Feb 22, 2006

Pondering Post from Past in a Pretty Plush Place

    Buenos Aires is Big. Thirteen million people, about a third of Argentinas population, make this city the most populus in all of South America. Generally I'm not a huge fan of enormous cities but I was excited about this one. Ever since we started way back in Guatemala northbound travelers that Tyler and I met put Buenos Aires in a different class than everywhere else they visited. They would say something like:
"Quito has great mountains, there are rockin' dance clubs in Lima, Cuzco has ancient ruins and friendly Peruvians..." they would tell us before getting a goofy grin and saying, "...and then there is Buenos Aires. Well, you know, it's Buenos Aires"
    Although they might share some comments about huge streets and nice parks it was always a mystery what almost universally makes everyone who steps foot into the city want to stay for good. That's why, when Tyler and I had to book a flight home we thought this city might making a fitting finale for our epic adventure. That made sitting on the long bus ride from Mendoza a bus with Patricia curled in my arms a bittersweet moment. I was sad because the end of this long trip was rapidly approaching. But I was simultaneously excited to go to a legendary city with a lovely guide who has lived most of her life in the center of it all.

    This location, well situated on a river near the ocean, has had an irresistable allure for its entire history. It was first founded in 1536 but the natives weren't going to give it up without a fight so they kept the Spanish away for nearly 50 years. Eventually the Spanish rebuilt it, and mandated that almost all the trade from most of South America had to pass through its ports. The city thrived on this monopoly but the wealth attracted pirates and the English Navy (often one and the same) like moths to a flame. The Portugese built the city of Colonia across the river to facilitate raids and blackmarket trading and continually fought Spain for control. Eventually, when Argentina declared independence in 1816 it encouraged immigration to fill in its wide open landscapes but the massive immigration didn't go quite as planed. Many of those arriving fell so in love with the city they started in, Buenos Aires, that they never left. So the Italians, Jews, Koreans, Germans etc. collected in certain neighborhoods giving each a feel that was a combination of their old home and the new. The history of this special city had a profound effect in a couple ways.

    Although there are still plenty of people immigrating today time has blended all the disparate groups into proud porteños (people from BA). Walking the streets here, and much of Argentina, one is just as likely to see a blond Argentinian as someone with native heritage. Although many of the immigrants original cultural roots have long morphed into something new every neighborhood still retains a distinctive feel. Its many different faces is one of the many powerful allures of modern Buenos Aires. We could wake up in the morning and get a coffee in the bustling urban neighborhood of Congresso (much like Manhattan), spend the morning checking out street art in the working class but brilliantly colored Bocas, have lunch in the high cost and fancy area around Recoleta, have dinner near the Palermo zoos and gardens, and finally finish off the night dancing in the worlds center of Tango in San Telmo which looks and feels like an American movie from the 1920s. And that day only began to sample some of the faces of BA, every day there are even more places to taste.

    And a student of history trying to understand this cities mystique can't ignore one other consideration: wealth. For over four hundred years the trade, power, and population of one of the continents largest and most affluent countries (at times, it was of the most prosperous in the world) has been overwhelmingly concentrated in one Metropolis. These centuries of opulence have an effect on everyday life today. Everywhere in the world occasionally someone comes up with the idea to build something cool, start a festival tradition, make up a new dance, or coin a new word. And a people might immediately embrace it but often just wait until the person dies to do away with what they've tried to start. But some things, ideally the best things, slowly accrue as decades roll into centuries when great men and women take the time to invest their inspiration. And Buenos Aires has had the inspiration, the capacity and people for quite some time. Walking around I saw striking and grand buildings from nearly every architectural style since the 1600s. It rivals Rome in its numbers of public statues, fountains and feral city cats. The deep rooted culture extends far beyond its distinctive accent to include things like a subculture of Tangueros (people who dance, and live, Tango ) with their own words, attitude and lifestyle. It has urbane folks who regularly go to the opera as well parks where every weekend young people gather to practice circus skills (I saw a woman hang a trapeze off a tree in a crowded city park!). The city is very rich in every sense of the word.

