poster-1280For all the popularity of tango culture in Buenos Aires, it’s possible to spend time in the city without realising the extent to which an archaic music holds sway over its tourism industry. North-west of the centre, Palermo is the largest of the city’s 48 barrios, both by size (16km2) and population (225,000). However, that distinction isn’t a useful one. Palermo is divided into several smaller areas, each with its own identity. The most popular is Palermo Viejo, which over the last decade or two has been transformed from a rundown pocket of residential life into the most fashionable neighbourhood in the city.

Over the last few months in South America, a few cultural brands and trends have been hard to avoid. Coca-Cola and Visa are as omnipresent here as everywhere else. ‘Get Lucky‘ echoes from taxicab radios as often in South American towns as it (presumably still) does in London. T-shirts and cellphone cases for sale on downmarket main streets bear the airbrushed faces of One Direction. Walking around Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo after we’d moved into an apartment on its south-eastern corner, we were surprised to find that among our neighbours was the first branch of Starbucks we’d seen since leaving home.

In Palermo Viejo, few familiar labels are on display. Argentina’s prohibitive (some say protectionist) anti-importation regulations make it very difficult for retailers, and especially small-business retailers, to bring goods into the country. Even so, the fashions and trends on show and on sale here are not local but strikingly, unmistakably global: cupcakes and candles, fixed-wheel bicycles and craft beers, Sailor Jerry tattoos and itchy, scratchy moustaches. Not the same brands, at least not often (in one exception to the rule, we found Brooks saddles among the carefully curated stock at a lovely Palermo bike shop); and often very appealing stuff. But though the labels are different, the look is the same.

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This shouldn’t have surprised us. Cultural fashions have travelled widely, visibly and quickly for decades. But after nearly four months passing through towns and cities in Brazil and Uruguay that are generally much more detached from the worldwide word-of-mouth, it was startling to arrive in Palermo Viejo and be reacquainted with sights we’d all but forgotten. Essentially, to travel 13,000km from Hackney, 9,500km by plane and the rest by bike, only to find ourselves in… Hackney. Welcome home.

from Rosario, SF, Argentina