You’ve just finished 24 hours of sleepless travel from the US, and spent two hours clearing customs and immigration. Now, get in the shuttle service from Ezeiza airport and sit back, because there might be a little traffic to wade through on the drive in to the city.
We’ll pass the gas stations right on the median and off-ramps of the expressway, the gargantuan red brick apartments in the poorer part of the city, and finally swing onto the freeway that is the border of the Capital Federal (Federal Capital district), a nearly circular expanse packed tight with people, skyscrapers, shops, kiosks and jacaranda trees.
We’re making our way to an apartment bordering the Rio de la Plata. It’s right in between two of the biggest, greenest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires: Belgrano and Palermo. We’ll pass over cobblestone streets, down long avenues with leafy parks in the medians, and through tunnels created by the old-growth trees overhead.
We’ll take in some of the broken sidewalks, the graffiti everywhere—some like art, some simply scrawls—and the crazy jockeying of cars, buses, taxis and pedestrians.
It’s hot. Summertime here, about eighty-five degrees and humid. Just when you think you will not be able to stand being dressed for winter any more, the van pulls up in front of the apartment building—your new home.
It’s fronted in granite, sleek and modern, and probably built in the ‘60s or ‘70s. The 24-hour doorman opens the front door for you and helps bring the luggage (which seemed minimalist before you schlepped it through three airports) inside. There’s an older elevator—pretty standard here: a regular looking door with a handle that you open to reveal a grate and a 3×3 space. It will take several trips up and down to get luggage, adults, and kids upstairs.
The apartment is huge by Argentine standards. I feel slightly embarrassed for having so much space. It’s three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, and a huge front room. It’s shaped like a hollow square.
Along the northern half is the front room and the balcony over the busy street. It has couches, a dining table, and a long expanse of windows facing the street. There’s a beautiful cabinet painted with roses that will soon store princess costumes and tiaras. It closes with a decorative key out of a fairy tale.
On the western edge is the long, narrow kitchen, laundry area, and a small utility room and half bath. You’ll want to put on the kettle to get some caffeine ready for your aching head.
The extra door you see is a back door, exiting to a curling staircase and a service elevator. You wonder where those dark winding stairs lead.
Along the south edge are the three bedrooms—all with wonderful ceiling fans, one with a/c. Each has storage cunningly built into the wall: shelves, drawers, and hanging space—more than enough for your possessions.
The eastern part of the apartment has the two full baths and the elevator entrance, which is private for the apartment. The privacy and quiet feels luxurious, but also unexpected. We’d imagined talking to our neighbors on the same floor—but it looks like we’ll only be seeing the doorman as we come in and out of our building.
In the hollow center run the elevators—sometimes you can hear porteños chatting as they ride past on their way downstairs.
The apartment is perfect for us. It’s quite luxurious by anyone’s standards—to have a/c in a hot city and ceiling fans? More rooms than we know what to do with? Yet it’s not so pristine that our kids can’t paint on the table and lounge on the couches. It looks like people have lived in it. The fixtures: cabinets, oven, even the little kettle and the pots and pans look like those I’ve seen in nearly every Argentine house—not the recently-remodeled perfection we saw in some of the rentals we considered. The locks are all fit an old-fashioned looking skeleton key.
The water takes a long time to run hot, and we have WiFi. We’re on a terrifically private floor, fronting one of the busiest streets in the neighborhood. We’re at home—thousands of miles away from our families.
As we unpack and settle into these ample rooms, we’re nervous, thinking of the months of living we have to do. I’ve been here before, but that only makes it a little less daunting. We will have to get to know all of the collectivo (public bus) routes in the barrio. Where the shopping and restaurants are. How to get to friends. How to find a prepaid cell. How to get a transit card, use the washing machine, and get a pizza delivered.
It’s a blessing to be here. It’s an adventure. And it’s also very, very overwhelming.
I was planning to have more pictures to include here, but our Internet went out a few days ago and won’t be up again until at least Wednessday. I’m at a cafe getting this post ready, and have only so much time 🙂 So I’m making do with the ones I took already.