Some notes towards a poem about some things I saw in Buenos Aires

Inspired by Karan Chadda’s hypnotic list of sensations he felt while in India, I thought I’d try and do similar for my very short time in Argentina. These jottings might turn into a poem; or they might just stay in this place. First draft is only draft; forgive typos, as jet-lag is striking.

This place is big. American big. New York big. The gridded streets are riddled with holes, and the palpable desire for them not to be filled, ever to be filled. This appears to be a place which thrives on the gaps, in the gaps. On the equivalent of Wall Street, a bank has put down a series of paving slabs celebrating staff members who were disappeared between 1976 and 82. A bank.

There are posters everywhere, of The Islands, with the slogan which I assume to mean ‘remember’. I realise that I’ve never seen the shape, the outline of these islands before. Like a scruffy dog that hasn’t been washed, with a belt holding its empty tummy up.

The Ultras of River Plate don’t appear to be that ultra. Still, one takes the warnings seriously enough not to wear any blue and gold. (And their stadium doesn’t have as pretty a name as ‘The Chocolate Box’.) We’re told before we go in, as it is the match closest to the April 2 commerations, not to reveal we’re British. ‘They’ll be bouncing to remember, through the national anthems.’ Bouncing in memory of lost wars. It’s one up on applause through a minute’s silence.

Florencia is one of the Friends of Recoleta Cemetery who buttonholes us for 20 minutes before we go in. She is in love with England, ‘as lots of people are here’, and she likes, really likes Chunky Kit Kats and tweed. She has heard of Halesowen. She cannot say Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s name, calling her ‘that woman’.

The tours inevitably collide at Evita’s tomb — or rather the Durante family tomb. Almost everyone balks at the middle-aged Australian who takes a selfie outside it; he spends ages framing himself, the gate, the fresh red rose that’s there.

One grey feral cat appears to be the lord of all the other creatures that live here. He is asleep; until stroked into life by the only goth girl we see.

What you hear most as you walk down Florida, the narrow, pedestrianised equivalent of Oxford Street, is the refrain ‘Cambio cambio’ — change change, for your dollars into pesos, if you feel you can haggle with the vendor, which you do in the discretion of a doorway or behind a newspaper kiosk.

It is called the ‘blue market’ this, tolerated as needs must. Frowned upon perhaps, but what can you do? It is not black or grey after all. And that cry, change change… is it the subconscious longing for something else?

There is very little tango-ing to be seen, only in a cafe opposite a nunnery on a Thursday afternoon. The steps, the tuition are slow to the point of almost immobile. This is not a tourist show, but rather some OAPs recapturing, perhaps starting, something.

In Las Violetas, a cafe which has the happy knack of adding violets to sweet things, a waiter is intrigued enough by this Indian speaking bad Spanish who turns out not to be an Indian but an Indian from London, to give him a Spanish menu. I order. He goes off, shaking his head, smiling.

In the best modern art gallery there is a man with a cloud for a face, or rather a box of illuminated light bulbs for a face. Ten dance students form a revolving door that illustrate the physical movements from the country’s political history. A set of goosestepping doorknobs. Downstairs, a sign asks: ‘If a routine of movements were capable of establishing a law, what would a parliament of bodies based on choreography be like?’

All the women here are wearing platform shoes of some description; towering, powering, stacked, dominant, stomping, crunching. Brave, considering the pavements. Or maybe necessary.

There is an election in November. It is primary season. There are posters and graffiti everywhere. One tour guide starts trying to explain it all, but then says, ‘it is too complicated’. One candidate’s platoon of helpers, young and old, gives out yellow flowers to all passing.

There are so many cool, inviting doorways behind black gates. That is where life is lived here, you suspect. That is where the secrets are made slightly less closed, warmed up and shown to you, but only for a moment that will make you wonder more.

Hunger, Fire, Harrumph.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store