In an accidental city: Buenos Aires, July 28, 2:25 am.
How do you live a city through the heart of an academic?
A city becomes an accidental memory. You meet a stranger, espouse her mind, and enfold your’s in her. Those momentary glimpses of accidental truths over wines and beers, through lights and shades with some surreal music in the background, at the corner bar and at an unknown neighbourhood’s sidewalk, at cafes ignoring the bustling city intersection and in the hallways of a conference, make you get to know that mind – nervous and yet intrepid. You kiss that soul you will open yourself to, unexpectedly and unreservedly.
Buenos Aires is a city of soul, its subtle myth– overtold in the pages of travel guide and history, its poor souls scraping food from garbage bins when the city sleeps, in ordinary souls and their weary, bland and dreamy eyes in colorful subways and on streets, in their colonial architectures and in their obstinate pride, and a language that shrouds the soul in a mysterious distance, I witnessed it.
Its café culture, architecture, gastronomic sensibilities and mundane life are a weird mix of local heritage and colonial history. I met locals who told me the scary stories of kidnappings, mugging and insecurity and yet, I met random individuals who helped me when I was stranded in this big city late at night in empty streets. Taxi cabs that I was always scared to use and yet, when I used one, had interesting conversation with the driver that was barely communicative due to language barrier: Sí Señor, Sí! Sí! Sí!!!
At beautiful Puerto Modero, I conversed with my friend beyond what is personal and surreptitious. At the corner street bar of San Telmo, we had silence among us that was relishing, during hours of walking in and through the city’s hundreds of alleys on paper maps and real concrete curves, we discovered the city with sudden sculptures that became the most loving memory.
If you travel to Buenos Aires, be bold and take it as your own. It may be less than your expectation and yet, your eyes can discover its true beauty.
That’s it for my last entry as the days and nights were lovingly personal for me here. Enjoy my pictures and even though Borges had written, “Hard to believe Buenos Aires had any beginning, I feel it to be as eternal as air and water”, I will remember it for its beauty and imperfection, and of course for its beginning and end like many other beautiful cities on this earth.
I.felt.lonely.today :: Serious Language Barrier (July 23, 12:03 am)
There are positive and negative sides of being a lonesome tourist in a country where you have serious language barrier. You not only feel lonely because you seldom could talk but also you fail to make a connection with the lives of the city, what they do, how they do and what they feel. Its difficult for a person like me who likes to know people around him and their lives, doesn’t matter whether they are janitors working in your building or the changing faces you buy your daily coffee from. I.was.lonely.today.
BUT the positive side is you get to study the inanimate city with much more attention, its architectures, graffiti, and its gastronomic sensibilities. Even though I worked a bit today, I explored a lot too.
First, Buenos Aires has great café culture, local corner cafes in San Telmo’s alleys are amazing, I have yet to relish them. Today, I tried two cafes that are popular for tourists, Café Tortoni, the oldest café in the city since 1858, and café Havana in Plaza Dorrego. I went their and spent a few hours to do some work and enjoy my cappuccino.
Second, I went to this local (may not be one of those expensive tourist spots) restaurant for steak, recommended by one of the receptionists at the hostel. I searched almost an hour for this place and was adamant that I would not give up. Finally I found it and was every bit worth it! The steak was HUGE!! I tipped 15% to the waitress (my own experience told me she was a hard worker) and she almost hugged me out of joy. I recommend everyone to check this place. I was reading Borges’ non-fiction and one of the waiters probably found it quite unusual as I was the only person alone and reading while having steak and wine that he came and checked the book. He was funny, he would cut the steak on customer’s plate and even tried to feed one of the pretty ladies there!!
Finally, took a long walk in the noon and evening to check out graffitis and architectures of San Telmo. The graffiti’s style vary greatly, so as their messages. Even I found one cubism in graphite!
Neoclassical architecture in Buenos Aires is everywhere. The National Congress building is full of Roman arches, the national bank’s headquarter has Roman columns, old dilapidated houses has lattices and even Spanish influence too is evident, influence of Cordoba’s architectural landscape such as use of palm tree and shades on top of arch-shaped balcony.
Tough Love From Buenos Aires & I’m loving it! (July 22, 12:45 am)
Guess what! My bag’s got rerouted back to Sao Paolo. I hope it arrives tomorrow. I wish I could sleep commando tonight but it’s an 8 person bedroom in the hostel. Don’t feel like keep wearing this clothes anymore! 😦
But the most acute observation is, boy! Bangladeshi passport is a rarity in Argentina! Seriously!! At the customs, when the officer asked for my passport, I bet there were at least 40 people behind me in the queue. By the time the custom’s officer finished dealing with me, there was no one left. He had to consult two other colleagues, calling them intermittently ‘Hey Lucho!….. Hey Maria!….’ With his unkempt scratchy beard and big grey moustache, his looks through those thick glasses only got more confusing by every minute looking at my passport and Canada’s PR card! It appeared that he even couldn’t figure out that Argentine visa on my passport. No wonder, Argentina’s visa is like a bland seal, barely readable, unlike sleek visa stickers of most other countries! Looking at the visa, his muddled voice was like… “Consular…Consular…eeeey….Toronto?!!…..oooooh! Argentina consulate in Toronto!!” Phew! that was his EUREKA moment!!
