The Expat: Carlo Contini

From: Parma, Italy
Age: 36
Profession: Barman at Leopoldo
Education: Secondary school
Last book read: Gastronomy books
Last film seen: Benvenuti al nord
Gadgets: Blackberry

The cycle of living near Alicante, Spain, for several years reached its natural conclusion for Italian barman Carlo Contini and his Argentine wife in 2011, and they quickly decided to move to Argentina. Carlo, in fact, arrived on a Friday and began working at a bar in Buenos Aires the following Monday.

He says: “I’d visited lots of times over the years as I first came here on holiday in 2003 to get to know the country where my wife is from. We met in Spain while working for the same company and so we came to Buenos Aires as she wanted me to meet her family. We went to Tigre, Tandil, and some other places, then the following year I saw a bit more of the country. From then on, we always made the effort to go to different parts.

“Then after 10 years of living in Spain, she suggested that we move back here, and it was quite an easy decision as we were a bit tired of being there. She had to reach some conclusions with work so it took a bit of time to sort out plus when we did move, it was more to our benefit than not.”

Despite always seeing Argentina with rose-coloured spectacles while in holiday mode, Carlo says that the move was a healthy one.

“I always see change as positive but it’s good to have change, otherwise everything remains flat. Even from that first visit in 2003, given that I’ve always stayed for long periods of time, I’ve always felt really at home in Argentina. I don’t lack for anything and I feel good. So it wasn’t a big change. I came here with a different sense of security, as I had already bought an apartment in Buenos Aires, plus when I arrived in 2011 it was with a contract to work for a bar. I arrived on a Friday, spent the weekend unpacking suitcases, and started work on the Monday at Prado y Neptuno in Recoleta. I didn’t just come out of nowhere!”

Even though Carlo was familiar to a certain extent with the city, he didn’t dive into the public transport system immediately.

“I wasn’t very familiar with the streets so for the first three weeks, I took taxis at night. I’d finish work quite late so I preferred to do that, although I did take the subway in the day.”

Although he works in Palermo, living in Caballito works for Carlo: “It’s a proper neighbourhood, and there’s a good mixture of ethnicity. It’s not like Palermo, a trendy place. Middle-class people who work live there, people have owned the same business for years and it’s a place I like to live in, that I feel part of. I couldn’t live in the centre of Palermo, for example.”

Working as night bar manager at Prado y Neptuno from 2011 until starting a new job at Leopoldo in Palermo Botánico earlier this year, Carlo admits he doesn’t have much free time.

“Between one thing or another, I’m always doing something related to work. So when I do have some time off, I like to go the countryside to really relax. We go to Tandil when we can as some friends have a house there. I like to get out of the city. Of course, I go to bars and restaurants just like anyone else but I don’t have time to play tennis, for example.”

As a beverages professional who’s worked in several countries, Carlo has a useful outsider’s perspective when taking the pulse of Argentine drinking habits.

“Argentina is far from the habits of Europe or the US, which are a world apart. Argentina had a drinking culture 40 years ago, lost it and is now slowly starting to recuperate it. For every dry Martini I make, I’ll make 300 Fernet and Cokes. That’s the reality: Gancia batido, strawberry daiquiri and passion fruit caipiroska are very established here.

“There’s a strong lager-drinking culture, wine as well and there’s a lot of excellent wine, but distilled drinks have a way to go. Twelve years ago in Ecuador, for example, I was drinking rum and tasting different chocolate, a pairing, and that sort of thing has only just started to happen in the past year or so here. Give it a few years, though, and I think Buenos Aires could be the cocktail capital of Latin America.

“But what is happening is an important culture of drinking artisanal beer. I’ve been talking to some people who make good-quality beer, seeing how they make it and I reckon it will be like the US in 10 years — you can go to the supermarket and choose from industrial beer and 20 artisanal beers, clean and well filtered.

It needs time — it’s a young country, a republic that’s only 200 years old, and you can’t fast-forward time!

The new generation is starting to do new things, use the earth’s products, and the barman is also pushing to consume old-school drinks such as Hesperedina or Pineral, society won’t accept it as you’re not going to drink what your grandparents drank. A generation changes, a palate changes.”

Carlo maintains a mixture of Argentine and foreign friends in Buenos Aires.

“I do get together with the Italians from time to time but I also have Argentine friends whom I’ve known for years, who have even stayed with me when I lived in Spain. But we Italians don’t get together to slag off the pizza! It’s a different way of eating — Guerrín’s pizza is tasty, for example, as is El Cuartito. Sometimes pizza doesn’t use a good mozzarella and is too oily, but there’s good pizza and bad pizza.”

Although the Italian famiglia is known for its strong links and ample bosom, Carlo is completely used to being away from them.

“I left home to work when I was 19 so it’s no big deal — I’m used to it, plus I spend about a month there each year. Change is good. Argentina, for the moment, still has a good quality of life, it’s not as fast-moving or as hard to live in as other metropolises, principally the European ones. Buenos Aires is a friendly city. In Milan, for example, it’s really hard to meet people. In Buenos Aires, if you ask someone in the street for a favour, they’ll help you but they wouldn’t even look at you in Milan.

“Argentina is a country filled with immigrants, who have lived their stories without creating ghettos. The US has ghettos, France too, Milan too, even Barcelona where there are lots of Moroccans and Albanians. I don’t know many types of ethnicity there are, but everyone lives and shares space together. Buenos Aires is a very interesting city for me and everyday you learn something new. You can live well here.

“Obviously, there are some things that one might not like, such as the ‘prohibition’ on some products, but Argentine politics is basic, really. Everything else, though, adds up to making it worthwhile being here. It’s easy to make good friends, and that’s very important, and that’s why it’s easy to feel at home here. Coming from a totally different country, like Italy or the UK but you can still make friends and feel at home. That might not happen living in Berlin.”

“Still, in 10 years, I might want to move to Paris and work there, who knows? Change is good.”


Buenos Aires Herald, August 24, 2013
Ph: Mariano Fuchila

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