    It doesn't have the same reputation for Carnival that Rio, Brazil does but Andy and Tyler caught up with us again in time to find out that porteños still love to party (and hose down innocents with shaving cream). When Andy found me it was the fifth time I got to meet up with our favorite Australian on this trip. And then with only three days to go before our flight home Tyler finally showed up in Buenos Aires. I wasn't looking forward to telling our parents how I lost my little brother somewhere below the equator so I was relieved to see him. He did well on his solo journey; Tyler accomplished what we both vaguely set out to do. He got some spectacular pictures and stories from his trek through Chile to and around Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world.)

    The better life is the faster time flies by. Before I knew it, the last full day of this long journey was upon us and Tyler and I were both feeling reflective. About two months ago we were so weary that although we were happy we had more travel ahead we started looking forward to going home. But by the time our departure finally came neither of us were ready to leave, our weariness had long since evaporated and I would have leapt at the opportunity to do it all over again. After such a long and incredible journey it is hard to remember what kind of life we left and what I was thinking when we set out. And then, by yet another outrageous coincidence, I got an email that told me exactly that.

It was precisely one year ago when our crazy idea for some sort of trip stopped being a fantasy. I had just given my friend (who was also my boss) two month notice, asked my housemates to start looking for a replacement and stared down the barrel of the unknown. I was excited. And scared. I called Tyler and sipped a beer while we tried to imagine what we were in for. We had very few specific plans outside of a one-way flight to Guatemala. We had some vague ideas about going to the southern tip of South America but we didn't know where we'd go, how long, nor where it'd end up. Although I didn't remember it until now, after hanging up I apparently decided to write to my future self. FutureMe.org is a free website that you use to write an email and specify when you want it sent to your email address; sort of digital time capsule. I sat down and wrote a message for exactly one year from then. I had no idea where I'd be when I recieved it and find it it an amazing coincidence that on the very last day of the trip I got this:
From: Micah -exactly one year ago-
To: Micah -today-
Date: Feb 21, 2006
Subject: Message from your past

    Greetings Micah. So, I'm awake, a wee bit drunk, and curious who the hades you are. I'm sitting in a nice room in Northampton, Mass. with a house full of great people that are both housemates and friends. I've got a girlfriend, Elizabeth, who I'm in the early giddy stages of falling in love with and a job I don't love... but certainly don't hate. I've got really good friends, I'm living in a wonderful, practically utopian place but my wanderlust is raging.
    I don't really understand why, but I'm anxiously planning on quitting my job, abandoning my life by living in South America for a few months and then moving to Colorado with Tyler. I'm craving the change, the escape, the freshness of a new place... but I'm worried I may be making a big mistake.
    I'm wondering if you, in retrospect, will be looking back to now as the best time in your life. And if you shake your head in disbelief that I gave it all up to, well, become you. I guess the thing that gives me a measure of courage is confidence in myself, in you. I feel like if your life isn't giving you what you want you will pack up and roll the dice again with another move. If the life I end up choosing isn't, in the end, satisfying, you'll find it within yourself to fix things. I don't know if it'll always work. I don't even know that it'll work for me now,
    I guess, on the balance, I just don't know. And so I don't know what to do. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to throw lifes dice once again to see what happens. And I hope you not only forgive me but thank me. But only time (and you) will tell if that really happens.

    It's not often one asks oneself for either forgiveness or appreciation so I'll answer.
    Micah, you didn't have the foggiest idea what you were in for. It was crazy to gamble so much that you loved on the throw of metaphysical dice. As much as you knew you were going into the unknown, you were confident that you knew yourself. And that this knowledge would be a constant that would carry you through the trip and beyond. But somewhere along this trip you lost even that. I am not the same person that left for this incredible trip. It is said that "You can't find yourself until you lose yourself." You did the losing and I'm happy to say I that did the finding.
    This trip was a huge gamble. And you, you lucky bastard, won. And although I honestly don't know where our life will take me I found more than either of us could have imagined in Latin America. And for this incredible gift, Thank You!
PS Estudias tus Castellano!
Flowers and a Rock
The adventure, and this blog, aren't over!
If Living Deliberately is worth anything as a life philosophy it must apply to the world of alarm clocks and bills as well as that of mangos and the constellation of the Southern Cross.
I intend to find out and will share more stories and pictures along the way.
So keep coming back to read about the next chapter in the adventures of the Brothers MacAllen

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:12 PM

    Thank you for your great post! seems that you really "walk" the city. Also very pics specially the one of the cemetery.