I received a text today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I can’t be sure…
It was from my youngest daughter, who was attending the Buenos Aires Book Fair. She couldn’t pass up the chance of sending me a photo of Buenos Aires’s own great writer, Julio Cortazar, author (most notably) of Hopscotch, amongst other works. A handsome fellow, that Cortazar, and with that cigarette hanging from his mouth, he reminds me of Camus (famous picture of whom below) – and there are other similarities, too (the fight against oppression, the fascination with memory, etc.).
I believe that for my daughter Buenos Aires may have a tenuous, albeit unconscious, connection to another city she experienced as a young girl, a city where the older people carry within them secrets and painful memories, where they walk in a similar manner, still cast furtive glances when out on the streets (J’accuse!). A city where they give books and roses to a loved one once a year. Barcelona, that is. Like Buenos Aires, a stylish city, yet one full of ghosts, one that still bears the pall of dictatorship.
Are books always the great foe of dictatorships? Is imagination our last refuge? The only place we can be free?
Buenos Aires has been on my mind a lot lately…
Whilst wandering the streets of San Telmo, Buenos Aires’s well-known historic barrio, I was struck by the presentness of its past – different epochs meld into each other, historical figures have a life, are tangible on a daily basis (the Perons, for example – and Evita’s visage is prominently displayed on buildings).
One can see a Porsche plying its way through the streets followed by a horse-drawn cart. On one side of Plazza Dorrego couples will dance the tango, a mating ritual seemingly as old as time – and on the other, kids will be playing techno pop, banging drums. It all works, like some fabulous Magritte painting. Garcia Marquez said of Mexico that “surrealism runs through the streets.” The same can be said of Buenos Aires.
At night the streets of San Telmo are crowded with los cartneros searching through the garbage bins for recyclables Not one or two, mind you. There are families. Gangs. Running mates. Solitaries. People pushing carts. When the sun comes up, they disappear.
I barely know Buenos Aires, but like Cortazar’s Hopscotch, it seems to invite one to play a game with it – to begin where one finds oneself, to be swept up in a postmodern gesture that eschews structural and cultural unity.
Cortazar said, “These days, my notion of the fantastic is closer to what we call reality. Perhaps because reality approaches the fantastic more and more.”
Buenos Aires is a fantastic city. I will be returning soon…