On settling in a new city and rapers

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Flying back from Cordoba to Buenos Aires, 10 days ago, I had a I've made it! (jazzhands) moment.

I'd driven north with my second host (Javier), to sell his car and eat his mother's empanadas, and was just a few hundred metres from touching down in the capital.



We were level with the thousands of skyscrapers that litter the city's downtown districts, each one standing proud and important, marking out their presence with periodic flashes of red light that saturated the night sky with a smoky pink hue.
Javi, with his superhuman amount of trust and generosity, had just agreed to accommodate me long-term in his stylish Palermo apartment, in exchange for a few business-English classes per week. He had also informed me that a company driver would be waiting for us at the airport, suited and booted, ready to escort us to the front door, waiting only for a signature and a nod of buenas.
Adverts seeking English language work had solicited a good response, and Javi expressed a certainty that many of his business colleagues would be interested in private lessons with a native British speaker, interested in being able to 'sack people in a polite way'.
I was caught up in the pace in which I'd progressed so quickly, and dazzled by the unsleeping, watchful skyline of one of Latin America's true metropolises.
I had images of Argentines, now fluent in the North Yorkshire accent, carrying me through the streets on their shoulders and declaring my language classes as being the single biggest factor in the country's economic recovery.

It was wishful thinking, of course; the flurry of progress was followed that week by the inevitable glut of activity, but it was telling of the stop-start process of settling down in a big city.
And Buenos Aires is that process magnified; the pace of the capital city tangled with the non-committal coolness of the 'porteno' attitude.

Potential employers have urgently and blessedly hurried me into meetings via email; sending informal messages at 1am; asking me kindly to prepare a lesson plan for the next morning. Upon reaching their doorstep at 08.15, I'm told to venture down the road to a cafe. "I want to meet somewhere neutral", the agent says, "For all I know you could be a raper".
Welcoming Portenos and Portenas have enthusiastically enquired about the prospect of having an informal, social 'language swap', a chance to practice their English, teach me a little Spanish, and have then resisted any attempts to set a time, date or location for the suggested exchange. "Friday is bad for me", they say. "Weekends are difficult". "Weekdays are impossible, also".
The proudly suffocating diaries of the city folk. So it goes.

And so goes the pattern of the peak following the trough. Just as one may begin to petulantly wallow in frustration, in ride the champions with a smiling kiss for each cheek, a bottle of Argentine Cabernet and a generous heap of useful advice.
And before you know it you're about again, with a cellphone that works and a debit card that has been unblocked, giving out business cards, receiving calls from unknown numbers, agreeing to meet folk you didn't quite catch the name of, agreeing to meet folk on Armenia, on Soler, on Avenida Pueyrredon, being invited to parties, picnics, and prayer groups, sifting through the shite to get to the gems, having options, decisions and the luxury of a full diary.

There's no lasting satisfaction in the feeling that you've made it, but there is satisfaction in the feeling that you're getting somewhere.

1 comments:

Claire said...

I want to hear South Americans sacking someone in a Yorkshire accent!