Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Final Retrospect

During my stay in Argentina, I never entered into conversations about Las Malvinas (The Falkland Islands) for no reason other than the fact that I am not very clear on the history. If on the other hand it had been the case that I had fully read up on the said subject, I can assure you that I would have enjoyed not only learning their views, but also taken great pleasure out of playfully rising this nation of proffessional rilers. However that said, the main reason that I now regret not having discussed this controversial subject is that only yesterday while admiring my newly acquired map of Argentina, I noticed that Las Malvinas are incredibly listed as Argentine territory. I bought the map in a Buenos Aires teaching materials shop!!

Given the immense size of this South American metropolis it usually takes well over an hour to travel between the various city centre neighbourhoods. For this very reason the buses are forever looking to gain time as they rapidly and aggressively negotiate the wide tree-lined streets. However such is this fear of falling behind schedule that if there is no-one awaiting the bus, the driver will often only slow down ever so slightly in order for passengers to leap off. So normal is this practice that there are even wishful notices posted above the bus exits informing all that, “doors do not open until the vehicle has slowed to a speed of less than 5 km an hour". I don't think that I will ever get over the sight of my until now highly unathletic and exercise averse girlfriend agilely disembarking with the hop and poise of a ballet dancer, while I on the other hand, held on tightly to the rail and jumped on my second count of three. It was also on this same public transport that I saw at first hand the polite habits of the Argentine men. I clearly recall feeling at my most stupid and embarrassed when I realized only too late that no matter what your place in the bus queue, chivalry prevails with ladies always boarding first.

By far and away the most absurd of my Buenos Aires moments was that of a random conversation with two old men in a city centre café. On being invited to join their table for a coffee I soon learned that both worked as Tango teachers all their lives, and so remarkably this brief encounter led to an invitation to their respective homes for private classes. As you might guess I readily took them up on this offer and days later found myself clumsily prancing about an Argentine living room with the Tango rhythms refusing to make any sense to my Irish limbs. These two Tango dancing and Jazz loving pensioners never ceased to fascinate me and on various occasions thereafter, I accompanied the pair to music performances throughout the city. While in their company I forever quizzed them on their opinions, experiences and Buenos Aires childhoods, while they enthusiastically did likewise unto me. I will never forget in particular the August winter evening in a city café when I listened to Jaime relate the fading details of how as a child, he and his family fled the Russian persecution of Jews in 1936.

A night on the town with the local Porteños will invariably involve a late night graduation from the Quilmes beer on to the extremely bitter Fernet which is usually mixed with the sweeter coca-cola. Obviously I drank more than my fair share and while I enjoyed the taste of the drink, what really won me over was the creamy rim that it left down the glass just like a good pint of Guinness.

Be it disco, café or even bar, it was extremely easy to start or as more often was the case, to accidentally fall into conversation with strangers, who every now and then boasted grandmother from Fermanagh or Mullingar. What amazed me most about initial conversations with new acquaintances is that they never waste time in asking you that all important question…..“What do you thing of the Argentine girls?” This is the case for boys and girls and of course there is only one answer that you dare give and which they will happily accept. It seems that while they have already made up their minds on this question, they never like to miss an opportunity to reassure themselves of their conclusion with an outsider's opinion....and of course to boost their already large Argentine ego.

Everybody in Buenos Aires wears sports shoes with the slight exception of those in business suits, for even at that I saw some fashion rules of thumb badly broken. So common is such footwear that walking the city streets I often felt that I was walking about the set of MacGyver. This prevalence of trainers was most notable at traffic lights where the converged “Converse, All Stars” could be seen donned with both school bags and walking sticks alike. However standing at these traffic lights your mind would never dwell on this local foot wear preference for long before being instead a lot more occupied by the absence of the little green man on the pedestrian lights...... in his place… an illuminated white man.

I look forward to my return.

No comments: