!!’ (‘cold chest’ = without heart/guts), were directed at Orfila who had no answer as his side went out with a whimper, rounding off a disappointing season.

A quick Google Images search of the Ricardo Etcheverri stadium captures not just what a glorious old stadium this once was, but also its projected majesty for the future. Yet currently, due to league regulations stipulating that wooden stands are no longer fit for purpose, there is a noticeable absence of two of Ferro’s original four stands. As can be just about seen, the modernisation process is underway, although they have only got as far as building the concrete steps that lead to nowhere. The requisite money for a full revamp remains outstanding, and so there is no timeframe for its completion.

This uncertainty is altogether a bit unsatisfactory for an outsider looking in. My workmate, a longstanding socio (member) is unfazed about the whole thing though. For him, Ferro is a way of life. He is in good company too, with many of its socios the descendants of the club’s founding fathers from generations not so long ago past. If called upon they will doubtless step in to prevent Ferro from hitting the buffers, as the club explores all its possible avenues of investment first. Hardly full steam ahead then, but for now this train continues to roll along just fine.

Ready salted

Salt exhibition, Recoleta Cultural Centre

There is a special exhibition in the Recoleta Cultural Centre right now called Meteora, by Fabián Bercic. Although its purpose is to discuss memory and identity in the context of Buenos Aires, for me it is inextricably bound up with other metaphors that pinpoint where I currently am.

Not so long ago I was coasting in what felt like my boring, comfortable life in London. Hence the impetus for change. I was ready. Perhaps I swung too far from one side of the pendulum to the other on that front. Attempts to learn my relatively new job, and of course the language in which it is performed, remain ongoing. Meanwhile, from May I will be leading a marathon first-timers running group and then from June also writing a regular column for the local expat news website. An eighth day would be nice. I can’t complain though, these are my decisions, and ultimately if just one of them pays off then that will be a great success. For now, though – amidst this cluster of stumps – I can’t see the wood for the trees.

Glistening sodium chloride makes this winter wonderland scene so brilliant white meanwhile. It last snowed in the capital seven years ago, on Argentina’s Independence Day (9/7/2011). Let that sink in for a moment. Bearing that in mind, most children here have never seen, or certainly cannot remember having ever seen, the white stuff. There could be an exhibition within an exhibition in fact, capturing the disarming effect it has upon these little people as they totter through with a snowballing sense of curiosity. I can empathise with their confusion at not knowing how to encounter such a new experience however. Have a go at something new and be prepared to get it wrong, is my approach. Yet don’t try too many new things all on the same day is the necessary caveat. One failure may lead to another. There is a real danger of first self-inflicting painful damage through unnecessary risk therefore, and ultimately rubbing salt in the wounds.

Finally, the path is not a straight line. This is painfully clichéd but true. Moreover, it is comfortingly discomforting that from the start of the path in the exhibition you cannot see its end. How profoundly apt. One thing I will say is that I’m glad I forced myself along this route, wherever it may lead. Impatient; brave; stupid. That’s probably how I’d sum myself up in three words, in that order too. I must keep walking anyway.

The elephant in the room

The islands that Argentina just can't quite let go of

A post that I was never particularly enthusiastic about writing, although it feels strange that I haven’t done so already after almost 6 months in Buenos Aires. Indeed, as an Englishman living in Argentina, it would be awfully remiss of me not to talk about what is – for me at least – the most talked about thing here.

‘Son nuestras’ is how most conversations on the matter usually begin, and, thankfully, end. ‘We both know that isn’t strictly true,’ I would sometimes like to say to remonstrating taxi drivers and the like, when I’m having a bad day. What would be the point though?

I love and have completely taken to the Argentinian people. Discussing this touchy subject with them however is somewhat demoralising, not that it is ever me who brings it up of course. The question with apparently no correct answer, one common retort is, ‘Because they are!’

Embedded into the national consciousness, it is unfair on everyone that men, women and children must be overburdened with this burning sense of injustice that refuses to go away. Maps in classrooms; government-issued bank notes; the murals adorning the walls of the military base on Avenida Luis María Campos that my bus to and from work passes each day. They all punctuate a certain set of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean with (ARS), denoting ownership.

