Lives: Bajo Belgrano
Education: Modern languages at University of Oxford
Profession: Private equity fund manager
Book: Brazil by Michael Reid
Film: Guardians of the Galaxy
Gadget: My whip
After two decades working in the City of London, Brit Brian Wright decided to take some time out. Although leaving Blighty on a long-term basis wasn’t the original intention, five years on he’s studying at university and has a fledgling showjumping career.
Brian says: “I came to Argentina in 2005 on the way to Patagonia to go trekking. I went to Punta Arenas in Chile but had a few days dipping into BA, staying three nights at the Faena. I thought that’s what Buenos Aires was!
“But fast-forward four years and after 20 years of the London rat race I decided it was time for a change and a new challenge. I had already lived in New York, Berlin and Paris, and was ready for a more exotic destination. Those three days had been enough to whet my appetite!”
It certainly was sufficient, given that the private equity fund manager decided to dip back but for a bit longer than 72 hours with the intention of signing up for language classes. But inevitably the Buenos Aires bug caught him, and five years later Brian can call the city home.
‘Just one month’
He adds: “The intention was to come for a one month’s Spanish course but fortunately Argentina operates a very friendly visa policy, so almost by accident I found one month becoming three months and three months becoming six. And that was five years ago, which have zipped by. The next step after my temporary residencies is to apply for permanent residency.
“Essentially there were three ideas about coming here: to learn a new language, experience a new culture and learn to ride a horse. So I came here in March 2009 with the ability to order a café con leche or two beers. Of course, I immediately had to enrol in Spanish school and quickly found I had a broad group of Brazilian friends.
“Then, I became a member of the Club Hípico Argentino and got on a horse for the first time at the age of 41. I realized that at that age I had limited possibilities of winning a gold medal in the Olympics – the options were shooting or showjumping – and as I’m a dreadful shot, it came down to horses. But as it turns out, I have little talent for riding either. However, I do have a very understanding horse and a very talented teacher, Alvaro Albaracín. And now I have a great group of friends with a common interest.
“And while it sounds like a mid-life crisis, it really wasn’t as I didn’t drop my job or dreadlock my hair – I just wanted a change.”
Riddles and mysteries
As time slipped by, Brian realized that he needed a different linguistic challenge, so he enrolled at university. “Spanish was proving harder to master than I thought, but equally I’d run out of steam to go to school. I needed to continue learning in an informal environment and I wanted something that allowed me to dig deeper into the mysteries of the Argentine psyche. When Churchill said ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’ he was talking about Russia, but the same applies to Argentine politics. So I am trying to decipher that riddle with a masters in political science at Di Tella University, which as it turns out is the top school in this field in Latin America. And I got in! This was my third new departure in as many years and all I can say is thank God my professors are as patient as my horse!
“And throughout all this change there has been one constant – the President’s publicity machine tells me the Argentines are good people. And one in particular is. I was lucky enough to meet someone a few days within a few days of arriving in Buenos Aires and we’ve been together ever since.
“It’s thanks to Aitor that I have a solid grounding in Argentine popular culture. Not only have I been taken to see Charly García and know Susana Giménez’s real age, I now understand why we had to travel so far from the city to see El Indio Solari.
“We live together in Bajo Belgrano, a stone’s throw from the River Plate football stadium, which I hasten to add doesn’t make me a River supporter. It’s a quiet, nay boring, pocket of suburban middle-class stability, which thank goodness is only a 15-minute bus ride from the theatres, restaurants and buzz for which Buenos Aires is world-renowned. I can’t lie, those are some of the reasons for coming here in the first place.”
Leaps and bounds
On a day-to-day basis Brian divides his time between the riding-ring and cooking the books. He says: “After all the big changes in recent years, life has settled down to a very comfortable, some might even say, boring rhythm centred around the horses whose routine dictates mine. They have to be exercised six days a week – they get Mondays off like all horses do around the world – and so I go to the club. And I participate in competitions every weekend, either in the capital or in the province.
“When I started, my competition used to be 12-year-old girls. Not many had taken up the sport in their early 40s. So I’m pleased to report that after numerous thrills and spills and bruises, I now compete against 14-year-old girls. And on occasion I manage to win a rosette. I placed third, last Saturday! It was very exciting.
“The highlight of my career thus far was winning a 50-peso gift voucher to spend at the club shop. Unfortunately the cheapest item was 150 pesos. I won’t be making my fortune in this sport.
“And of course the great benefit of the horse riding and the political sciences is that I almost immediately found myself up to my neck in locals, rather than finding myself isolated in the ghetto of expat culture. It not only meant that my Spanish had to – and did – improve rapidly but it also meant I quickly met a group of people who I am very lucky to call my good friends today.”
Given that Brian has lived around the world, he doesn’t pine too much about the motherland, and of course he happily shares Argentina with his visitors.
He says: “I don’t miss much about the UK – after all, it’s easy to go back and forth. The UK is only an overnight flight away. You go to sleep at Ezeiza and wake up at Heathrow the following day and I’m home. You’d think I’d say I miss my friends and family but the journey is as easy for them. My parents have visited twice, during which time we’ve explored the north and the south and they’ll be here in February and we will check out the middle.
“At school in the UK we learned that Argentina is vast pampas, cows and gauchos but it turns out there is everything in this enormous country. Take the Andes. Those are best viewed through a glass of red wine sitting in a vineyard in Mendoza while guanacos frolick happily across the Patagonian tundra. To my shame I have to admit that while I have sent all my friends and family to the Iguazú falls, I myself have yet to go further north than Rosario. It’s still on my bucket list along with meeting Lionel Messi and Mirta Legrand and spying an elusive, some would say extinct, true inflation number.”
Brian has adapted one particular Argentine characteristic over the years, but in a four-wheeled driving-seat rather than a four-legged one. He says: “I’d cite my driving as proof that I have not only adapted but integrated fully into life in Argentina. I haven’t used an indicator in four years but like all good drivers here, compensate with my hazard warning lights, supplemented by extensive use of the horn while waiting in toll-booth queues. I don’t think it gets more Argentine than that.”
Buenos Aires Herald, August 16, 2014
Ph: Diego Kovacic