Monday, June 30, 2008

TOWN OF PLENTY


Last night I was feeling bored and restless, so a little before midnight, I decided to get off my couch-potato butt and go for a walk. There are few simple pleasures greater than strolling aimlessly through the streets of Buenos Aires between midnight and sunrise--as long as I avoid stepping into dog doo and ignore the glazed-eyed looks and unsober comments made by the occasional loitering porteƱo. (Now I know how women feel when they walk past construction sites!) As I hit the streets, memories from our long history--mine and BA's--came flooding back. I first fell for BA during my first visit here more than three years ago while I was going home from a nightclub at the crack of dawn. I was drunk on love--and whiscolas. Little did I know that this romance would last longer than any of my real relationships.

None of my past loves can compare to Buenos Aires in the looks department (sorry, guys!). The city's tarnished beauty truly unfolds at night. Street lamps spotlight buildings and trees at various angles creating a breathtaking chiaroscuro effect. Not having to manuever through throngs crowding the sidewalks, you're free to admire the architecture, a retro mix of functional and ornate, as the buildings sprout from the ground and reach for the sky. From a slight distance, they create the illusion of tilted perspective, as if they are about to converge from both sides of the avenue.

In look as well as in spirit, Buenos Aires is a city whose identity is defined by the past. Music from the '80s blares from car stereos and out of the transistor radios of street vendors (during my walk, I paused to enjoy a few bars of "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie) and obsesses kids who were not yet born in that decade. The tall somewhat decaying buildings seem to come straight out of some '70s urban cop drama. Even tango, Argentina's great musical and dance tradition, lives in the past, as it unabashedly and sentimentally reflects on having loved and lost. (On a very loosely related note, I've pretty much convinced myself that I must have lived in BA in some past life, possibly as King of Tango Carlos Gardel.) Walking down Avenida Santa Fe last night, I was visited several times by that recurring sense of deja vu that has become a regular part of my life in BA. Looking into a store or a cafe, standing on a particular street corner, I got the strange feeling that I had been there before in some other city, in some other lifetime or in some long-forgotten dream.

Lately, I've been dreaming a lot--in and out of bed. Buenos Aires encourages introspection, retrospection and expectation. It's the only city I've been to other than New York where I wake up in the morning with a feeling of hope and anticipation, like anything can happen today, and it probably will. I feel lucky to be spending my late 30s here. It's a turning point in one's life, a period characterized by looking back and looking forward. At 39, I'm old enough to have a wealth of memories and experiences to draw from but still young enough to have great hopes for the future. Three hours after embarking on my walk, I finally arrived back home, head cleared and past the point of exhaustion. As my noggin hit the pillow and I closed my eyes, I was looking forward to the unexpected that tomorrow would no doubt bring.

6 SONGS ABOUT WALKING, NIGHT, CITIES AND--IN THE CASE OF EBTG--ALL OF THE ABOVE (If you like them, buy the the full albums)
  1. The Cure: "At Night" (from Seventeen Seconds)
  2. Electribe 101: " You're Walking (Peeping Tom Mix)" (from Electribal Memories)
  3. Everything But the Girl: "Low Tide of the Night" (from Temperamental)
  4. Johnny Cash: "I Walk the Line" (from The Essential Johnny Cash)
  5. Lee Ann Womack: "A Little Past Little Rock (from Some Things I Know)
  6. The Smiths: "London" (from Louder Than Bombs)
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