As far as imagined places go, Buenos Aires conjures a state of mind, and if the world were made to roam I think it would be on a faraway edge of a middle. But more than a mind Buenos Aires belies a state, the exact nature of which is easy to intuit and hard to explain. A government district, a whole city, the dull edge of a blade balanced on a table, a fleshy eye from its grey socket, a metropolis of some mass of nerves they continentalize; a centre and a suburb, a carving of a centre for a suburb to exist.
Still I wonder how it is possible to feel free there.
I arrived in Buenos Aires by bus, across a border. It was raining and I was on my period. The station was damp with the marks of acid rain on the outside, which washed the yellow and red walls and roofs a sort of grey. I didn’t like it even one bit. In the bathroom a woman handed out squares of toilet paper and we all of us pretended not to notice each other too much. I was tired and my hair greasy; we went into our separate stalls.
I had hoped there would be some comparison to draw, between one continent I had seen much of and another one I had not yet seen. I waited for a warm breath to be let out. At a speakeasy, a bartender told me, “If you don’t like it, get another one,” meaning my drink. He was the nicest person I think I’ve ever met.
The city made me believe in neighbourhoods. Recoleta, Retiro, San Telmo, Puerto Madero, Palermo. The coffee came from actual shops, where there were often two prices, one for cash and another for credit, if it were a form of payment possible. Even for non-recluses, it was possible to be alone and happy. The faraway feeling was close to the bone, the sun shone on the buildings along the street.
The rain on the pavement dissipated into a sort of fog that I liked. I asked a foreign exchange student from China to show me where a reliable cash machine was located, one with relatively low fees. She was pale and had short hair. I wondered if she was unhappy living there, to what extent she felt like she belonged. I asked her something to the effect, but I forget what was asked, and answered.
I ended up wandering back home anyway, without having made a transaction. The men and women who worked the streets near Calle Florida, yelling exchange rates, were endearing mostly. Some of them had a kind ritual and asked where I was from, escaped into their trailer to count money, and emerged with a fist full of bills with marks on them. There is always a danger, except when you most expect it. “No, we cannot make money off that,” a man sitting on a step proclaimed with an exacting sort of fury. “It’s not possible.” I explained I wasn’t in particular need. I could keep on going.
BA at night is the jewel of the whole experience. There is always a soft breeze, in the rain and not. A few of us who met in a hostel walked up and down the streets in search of a suitable bar. There is no more exemplary feeling than that of being in the presence of quasi-strangers and quasi-friends. The not-yet friends, the nevermore-strangers. It’s a kind of twilight I won’t easily forget.