International Writers Magazine: Buenos Aires
E. Marin Smith
pretty sure the day I arrived in Buenos Aires was the hottest day
of the year on the Rio de le Plata, which made the whole day
seem like a dream one has while in a fever.
the humid little room I was given with white walls and a small closet,
and the slight breeze I created as I went to and from my suitcase, hanging
clothes on the depressed looking wire hangers that made any amount of
clothing look minimalistic and somber. I remember when the
older woman who owned the apartment asked me my first direct Spanish
question, something that sounded to me like, Toos shah-face ten
es? and how all I could do was stare at her with what I would
later come to call my cara de tonta, or Dumbface.
(I could have sworn at the time that she was asking me something about
Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela that was causing all the ruckus
up north. I had expected politics to come up during my stay
in South America, but certainly not this early. It was a
few days later that I realized she was asking me whether or not I had
my keys. My Spanish skills were obviously in need of improvement).
Along with the heat, I arrived in South America with a slew of baggage
in tow, literally and metaphorically speaking of course. I was evading
my allegedly-still-in-love ex-boyfriend and in need of some new faces,
far away from cow-town Texas where I attended college. Ive
discovered that travel can be the best kind of escapism, especially
when ex-boyfriends are involved, not to mention cow-towns. I
arrived with a vague set of goals, one of which was to leave with a
grasp of the Spanish language, the rest ranging from traveling to Patagonia,
which I had heard was beautiful, to seeing a real live llama, learning
to Tango, and ultimately to contemplate what in the world I was doing
with myself at the age of twenty one.
Five months later, I find myself sitting across my Argentine friend
Marcos at a restaurant in Palermo looking back on what it was like when
I first arrived on that hot summer day. I remember feeling
during those first few weeks as though a state of confusion was pretty
much perpetual. The question was not whether I
was confused or notconfusion itself was a givenit was what level of
confused that was the variable. My confusion oscillated among
the levels of total, moderate (which seemed to be most of the time,
like I was sailing gently on a sea of Spanish vocabulary words I should
have studied harder at my university), or slight, like an itch, as if
everything was ok but just slightly
warped. Thanks to
the learning curve, my Spanish dictionary, lots of mistakes, and a certain
amount natural human adaptability, my head feels clearer now that Ive
been in Buenos Aires for five months, and I realize that Marcos is right
when he says that this experience has grown me up.
You have a calm demeanor now, he says with his barely audible
accent, you know more about who you are.
He certainly doesnt mean growing up in that boring, Im-stuck-in-this-cubicle,
time-to-take-the-kids-to-soccer-practice kind of way. Thats
not what I mean when I agree with him, either. Were referring
to the ability to take care of myself, make decisions, travel alone
confidently, buy my own plane tickets, food, hostel stays, and soap
(I am constantly forgetting to bring soap when I travel, it's practically
a tradition now to buy soap upon my arrival to a new place. As
soon as I finally decide to take a shower, that is). Growing
up means not being afraid to do things because I want to do
them, taking some chances, going after things that I want with assertiveness,
introducing myself, making some mistakes, and telling people what I
feel and what I mean. It means knowing how to listen to the
stories of those around you, knowing how to trust yourself and how to
trust others, knowing that the virtues and the habits that you practice
now will ultimately be your fate. It has nothing to do with
cubicles and very little to do with soccer practice, unless you count
almost getting killed at an Argentine football match. Most
of all, the growing up that we mean does not have to do with becoming
boringit has to do with becoming more alive.
As far as being twenty-one and what the heck Im doing, I can see
that Buenos Aires has provided the tangible elements of an intangible
process. Through all the cobblestone streets and delicious
bottles of wine, from the first moment I saw the white walls of my bedroom
to my first experience through the chaotic, sultry bowels of the subways
system, Ive not only successfully evaded both my ex-boyfriend
and a few months in cow-town, but have learned what it means to know
myself and to know a place. Argentina
the word sounds
like a friend now, sounds like here, like home, and like me. It
sounds like all thats happened to me here, all Ive learned,
all thats come together and fallen apart, and all that Ill
be leaving soon but also taking with me.
I know that traveling changes you because of the visions it leaves in
your mind. I can never forget what it feels like to walk
the streets of Buenos Aires, thick with street Tango dancers, American
tourists, and hippies selling scarves made of llama fur. I
will always have the memory of the first time I saw the Andes Mountains,
fixed like distant resting giants outside the window of a bus. Ill
always tell of the South American rain storms that would wake me in
the night during the summer months, of the first time I understood a
joke told in Spanish, or about the time we had to stop the car to let
the herd of llamas cross the desert road. How can you forget
a place in which youve lived, a place in which youve created
what you now are?
really what traveling is; its creation, likely slowly being born. Its
the creation of movement, creation of relationships, the gradual
birth of yourself and who you are in the world. Buenos
Aires has grown me up, my friend Marcos is right. But
the best part is that when I leave it, the process will continue.
And I know this: from my twenty first year onward, I want to know
many more places as Ive known this one, through all the heat,
confusion, escapism, language barriers and all the rest, and to
continue the process of being born until the day that I die.
Marin Smith December 2008
Marin gained her
degree from Texas A&M University in English and Spanish, and has
lived various places but mostly Wyoming since then. Her tendency
to not stay in one place for very long has given her many rich experiences.
E Marin Smith
I was back in Africa last nightan accidental and instantaneous
African transport that shocked my sleeping mind.
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