Growing Older in Buenos Aires

I am in Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks. I come a few times a year to work with clients and I have a kind of love affair with the Latin energy and enthusiasm for life one can feel here. This trip I am paying particular attention to the scene from the point-of-view of getting older and my enthusiasm for this blog and our project to transform the culture of aging.

It is interesting how we always see what we are looking for. In the past, I was focused on the numbers of young, good-looking and committed ‘young people’. I was teaching at a University here and it seemed as if everyone on the streets, in the coffee shops and in restaurants were younger than I was. This trip, it looks like everyone is over 50 and many are much older than that.

What I see today is that, in the urban crush of Buenos Aires, age doesn’t seem to affect lifestyle at all. I should qualify that by saying this is very much a have/have not society and I am only seeing how the ‘haves’ seem to be living. People here “go out”…. a lot. People entertain in restaurants, dine late and walk until the wee hours, and meet for coffee someplace in the morning.

Last night, I was in a typical neighborhood restaurant that seats about 100 people. Folks of all ages (but mostly over 50) were in animated conversation as vested waiters somehow memorized everyone’s orders and served the room with extraordinary elegance and grace, never missing a beat. Half the waiters were at least 70 and moved as if they were half that age. There were family gatherings, groups of men and groups of women. Everyone was fully alive, having a heck of a great evening in the middle of the week. I walked home at midnight and passed more than a few gray-haired couples strolling through the park.

Now I am not so romantic as to think that getting older is better in one place than another. People here have their share of problems—plenty of social, political, economic problems that affect everyone— but they don’t seem to occur as problems of aging. It is almost as if age is a non-issue here for most people.

One pretty exciting example happened to me this past Sunday. I was coincidently walking next to a woman in her 80s when she was attacked by a ‘hit-and-run’ purse-snatcher. Now two years ago, I was walking with a group of younger women and the same thing happened. After that incident, we were all commiserating about “Ain’t it awful” what the world’s coming to. However, when this happened on Sunday, I was able to trip and punch the guy and he ran away without the purse. The woman was knocked down and in shock for about ten minutes before getting her bearings, and then a friend showed up to help her get home.

Now in the USA, I am pretty sure this would have become an example, some public outrage would have been expressed against those who seem to prey on old people, and there would be extra sympathy because of her age. Here, her age was never mentioned or, as far as I could see, wasn’t even thought about—even by her. She was a victim of an assault because she had a purse, not because she was old.

I know this is a kind of weird way of showing how it can look when we don’t use our age as the excuse and reason for most everything that happens, but it was kind of inspiring in a way. Her attitude and response was “Wow, what a bummer, where is a cop when you need one?”, rather than age-based self-pity that she was harmed because she was weak and frail and old. I am pretty sure she will walk the same street tomorrow and not give it a thought beyond perhaps looking both ways from time to time.

I never learned her name, but here she is right after she got back on her feet. Good for you, dear woman. Thanks for showing me courage and grace and how to take life’s hard knocks in the coming years.