When I close my eyes at night I see their outline. To the Argentinians, Argentina. To the rest of the world, a claim to territory stemming from nothing more than proximity. The phrase is ‘let’s agree to disagree,’ I believe. Which is fine by the way, preferable in fact. The less said the better, please.

My next encounter with this unhealthy obsession is only ever days or, worse, hours away though unfortunately. Weariness is received as apathy, and subsequently apathy as disrespect. Disrespect does not sit well. Otherwise heading down a conversational cul-de-sac of presumed discomfort last week, when probed on whether the British also have a commemorative public holiday (like the one observed in Argentina just a few Mondays ago), I quickly nodded and answered, ‘Sí.’

Going back a couple of months, my Irish friend was taken aback when I also introduced myself as Irish to new locals in our regular drinking hole. Sometimes in the street or in shops I am American, or perhaps Australian. At River Plate last weekend, my compatriot friend and I were Kiwis for the match. Everything worthwhile requires compromises, and this national anonymity is simply one which makes daily life a bit simpler, but it can only go so far.

Yes, already sat waiting for me in most rooms I enter here is a big grey thing with floppy ears, two white tusks and a long trunk. Everyone sees it, we all know it’s there. We would do better not to pay it any attention though; if sufficiently riled, its force could be destructive.

Who knows, maybe one day, with enough neglect it might even get up and leave. Yet for now and the foreseeable future, that empty-roomed-utopia seems an altogether quite unlikely prospect. After all, elephants never forget. Everyone knows that.

Eyes and dolls

Dolls in one of San Telmo Mercado's quaint shops

If only it wasn’t impractical for my commute, the charming cobbled streets of San Telmo and indeed original site of the city’s foundation would be my preferred base in Buenos Aires. Finally visiting the elegant Mercado de San Telmo – not to be confused with the famous outdoor Feria de San Telmo – for the first time last weekend endeared this neighbourhood to me further. That said, beware the dolls.

Amidst the artisan pastries, filtered coffees and vintage clothing spots, there is an unnerving sense of permanence about the ageless, unblinking porcelain model children. Voyeurs of everything that has gone on in this market, seen and unseen, since its initial opening in 1897, they sit or stand with disarming patience. Whereas consumables must obviously be consumed and, albeit less urgently, clothing fashions of the day change, these dolls remain largely as they were a century or so ago – relics of a bygone age.

There is something quintessentially Argentinian about this too, for they are inherently a nostalgic people. Rather topically, as June approaches, one only needs to look at Diego Maradona for a prime example of this. An embodiment of a sentimentalised footballing yesterday, Maradona was once a demigod that represented every man, woman and child in Argentina. They cried his tears in defeat, they felt his blood pump through their veins in glorious victory, and they were there to lift the World Cup with him in 1986. As through Diego, the ornately besuited or gown-wearing dolls provide access to a gilded past that cannot quite be let go of.

This is to be flippant of course, as many of the dolls on display in the foreground in this particular shot are now plastic and have been updated accordingly to cater for children born in the social media age. One of the girl dolls has the exotic allure of pink hair, for example. Meanwhile numbers of the more venerable dolls continue to diminish, as when they are gone they are gone. Either that or, if deemed of sufficient vintage, the dolls are promoted to the bright lights of the museums. In fact, I had not even been living in Buenos Aires for 24 hours when I visited the Castellano Fotheringham sisters’ donated collection of rare antique dolls dating back to the 1870s, housed at Casa Fernandez Blanco, as part of the city’s museum weekend lates initiative.

As previously alluded to, by modern European standards Argentina is by no means a politically correct country. Take as an example the pair of dolls stood in the window, hair and skin uniformly black as coal and without any visible features, seen by all but purchased by nobody. Analogous of Argentinian society,  there is more a clumsiness than sense of malice about the occasional insensitive misrepresentation of people from different backgrounds in these parts.

Moreover, when the Argentinians try to address this truism they invariably get it horribly wrong too. Just three or so years ago in December 2014, the sale of a trans-gender doll in the nearby Buenos Aires district of Once caused quite the stir, as reported in local news outlet The Bubble. Dressed in a skirt, with feminine features and to all intents and purposes a girl doll, a quick lift of the skirt revealed that not all was quite what it seemed. Doubtless leaving many children here deeply confused, and probably a bit traumatised, it perhaps wasn’t the Christmas present that parents had in mind when hitting the shops that festive season.

