En La Boca
Why did you dislike Buenos Aires, Dad? I am sitting here now, on a cracked plastic seat next to a square in La Boca, a tourist bureau-proclaimed “artistic district”—cute and historic. But the art is not as highbrow as you would like, or perhaps as “authentic,” whatever that is. And while it is true once a place finds its way into a guidebook, it pretty much has lost its original vibe and function; this is still a neighborhood where locals live and work and love. I watch them sipping coffee, listen to them rant and gossip: soccer, unemployment, marriage, affairs, anger, sadness—all of it with undulating, exaggerated hands. It is, of course, what people dish about everywhere, but here, their conversations appear so passionate, seemingly so grand and tragic, in a city richer in mausoleums than bread.
Here I am, in front of a pink, turn-of-the-century coffeehouse with green doors and yellow trim, by twisting streets of cobblestone so worn in spots that it gives way to some strange black pavement even more ancient, and below that an even older original ground shows through. I imagine you would have liked it, for perhaps a few minutes anyhow, had you not already decided you hated the city of Los Porteños. So little in this world can be right with you for very long. Growing up, every restaurant we had loved, would suddenly – incomprehensibly to anyone else – “go bad.”
So, regardless of where your heart began, while visiting here, you would have wished to leave quickly, find the next place in the guidebook, spend another few minutes, find a restaurant, find fault with the service and the snotty attitudes of the locals, perhaps make a snide comment or two yourself, and then return to your hotel. Perhaps, I am not giving you enough credit, but this is how I remember our last trip together, when we went to Guatemala, when I was in my mid-twenties. I remember you fighting with a waiter over less than attentive service, and then with me about commenting on your being a “cultural imperialist and xenophobe.” I am good at judging the judgmental.
But of Buenos Aires? Years ago, you told me the people were snobs. Who were the snobs Dad? Did you have contact with the locals outside of the hotels and restaurants? I sip my coffee, and I am not sure why, but I can’t stop thinking about you. This does not happen often, but I feel the hint of a longing for you brushing across my skin. Given we have not spoken in over ten years, and you are an octogenarian, there is little chance we will ever share foreign soil again.
I spot two, fat homeless dogs running by, and if my knees were better, I would run after them. I am a man of simple pleasures. Petting a dog, the bounce of my fingers on these keys, the sound of Argentine Spanish, its sh derived from the Italian. I have been sitting here for some hours, watching and listening. Italian opera from the Estacion Caminito pizzeria. Reggaetón from an aging VW in front.
A young woman tourist, perhaps nineteen or twenty years-old, stops close to me. She is nearly screaming in English on her phone about all the cute things she has purchased. She is texting and sending pictures, tells the person on the other end about the leather bag she bought and how cheap it was. She takes a photograph of herself and her bag from multiple angles. A homeless man asks her for change – she ignores his plea, but as he turns his back and walks away, she holds the bag close to his head and snaps another picture. Laughing, she sends the image to someone far away.