Friday, October 31, 2008

THAT OLD FEELING

Everyone remembers their first love. Mine was London. For most of the '90s and the first half of the '00s, before I discovered Buenos Aires in 2005, I was a die-hard Anglophile, obsessed with London and all related things. I went for the first time in the fall of 1994, and afterward, I visited so often (at least twice a year) that my friend Andrew, a Londoner whom I met in Prague in 1996, once joked that I spent more time in his town than people who live there. An exaggeration, yes, but I got his drift. In fact, I'm shocked that it's taken me so long to devote an entire post to the city that's been as influential in my adult life as New York and BA.

I remember walking down the streets of London, always burning with frustration because there never seemed to be enough time. I felt like I was in a long-distance relationship, with the long plane rides and the feeling of dread that would set in sometime around Wednesday afternoon (I usually planned my trips so that I'd arrive on Thursday morning and leave on Sunday afternoon, some 10 days later), because it would soon be time to say goodbye. Sure I saw other people--er, cities: Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna, Lisbon, Athens, Copenhagen. But I'd always come back to London. Even around the beginning of the new millennium when Italy turned my head and threatened to take center stage, London waited in the wings.

My earliest impressions of Londoners were mostly positive--although it was the city where I witnessed both my first street fight and bar brawl. I was floored by how dependable they were, fighting fits aside. I'd make plans on Sunday to meet someone on Thursday, and even if we didn't speak before our appointed rendezvous, they would always show up. Coming from New York, where everyone confirms and reconfirms to the point that you start dreading what your confirming and begin looking for an out, it was a welcome change of social pace and worlds away from my experience in Buenos Aires, where no one ever seems to make a plan that they probably won't break at the last minute.

I'm not sure how one falls for both London and BA in the same lifetime. London and New York, yes. New York and BA, sure. But London and BA? It's a little like going from Jennifer Aniston to Angelina Jolie. Aside from the fact that they are both beautiful (in totally different ways--London and BA, Jen and Angie), they have very little in common. But then, I've always had wildly unpredictable taste, in cities, in music, in men. Asking me to describe my type is like wanting to know what kind of mood I'm in. For a temperamental guy like me, the answer, my friend, is blowing in--and changing with--the wind. I'm as hard pressed to pin point exactly what I love about BA as I was with London, which, shockingly, I haven't visited in four years. In the English capital, it certainly had a lot to do with the people, who, while somewhat aloof, have the sort of impeccable manners that I didn't truly appreciate until I moved to code-of-conduct-free BA.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (I promise this will be the last time): I don't love BA because of the people. I love it in spite of them. In a strange way, that's part of the appeal. I'm always up for a challenge, and most of the time, I enjoy living in a city where I'm completely out of my element, right down to the most basic form of communication: talking. Learning Spanish makes me feel as if I'm accomplishing something major. And cracking the mystery of the porteƱo psyche gives me a similar rush. It may not put my chemistry with BA quite on par with what London and I had all those years ago, but you know what they say (or maybe it was Rod Stewart) about that initial brush with true love: The first cut is the deepest.
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