So was the expression at Banko Nationale at the airport where I went to exchange US dollar for Peso! Both officers looked at my passport like it’s a Disney ticket they never saw!! And guess what, a third officer joined, showing and laughing about two girls’ photo on his iPhone and the distraction caused further delay!
The officer at the baggage claim was kind and patient though; very apologetic that his English was broken, which made me apologize more for not knowing Spanish!
Getting out the airport, the city felt darker, reminded me back in old days when Dhaka was emptier! I took a bold look as if I know the city. A guy (I promise he looks like Platini) with his family from Rio confirmed that I’m at the right bus stop. The buses are a little sturdier than Bangladesh’s BRTC. A drunk guy got into the bus and kept asking for a free ride, boy! He just looked like Maradona :p
When I got off after like 25 minutes ride, the street was empty, it was 11:30pm. A girl, I felt safe to talk to, helped me out with the direction. It was eerily empty with groups of guys around the corners. I just walked straight ahead with a look its my city. I think my high school Asif just came out! Felt like I was in a familiar developing country. Two street cleaners (read online they are poor but safe) also helped me out with the direction.
I’m at Puerto Limo now, a beautiful receptionist and I kept her busy with thousands of my questions 😉 I was so thirsty that I drank water from tap first and asked her after if tap water was okay :p
Tomorrow is a busy day and surely it will start with a few hours work at a nice café!
At Sao Paolo, Stranded and Apologetic! (21 July, 3:21 pm)
The pictures here show a crude juxtaposition of the concrete maze of Sao Paolo and the surrounding nature. The landscape of Brazil is intriguing, the greenery is lacerated by abrupt bumps of cliffs and the beautiful clouds were like bleached flames above them.
My flight was late and Sao Paolo airport is just annoyingly big. It takes at least 10 minutes to walk from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2. By the time I reached to my terminal for connecting flight, the plane already left! And I felt stranded as no security officials could initially help me out due to language barrier. I kept running back and forth from one gate to another. After over 40 minutes, and going through 4 security checks (unnecessarily) I found Christino who helped me out with his broken English and Air Canada officials finally arranged a connecting flight for me with vouchers for food (at terminal 2) and a short hotel stay (at terminal 1). Guess what! The hotel can’t help me out since the cleaning lady is late. So I could probably use it only for an hour before my next flight! But after all these, I appreciate that the security officials kept apologizing for not speaking English and I kept apologizing for not speaking Portuguese! When they heard I flew from Canada, they would cross their hand on their chest to show Canada is a cold place!!
I think I lost 2 lbs for running back and forth in between the terminals today :p But the beauty of Brazilian girls at Sao Paolo airport kept my mind refreshingly conscious of my surrounding! 😀 I think I should change my field research from China to Brazil for my PhD dissertation 😉
I had an elderly woman sitting beside me during my flight to Sao Paolo. We both gasped in frustration at the beginning that we got this 12 hours flight but she can’t speak English and I don’t speak Portuguese! But I broke the ice by quickly using google translator on my cell phone, explaining who I am and where I was going! The rest was sweet, our flight was punctuated by our muted exciting conversations, me trying to help her out with the touch screen (was too high tech for her) and trying to find out a movie in Portuguese, and she trying to explain where she was going (to Porto Alegre which I understood almost at the end). She would sometimes make dramatic gestures for asking me for favours, like showing her stirring stick like a triumphant sword as an excuse because she wanted to keep that in her bag and for which she used my table to move her food tray. Too bad that we couldn’t communicate any further, otherwise it was a perfect opportunity to know the ‘life of others’, a total stranger! We toasted a few times our wine glass and cheered in different languages!
Sorry for this huge post. I promise to keep the next ones shorter! Now I should give my attention to this beautiful Bolivian woman who helped me out with charger! 😉
At Pearson International and that big bird is waiting for me! (20 July, 10:47pm, TO)
Nonchalant and imperceptive of what lies ahead. Those are the words that sum up my feelings sitting at this corner of this vast edifice of human endeavour for flying. I think I am becoming a bit irritated on myself that excitement hasn’t crept into me yet! Did those weeks of hard works make me just stoic enough?
Well! THAT’S WHAT I FELT JUST AN HOUR AGO!! Now, after a drink with my high school buddy, who came to pick me up for a little rendezvous to a bar, I’m hyped and excited :p There you go! I got a back full of fiction to see a city through Borges’ mind and my heart’s singing,
“Just let me go now, let me go now, we’ve got the whole world hanging there, in our little sea of air!”