Ahhh, a good night’s rest, a strong cup of coffee, Lola the Laptop at my fingertips, birds singing above me and the sound of traffic seven stories below me. It’s been almost a week since I arrived in Buenos Aires, and I’m feeling very much at home. Technically, I am.
I arrived in fog so thick I couldn’t see the tip of the wing. Our plane came in for a landing and rain drops splattered against the windows. For someone expecting “partly cloudy skies” I was a tad disappointed, but not too bothered. The last time I landed in fog that thick was when I arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport. I just remember seeing nothing but white, sometimes layers of white, and I was waiting for the plane to descend from the clouds when suddenly we felt a thud and were on the ground. I could have sworn we were about thousand feet in the air, which was a bit disconcerting. Maybe it was that half-Ambien I took (mentioned in a previous entry).
Unfortunately, it rained almost non-stop for the first 2.5 days in BA and was in the 50’s, much cooler than I expected. But my friend Shannon (who arrived at 5am the following morning) and I decided we would hit the ground running. We bought cheap umbrellas, swung by the bakery downstairs for a couple medialunas (I believe one should always have a bakery downstairs), buttoned up, and set out to tackle the first neighborhood of my VIVA Guides assignment: San Telmo.
I had it all mapped out: the order in which we’d hit three museums, a couple streets I remember as being “interesting” enough to let my restaurant radar do the picking, and I decided that I would use my psychic abilities to find the statue of a littler girl named Mafalda that I had to write 300 words about.
It was chilly. Our umbrellas were like bad boyfriends, barely protecting us from the elements and not even caring, but we managed. The streets were a little dead. It felt like most Argentines woke up, looked outside, and went “meh, I don’t feel like going to work today… So I won’t. ”
I was excited when we found the first museum, El Museo Penitenciario (the Penitentiary Museum). We both agreed it was a Penitentiary-Museum-kind-of-day. Unfortunately, the sign on the door simply said, “Closed until further notice.” Darn. OK, we thought, no biggie. Onto the next one, the Museo de Arte Moderno. Because of the rain and our flimsy umbrellas, I decided to cheat and ask someone for directions instead of pulling out my map (I love maps — I can find my way on foot ANYWHERE in ANY city).
I asked a group of security guards at one of the official-looking buildings where I could find the Museum of Modern Art. The response from a female guard, one word: “CERRADO” (“CLOSED”). I asked, “closed….For the day, or until when?” This elicited the same response: “CERRADO.” I decided to try one more time… “Yes, I understand it’s closed right now, but when will it be open?” The response this time, “el 25 de mayo.” Hmm… I leave BsAs May 7, and I know when people don’t want to chat. This woman was done answering questions. My assignment was off to a bumpy start, but Shannon and I were determined to hit another target.
We finally arrived at the next museum, and sure enough, it said “Closed today.” Why?! We still don’t know. Shannon and I looked at each other, laughed, and I just said, “Welcome to Argentina!” Hehe. It’s her first time.
Ever since the initial speed bumps, we’ve had a lot of success. The sun came out, I’ve been hitting restaurants, bars, milongas (underground tango spots), museums, parks, and ice cream shops as planned. Not gonna lie — it’s a LOT of work, but I’m enjoying the assignment because I’m learning about this city and some of its neighborhoods in a new way, becoming more familiar, becoming less familiar, all at the same time.
Yesterday, after an awesome night at La Puerta Roja, a hip and popular speakeasy-style bar (yes, with a red door) where I got to talk with one of the awesome owners (who is from New Zealand), made friends with the bartender (an Israeli), and drink with an Australian and an Argentine (speaking all in Spanish – I promise! I made that a rule!), Shannon and I decided to take it easy. I found a tea place I love, called Tea Connection, which put big smiles on both our hungover faces (the effects of making friends with a bartender). Then we wandered through the nearby park, browsed the very impressive and beautiful artisan market just down the street from my apartment in Recoleta, and ate fresh squeezed juice with candied almonds (both made in front of us) while taking in the sounds of the city. A drumming troop — 10 to 12 young Argentines pounding on drums of different sizes and shapes — gave an upbeat, pulse to the market. Groups of friends lay out in the grass, sipping bombillas of mate, playing guitar, singing, and eating fruit in the sun.
When you are in a foreign city, and all the senses are suddenly awakened — with the smell of roasting nuts, the sound of drumming, the sight of preppy, hippy, and Rastafarian locals blending with English and Portuguese-speaking tourists, the sun feeling strong and warm on your winterized skin, the orange juice tasting sweet, the aroma of smoked meat constantly mixing in the breeze — only then do you feel like you’re finally there.
I’m here — home, but far away — and with the sun shining this morning, I’m going to go finish my coffee on the terrace before another day of Buenos Aires-living swallows us up.