Shopping | Argentina | Living in Mexico


I say to Jean, "I need some new boxers. Mine are getting raggedy and the elastic is all loose."

Jean gets a gleam in her eye. The last time I bought underwear was five years ago. And that was under protest. Now she spots a shopping opportunity. Before I can reconsider my rash statement, she throws me into a cab and we're off to the Galleria.

Actually, I like to shop in big cities. Well, sort of anyway. Hick bergs like San Miguel de Allende offer slim pickings for a man of discerning taste, and not much more for one who used to wear pocket protectors.

The Cuidad Autónomo de Buenos Aires boasts several big malls situated in restored grand buildings. They're breathtaking.


That is a working ferris wheel framed in the window.

Sadly, Paul (El Guapo) has not been present in these pages, on account of his computer was struck by lightning, and he doesn't have the patience to sit in a cybercafé. Too bad, because Paul has a shoe fetish, and has helped me develop an eye for them. He'd be proud to see me wearing my newly purchased red loafers, without socks.

I'm becoming such a free spirit.


The red shoes inspired me. Riding a creative rush, I looked everywhere for boxers that weren't boring. After all, how one looks in one's underwear is sooo important.

I found some with a pattern of parrots drinking beer. Perfect!

Hungry after all that shopping (well, it was a lot for me) we looked for a snack. The Galleria offered lots of choices.


(Somebody help me out here. Are there such things as Kosher McDonalds anyplace else?)

We went out onto Florida street. Nearly every shop had a barker out front. This nice young man invited me to come up to his second-floor emporium to check out his cashmere inventory.


I dunno. With that grim expression, he just didn't strike me as someone I'd like to disappear up a darkened stairway with. In any event, it was too hot to even think about cashmere.

Jean manhandled me into a place that sells Argentinean-made leather goods, where I bought a couple of belts.


The light one is rawhide. Jean asked the sales clerk about the other one.

"What kind of leather is it?"

"It's beaver."


One kind of shopping you readily can get me to do, besides going to an Apple store, is in bookstores. BsAs has a bunch of them on Avenida Corrientes, and nearby, there's El Ateneo, which claims to be the largest bookstore in South America.


El Ateneo is housed in a spectacular restored old theater. The old stage contains a café; specialty books on medicine and engineering are stocked on the balconies.


Most books are, of course, in Spanish, although a respectable selection of English-language books is available. I bought an anthology of Gaucho poetry. I find reading in Spanish laborious, but since poetry must be read closely, I don't mind frequently consulting a dictionary.

Like large general interest bookstores everywhere, overproduced lightweight titles are set out in special displays. For $30 US, you can read yet one more history of the life of Eva Perón, a figure who receives far too much attention in my opinion. Could it be that author Felipe Pigna, a historian at the University of Buenos Aires, is here pandering to popular tastes?


Before I get too snotty about Evita, I have to remember that we all need mind candy once in a while. I bought Noah Gordon's The Physician which should put me to sleep every night until we fly home.


Flush with the success of getting me to shop for clothes, Jean pushed her luck and dragged me across town to a craft street fair.


It turned out to be the same collection of aging hippies selling bad wallets you'll find at street fairs all over the world.

Tourists, mainly Americans, crowded among the kiosks. Several bought mates (MAH-tays) and bombillas (bome-BEE-schahs). Mates are used for drinking Argentina's national drink, also called mate. It's a sort of tea made by steeping leaves of a plant called yerba mate in hot water, properly drunk by sipping through a bombilla—a metal straw with an end designed to strain the liquid through all those leaves. Traditionally, everyone shares a single mate and bombilla, making mate-drinking an intimate social moment.


This is one of those purchases travelers always regret. They get back to Grand Rapids, unpack their mate and bombilla and their slightly squashed box of Cruz de Malta teabags, only to realize mate-drinking has no place in their lives. So the whole kit gets put away until an emergency Christmas present is needed for Tiffani's latest loser boyfriend. Perhaps serving as a deterrent to a bad marriage.

Jean found a leather purse that she liked and I didn't, but then my opinion is neither here nor there in these matters. One of the 20 peso bills she gave the seller was counterfeit. Apparently there's a lot of that here, because I frequently see sales clerks holding bills up to the light. Jean's bill was so badly made that one of the 20s was wearing off. She replaced it with a good one, then promptly used the counterfeit to buy a bracelet.

I lasted ten minutes at the craft fair before retreating in the 95º heat to our air-conditioned apartment where I stripped down to my parrot boxers and wrote this post.

Feliz año a todos.