Porteño Corner: Ester Vanda Marini, Natural Products Shop Owner

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Ester Vanda Marini
Owner, Arte Naturale/author/massage therapist
Age: 43
San Telmo

Q: You’re Italian. How did you end up in Buenos Aires?

I came when I was traveling around South America around five years ago. I wanted to see Chile. I passed through the dessert and was in Chiloe and I had an Italian friend living here. I was tired of traveling, so I came to visit and stayed here a while and I started dancing tango, I liked it. I met a guy and then I ended up pregnant, which was the last thing I was expecting at 40 years old, so I decided I’ll stay here for a while. We lived together for two years and now I’m already single again!

• And how did you end up operating this store?

My son started school and I got to know Leandro who owns this property and I had wanted to set up a place like this. He had other projects going, so I took over the store beginning in March.

• Did you rename the store or change anything since you’ve taken over the business?

Previously the store was called ‘Arte Natural’ but I just added an ‘e’ at the end, so now it’s called ‘Arte Naturale,’ which is how you would write it in Italian, so I just made a little biddy change.

• Where did you live in Italy, had you ever lived in a big city?

I’m from a small town called Fasano (BR) but I lived in Milán a few years before. I didn’t like it too much. There’s no sun there and the people are a bit aloof and stressed out. To see a friend you have to make an appointment like a month in advance.

So Buenos Aires is the biggest city I’ve lived in but I like San Telmo because it’s like a little pueblo. You see your neighbors, you can go to the butcher shop and they know you. The people are warm around here. I like the south side of the city, I suppose since I’m a girl from the south myself. Actually, from seeing Buenos Aires on the map, I had thought that it would have the sea nearby but then I got here and realized the beach is like 200 kilometers away!

• How is business going here?

It’s pretty good, people seem to like the store. There’s no place else to get all these natural products in San Telmo. There are places that may only have imported products, which are very expensive, or those who only have national products but I try to have a wide array of brands here.

• Who are the customers here?

Mostly people from the neighborhood and there’s some foreigners and kids from the university nearby. And on Sundays it’s a free for all – we get people from everywhere, especially a lot of Brazilians.

• Where does your son go to school?

He goes to the private kindergarten. This is one complaint I do have, that there was no space available in the public school, so I have to send him to a private kindergarten that costs AR$300 per month, and that’s with a city government subsidy. Some people pay AR2,000 per month.

• What do you think of Argentine–style Italian food?

I always say that everything in Buenos Aires is like a copy of Italy. It’s similar, but not exactly quite right. The dough of the pizza is definitely different and in Italy we don’t put olives on the pizza, that changes the flavor. The fresh pasta is very good though and you can find all the products you need to make Italian food such as olive oil, so the general idea is there.

• And the coffee?

The coffee is weak for an Italian. We like coffee that will give you a heart attack. But the coffee here is good quality. They use sugar to roast it, which we don’t do so I go to a little place here to buy the good stuff and make it at home. In the end it goes further, so it’s worth it.

• What’s the best Italian restaurant you’ve found in Buenos Aires?

Well, I don’t go specifically looking for Italian food, but Filo I liked — it has a good variety.

I’ve started eating meat as well. I was a vegetarian for many years and I got malaria after living in Guinea, Africa and started eating meat again for the iron. I don’t love it, I’m more of a fish person but I’ll eat it a couple of times a week. It is Argentina and it’s the best in the world, so I’m pretty adaptable.

• They say that Argentines are Italians that speak Spanish, what do you think?

That’s true. For instance the vocabulary of lunfardo sounds to me like the dialect of my village. There are a lot of words that are the same, such as ‘mina’ (mine/female). The way they say ‘toalla’ (towel) is the same. They talk with their hands a lot and the way they complain is a lot like southern Italians. They have all the customs of Italians. But the thing about the partying, going out and getting drunk comes from the Spanish — Italians are a bit more serious.