Lessons Learned in Buenos Aires

My friend Aimee is putting herself through a self-imposed tango bootcamp here in Buenos Aires.  Most of which involves her lying on the floor wearing 80s flashdance leggings and breathing deeply – she claims it’s incredibly taxing, but we’re yet to be convinced).

They take tango very seriously here.  Aimee is not allowed to breathe standing up until she has learned to breathe properly lying down.  And that could take weeks.  Apparently she needs to learn to soften her breastbone.  Since bones are notoriously tricky things to soften, I don’t rate her chances.

She has bought some very beautiful red suede tango shoes from a famous shop here in BsAs, called Comme il Faut.  If you have a foot fetish, then may I suggest this as a suitable place of worship.  In the upstairs room of a little row of boutique shops, women line the edges, feet naked as the day they were born, their eyes lit up with the feverish glow of the true believer.  There are almost no shoes on display.  In this shop, you simply tell the assistants your size and they bring you heaped boxes of jewel-coloured stilettos.  It is a reverent place, voices are not raised except for little squeals and moans of pleasure.

I feel they’re missing a trick with their business.  If it were mine, I would make all the mirrors one-way and create a space in the backroom for pedi-voyeurs.  Double the revenue, double the pleasure-giving.  Win, win, kerr-ching.

holiday vs work/travel

This trip for me is the first real stress-test of the new lifestyle.  The idea was that the money I’d save by not living in London would fund the trip, so I’d come away from a 2 month adventure cash neutral.  And since I’ll carry on working on business ideas whilst I’m travelling, I’m not losing any time on income-generating projects.

Like so many of my ideas, this one’s proving great at a conceptual level and about a million miles wide of the mark in real life…

Firstly, South America is not cheap.  If, like me, you are pretty rough round the edges when it comes to actual knowledge on anything political or socio-economical, then you probably think that poor old Argentina is still on the financial skids and you’ll be living like a king on a couple of pesos a day.

Not quite.  Great quality beef is cheap.  You can feast on a side of cow quite happily for £10 a meal.  But that’s where the gravy train ends.  Accommodation is expensive.  Drinks are around the same price as in London.  Flights are extortionate and the amazing long-distance bus service has significantly ramped up its prices in recent times.

If you’re used to travelling in India and South East Asia, then South America will feel like you’re taking a sledgehammer to your savings account.  I’m realising that city living = city living, no matter where you are.  Which makes it fine if your plan is to stay put in a city for a few months and live like a local (like these guys do: http://istanbul.for91days.com/).  Not so good if you’re seeing the sights a lot and eating out twice a day.

In other words, I’m 10 days in and I’ve rinsed through an awful lot of cash.

important lessons

I’ve learned some valuable lessons since I’ve been here:

– I’m probably not cut out to be a tango dancer, so that’s one potential source of revenue gone.  I tried to blame my malco-ordination on the fact I was wearing flat shoes, but in truth I just can’t pivot in any way that doesn’t remind me of that old advert with the dancing hippos.  And I’m tense.  Very tense.  All the time.

– I really should do a bit more research (than none) on the places I’m visiting.  At least to find out if I can vaguely afford to spend time in them and, if so, for how long.  I like to think I’m being spontaneous and carefree.  In reality, I’m just in denial and increasing debt.

– Being away is great for creating space and focus to get on with projects.  Everything feels less pressured here and it’s amazing how much more energy you’re willing to put into work when you have new places to explore.

The Mack arrives today, so it will be back to the regime of post-it notes and time-keeping.  I’m not feeling anywhere near as cross about it as I do when I’m in London.  But that could be because I now know my way around Buenos Aires, so if it gets too much, I can just go off grid and he’ll never, ever find me…

Burger King, Buenos Aires-style

Burger King, Buenos Aires-style

a life well lived… E H Lynch

My great aunt Lizza died last Friday.  She was 94.  An age that speaks to character as much as to genetics.

