Sunday, April 23, 2006
Meghan Curry starts her day with a walk to the river. The former real estate agent from Denver, who is 26, holds hands with her fiance, Patricio de Vasconcellos, 31, a wavy-haired Argentine with dark eyes, as they gaze over the coffee-colored waters of the Rio de la Plata. Around midday, when de Vasconcellos heads to work at the wine shop where the two met a year ago, Curry settles into her two-bedroom apartment to work on her travel memoir and a collection of poetry. Then she might nap or head downtown for café con leche with friends at one of the city's thousands of outdoor cafes. Later, much later, it's time for a slow dinner on Buenos Aires time, where many restaurants don't open until 10 p.m.
"This," said Curry, "I could never do if I had to earn more than $6,000 a year."
Her apartment rents for $250 a month. An espresso costs about 65 cents. A restaurant dinner -- appetizers, thick steaks and wine -- costs about $25 for two. Stylish leather handbags from designer boutiques go for $20. Tickets for first-run American movies are about $3.50.
Sound good? It did to Curry, who came to the city known as B.A. in February 2005, intending to stay for a few months and learn Spanish. Once in Argentina, she fell in love with the low-stress lifestyle and with de Vasconcellos, and now plans to stay indefinitely.
Curry is one of thousands of Americans and others who have given up lives in places like Washington, Los Angeles and London in the last three years -- some permanently, some temporarily. Lured by B.A.'s high culture at low prices, this new crop of expatriates aims to pursue dream versions of themselves in the Argentine capital.
"Prague was the place in the early 1990s," said Margaret Malewski, author of the 2005 guide "GenXpat: The Young Professional's Guide to Making a Successful Life Abroad." "B.A. is the hot spot now."
American retirees who choose to settle outside the United States are still heading to established locales like Costa Rica and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and there's a solid crop of baby boomers retreating to former Eastern Bloc countries like Bulgaria and Slovakia. But right now, the under-50 set is flocking to B.A., said Roger Gallo, publisher of the expatriate Web site Escapeartist.com.
"It's a fairly sophisticated city in which people from New York, San Francisco and other large cities can find a culture with which they can identify," Gallo said. "It's got one of the great opera houses in the world, acceptable jazz, tango. It has some good restaurants and good wine."
The rush started after January 2002 with the collapse of the Argentine peso, which in 2001 was 1 to 1 with the U.S. dollar and is now roughly 3 to 1. The once-expensive city became one of the world's great bargains for visitors. Add to that B.A.'s other basic attractions: pleasant weather, an efficient mass transit system, relatively low crime and a daily English-language newspaper, the Buenos Aires Herald, that lists everything from AA meetings to tryouts for the choir of the Danish Church.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, 23,000 U.S. citizens with addresses in Buenos Aires are currently registered with the embassy. But not all are finding what they came for. Some expats are thriving despite challenges, but others looking to leave their troubles back home have found new ones here.
In Prague, the typical expat, circa 1991, might have been a 23-year-old chain smoker trying to write the next "The Sun Also Rises." But there is no typical B.A. expat in 2006. The scene is too diverse.
First, there are writers of all ages. Brie Austin, 49, of Raritan, N.J., arrived in 2002 to help ghostwrite a book. Within three days, he decided B.A. was his new home.