Travelling. Learning to dance with Buenos Aires [with photos]
Lunes Noviembre 19th, 2012
Argentina has been frustrating for me. My progress, like a Tango, forward back, forward back. A side step here and there. Argentina is the man. My body alert to his warmth. My feet react to his. I was as autonomous as the Capital. Now I’m gripped in its veins.
It feel uncomfortable. My limit is finding its edge. Will it extend further than I thought?
I realize now, I’ve been seeking something that has no place here. My eyes were blind to the spirit of the city, as I fought to feel the heartbeat of its people. Buenos Aires is holding time, clear in its intentions. ‘Follow’ it says, don’t lead.
I give in..up! It is not San Francisco. I cannot dance with Argentina whilst my heart is settled at the feet of another. It is breaking me down. Words, accents fall about my ears like the springtime violet Jacaranda blossoms. I understand little.
In the last week I have been forced into intense situations. Forced to make myself understood. I’ve used flailing hand gestures, drawing pictures in the warm air around me, eye brows frowning and raising as my eyes grapple to reach connection, plead for understanding. My apartment keys broke in my lock. Bundy, the petit, azur-eyed lady who brings me from my sleep each morning, as her broom sweeps the single path through the patch of green beside our building. Her face inscribed over the years with her goodly actions. As I implored her to understand. ‘no, key, ho llegar!‘ She let me take her hand and guide her up the stone steps to my door. I pushed the metal back and forth, rapidly in the bronze lock. ‘no entrar!‘ ‘it no work!’. A few moments of us, eager with our gestures. She took my hand. We walked from the building, down into the street. We waited as the traffic sped from right and left. The green walking man lit. I felt her move. We smiled, we shook our heads. I rose up my shoulders and showed the open sky my palms. We smiled, again. Safely across, we entered a male domain. Shelves of small boxes. Layers of dust. Bronze and silver keys and hefty locks strung all about. Five minutes of babbled conversation between a stocky guy with hair like an Irish setter, he looked back and forth. From me to her. A black briefcase was lifted to the counter. Opened. His wiry hair disappeared behind the lid. A clinking of metal. A nod of satisfaction. The lid folded. The locks thumbed in stereo. We were off again. Now three. We traversed the black and white stripes on the tarmac, as our walking time was counted down on the crossing. I smiled to my left. To my right. I lifted my shoulders laughing then drawing my hands to fists to gesture rubbing my eyes. Two arms from different bodies reached to gently pat my bare shoulders. There, there. A wordless language.
After much banging and oiling the door opens to my apartment. Sigh! Kisses and hugs all around. This doesn’t seem much of a stretch into intimacy in a country where strangers naturally greet with a planted kiss.
I fire up my computer and Google Translate lights my screen. I type ‘hero’ in English and it spits out the Spanish equivalent. He smiles. His oil stained fingers clumsily search the keys. D.U.L.C.E forms in type on the interface. I need not seek the translation to my native tongue. SWEET. We both smile. He leaves, furnished with a few $ pesos. Bundy opens her arms full width. I’m drawn in for another hug.
Two days later. After a failed and attempt to buy a bike from Craigslist Buenos Aires (bunch of chancers! selling a bike with a flat and buckled tyre), I walk thirty blocks, sticking as close to marble and stone buildings as I could, seeking shade. The Bicicleta Naranja (The Orange Bicycle) rental and city-tour tienda (store). After ten minutes of scant Spanish and a flourish of pink pesos, I’m proudly riding my clanking, rickety cruiser down the cycle lane. Happy as a clam in the ocean. The next day, I arrange to meet a friend I’ve made from the gimnasio and we take off along the park to bike the few short miles San Telmo.
San Telmo is the barrio where the tourist flock to see the legendary tango, pounded onto cobbled streets. It is heaving!
It was Sunday. All the fun happens along one long and narrow street. It is basically a HUGE street market. Mostly curios and object d’art, displayed neatly upon sheets on the floor. The buildings flanking the street are old, crumbling mixture of art deco and neo-classical splendor. Narrow entrances that stretch back for many metres. My Argentinian friend and I were particularly taken with an building such as this. The small entrance opened onto a checker board stone floor, worn from years of footsteps and probably many nights of impassioned dancing. Off it were about 20 little rooms, each one owned by
1000’s of keys that had no mate. Creepy faced antique dolls with matted hair, bottles, jars, thimbles, wooden shoe-makers blocks, and delicate hanging lace. My friend was kindly teaching me how to use my new camera. I’d been overwhelmed upon arriving in Buenos Aires. The heat, the new language, new place to bed down, shops full of everything and nothing that I recognized. Except wooden crates brimming with bright, fresh vegetables (veduras). Thankfully, these are universal, mostly. Therefore, the thought of then in addition to this, crashing on into learning how to work a camera with dials and buttons and a menu that was foreign to me, would have certainly crushed me. I snapped like fury. At anything and everything. Ten minutes alone were spent getting shot after shot of years old siphon bottles. The Argentines drink more soda than anything else according to the little flyer the market holder gave me.
I grew more and more frustrated, my trusty point and click was sadly missed. We knew each other, it did what I wanted. This new hefty beast appeared limiting.
We found a ‘natural’ restaurant along one of the side streets. It was like a human avery inside. A light filled space for people to perch. At last I had a decent meal. I was thankful for my friend who painstakingly read out every item on the menu. Satiated I practiced a little Spanish… ‘Muy rico’ I offered, with a confirmatory, universal thumbs up.
Then Argentina struck me again. I had beamed happily as we completed our walking circle, my heart skipping a little as I saw my new precious orange friend. My friend waited patiently by with her bike as I set my bag down to hunt in its cavernous space for my lock key. I hunted again. Hands feeling into every corner. I spilled the contents of my bag on to the dusty pavement. Bits of paper with fading scribbles, receipts, train tickets, purse, the comb I never use, apartment keys…but no lock key!!!
I was frantic. Aghast at the air head I’d been. What was it with me and locks in this country? Was it a sign? Oh, no! Mierda!
My curious happy glow slowly dulled as we went back to every place we’d visited. All I cared about was finding the single key, strung on the dirty orange rope. Nothing. NADA!
I carried my heavy heart back to the underground. I apologized to my friend for ‘ruining’ the day. She shook her head and replied in the softest of accents, that would have charmed a hardest of hearts…‘shit happens!’
I’m like a child, totally spent at the end of each day. I fall heavily, into bed when most Argentinian’s are going out to play. I don’t know how they do it. Clubs get ‘started’ at 3am. Their afternoon turns to evening at nine. 3 hours after we say the day is drawing to an end. At 2am, families walk the streets slurping on creamy, cold helados (ice-creams) when most Brits are tucked up in bed. Most days I have forgotten something. One day I walked out of the house to the other side of town to a cute, hipster cafe, to get some writing done and my bag contained the power lead, my camera was in there and my purse. Whoop! But the computer?! at home on the sofa in its case.
Hopefully, my head will regroup sometime soon and natural flow and competence will be resumed (with a few hundred Spanish words..the ability to read as well as a Spanish kindergarten kid, and many happy moments to look back on).
Traveling, like learning something new is not always all skittles and roses. It can be hard to adjust. The newness daunting. The pull to seek ‘sameness’ can be all too great. It takes experience to know it really is ‘all good’. When the whole picture can be viewed (enter Ms. Hindsight!).
My purse is $60 pesos for a new lock. I’m still intent on enjoying my time.