Buenos Aires is not an aptly named city. As soon as your plane lands, the "New York of South America" hands you a fine film on your lungs and a halo of smog, like getting lei'd on Oahu. The grime follows you around (save for brief respites if you can get to a Palermo park) and relentlessly reminds you that you are trading being clean for being in a place that is always alive. Last weekend, the two of us welcomed with open arms the rolling clouds of a three-day storm that blanketed the city with cool rain, kept us up at night with pounding thunder and brought lightning that criss-crossed the sky with astonishing frequency. We put on our jackets and happily took advantage of an October weekend that felt like home (except that people don't have rain gear here. They still wear their pretty clothes and just carry an umbrella).
You always expect to be happy when travelling, but sometimes dirt wears you out before you're ready. And other times, an endless summer storm comes along and makes you feel peaceful again.
Other things that have cleared the smog the first two weeks:
- Last Thursday, I found myself at a tiny restaurant eating pancetta out of a pumpkin and discussing politics and religion with a bilingual socialist revolutionary. I met Diego at Cafe Victoria (this is the view, which I will never cease to be delighted with) and we met up for coffee/dinner not long after. Diego is a fascinating character with the energy of a kindergartner and the drive of Eugene Debs, who went from being "a Christian militant to an atheist" because he couldn't justify the world he saw with the world Christianity presupposes (I'll have to write about that conversation another day). As we chatted in the corner of the tiny restaurant, a pinstriped and graying man walked in with a gorgeous blonde and belted out a perfect note, which was promptly matched from behind the bar by a dusky voiced woman with long hair and a massive grin. The warmup notes then turned into a full-fledged tango show for a restaurant that was empty... besides us. My Malbec swirled in the glass, the music filled in the cracks between the bricks, and I realized again what a lucky girl I am. "Para ella!" the woman called out, gesturing to me, la americana, and the guitarrista struck up a folk song to wrap up. Yep, nights like this are how I can justify quitting my job...
- Marlo and I got cool again when we stayed out till 9 am. No one needs to know that it was an accident, or how excited we got when we left the party to discover a light sky. Our throats scratchy from smoking hookah, our ears ringing from the Colombian band that changed our lives, we got so energized from our all-nighter that we dragged Martin across the city on foot to go see the Floralis. GREAT PLAN, ladies. We were so tired by the time we got there that we had to taxi home. So much for being 19 again.
- I was wandering the side streets in San Telmo for some quality time with my camera when I glanced up and got a wave from a guy standing on his front porch, a wrought-iron jut peeking out of a wall full of flowers. It was such a beautiful building but I was too shy to take his picture, so I just grinned and kept walking. Halfway up the next block, I heard someone calling to me so I turned around to see the same fellow jogging towards me. Picture a young, Argentine version of Cosmo Kramer and we are on the same page with Esteban. He ended up walking me back to my neighborhood (don't worry ya'll, we took main streets to avoid creepstering) and I was pleased to finally meet someone who didn't speak English. For a mile or so, we had the most pleasant, unexpected chat about the relative merits of working vs. travelling ("Pero no tiene ritmo!"--"Without work, there's no rhythm to life!"). I told him how much I loved the architecture in the city right when we hit a block surrounded by bland, terrible apartments, and we laughed at how 1970s architecture was nothing to write home about. "But it's also a sad city," he explained. "All of our beautiful buildings are just imitations of the same ones in Europe; we are always trying to copy other people." How nice it was, to take a walk and have a chat with someone I'd never met before and would never meet again, and not worry about places to be or time to be spent doing other things.
Another week and a half left in this massive city of dirt, and I can't wait to see what little storms await us next.