Back to the indoor market then, and accessible via entrances across no less than four different San Telmo streets, this gem is absolutely worth a visit when in Buenos Aires. Grab a cafetière coffee, wander around, nibble on a choripán from the comfort of a breakfast bar stool, wander around a bit more, sift through a disorganised mix of old football jerseys/second-hand summer dresses/inexplicably loud dungarees all on the same railing. Yes, you can really lose yourself in the gloriously preserved Mercado de San Telmo – and why not, nobody’s watching. Well, almost nobody.

Sunny side up

Buenos Aires pink sunset

A restful break in England it certainly was not, but such was the nature of my two-week roadshow of sorts. A trip summarised to my Argentinian colleagues as simply ‘Joda y boda’ (‘Party and wedding’), I was pining for my own bed in Recoleta by the time I finally had the pleasure last Thursday. Back to Buenos Aires, back to my papelitos (flashcards), and back to landscape painting sunsets out of my window.

Other than having to single-handedly negotiate a flooded washing machine, I had missed my own company truth be told. Catching up with friends and family was great, but as my intricately crafted spreadsheet might attest, averaging two appointments a day and sleeping in ten different beds over a fortnight took its toll. Leisurely reading, furthering a writing project, twilight runs to the Reserva Ecológica and back, all with naps in-between, the last few have been dreamy days.

Although summer here has truly had a line drawn under it by the passing of the long Easter weekend, and all the tiresome references to eggs that come with this time of year, the sunsets remain as spectacular as ever thankfully. This isn’t just scant consolation for the passing of the hottest season either, as the seven-day forecast shows a week of days consistently above 20 degrees Celsius.

Since returning here I have already added a few new words/phrases to my bank of trusty papelitos too, fearing that my Spanish might crumble into an irreparable mess. Yet it is funny that when I was back in England, there were three phrases that I keep finding myself wanting to use: Yo tampoco (Me neither); Más o menos (More or less); and Veremos (We’ll see). I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day unpacking the non-committal nature of my favourite phrases in Argentina so far. One promise to myself, however, is that my next lease term will be at least six months so that I at least give myself a chance to feel more settled here.

I pointedly prioritised – and have therefore learnt first – two of my flashcards in particular: (El) Atardecer; and (La) Puesta del sol. Indeed, the sunsets are so good here that they named them twice. I remain as unapologetic as ever for my wonderment and sharing of some of the colours on display from tonight, as most nights.

Whatever kind of day I have had, good or bad, this magnificent fireball puts everything into perspective as it politely excuses itself for the evening each night with glorious aplomb. And to think, I almost missed tonight’s episode of pink candy floss clouds and orange/purple rings on the distant horizon too.

Funnily enough, in one of the books I am currently reading I came across a nice turn of phrase from Pablo Neruda, on fate, that I could really identify with: ‘Every casual encounter is an appointment’. I don’t know why I was compelled to stop whatever it was I was doing earlier and go to the window just at the perfect time to catch the conclusion of the lightshow, but I was.

Between now and the sun’s next appearance tomorrow morning, at 07:08, my alarm will have woken me up. Inevitably, after an almost three-week hiatus, thoughts return to work. Maybe the sale of my company will be good for me, maybe it won’t.

Like a flooded washing machine, sunset or the next chance meeting with whomever it may be, there will always be some things that remain mostly out of my hands. In this society where we work ourselves into a frenzy that we could be making better use of our time, and then fret over the opportunity cost of decisions made, there is a fatalistic comfort in being reminded of this. As ever though, veremos.

Gaelic source

Irish and Scottish heritage being celebrated in Buenos Aires

The centrepiece of a blazing hot weekend before I headed back to England for two weeks, Saturday was an open book. A quick glance on the Buenos Aires Ciudad state-run website revealed that there was a joint Irish/Scottish celebration on Avenida de Mayo. Enticed by this dry run of home(ish) comforts, I jumped on a bus after brunch and headed towards the Gaelic street party.

