Day 4 – The city heat continues mimic a roasting oven. Unusual for this time of year I am told. A phrase not uncommon these days. A lack of breeze holds the constant plumes of vile cigarette smoke static at nose height. Urgh!
I’m beginning to be fully present in my temporary space. Day 2 I wanted to go home. I recognise this, after years of travelling, that my body likes to spit it’s dummy out of the pram, so to speak. It kicked out at having to deal with smells, sounds and sights so utterly foreign. I am sure my face wore a frown and I felt agitated and stressed from not being able to communicate. But one adapts. And fast. I have come to know that if I don’t feel comfortable in a place that all I need to do is use up some shoe rubber and go find somewhere that I do.
Day 3. I awoke and felt strangely irritated again. I not to analyse why and got on with the task of getting ready to head out. It took me ages to sort myself out. A swathe of things to remember to put in my bag, making the bed, and gathering essentials; camera, map, money, etc. Walking 30 yards up the street, cooled slightly by the spit of water from overhead air con units, a feeling just literally sank into me. I was happy. The high-rise, the dusty pot-holed streets, the constant noise, people everywhere, suddenly was not grating on my nerves. My skin adapted to the heat and opened my eyes and began to look around. And I liked it.
I headed downtown, to the worlds widest street with it’s 14 lanes of traffic. Pleased with myself at remembering my camera, my mood wasn’t dulled by omitting to put the memory card in it. I failed to be a tourist and take the obligatory snaps. So I ‘borrowed’ a shot from the inter web.
I passed along narrow streets that flank de Julio. It was dusty. Lined with small electrical shops and the ubiquitous kiosco, selling candy, sandwiches and water. It felt seedy. It WAS seedy. What appeared at a distance, to be large shards of peeling paint on street lights, upon inspection were faded square of paper with images of ‘women of the night’ offering their wares. The area wasn’t far from my appointment with Expanish. A Spanish language school that promised to deliver the basics and get me ‘shopping until dropping’ or making new friends. My excitement at mastering a smattering of greetings and being able to buy a bottle of water, reached no pitch of fever. My tutor, a long skirted girl with sun kissed skin and a rojo (red) birthmark that travelled like an estuary down her right arm, seemed preoccupied with something in her head and failed to rally the elderly American couple and my French Canadian neighbour into any attempt at dialogue or interaction. Instead we read the hand out and watched her write words on the white board. I came away exhausted, from the heat, the frantic 20mins spent walking up and down the street to find the schools entrance and 2 hours spent sweating in a class that taught me little. Apart from the fact I didn’t want to return to either the class or the area.
I took a chance at offering a local the question ‘donde esta?’ and after smiling and waving my hands a lot to show I couldn’t understand what one man was saying, followed the line where his finger was pointed and took my first ride on the SUBTE. The oldest underground in Latin America. There are only 6 lines. Not very extensive but it gets you to the places you need. After a fashion, I figured out that the entrance on one side of the street takes you East, the other side..West, North or South. $2.50 ARS (Argentine Peso) 32p! gets you where you want to go. And back to my studio with the vestige comforts of home.
My next SUBTE trip took me to Belgrano, an conclave of Chinese immigrants selling lucky charms of waving cats and cheap fashion. The internet had offered a suggestion of a visit to Casa China. An inexpensive Asian market where the meat free among us get supplies. My studio is a few blocks from the line and I take a new route each time I alight from home, so as to mind map the streets and start to build a sense of space. A camera (when you remember the SDC card!) is a handy upgrade from the crumbs dropped by Hansel and Grettle as they picked their way through the forest. I take shots of landmarks, street signs and things that catch my attention that I may want to return to later, in order to capture the route. I never refer to it but it seems to fasten my memory for when my steps are retraced. The SUBTE is a great place to sit in close proximity to static commuters and regard the cities inhabitants. My expectations of native portenos (locals) being olive skinned and with dark, thick hair are completely at odds with reality. Blonde headed, red headed. Blue eyed, brown eyed. Aquilined or soft. Tall, stocky. A country that began a long history of immigration, beginning with the Spanish in the 16th century, followed then by a succession of Italians in the 19th and a steady flow of Koreans, Chinese, Central and Eastern European cultures along with other Latin American nationals would make for quite a mix. In 1992 and 2003 alone nearly 3/4 of a million people emigrated to a country rendered a cheap place to live after the economic recession saw the value of the Argentine Peso plummet.
What else has struck me about the people of Buenos Aires, which of course is now reflection of the country at large (a city is a city, right?!) so far is their willingness to help without being asked (a man came to assist me, unprompted as I getting tangled in my map and my feet were pirouetting on the spot, in effort to decipher my location). Also, everyone appears to kiss as a way of greeting. Once, alighted on either left or right cheek. Men too. I don’t think it is just me witnessing the interplay between the largest gay population in South America. No, after a Google search I see it is customary.
I got to try this out when I headed over to the uber trendy (and not unlike San Francisco’s Mission District), barrio (neighbourhood) of Palermo. Hollywood & Soho. I was meeting with a private tutor I’d hired after ditching the ineffectual language school. My desperation to be able to shop and be understood prompted me to try again. I met with Vero, my tutor, in a hip cafe on El Salvador Avenue. www.b-blue.com.ar, run by blueberry farmers, and did as custom saw fit. The lesson was fruitful as was our little offering of gratis tapas – a tiny white plate of organico blueberries. I came away with my neural pathways tonged, stretched and grown a new with seemingly non-sensical rules about verbs and conjunctives. I wonder whether I’ll ever remember to change my ‘to be’ when speaking about something permanent or temporary?!! I’ve planned daily meets with Vero from http://estudioverba.tumblr.com to see what magic she can perform with my memory for Spanish.
I think my self pep talk a couple of days ago has payed off. Instead of wanting to know, do , see, have everything immediately I’m travelling slow. If you have time to let life unfold somewhere new this is how I suggest you go about it. Once I calm down and remember to do so, it always works.
Buy a notepad or two. I have one for my food notes (I write a food blog at http://www.aveganobsession.com). Brain dump the list of things you want to do or achieve in your time. Be general and then get specific. Trust me, with only a small effort these activities/desires will come into being in their own sweet time.
Be realistic. Instead of wanting everything NOW. Choose a handful of main sightseeing trips or goals that you want to achieve over your time. If you do one a day, then you are doing well. Remember, experiences take time to absorb and a vice like grip can hold back serendipity when it visits.
take time out every day. Go to a park or a quiet church or cafe and just be. Meditate. Run or do yoga. Zoning out is paramount in your slow travel.
My point and click has some pics to show you. I’m off to the gym (gimnasio) up the street to take full advantage of a 3 day trial. The staff are super friendly, the equipment a little old and the ac is ineffectual (who knew I could sweat so much!), but I like it.
Use your camera as an aide memoir to help you remember landmarks for finding your way, useful places you may want to visit another time. If learning a new language photograph words or signs you may want to look up later. Particularly useful for food labels if you have a special diet. You can insert the list of ingredients in Google Translate and work out if they are suitable.
Get a map. Plot the museums, places of interest, restaurants and cafes you hope to visit. This way you can easily see where to eat in the area you are visiting and if there are activities close by.
At some point – in the fullness of time- I shall learn how to use the new dslr I brought with me. At present it sits unobserved like Shrodingers cat, until the moment I deem it time to take it out and learn to use it. I cannot do this a moment before time else all this new information I am gathering every day may tip me over the edge. Slow Travel!
Ah, I have forgotten the joys of uploading photographs in WordPress. Frustration and little control. I hope to find a way to offer better shots. It is random and unnavigable! Stick with me.