I spent Paris mornings running up Avenue de la Grand Armee. At the Arc de Triomphe I shot down another boulevard before looping back to the hotel. Each night I had a new favorite arrondissement. Victor Hugo. Trocadero. Bastille. Chairs turned out at these plazas made for endless hours of world watching. Le Jardin du Luxembourg. Champ de Mars. Jardin des Tuiliries. The Eiffel Tower and Louvre were backdrops to an afternoon of drinking wine, not places to wait in a line. I didn’t see Paris, I became Paris. Each evening, a short walk along the grand Haussmann architecture was all it took to leave the day behind. Surrounded by thousands I operated in my own dimension.
Public escape...that's my Paris. Hoping to rekindle public escape I headed to Buenos Aires which since the late 20th Century has been marketed as The Paris of South America.
In Buenos Aires I expected to drink cappuccinos on crowded plazas, wine in public parks. That's not Buenos Aires. Plazas Serrano and Dorrego are not Trocadero or Bastille. I did not mistake Avenue 9 de Julio for the Champs Élysées. Buenos Aires is cosmopolitan, there are wide boulevards, it's fashionable and trendy. It feels European...it does not feel like Paris. There was no public escape.
Buenos Aires fell way below initial expectations. I commiserated at El Hipopotamo a dark, mahogany lined bar with limited views of Parque Lezama across the street. In Paris chairs were outside under a blue sky. In Buenos Aires barely a sliver of the afternoon sun shined on the sidewalk outside. Peanuts. Quilmes. Wooden chair at a wooden table with no one else around.
Where was I? Buenos Aires? I slowly eased into private escape. Instead of being surrounded by thousands, I was surrounded by few. The sensation of escape was the same; the path different. Instead of escaping in the greenery of a public park I escaped in the private confines of an old cafe. My views of Buenos Aires started to change. I slipped into my own dimension.
My initial dismal impression was an expectation gap between my preconceived notions of how I thought Buenos Aires should be, based upon marketing, and my individual experience. I preconceived Paris. I received Buenos Aires. I viewed Buenos Aires through what it lacked relative to Paris, not on the city's individual merits. I looked for something specific, something familiar. Something that I wanted to see.
I spent ten days in Buenos Aires and it was in the final days that my views of the city changed. Disappointment of non-Paris, no public escape turned to enjoyment of Buenos Aires and private escape. Instead of plazas I searched for bares notables, the city’s historical drinking and dining establishments. Every neighborhood had it’s own El Hipopotamo and my days were filled walking from one to another.
There are three outcomes to expectations - exceed, equal, or below. How I evaluate results is often influenced by the gap between my preconceived expectations and actual experience. Lower expectations allow for greater potential to exceed; impractically high expectations may draw an unfavorable conclusion on an otherwise strong performance. Both situations distort the evaluation.
The initial prognosis to the expectation gap issue seems simple...keep an open mind, don't develop expectations. This belies the obvious...there's a reason activites are engaged and travel locations are selected. Short notice and no planning reduce the time to develop expectations, however, this approach is not a panacea. Rather than run from expectations it’s better to understand their creation.
Expectations are a product of your total environment. You control the data inputs, the amount, and their source. Be critical of the input values, the ranking and weight, and adjust. It's not about eliminating expectations. It’s about creating more by using an open mind to perpetuate the process. Continually compare, contrast, and evaluate. Consider and vary the sources from which expectations arise. Gather more data inputs. No conclusion is complete. No experience is final. There’s no limit to Buenos Aires’ inputs, certainly not a singular analysis calling the city The Paris of South America.
Alternatively what if I did find Paris during my initial days? What if La Boca’s grittiness reminded me of Paris’ outer arrondissements? A beer at Plaza Serrano was a beer at Bastille? Do strong expectations blind reality? Does the mind subconsciously filter images and experiences to see what it wants instead of what it should?
There’s danger in seeing what you want and failing to recognize that an expectation became a filtered reality. Just as expectations should comprise multiple inputs and sources so should actual experiences. Thoughts should be both consciously and unconsciously independent of expectations. New experiences shouldn’t cease simply because the current reality matches the preconceived expectations. There should be a continuous flow of new experiences from multiple perspectives under varying conditions.
If travel has any benefits over other activities it’s that there is a higher frequency of experiences and stimulants. There’s a steadier stream of analysis. Conclusions are flexible and quickly change. There’s less of a gap between an initial and a subsequent perspective. There’s a larger safety net to try something new, vary the conditions, and try again. Even then individual experiences may vary from the group collective. Buenos Aires supposedly has great pizza. My first attempt - bad. My second attempt - worse. My third attempt at a reknown location - worst. I ran out of days for a fourth attempt. My conclusion isn’t that Buenos Aires has bad or overrated pizza; it’s that the places I ate were bad.
I select a place to visit. I develop expectations from various sources. I independently evaluate the results from multiple angles and conditions. I repeat as often as possible.