Located in the heart of Microcentro, Florida Street is considered by most trusty guidebooks to be the main Buenos Aires shopping district, where some of the most successful businesses operate, the true center of the city itself. Giving an impression on paper not unlike that of Times Square, they paint an enticing, colorful picture of the pedestrian street as a must-see, must-do for the true Porteño experience. What these books fail to tell you is that while Florida Street is indeed a center of Argentine commerce, the business to be done and the money to be made is mostly of ill repute.
Exiting the dark, muggy Catedral subway station into the light of day, the true aura of Florida Street can only be experienced once you begin to walk the twelve or so tiled blocks. It is not long before you become aware that this, indeed, a quintessential tourist trap, the kind that tourists are warned about in “Lonely Planet.” Perhaps it is spotting the scores of dirty beggars, street children, and sometimes pickpockets roaming the streets, or maybe it is the numerous rectangles of paper easily spotted throughout, boasting the 24/7 services of prostitutes for just “75 besos.” In any case, it becomes strikingly in a short time apparent that Florida Street is no place to live.
Yet that was exactly where I lived for nineteen long months.
Finding a place to live in Buenos Aires was by far one of the the greatest challenges that I had to undergo in my rite of passage towards becoming a porteña for many reasons. Navigating the new, unfamiliar rental system back in 2009 without a garantia in place was quite the endeavour, but what choice did I have? Using my elementary level of Spanish, I scoured real estate websites, pitifully attempting to translate and decipher the meaning out of the advertisements. I ultimately got in touch directly with the owner of an apartment on Florida Street via the well-known website, SoloDuenos.com.
After moving my three suitcases worth of personal possessions into the 27 square meter studio apartment, my Floriderrific adventure had begun!
My honeymoon with Florida Street was over before I had even had the chance to stock my mini-bar sized fridge in my powder blue carpeted kitchen. This was due, in part, to the sudden realization that, though living on this street may be a dream for those with large quantities of disposable income for overpriced leather jackets, there wasn’t a single supermarket or even mercado chino to be found. Crap.
Okay, problem one: No supermarkets whatsoever within a 15+ block radius.
Problem two: The prostitutes and cross-dressers.
Apparently, Florida Street is just one long ho stroll, with everyone trying to make an extra peso. The photograph below is a crossdresser who would belt (you couldn’t really call it singing) the lyrics to “Hound Dog.” It was always “Hound Dog.” Incidentally, his/her outfits seemed to get shorter and skimpier each time I saw him/her. *Shudder*
Problem three: The manteros. Not so long ago, before their presence was deemed illegal, Florida Street was also plagued with another quandary, the manteros. Manteros earned their names from the Spanish word, “manta,” meaning “blanket,” from the broad, heavy canvas blankets that they spread out in the middle of the pedestrian walkway, stretching the length of nearly all of Florida Street. Furthermore, they earned their sketchy reputation from the cheap wares that they hawked on these blankets. These goods mostly included plastic toys cheaply made in China (like the tomate loco), knock off perfumes, and occasionally brightly-colored handmade scarves and the like. The sellers came mostly from the poorer provinces of Argentina or from neighboring Peru, Bolivia, or Paraguay. While it was occasionally possible to save a couple of pesos when haggling with these boldly pushy vendors in the short term, they caused more headaches and problems than they were worth in the long run.
Other memories (or at least an epithet for “what could not be unseen burned into my retinas”) from Florida Street included:
Arbolitos, standing around conspicuously by the droves on each passing block. There, they would call out, screech, or drone their arbolito catchphrase, “Cambio! Casa de cambio! Dolares, Euros, Reales, Cambio!” In the nineteen months that I lived there, three different ones asked me out on a date.
The heavy rains following humid summer afternoons that brought relief to the entire city, and Florida Street was no exception. Except that walking on the loose tiles that covered the street would often result in rancid, dark water splashing out between the cracks, getting on the tops of my shoes or dirtying my feet. There was also the time a homeless man on one block decided to proudly strut around after one such rain with his pants at his ankles.
And, of course, there were the panpipers hawking cheaply made recordings on CDs. One one hand, I have to admit that the panpipes are indeed capable of creating lovely, soothing tunes that hint of their culture in some exotic, far-away land. But when they play the panpipe version of “My Heart Will Go On” for the six millionth time, it mostly makes me want to fall down to the ground in an epileptic fit.
Every so often, nostalgia hits me (that, or an inevitable errand that can only be done downtown) and I wind up visiting my old ‘hood. But this now time, thankfully, I don’t have to retreat back into my shabby Florida Street apartment at the end of the day. Forget the nineteen months that I lived there, nowadays, I can hardly spend nineteen minutes there without wanting to leave… Call me crazy, but Florida Street has lost its charm. Or maybe I’m just getting old and cynical 😛
… No, that’s impossible.