During my 40-minute trip from the airport to the suburb of Colegiales, in Buenos Aires, in December 2017, I had the opportunity to witness many interesting scenes. The outskirts of the capital city was not the prettiest of sites, but as we approached the urban centre, the visual stimulation got more and more intense.
For someone used to living in Perth, the contrast was blatant: the numerous cars roaring, too many vehicles sounding their horns at other drivers, people walking, people cycling, people crossing streets, people having a chat in the middle of the road, jaywalking, lining on footpaths at bus stops, pushing prams, pushing wheelchairs, juggling bottles at traffic lights, juggling balls at traffic lights, busking on the footpath, busking on the road, etc. You will hardly get bored.
It's certainly a different way of living, a different way of approaching life. Someone said that 'Necessity is the Mother of all Inventions'. I can understand how that thought would be put into practice. The (seemingly) overpopulation of Buenos Aires, with a current rate of unemployment close to 9%, means that people need to get creative. It is worth mentioning that the minimum wages are not always enough to provide for a whole family: some people earn around US$300 per month, before tax. Needless to say, there is room for an informal market, as people endeavour to find ways to make ends meet.
I passed a sign (see photo below) that advertised 'Purchase of empty bottles', except that the price offered was $0.00. I thought that was a creative and humorous way of asking for donations. I'm not sure of how effective it was, especially because the location is a bit distant from the city. Nevertheless, it seemed like a cool idea to me. I could see myself donating empty bottles, if I had some - although in Argentina, the term 'garrafas' mainly refers to the metal containers in which cooking gas is sold. Still!
It's very pleasant to be entertained on the streets. Without having to specifically go to a bar or a theatre to watch someone perform, you just get to listen to beautiful live music as you walk in the City Business District, and other suburbs. Buskers are often seen also on board the underground trains, at different times. If you're a musician and you're fortunate to have the opportunity to perform on a paid basis for different venues, that is great. But how about if you never had that chance and you do not have another job? Maybe street-performing is the beginning of your career.
Some of these talented people may go unnoticed by some, but they will nonetheless catch the attention of many, especially visitors. As an arts enthusiast and supporter, I tend to be generous towards them. It has been my view for a while that many of us want to be exposed to good music and arts in general at zero cost, without taking into consideration that the creators need to live as well. How much more wonderful and colourful would our world be if we spent a bit more towards the arts? Or if a quarter of what big sponsors "donate" to sports was donated to fund the arts?! I can only wonder.
In the end of 2001, my second last year living in Buenos Aires, Argentina formally entered a huge economic crisis. Not too long after that, the 'cartoneros' became well known: they were (and still are) groups of families who'd push a sort of cart (a wagon on wheels), typically travelling the streets of different suburbs in Buenos Aires, after sunset, collecting recycling items out of people's waste. They became known as the 'cartoneros' because their most common item of collection was carton pieces. They work hard and walk for hours, night after night, except for Saturdays, as there is no rubbish collection on Saturdays - in many large cities in South America there is a rubbish collection service five times per week.
The economic crash in 2001 was so serious that the government had to issue a bond, as the regular currency (the Argentinian Peso) was limited. The bond was called "Patacon" and circulated in Buenos Aires as a normal currency, for a while. Many people lost their jobs around that time, and some lost their dwellings. Amidst the climate of despair, a new system of bartering was set in place as well. It was a survival system, and it helped many stay afloat.
Once a wealthy nation with a low crime and unemployment rate, Argentina has unfortunately stepped down. Despite the unfortunate economic downturn, there are still signs that give us a distinct indication of the flourishing country it once was. Their people have not lost their strength, nor their hope, nor their vibrance. Argentina's capital city is probably the best illustration of this. Buenos Aires has art in the air. Perhaps that's why it's called Buenos Aires, which translates literally as "Good Airs"