Buenos Aires: Mafia Children

Better put anti-theft devices on this rare artisan beer. And charge £7 a bottle for it too!

Another day, another mini-heatwave. Yet again, another day walking around Buenos Aires was thwarted by this 38°C weather. Yes it’s not quite Kuwait and yes I know many of you in the Northern Hemisphere are probably headbutting your screens with jealousy, but it’s difficult. Travelling halfway round the world to attempt to explore a city that does its best to chew you up and spit you out is, in all honesty, disheartening. I never expect any city to bow down to my every whim, but Buenos Aires is a hostile customer. Before I go any further, I am not willing to sit here and list everything I don’t like about this city, but I will admit that Buenos Aires is not an easy ride.

I was on the Subte earlier (the Buenos Aires subway), falling asleep in my chair after a failed rendezvous with a friend, and a small kid got on. I’m not talking a kid in the colloquial, anyone-younger-than-me sense, no; I’m talking like… a 5-year old. Just… on the tube. On his own. Hopped up onto the seat next to all the commuters like a midget sitting at a bar, then proceeded to stand up, walk across the carriage, and take my subway ticket out of my hand. For the record; you don’t need a ticket to exit the system, only to get in, so I let him walk away with it, because what do I care? He stood at the doors waiting for the next stop, staring into the ticket’s soul with a smirk on his face like he couldn’t believe his luck. Like a man who’d struck gold in Alaska in the 19th Century. I don’t understand what he was going to do. Sell it? Use it? Give all his friends paper cuts?

Later that day, I had to return to the sweatbox depths of the Subte for another cross-town trip. I approached the ticket machine, put in my 5 pesos for a journey (which is literally about 20p), and the ticket that came out of the machine, somehow, had been ripped in half and sellotaped back together. A strange theme that runs across money, tickets and other paper-based pursuits in this country, the sellotape immediately peeled off (maybe the humidity/heat melted the adhesive?) and I found myself with two half-tickets for the price of one. The story goes nowhere from here as I simply got it replaced with a full ticket, but that Subte journey was plagued by doubts as to how that ticket ended up in the machine. Nobody wants a re-used ticket.

El Congreso de la Nación Argentina

My Subte of thought was then interrupted by another small child entering the train. I was at the end of the carriage and he entered by the door right next to me. He stopped in front of me and extended his hand. Not palm-up like he wanted money, just kind of… lingering like a half-assed Nazi salute. I said ‘no gracias’ mostly because I had absolutely no idea what was going on and the day the proletariat manhandles me is the day I sell my antique rifle collection. He moved onto the next person, who immediately went for the gangster, five-part handshake this kid had been expecting from me. The next person was the same. And the next, and the next, and the next. This kid went all the way down the carriage fist-bumping, hi-fiving and practically thumb-wrestling every commuter on the train, like he was some sort of infant mafia drug lord who’d make their bloodline disappear if they didn’t oblige. I thought up this scenario simply because everyone was doing this handshake with him, but when he got to the far end of the train, he took it up a notch.

He turned round and slowly headed back toward me, arms open like Jesus on the cross, head tilted slightly to the left, palms facing upwards, and every person on the train handed him money. This wasn’t just begging; this was cult-of-personality shit, like little Gaucho over here was a faith healer who’d just made a blind man pretend to see again. He got to me, stuffed the wads of 10 peso notes into his pockets, turned, opened his hand, this time for money rather than a handshake, and I repeated, ‘no gracias’. Sorry kid, even those sorts of heroics can’t save you from my frugality.

One of the original versions of Rodin’s The Thinker

Last night I got a pay packet from my work that had been sitting around in London for a month, so we went to a famous steak restaurant – La Brigada in Palermo – to get… well, steak. I mean, there’s not much more to say other than it was a damn good steak, and about the size of my head. Combine that with a £3 bottle of Malbec and you are laughing. Would totally recommend.

Also noteworthy was a free tour of the Argentine Congress building (Congreso de la Nación Argentina) which we were looking forward to until the tour started and we realised there would be no English spoken at all. They only did Spanish-language tours, so I had absolutely no idea what was going on or what I was looking at, but hey, who doesn’t love a free tour of a random building?


One thought on “Buenos Aires: Mafia Children

  1. On the city trains and subway there is plenty of little beggars. They pretend to shake your hand (or whatever gesture) because it is instinctive to respond to them. Once the connection is established, people are more likely to give him money. Btw 10 pesos was very generous of you. Usually people give coins or a 2
    Pesos bills. Adults usually sells stuff. They hop on the carriage and start screaming “Señores pasajeros estimados,….”. The children are just poor children from the villas (favelas), not mafia.


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