Morning arrived at hyperspeed. The unstoppable summer sun was streaming through the glass above the double doors to our room, winding down and around to the bottom bunk where I was sprawled out. No anemic winter sunlight here! I leapt out of bed, feeling thoroughly refreshed and energized. The first thing I thought of was MC Hammer (yeah, I was concerned, too). And then I began to think about a boy that had once removed my long-beloved white belt* using only his teeth. We had just “ironically” drank a bottle of Nighttrain (I do not recommend this) while watching Kubrick’s Lolita. I feigned drunkenness, forcing him to take drastic action. And then my undying respect was garnered. It was a complicated metal buckle! I continued to marvel at his obviously top-notch dexterity as I wandered over to the communal bathroom to brush my own teeth.**
I stole glances at the young men using the sinks on either side of me, wondering if either of them were capable of oral belt removal. The one on the left seemed to timid. Certainly not a go-getter! And the hairy fellow on the right probably specialized in removing all sorts of garments and fashion accessories with his remarkably pointy teeth.
He caught me staring. I began to blink rapidly, hoping that he would think I had something in my eye.
I watched the water drain down the sink backwards (thanks, southern hemisphere) as I washed my face. Whoa! I was doing all of the boring stuff I do every single morning in Philadelphia, and nothing was really that different at all. Face lotion, birth control pills, and hair detangler. All the same stuff brought with me from the Estados Unidos, wearing my same black pajama pants and still, I was in BUENOS AIRES!
INTERLUDE: This is probably a good time to confess just how much clothing I brought to Buenos Aires. Let’s just say that my enormous suitcase weighed 57 pounds. The check-in attendant in Philly had let it slide, because she “guess[ed] a trip to South America required a lot of stuff.” BOTH of my guidebooks has mentioned that the inhabitants of Buenos Aires were very fashion conscience. I was warned to leave the hiking boots and drawstrings back in the USA, lest I brand myself “TOURIST.” As if my slow gringo Spanish wouldn’t betray my true heritage…
So what did I bring on my trip? Hmm…two pairs of boots, one pair of clogs, and moccasins. Ten dresses, two pairs of leggings, and countless black undershirts. One bathing suit. My shredded japanese Levi’s. Two hats. I don’t think these seems to unreasonable for an eight day trip to the underside of the planet, but my traveling companions thought I was crazy. On the other hand, I have taken just as much clothing to SXSW, and that’s only five days. I have a clothing problem. And I’m the worst suitcase packer.
Okay, back to morning in B.A…
Breakfast at the hostel was not terribly impressive: hard little rolls with margarine and dulce de leche (essentially caramel sauce), the world’s worst coffee, and shriveled oranges. This was not going to work, especially when I remembered that I had essentially consumed only bread***, cheese, and booze the previous day.
I turned to Lacey. “I’m going to need a salad. Or some tofu. Some sort of vegan delight filled with b-vitamins and calcium.”
She laughed at me. “Salads” as we spoiled Americans know them, do not exist in Buenos Aires. Even a crappy McDonald’s salad served in a plastic cup is leaps and bounds beyond the standard Argentine plate of anemic iceberg lettuce with a few shreds of chewy onions. And vegan food? Not so much, in a country dominated by beef and cheese. However, Lacey’s brain also functioned as a hippie guidebook to South America, so she knew just the place. She, Shaina, and I headed for El Centro (also known to outsiders as “Montserrat,” the historic center of B.A.). Reyna stayed behind, still asleep, because she had found herself at a bar around the corner until nearly sunup.
El Centro was crawling with business people bustling around in lightweight suits. This was in sharp contrast to me and my meandering buddies. Somehow I had forgotten that the rest of the world was not on vacation. The sun was brutal, forcing us to stop at a bench for a sunscreen application break. I snapped photos of street art and beautifully decaying old buildings.
We stopped at an electronics store so I could buy an electric adapter. None of my guidebooks had mentioned the need for any kind of adapter for my assortment of portable electronic devices. However, I discovered this oversight within minutes of checking into the Ostinatto, when I tried to charge my nearly-dead Ipod. Crisis! The thought of being unable to use my laptop for a full week gave me chills.
Our next stop was Farmacity (ubiquitous Argentine drug store chain) so Shaina could buy soap. Lacey and I wandered the aisles laughing at product names (i.e., “Enjoy” brand tampons).
At a decidedly American-influenced cafe (it offered bagels!) I ate possibly the best salad of my life. Shaina and Lacey ordered smoothies and vegan muffins. Not “authentic,” but just what we needed…especially since we were already anticipating the impending wine consumption of the late afternoon and evening.
We decided it was time to head back to the hostel to wake up Reyna. We were planning to go to Palermo (allegedly the most “fashionable” barrio in the city) that day.
As we approached the palm tree-lined Plaza de Mayo (the focal point of the barrio, and home to the Casa Rosada, the executive government building), I noticed a whole army of police in riot gear. I pointed it out to Lacey.
She was unimpressed. “Oh, there must be another protest. There’s usually one here almost every day.”
I looked at the cops in their Stormtrooper armor and helmets. Several military tanks idled behind them. This was obviously a serious and potentially dangerous situation. I remembered that one of my guidebooks had informed me that protests were a frequent occurrence in B.A. The book’s advice was very direct: “Don’t feel nervous and whatever you do, don’t get involved.”
I considered suggesting a detour around the Plaza, but I didn’t want to seem like a scaredy cat. I dutifully followed my companions as they cut through the center of the Plaza. The protest consisted of twenty young women, dressed in black gowns, singing in shrieks. Their signs made no sense to us. Further confusing us, they had made a large paper mache ass (or buttocks, if you will) and placed it in a cage.
“Some sort of feminist issue,” I chirped to my friends. We laughed. Of course, then I was filled with instant Riot Grrl remorse. I assuaged my guilt by smiling at the protesters and giving them an enthusiastic “thumbs up.”
In the next episode: We shake Reyna out of bed…I smoke too many Le Mans cigarettes on the balcony…We travel to Palermo and experience the incomparable magic of the Subte…And I learn that red wine mixed with Fanta is muy delicioso.
*I wore this belt for years and years (back when I wore pants/jeans on a regular basis) because I felt that it embodied a mixture of mod sensibility and mathematical prowess. I’m not sure where/how/why the latter conclusion was drawn.
**I should add that this fellow, a former resident of Portland, OR, was perhaps the most stylish person I’ve ever gotten to know in the biblical sense. He also made little gifts for me on a regular basis and he owned a large collection of metal and early-90s hip hop tapes. Whoa! What’s not to love? Alas, I suddenly and coldly rejected him because I decided he just wasn’t “complex” enough (i.e., not nearly enough of a broody crybaby that would torture me emotionally).
***For those of you who don’t know me “in real life,” and/or have not been forced to eat at a restaurant with me, I have celiac disease. This means that I can’t eat most foods containing flour (as well as other weird stuff, like most soy sauces and faux meats). I knew that eating pizza and dinner rolls was asking for trouble, but I just threw caution to the wind. And actually, by some sort of miracle, I wasn’t sick at all in Argentina. Meanwhile, upon my return to Philly, I accidentally ate muesli that inexplicably contained wheat for three days in a row…for days, I had a low grade fever, rash, and a really horrible stomachache.