I can't read Stu's mind, but I thought I recognized the look on his face Saturday. To me, it read "Argentina fatigue."
I'll grant you that it could easily have been "Dan fatigue." But for the sake of this entry and my fragile self-esteem, I'm going with Argentina fatigue.
This syndrome is not limited to foreigners. Experience and my small circle of friends tells me that it affects Argentines just as much as non-Argentines.
It sounds harsh, but being here can mean a string of small disappoints that feed into a sort of low-level aggravation and battle mentality.
Getting even simple things done can turn into an odyssey.
It's the waiting in line to take a number to wait in another line, only to get to the front of the line and be told to come back tomorrow. It's waiting in one line one day and then going back the next day to wait in the same line, only to find out that the line has changed.
It's the total lack of confidence and trust that pervades the society, with everyone absolutely convinced that everyone else is out to get you and them (although not the cab driver, waiter, etc. who vocalizes this distrust to you and warns you, of course; s/he is a saint and a victim.)
Have I ever mentioned the first question I was asked by an Argentine I met in Chicago? I had visited Buenos Aires in 2001 and upon my return came across a porteño selling ice cream in Chicago. I told him I had just been to Buenos Aires.
The first question he asked me: "Did anyone try to rip you off or cheat you?"
It's kind of funny, but it's kind of not.
I don't hold the United States on a pedestal, but that would probably not be the first question I asked someone who visited my country.
* * *
Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, talks about how having more choice often leads to higher expectations and more disappointment. If there are 100 detergents, surely one of them must be the right one for me. If I buy one and am not satisfied, it's a disappointment because I'm sure satisfaction must lie among the other 99.
But what if there are only one or two brands of detergent for sale? Then if I buy one and don't like it, I tell myself that there's not much to be done about it because there were only one or two detergents for sale and, hey, nothing's perfect anyway, right?
So basically choice and high expectations are the enemy of satisfaction. On a very basic level, learning to live here has meant learning to live a life of fewer choices and lower expectations. That might sound miserable to the First World ear. But it's not if you recognize as true what Schwartz says about the tyranny of too much choice.
I'm pleasantly surprised all the time because I've learned not to expect much. I'm not being flip.
All that said, sometimes limited choice and dashed hopes can drive you around the bend and back.
* * *
If I were to choose the short phrase that described Argentina best, I would probably either go with "por las dudas" or "es lo que hay."
The first phrase means "just in case" and is muttered as an explanation for everything in a place where you never know exactly what's going to happen and it always pays to have a back-up, a back-up for your back-up and a little luck.
The second phrase means "that's what there is" and is sort of a shrugging acknowledgment that, hey, you might not like it but that's all there is and you're going to have to take it or leave it.
Stu and I have had a lot of fun with these phrases since he's been here, but living — or even just traveling — in the land of "just in case" and "that's all we got" can take its toll.
So I took him out to lunch at the place where I go when I want to feel like I'm in the First World. Bar Uriarte is where I went to have my first steak in about ten years for my birthday last year. From the street, you can look through the window into the open kitchen. It's a little expensive, but it's not overpriced for what you get.
We split some baby calamari for an appetizer. I had a mixed green salad with roasted pears, cashews and blue cheese for my main. Stu had stuffed chicken on a bed of barley.
It felt amazing and decadent to deviate from the national menu of pizza, pasta, beef, and ham and cheese.
In fact, it felt so good that we did it again later that night. We met up with a fellow expat blogger and his friends for dinner at Azema, in a section of town known as Palermo Hollywood (because of the production studios located there, not, as Stu theorized, for the junkies and hookers).
Azema serves French-Asian fusion food. (Or Frasian food as it was dubbed by a clever commenter at the table. Wait. That was me. Well, it's no secret that on my blog, I always get the best lines. And that one. The best lines, and that one.)
We had a great meal. Stu had the salmon. I had the fish of the day. For dessert, I had a passion fruit mousse and Stu had a dulce de leche cheesecake.
* * *
It's 39 degrees here today. For readers in the United States and Belize, that's 17,000 degrees Fahrenheit. . . if I did the math right. It's definitely too hot to do math, in any case.
I turned off the water heater in my apartment because even the "cold" water is coming out of the tap warm, which is no wonder because it sits in a tank on the roof of the apartment building baking in the sun.
The length and utterly self-indulgent navel-gazing of this entry can either be attributed to heat-induced delirium, or the liberating realization that 20 people a day look at this blog regardless of what I write — hell, even when I don't write at all!
Which might have been the better bet today.