Credit where it’s due to the government, it makes a real effort to celebrate different traditions out in the open – last weekend it was the turn of India, for example – and always encourages its citizens to get involved. This was my first time to one of these things here. Many a curious local clearly felt it was obligatory to wear green, as Irish jigs were performed on stage, whilst a procession of tartan-clad bagpipers took ownership of the airwaves. Under the watchful eye of the Casa Rosada, this hyper-cliched interpretation of the dual cultures, although twee, almost felt a bit Orwellian.

Briefly pursuing this tangent, I discovered, when eating out at a recommended pizzeria, on Friday night that all radio stations here are obliged to play the national anthem at midnight every night as one day slips into the next. This is a country whose schoolchildren must swear on the flag each morning before classes too. Believe it or not, there is an image very powerfully projected here that Argentinians love their country.

Continuing the theme of selective education, there were smatterings of history with noticeable gaps represented by a handful of tents near the front stage. The real education was in the tasting however, with Highland shortbreads and mini lamb stews presented almost as cupcakes on offer. Accompanying a local, my amiga, who was savouring some of these trademark delights for the first time, this was certainly a welcome refresher course in appreciation for me.

Shortly thereafter ensued a wild goose chase for a draft pint of Guinness. Good things don’t always come to those who wait, it turns out. No, having consulted an army of expats via the Facebook group on this very matter (from my carefully-guarded iPhone, amidst the melee), I was assured that Guinness have long since withdrawn from the Latin American market. The reason behind the sale of my company too, this is quite an annoying recurring theme.

Upon hearing one final traditional folk piece, we later carved an exit through the flurry of alternated mini flags and obligatory leprechaun tat that had reinforced the theme. Retreating to the riverside shade of a Puerto Madero bar on foot, the two-person committee concluded that the event had been a success.

Moreover, this cultural Segway proved invaluable in opening my eyes to something that I not only don’t have, but can’t have here in Argentina: Guinness. How regrettable this is too. Many things here confuse me at the best of times, a bit of black and white perspective would go a long way. About to start packing for my trip to London tomorrow, but first taking a moment to admire the typically breathtaking sunset from a ninth-floor apartment building in Recoleta, there’s only one thing on my mind. Pour me.

(M)y (A)rgentinian (P)lan

Part of the Buenos Aires SUBTE map

To mark my four-month anniversary in Buenos Aires, last Friday saw me move into no less than my third permanent residence here so far. Just a few blocks away from where I had been housesitting, it was essentially a move from Recoleta to Recoleta and so nothing too arduous thankfully. This only ranked second in a week of changes however, as it was announced that the LatAm arm of my company had been sold to a competitor. This thereby officially cuts my professional London ties with immediate effect and so, suddenly, I really am on my own. How exhilarating.

As previously alluded to, due to the whimsical effortlessness of my commute to work from the city’s most plush barrio I wasn’t ready to leave Recoleta quite yet. Yes, the 118 and I remain travelling companions for the next three months at the very least. Again, I decided to adopt a short-termist approach when arranging my next apartment just off Pueyrredon and Juncal, and I’m glad I did.

It’s not so much a case of living out of a suitcase, but to elect for the other extreme and settle prematurely seems naïve. In these uncertain times, when my job feels relatively up in the air, ninety days or so is a decisive enough timeframe to cater for my current situation – especially as it feels somewhat inevitable that there will be an office move on the horizon. One must be philosophical about these things though, just keep doing the right things and everything will be OK in the end. I’m certainly not done with this place yet.

And now for a guided tour of my life (with map and SUBTE lines to aid):

