Moving to the End of the World Part 2

May 20, 2014

Dear Anders,

          Dear Anders,     

               Now I live in Buenos Aires, the so-called Paris of the South. It is much more interesting than Paris; unmistakably and thrillingly foreign and at the same time, bizarrely familiar, I am already deeply and deliciously infatuated. My apartment is in the wealthy neighborhood of Recoleta. It is spread over the entire fourth floor of an early twentieth century building, designed in French Baron Haussmann style, with a gracious marble foyer, gilded staircases  and an art deco elevator cage. Each time, I step into the apartment, I feel like pulling on wrist-length black silk gloves and restraining from slouching. Elegant surroundings can do a lot for a person’s posture.

               There are seven of us.  I call it “La Casa De Las Mujeres” (the House of Women).  First is Luisa the gracious owner. Luisa. Luisa.  How to describe her?  Let me try.  In her fifties, petite, rake-thin, pretty, very straight, stylish, elegant, timeless . . . no, that won’t do. Because the first thing anyone must notice about Luisa is her energy.  It dominates every room she is in.  It probably could supply electricity for a medium sized town if scientists could figure out how to harness it. She is rarely still and so filled with wildly disparate enthusiasms that just being in her presence can feel overwhelming. Her manner of speaking is perfectly in tune with her personality -- incredibly rapid, melodious and occasionally infuriating.

               Paula is Luisa’s headstrong twenty-one going on thirty-nine-year-old daughter. She bears no resemblance to her mother. Her room is closest to mine and the smoke from her cigarettes steals under her door out into the long corridors. She accepts her congenital coolness as a birthright. It is just who she is.

               There are two live-in maids. The older domestic, Maria, is at least ninety, and, I gather, has been with Luisa’s family almost her whole life. She is dwarfish and bent, resembling an even more wizened, Spanish version of Mother Teresa but thankfully, without the slightest trace of saintliness. She has a tendency to loudly bang pots around the huge kitchen and mutter ominously under her breath when she is in a dark mood, a not infrequent event.  She is honest - she doesn’t like anyone. The bulk of the domestic chores fall on Lily’s shoulders.  Lily is just twenty-five years old, pretty, and like the vast majority of domestic workers in this city, an immigrant from Paraguay.  A romantic with an unquenchable thirst for the local Latin American soap operas, she must loathe her formal maid’s uniform of dusty pink with frilly white apron.

               My new best friend and fellow lodger is Gabriela, a twenty-two year-old, Brazilian bombshell. She is probably the most dramatic person I have ever met as well as one of the most charming and whip smart to boot. She could be Gisele Bundchen’s twin but she is darker and much better looking.  In fact, maybe she is Gisele Bundchen’s twin. The other student, Nicola, also comes from San Paulo but she spends most of her days in her room, crying very loudly and screaming into her cell phone -- something to do with her displeasure over the colors of her new leather handbags, I gather, but since I don’t understand Portuguese, don’t hold me to that.

               I don’t see the point in living here without being able to speak the language. Unfortunately, my Spanish, which is limited to ‘gaucamole por favor’ is of very little use because they don’t eat guacamole here. Despite my long-held conviction that I have no talent whatsoever for learning languages, I have enrolled in a downtown language school. Already it is clear that my belief about my lack of natural ability is solidly grounded in fact.  My accent in Spanish makes everyone roar with laughter. I am glad to be of amusement.

               My teacher is a short, lightly bearded version of the Robin Williams character in Good Will Hunting. He also teaches English literature at the local university.  His favourite author is an Irish man . . . Samuel Beckett.  Liesel, the student who sits beside me is an eighteen-year-old German girl who believes she already knows everything about Spanish and about everything else as well. A great deal of class time is taken up with her efforts to correct what she perceives to be the teacher’s errors. So far, I’ve managed, with some difficulty, to restrain the itch to slap her sharp-featured little face.

               I had lunch today with another student who talks a lot. She is an attractive South Korean woman in her late thirties who got a thick wad as a hand-out from her hotel-owning parents.  When I mentioned to her how wonderfully friendly all the portenos (locals) are, she gave a very impressive snort. 

                ‘They like you because you are obviously Western European, nobody ever talks to me.’

               Dismayed, I asked her if she encountered racism. 

               ‘No,’ she said ‘it’s not that, it is not about race; It is about class.  There are very few Asian professionals here.  The portenos assume that I work in a supermarket, which is not interesting to them.  And, as for the chicos (boys), when I lived in New York, I was very popular with men, here, they look right past me as if I were invisible.’ 

               That is definitely not normal here.  When Gabriela, the Brazilian sex goddess, sashays her booty down the street, men whistle, honk their horns and sometimes, literally stop and get out of their cars to proposition her, leaving their vehicles with the doors open and engines running in the middle of the infamous BA traffic.  This happens!  I give you my word.  And, as for me, a day hardly ever goes by without my being on the receiving end of wildly extravagant compliments from male strangers.  While some women might deem this an irritating nuisance, I find I can cope very cheerfully.

               I must go.  Gabriella is knocking on my door, saying in a little girl voice, ‘Sheeeela, I need a hug.’

               She is unable to cope with being on her own for more than two minutes; she even leaves the bathroom door open.  Disturbing. But she is so charming; it is impossible to feel annoyed by her neediness.  I will write again soon.


Sheila xx


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