Virginia Chase Sutton 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 out

for donations. Black lace shadows her face. This city.

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