Postcards from Buenos Aires
Grabbing my luggage in the crush of others racing to Customs, I tumble
down a flight of stairs. A man appears with a wheelchair, loads me in.
Go to the head of Customs. He wheels me out the door where she is
waiting. Are you surprised to see me this way I ask. Not really, Mom
she says. Welcome to Buenos Aires. And we head to our budget hotel.
In fluent Spanish my daughter tells a random cabbie to take me to
our local hotel one evening, gives me the fare I hold tight
in my hand, a child on a carnival ride. I do not speak or understand
the language, but he delivers me to the Liberty Hotel. I could have
been kidnapped or worse, common crimes in BA, her friends tell her.
Rattled, I shake and shake, manage to fit the heavy key in the door.
In an obscure café, birds fly random patterns inside, droppings
on the table. Six people crowd the table next to us in an empty
place. Look Rebecca says. A fading American TV star whispers
to his Argentine companion, then catches my daughter’s eye.
Would you like a photo? We nod and he hands us cards with
his picture and autograph. CSI: Miami is popular here, plays
in Spanish and English non-stop on several stations. How
amazing our luck, this star, more than a continent away?
In San Telmo district, informal booths line the square, vendors
shout their wares. I buy a large silver-plated ladle because
it is stamped Argentina on the back. Awash in ash from a volcano
in Chile, the light is dimly yellow, air light with color.
In the Dirty War, 1976-1983, when the military dictatorship
ruled, dissenters and children vanished. The Madres de Plaza
De Mayo march, white headscarves cover their hair like doves.
They carry photos of their missing, march every Thursday,
keep moving as required by law. No bones, no flesh,
no hank of hair to identify those who disappeared.
Flower stalls nearly every block in this busy city, offerings
echo against granite and marble, concrete. Blossoms for
sweethearts, for the Virgin Mary, saints, in homemade
shrines in this Catholic city.
At La Malba the museum of contemporary art, I stumble
into a painting by Frida Kahlo in 1941from a huge gold frame.
Hair braided atop her head along with leaves, it is not chilling
but charming. Self-Portrait with Monkey and Parrot has
an edge but it is not tortured. Loving her the way I do,
I feel lucky to have a glimpse of the multi-million
dollar painting though the rest of the place bores me.
Our cabbie has a red ribbon floating from his rearview
mirror, tribute, he says, to Gaucho Gil, folk hero,
guardian of cabbies. Around humble shrines are wine,
cigarettes, flowers, red flags and candles.
When we later hail another cab, a ribbon faded pink
flutters. Praise to Gil whose shrines are stripped clean,
sign he exists, and moves us from Point A to B.
This is what makes the city beautiful---an old man
whisks sugared almonds in a beat-up skillet in front
of our hotel. His dirty hands fill cellophane tubes
we purchase and spill into our cold hands. Lick them
clean. He smiles a syrupy grin and I say gracias
every single time.
The skies are purple with longing. A couple performs
the tango on the cobblestone street, a battered hat set outfor donations. Black lace shadows her face. This city.