  • Just where the yellow line (H) continues beyond its intersection with the green line (D) is home, for the previous three months and the equally ensuing timeframe.
  • Terminate with the green line (D) to the top, keep going a bit more north through Chinatown and that’s where the office is – for now anyway.
  • See where the purple line (E) and dark blue line (C) briefly run parallel? Immediately right of that is my favourite watering hole in the city, hidden away on San Telmo’s cobbled streets.
  • Follow that same dark blue line (C) up to its crossing with the light blue line (A), and go west one stop. There you’ll find the snooker/pool club that is occupying many of my weekend hours, and indeed muscling in on the afore-mentioned’s territory with rapid alacrity.
  • Keep going west, switching to the red line (B) where possible, and close to that almost misplaced green space, Parque Centenario is where I do a monthly cash exchange and watch Argentinian Superliga football with my English blogger friend at his apartment. I give him my cash Pesos in exchange for Sterling into my account. Whoever wins from the rate versus the previous month buys the beers – for once, it was me last weekend.
  • Hopping back on the dark blue line (C), whenever I decide to go away for the weekend by long-haul coach or take the train within Buenos Aires state, the terminus Retiro has large stations for both modes of transport. Almost walkable from the flat, not quite, I occasionally run past here to the ecological reserve too.

It all feels very strange that less than a year ago I was preparing to fly from London, where I called home for 5 years, to South America for a two-week holiday in Colombia. Here we are, eleven months on, and I’m doing the return leg, flying to England for a fortnight before I return to my home, my life here in Argentina. Funny how life works out. I look forward to updating this same map in another four months.

Tunnel vision in San Telmo

Underground tunnel in San Telmo that tells a story of Buenos Aires' past

Just around the corner from my favourite watering hole here, among the cobbled streets and colonial architecture on Defensa there is a whitewashed building that catches the eye. Although rich in history and culture, the city’s oldest neighbourhood, San Telmo, retains a classy unassuming quality. Persist with this building, dig a little deeper, for there’s a gem waiting to be discovered. Whereas tunnel vision might usually impair one’s vision, in this most charismatic quarter of Buenos Aires it is an essential navigation tool.

Sunday was hot, very hot, 34 degrees Celsius in fact. I took it upon myself to make the hour-long stroll from Recoleta to San Telmo in the beating sun. A happy medium between the numbered logic of New York’s blocks and the randomness of London’s charming old streets, the avenues of Buenos Aires are straightforward enough to negotiate on foot. Watched by Evita, I approached the large steel image of her making an impassioned speech on the north side of the Edificio del Ministerio de Salud. Continuing my urban trek down 9 de Julio, I proceeded with my back to a more placid version of her stately portrait complete with rosette, on the south side. Not long afterwards I was in San Telmo, and El Zanjón de Granados.

A place of fabled archaeological importance, El Zanjón de Granados is said to be what remains of the first settlement in Buenos Aires, dating back to 1536. Two centuries later, the underground labyrinthine tunnels serving as advanced sewage systems below the family mansion were constructed. These have all been restored immaculately. This only happened recently as well, thanks to Jorge Eckstein who chanced upon the site in 1986, after he had purchased the land for a business project. Thankfully, he insisted on a different direction for its use and has spent the ensuing years tirelessly repurposing his original venture into the museum it is today.

The lighting truly captures the astonishingly replenished brickwork to full effect, whilst steel girders and iron beams are in place to support centuries of history. The tunnels, dipping to the centre for irrigation purposes, were strategically built directly above a tributary of the Río de la Plata. Not only do they tell a story of the capital’s humble beginnings, but they also point to a design that has been maintained ever since. Yes, even today, from the moment the river flows into Puerto Madero it is rerouted below the city, unseen, unheard.

Something neither unseen nor unheard however is the famous San Telmo Feria on market day, captured at its frenetic best on Sundays. What a perfectly orchestrated coincidence, then, that immediately upon stepping out of the door of the historic mansion I was in its midst.

An assortment of all things elegantly handmade, boorishly touristic or somewhere inbetween, the very essence of Argentina is captured by this organised chaos. Here, more than most other parts of Buenos Aires, overwhelmed excursionists make easy pickings for the less savoury of the local population. Therefore, it is particularly important to stay alert amid the disorder of the stalls that spill onto both sides of all streets in the vicinity, as a foreigner’s wallet makes quite the catch in these parts.

Hands – my own – in pockets, and blinkers on, I whizzed through the scene with wilful abandonment of my peripheral vision. A whizz comparative to some of the naive dawdling on display anyway. Succumbing to the heat, my spending only got as far as haggling down a cup of squeezed orange juice to 40 Pesos in the end. This was an absolute necessity though. Not long afterwards I retreated into the shade and then home a thirsty, overheated young man. If only there had been a source of water nearby.