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Of Beef and Beauty

Greetings from our man in Argentina, where every day is marked off for someone special


March 11
 Día del Heladero 
Today is Ice Cream Man Day, and it's sweltering. What better way to celebrate than to pop down to Persicco (think Baskin-Robbins meets Starbucks) for a heaping cone of dulce de leche. The secret lies in the famously lean Argentine cows, which graze on the lush grasslands of the Pampas. They need no hormones and no chemicals. I've even upped my minimum weekly steak intake to five. At my local parrilla, a twelve-ounce, cut-with-a-fork bife de lomo (filet mignon) costs me $3 and tastes as though God massaged the cow with his own hands. Argentina produces so much good food that I'm baffled as to why it can't feed its own population. I still have families going through my trash each night. Cartoneros are people from the slums who survive by selling the cardboard they find there (for around 1¢/kg). It breaks my heart to see kids as young as three  harvest my garbage bags. After so many months here, however, my heart has hardened. I eat my steaks guilt-free and drown any lingering unease in wine.


April 3
Día del Modelo 
I've spent the better part of Model Day watching FTV-that's Fashion Television. The Argentine mix of Spanish and Italian genes with a little dash of Northern Europe has turned out irresistible results. Everywhere I go, I see the next woman of my dreams. Argentine flesh is genetically superior, and there's a culture of sex built around this fact. Models here are the female equivalent of soccer players. Everyone knows who they are, and images of their bodies are plastered on every available space. Someone told me, "In Argentina, ugly girls have two options: suicide or suicide." I know half a dozen girls who are anorexic. I know an equal number who have had plastic surgery, and a greater number who constantly tell me they want new "tits and bits." And yet for all the attraction, there's a lack of connection between people in Buenos Aires. My friend Mauricio the Mexican recently commented, "It's amazing how lonely you can sometimes feel in the midst of 15 million people." And I thought it was just me.

Your ugly duckling,

June 4
Día del Periodista
Journalist Day has brought a flood of congratulatory telephone calls and emails. Actually, being a foreign correspondent, I am supposed to be honoured on September 23, but I'll take what I can get. I was invited to a foreign press corps reception at the government house tonight and the big man, President Néstor Kirchner, dropped in to say a few words. He's known as El Pingüino because he hails from southern Patagonia and looks like a penguin, with eyes set to the side of his face so you can never tell where he is looking. Kirchner is a mutant, but immensely popular. Recently, I saw him cut a ribbon in a small town; tens of thousands packed the central square. He stirred up the crowd with his passionate rally against the persistent forces of evil: corrupt businessmen, political rivals, greedy foreign banks and, of course, the IMF. Kirchner says that he's building "un país en serio" (a serious country). Ironic, because his government has made no institutional reforms or long-term economic plans-but the admiring throngs didn't want to hear that. They were like twelve-year-olds at a Michael Jackson concert in Asia, clutching and screaming and fainting from excitement. It made me long for the stoic WASPiness of Canadian politics.


September 17
Día del Psiquiatra
Psychiatrist Day, and I'm a mess. Buenos Aires tosses me through emotional peaks and pits, with no creamy middles to even it out. Most of my friends here swear by psychoanalysis, which seems as common as plastic surgery. This city is a gathering point for Freudians and boasts one of the world's highest psychiatrist-per-person ratios. Argentinians are a philosophical breed, fixated on discovering the meaning of it all (or at least enough meaning to explain their problems). Argentinians are descended from Europeans, so they feel they are owed something by the world. But every time they get close to achieving the golden dream, it crashes down around them. I am told that the 1990s were all easy cash, imported goods and trips to Miami-it was like everyone was a gangster. When the world stopped throwing credit at Argentina, and Argentina couldn't pay its debts, the party ended. It's one long sorrowful tango: man finds prostitute, man falls in love with prostitute, prostitute cheats on him, man has heart broken. Mauricio thinks I just need to get laid. I told him whores make me angry.