(En español aquí)
Argentina is the greatest country in the world and Buenos Aires is the greatest city in the greatest country in the world. This much we’re all agreed on. So how come everyone moans so much? Because that greatness is still a few minor tweaks away from perfection. Simply apply these ten foolproof ideas and a perfect country will be ours.
Argentines love whisky. Paradoxically, Argentina makes loathsome whisky. Argentine whisky is not so much whisky as whisky-flavoured gut-rot. This is baffling, as Argentina is so good at making wine, craft beer, and hipster aperitifs. While Argentina certainly has the raw ingredients by the barrel-load, the problem is that to make a quality whisky, you need at least ten years of capital investment before you have a saleable product. That kind of long-termism just isn’t going to cut the Savora in the land of “if we can’t fix it within one electoral term we’re probably not interested” carpe diem politics (slogan: “Because tomorrow’s a long way away”™).
However, there is one little pocket of Argentina with a more stable economy, a longer-term business vision, and people who know their whisky. Yes, I’m talking about the Islas Malvinas, or as we Brits like to call them, “The Islands we Stole from Argentina”. By forging peace-loving trade and transport ties, we could bring together British investors, Falklands climate and infrastructure, and young and enthusiastic Argentine entrepreneurs and cereals, and hey presto: “Goodwill Whisky” (slogan: “Make Whisky, Not War”™).
2. Pointless Travellators
There is at present only one pointless moving walkway in all of Buenos Aires, just outside the entrance to Retiro coach station. A travellator that gently conveys you the last 30 metres of that long hike from Mitre station, when it isn’t out of order (it is usually out of order). It is a travellator whose uselessness is made all the more comical by the presence of a potentially useful escalator going up into Retiro coach station (which is usually out of order). Critics claim this horizontalator’s presence is due to escalator-building business interests close to the opaque Macri administration. It is in fact a surrealist-situationist installation symbolising the futility of technological progress, and the hippest thing to happen to Argentina since Susana Giménez bought the rights to Million Dollar Drop.
3. Move Christmas to June
Don’t get me wrong, I love the way Argentines do Christmas: flip-flops, fireworks and family, a complete lack of TV or crippling expenditure, and an asado by the swimming pool. But let’s face facts: it’s pretty similar to the following week’s New Year’s Eve, isn’t it? And it also means you have to suffer that
long, cold short, mild winter without so much as a fairy light or a day off work midweek getting drunk, given that both the 25 de mayo and the 9 de julio celebrations are about as thrilling as pulling a cracker with your gran.
Switch Christmas Eve to 24th June, give the economy a middle-of-the-year boost, and take the rest of the month off. In an act of penance, Justin Bieber will be the first to turn on the June 2014 Christmas Lights on the Plaza de Mayo Christmas tree, before being crucified on a makeshift cross, making Beliebers of us all.
4. A Music Festival
Not a “music” “festival” where a few bands play on two stages over the course of two evenings, the only beer is overpriced Quilmes that you have to drink in a sealed-off, adults-only section, accompanied by a $25 hotdog, and the people are all shitty, pushy city types. That is not a musical festival. That is a weekend-long advert for a mobile phone/beverage company, and not a particularly good advert. I mean a “Music Festival”, one that takes place in an entrepreneurial farmer’s field 200 miles from Buenos Aires, with camping and asados and mud, craft beer and organic food stands, an atmosphere of love, peace and cooperation and lots of middle-class families sitting around in fancy tents, looking smug. That kind of music festival. A kind of Glastonbury-cum-Burning Man thing, you mean? Yeah, something like that. Anything like that.
5. Ban Cars from Buenos Aires.
You heard. Ban cars from Buenos Aires. Replace with trams made from old trains, like the much-missed Brujitas from subte line A, and various other wooden railway carriages discarded all over the country. If you think Buenos Aires is pretty now, imagine how pretty it would be with old trams! Failing that, ban car horns and replace with WhatsApp, using the offending car’s number plate as the PIN (NB The author has never used WhatsApp in his life and doesn’t know how it works. Something to do with phones, apparently.) Failing that, introduce driving tests so that Argentines are given a slightly sterner test than slaloming around traffic cones before being allowed out on the roads to slalom among slow-moving traffic. Probably easiest just to ban cars, though.
