My Argentine Decade

I was a teenager when I first arrived in Buenos Aires, a jumbled mess of anxieties and aspirations. It had been a particularly grueling trip, with an inordinately long layover in Caracas Venezuela. I was past the point of exhaustion. It took everything in me to drag my enormous travel bag, and my own languid self, along the halls of Ministro Pistarini International Airport. I remember thinking it was too crowded for 2 AM– my very first taste of Argentina’s bizarre schedule. I pushed through the throng to find my Mother, who was living here at the time. We took a taxi into the city, which sparkled like no other city I’d ever lived in. We went into a caf√© on Santa Fe avenue, the street that has in one way or another framed my existence in Buenos Aires ever since. I thought, “this feels right.”

I lived in three different hostels during my first full year in Buenos Aires. Hostels were quick and convenient– I wanted to avoid committing to a lease as I was unsure exactly how long I’d be in Argentina. They also provided ample opportunity to socialize with folks from all over the world, which was extremely valuable to me as a gregarious young dilettante. The first hostel I lived in was called El Gauchito Urbano, a boho-chic little dwelling on Gallo street that was run by two cantankerous middle-aged women. In actuality, they were probably around the same age I am now; I always perceived them as middle-aged on account of their tendency to react¬†to just about everything with a kind of muted exasperation, as well as some gnarly skin damage. I remember this hostel had a huge living room filled with dozens of pillows. Me and my new international buddies would have regular asados and rent movies every day; I barreled through a considerable chunk of the Criterion Collection during my first month there, thanks to my French cinephile roommate Aliocha. I fraternized with people from all over the world, hooked up with pretty girls with nothing to lose, and dove head-first into the filmography of Andrei Tarkovsky. It was my teenage self’s idealized version of what adulthood should be. I was insufferable, but I was having fun.

Hostel living, 2005-2006.
Hostel living, 2005-2006.

I was eventually kicked out of the Gauchito; this was in large part due to a convoluted personal conflict between one of the owners and my Mom, who stayed over a bit too often for their comfort (her own apartment being in the outskirts of town) and whose domineering personality clashed with their own. I drifted around town for a few weeks, wandering in and out of the lives and apartments of my Mom’s friends. This was a weird period for me, the closest I ever came to calling things off and flying back to Colombia. The comfortable familiarity I’d settled into was replaced by this¬†disquieting sense of unease that permeated the entirety of my days. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back and live off my Dad’s money until my mid 20s? What was I trying to accomplish here? I was thrown into what I can now identify as a deep depression; I was despondent and slack, often asking myself why I was even there at all. It’s kind of silly to think of now, but it really did feel like I had lost something substantial, and though I assured my Mom that I didn’t mind moving around a bunch while she found me a place to live, it all felt pointless. It was my first Argentine summer, and the city smelled like piss and soot.

Curiously, when I think back to this time, one of the things I remember most vividly is the sound of keychains. During these few weeks, I was often clutching someone else’s keys after they’d begrudgingly agreed to let me crash at their place for however long. For some reason I remember the loud clang as I slammed them repeatedly in and out of their keyholes (it didn’t help that Argentine keys are oversized monstrosities that I still, 10 years later, struggle with). At this time I was listening to The Postal Service’s album a lot. I often dismiss that album now, and haven’t listened to it in forever, but at that time it felt enormous. I remember listening to “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” from a rooftop overlooking Coronel Diaz street, and that sentiment– “I am a visitor here, I am not permanent”– resonating strongly with me. I felt like a ghost, wandering in and out of the rooms of an enormous, empty house.

For a brief period afterwards I moved into another hostel– a more professional, industrial affair, with enormous, cavernous rooms and high-vaulted ceilings, with beds stacked upon beds in order to fill every square inch available with some part of a paying tourist’s body. It was the Hi Recoleta Hostel, also located off of Santa Fe avenue but further downtown. At the time it felt like a move up, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was a real shithole. This place was significant, though, as I made some of my most enduring friendships— and lived through some of my strangest adventures— during my brief time there. As crappy as that place was, I’ll always look back on it fondly. After a particularly unnerving security breach, and feeling like I’d overstayed my welcome, I packed up and moved into a place called Kilometro Cero, in the neighborhood of Congreso– probably the farthest I’ve ever lived from Santa Fe ave. Kilometro Cero was populated by what seemed like thinly sketched cartoon characters, but it quickly started feeling like home. This place also yielded some wonderful friendships and zany misadventures, but after several months I started to feel like hostel living was getting to be a bit too rough for me– too loud, too debaucherous, especially after I got a job and started college. There are a number of indignities that you can put up with when you’re just kind of gliding through life like a slovenly layabout, but start taking their toll when you’re dedicating so much of your energy to employment and education. Shortly after my Mom left Argentina to go back to Colombia, I started looking around for apartments, and for the next 9 years I lived in a few different places– sometimes with a roommate, sometimes by myself. For the most part, I stayed close to¬†Santa F√© avenue.

October 26th 2015 marked my ten-year anniversary in this city. This city that has seen me though a series of absurd situations that defy conventional logic, a number of wonderful relationships that have allowed me to grow into whatever the heck I am now, and the polar extremes of exuberant joy and abject depression. It’s a city that remains mysterious, abrasive and majestic to me, and with which I routinely fall in and out of love. It’s still a constant source of inspiration, and of challenges. And though I’m not entirely certain how long I’ll stick around– I’ve been feeling that old pull again for some time– I can say with all certainty that Buenos Aires resonates with me like no other place I’ve ever lived in, and everything about it has become inextricably connected with who I am. Wherever I move, this is still where I’ll think back to when I reflect on some of the most significant events in my life. It is, and will probably forever be, home.

So hey, happy anniversary, mi Buenos Aires querido. Thank you, and I’m sorry, for everything.

5 thoughts on “My Argentine Decade

  1. Hmmm … Jorge the Musical? Another frickin’ book on Buenos Aires? (You really should btw). No … I know! A series! Funny how Buenos Aires has that effect on people. The guy who wrote Collectivization – the English guy from Sheffield I think who rode collectivos around the city and published a book about it – quoted Maya Angelou about entering a city and knowing it was what you had somehow had been looking for.

    My first encounter with Buenos Aires was scary. It doesn’t sit well today because it was over 30 years ago in the last years of La Dictadura and it’s corollary La Patria Financiera, and I worked for 2 months in an office on Suipacha. Decades later – after leaving offices back in Toronto, washing dishes, serving drinks and food, driving taxis, painting … houses, playing in a little band, & hiding in the woods – I made it back in 2004. And stayed in a hostel btw. Sandanzas near Parque Lezama.

    I returned again later in 2004 and got really sick and thought I have to get on a plane or I will die. Ok, it was a bad gripe but curled up in a bed in my rented apartment on Junin (right near UBA’s Facultad de Economia) before I could even start working, seemed desperate to me. So I did.

    My real culture shock was a few years after that return, in the official, union-blessed, Jersey Shore of La Argentina: Mar del Plata. Where my porte√Īa wife lived. And culture shock always cycles between euphoria and depression. The thing is, so does most of Argentina, even if Mar del Plata is more sealed off, reserved, and a little resentful of braying porte√Īos.

    I’ll say it again. You need to write a book, a comic book (really!), or something about all this. I know the city already informs your creativity regardless. But an autobiography on growing up in Buenos Aires would be a fascinating read. I would buy it. And actually read it.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Absolutely have considered putting together a collection of essays about life in Argentina. I may get to it at some point.

      Also: “Jersey Shore of Argentina” is a wonderful description of MDQ. Amazing

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