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BUENOS AIRES, MONTEVIDEO & COLONIA
BY DANIEL ALARCON
 

Mr. Alarcon is traveling in South America. Below you'll find some notes he's sent to people recently. His story collection, War by Candlelight, comes out soon.

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Buenos Aires
Fri, 7 Jan 2005

So a fight broke out on my plane from Lima to Buenos Aires between two grown men old enough to know better, and this delayed the flight about forty-five minutes. I never really understood what it was about, seats most likely, but it was exactly like I expected Argentines to behave, so that was pretty exciting. Everyone on the plane who wasnít Argentine was smiling, like we were being given a free show or something, a real live argument with real porteños! But the Argentines on board were embarrassed or eager to get involved. 

Things Iíve noticed about Buenos Aires: itís more like Madrid than it is like Lima. In fact, itís nothing like Lima. Argentine woman are very beautiful and dress like women should. The men have tattoos and/or mullets and in this heat wave that has descended on the capital apparently have license to walk around the city shirtless at all times. The beef is very good. The wine is drinkable. The economic crisis isnít over: there are entire families sleeping in the streets, which is one way I suppose it is like Lima. Also, a funny thing has happened. In my regular life, I usually write, read, drink coffee, walk or bike and the day passes in this manner. Now, on vacation, Iíve been doing exactly the same thing, which is exciting for me, because Iíve always suspected I was a workaholic like my parents, and now it has been proven. I keep meaning not to work so hard, to do some vacation-like things, like shopping say, but I canít think of anything I want to buy. Iíll take suggestions.

There are many many Peruvians in Buenos Aires. I met a girl from Tumbes yesterday. She sold me a watch. Itís cheap and plastic and cost one dollar, so this doesnít count as shopping.

I went bike riding today and got caught in a biblical storm. I saw La Bombonera where Diego Maradonna first played. This was a highlight, but I resisted the urge to buy a jersey. 

Thatís all for now,

Besos

d

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Montevideo & Colonia
Fri, 14 Jan 2005

So I was in Montevideo for a few days, which is a sleepy town compared to Buenos Aires, but charming nonetheless. Everyone there was complaining about the heat, one man said it was an indignity, but it was high eighties, which is hardly the insult this man seemed to be implying. I guess everything is relative. The city, at least the old part, seems to me to be on the edge of complete collapse: down by the port every third building was boarded up, and one old timer I talked to complained that there hadnít been a single bbq this year, when he was a boy, someone threw an asado every sunday. He told me Montevideo was dead and he was telling everyone he knew under 20 to leave. It seemed a bit harsh, but he held firm on this point. He said heíd lived in the neighborhood for sixty years so he would know. I couldnít argue with that.

Along the beach side, the city looked very much alive though, with plenty of people wading into the waters, or sitting among the rocks drinking maté. And the breeze off the ocean was pleasant. Uruguayos are serious about their maté, man. They carry a thermos   with them wherever they go. You see men sipping maté while riding their motorcycles. Itís religion.

Before Montevideo, I spent two days at the beach, which is about all I can stand of the beach, even one as pleasant as Punta del Este, and even with the excellent company of Maggie and Leandro and his family. I donít think Iíve ever seen anything quite like the place in Latin America. No signs of poverty anywhere. It was almost disconcerting. Thereís a town nearby called Maldonado, which is a little more recognizably Latin American, but overall the impression was of a playground of the rich, with Ferraris and yachts and tall, thin model types smoking cigarettes and tanning themselves while looking bored. The beach is the beach, I guess. 

On my way out of Montevideo I met a man who showed me the results from his target practice at the shooting range. He had come to the capital to get his certificate so he could apply for a job as a  security guard in a bank. He was a pretty good shot. He seemed very proud. He philosophized a bit about shooting a man, how he supposed that would be different than shooting at a target, etc. He also mentioned he had five children and three wives. Then he fell asleep with cracker crumbs all over his uniform. When he woke I offered him water and he drank my whole bottle. 

Colonia, where I am now, is a pretty nice town, a bit more touristy than I had expected, but really very beautiful. Itís directly across the river from Buenos Aires, an old Portuguese smuggling port, and the local museums have the strangest mix of old oil paintings of Portuguese traders, antique maps, and taxidermied cats and pigeons. I also saw the largest insect Iíve ever seen. The size of my hand. 

I rented a bike and went riding last night and stumbled upon Suppo and Acevedo Auction Night at the edge of town, and this was a singularly strange experience. Some of the items sold included: a set of 3 wooden tennis rackets, a pair of rubber boots, a bust of Pablo Neruda, an assortment of blankets, a framed painting of a horse, and my favorite: something the auctioneer called a pimba, which I take to mean grab bag or something. He kept saying how heavy it was, and the game was that folks would bid on it without knowing what was in it. When it was sold, everything sold, it was miraculous. He pulled out its contents: a small transistor radio, two sets of high heels, an AC adapter, and some metal discs that look like parts of ancient computer. The owner took it all proudly and was congratulated by everyone. It was so strange.

Then I rode some more and made it in time to see the second match of the local soccer tournament semi-finals, which started at 11 pm. I thought it was a bit late for a game to start, but again the heat was invoked. It really is not that hot. Cementerios beat the Rios 3-1, these guys could straight up play. It was an excellent match, and there were children in the stands till the very last whistle which came at around one in the morning. 

Anyway, Iíll be heading to Paysandú, I believe. Iíd like to get to Santiago sooner just because Iíd like to talk to someone and I know folks there. I spend so much of my day in silence, just watching people, that when someone does say something to me, it shocks me and it always takes me a minute to understand what theyíre saying, if theyíre really talking to me. Iím not naturally someone who talks to strangers, but Iím trying to acquire this habit.

Bueno, thatís all for now. 

Hasta pronto,

Check back in a few days for
more notes like these.

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