6. Guerrilla Gardening
That’s right, the freedom to plant seeds on every grass verge and underused park in the city, the conurbano and anywhere else you want. You can already get free seeds from the government (at least my auntie in Entre Ríos does; I couldn’t find a link. Yay, journalism. [editor's note: we found a link. Yay, journalism.]).
Now you have a space to plant them. “Yeah, but” say the cynics, “you’ll just get dogs pissing and shitting on them”. Easy. Ban dogs. They bark all the time. They shit everywhere. They don’t “get” fireworks. It’s time to put a stop to this foolish “urban dog” experiment.
7. A Steamship Nightclub
A tip for the enterprising nightclub owner looking to offer something a little different. You get an old steamship or sailing boat. You refurbish it with a casino, bandstand, catering facilities. You hire a 20-piece orchestra. You lord it up like you’re Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, minus the religious cult. You impose a formal dress code (tuxedos for the chaps, Great Gatsby threads for the ladies) and charge a pretty penny to anyone who wants to cruise from Puerto Madero to Tigre, from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning, dining on fine cuisine and champagne, dancing tango, foxtrot and Charleston. They’ll have to get the Mitre train or the 60 home from Tigre, of course, but you can only have so much glamour.
8. Civic Pride
You know when you go to Japan, say, or Germany, and you get the impression that people care for their city and make an effort to make it look pretty and clean? And then you think “Ah that could never happen in Buenos Aires because people just wouldn’t respect it and it’d get vandalised blah blah?” Here’s the plan. Walk down your block and pick up every piece of litter, faecal matter, building site debris. Report loose and missing paving stones to the council. Then leave a letter at every building in your block, telling your neighbours what you’ve done, and asking just one of them to do the same thing tomorrow. Someone might copy you. If they don’t, just keep doing it until they do. It’s only one block, it’s not like it’s going to take you forever.
Eventually, goes my naive theory, most of your neighbours will see that there are about 200 of them in any built-up block, and that if each person gives one hour every six months to tidying up, you’ll all live in a pleasant, tidy, well-maintained street. And people are far less likely to litter or sully a tidy, well-maintained street, so after a year it becomes self-perpetuating. “Ah, but” say the cynics, “the council should be doing that kind of thing.” Ah, but they aren’t, are they? And they won’t, will they? Porteños, and foreigners who like to think of themselves as porteños, will get the city they deserve when they put their long-standing cynicism aside and stop waiting for the city government to get round to doing stuff.
9. A restaurant called ‘Azafata’.
A restaurant that recreates the limited joys of in-flight dining. The interior consists of seats salvaged from old aeroplanes. Everyone “boards” at the same appointed time and is offered a choice of just beef or pasta, then wishes they’d ordered the other option. The main course is served at the same time as the salad starter and dessert, a brown blob with some kind of cream sauce. Plastic cutlery and cups are naturally de rigeur – we don’t want any trouble. After dining, passengers are served weak coffee and the lights go out for twenty minutes while the restaurant’s flight simulator simulates extreme turbulence. Sick bags are passed round and the next sitting of passengers take their places. An unforgettable dining experience.
10. A national rail network befitting a country as great as Argentina
A return to the luxury travel standards of the 1960s. Local trains with impeccable safety and punctuality standards. A national high speed rail network, including the return of the long-distance trains from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, Mendoza and Posadas, and the complete overhaul of the current lines so that you can go from Buenos Aires to Rosario in an hour and cover the 1,200km to Tucumán in just four hours, instead of the current journey time of thirty-something. And with the help of our Brazilian brothers, a trans-continental high speed rail network, making it possible to travel the 2,680km from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro overnight on the world’s chic-est sleeper train. You could catch the 9pm train at Retiro, dine on steak and caipirinhas, and wake up in Rio the following morning. So instead of Argentines going abroad and saying “Qué bárbaro, ¿eh? Esto en Argentina no pasa” the rest of the world comes to Argentina and says “Now, why can’t we do this back home?”
While Christmas is still in December, why not give all your loved ones the gift of laughter and give them the funniest book of the year: Colectivaizeishon, el ingles que tomó todos los colectivos de Buenos Aires. Available in all the bookshops and Mercadolibre.