She was my favourite.  She was tiny (her passports, little books of history, said 5ft 1, but even as a small child I was aware that Lizza was made in miniature.  I’m sure it’s where my peculiar fondness for mini things comes from.

tiny person, big life

Until very recently she lived in a dolls’ house near Bradford.  A homely-sounding address, 5 Allen Croft.  Just the fact of saying it forces you to flatten into Yorkshire vowels.  And when I say dolls’ house, I don’t just mean that it was small, although it was.  One room downstairs and one (plus a bathroom) upstairs.  Nicely proportioned with high ceilings, but essentially thumbelina sized.  And there was no central heating or even a kitchen.  It felt like one of the dolls houses I would make as a kid out of shoe boxes upturned on one end.  An upstairs and downstairs created by cereal cardboard partitions.  Hand-drawn wallpaper glued on the walls.  A pretend house, for putting nice little things in.

As I child I was enchanted by her house.  It was full of beautiful objects.  Decorative plates, painted paper leaves and brickwork on the walls.  Candelabra, tapestries and mirrors.  The embodiment of the mantra of more is more.  When I helped her move into sheltered accommodation last year, I had the chance to really look at these things I’d found so intriguing.  And boy, were they beautiful. Beautifully bonkers.  A wall devoted to pictures of cockerels?  A finnish voodoo doll for hatpins?  You betcha.  A veritable old curiosity shoppe.

Lizza was a wonderful seamstress and gave me loads of incredible fabrics over the years, which, predictably, I’ve done nothing with, but I get great pleasure from taking them out of the loft from time to time and stroking them.  I’ve also inherited her beautiful clothes.  Bizarrely, given our height difference (she barely came up to my shoulder), her stuff fits me perfectly.  Well, now that I’ve decided that gangly arms and 3/4 length sleeves are the height of elegance.

she was fondly known as “The Duchess”

She was a headmistress, so did imperious like no-one else.  She would start most conversations with “Now darling…”, so that it was impossible to refuse her.  She had a way of tilting her head as she looked at you, so you knew she had you sussed.  She liked who she liked and had little time for people she found dull or narrow-minded.  She once described one of her sisters as “man-mad, incredibly stupid and bovine”.  Wickedly funny.

Lizza was an original thinker, a timeless personality and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.  She had great knowledge, the sort that comes from a classical education, a sharp wit and a fearless spirit.  She was well-travelled, genuinely cultured and a real aesthete, without any of the stuffiness of pretension.  Put it this way, you’d be looking at one of her allegedly “priceless” paintings and realise that she’d coloured in parts of it herself, where she thought it too feint.  Priceless is right.

She took a stab (in both senses) at most major religions.  Faith was both a comfort and troubling to her.  I put it down to her intelligence.  She didn’t have the easy belief that comes from ignorance.  She was too knowing.  So she sought answers and had to make do with rhetoric.  Last time I saw her, she borrowed a fiver from The Mack to give to the priest.  It went totally against my lapsed-Catholic dogma, but in the end I was just glad I’d talked her down from £20.

She was exceptionally generous and in the best possible way.  There were no conditions attached to her gifts.  She’d send you a cheque, just because she wanted to.  And she didn’t care how you spent it.  She encouraged frivolity and was thrilled to hear that I’d quit my job in favour of adventures.

When I was studying in Manchester, I’d get a bus to Leeds and we’d visit galleries, Harvey Nicks (which we both agreed was a poor provincial cousin to the London store) and drink so much red wine that I’d have to sit on the bus back with my face pressed to the cold window, so as not to throw up.

She was an inspiration to me.  A smart, beautiful, stylish, inquisitive, funny, independent (read: mulishly stubborn) woman who knew her own mind and wasn’t afraid to impose it.  I will miss her, but I’m not sad.  Hers was a life very well lived indeed.  Her funeral wishes summed it up for me – she left strict instructions for us to hold a “happy reception for any mourners”.  We shall do exactly that.  And there will be plenty of red wine.