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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

rhythmsong

A thought came to me through the air. It was mine when it reached me, but maybe not before. Not a thought, in fact, but a song, a rhythm that pushed my feet – tip tap – this way and that way, like those seven league boots – what are they called? – but smaller, smaller steps, many steps across town, hopscotch over the sprawled limbs of a junky underground, out into the open air, around a leashed Pekinese pressing out a turd on Peña, this way that way, this song – dada dada dum – on the corner one peso for a starveling, three for Fabian at the kiosk – excuso, perdonne – I go, I go, my feet – tip tap – the warm sun on my back, not an Argentine bone in my body, but I go those seven leagues unhindered here in busy busy Buenos Aires.

Monday, March 23, 2009

no use hands

No, Luis!… use chest for make move lady, yes. And for make stop her, no use hands… Intenshion, Lui, intenshion.

I despaired. Only Uri Geller, I thought, could get one of these (abstract) “ladies” gracefully around a dance floor. This was meant to be fun, not an exercise in psychokinesis.

My class was in Constitucion, in a windowless room lit with six compact fluorescents. I was dancing inside a fly-zapper to music… how shall I say, the music was like an old carousel – creaky, violins on one end, bandoneons on the other – turning in circles of sadness and suffering. I’m a Croat; we do not get together as a nation and bare our souls; we cry in private.

The compacts flickered. My mind flickered and then my attention drifted and I squashed his foot with my heel. Dagostino! he cried in my ear. First, I thought how inefficient these Argentines, four syllables to say, ouw! But then it occurred to me that, like their music, these people are just comprehensive in their suffering. I apologized with many syllables of my own, but he interrupted – No, no, dé music, Lui. Thees music are D’Agostino. Angel D’Agostino.

I understood and we carried on walking… yes, walking; this all we did in this dance class, we walked. We did laps inside the fly-zapper, no faster than the carousel, no slower than the carousel. And as I walked these crude circles with his hands on my chest – for make move lady – I thought of spoons bending and women – porteñas – melting in mi abrazo, my embrace: curious, Croatian, unlike the hairy-armed bracket of machos here, soft yet dangerous – yes – like the Aegean, like –

Luis, no use hands… wi’ dé chest… intenshion.

Yes, yes, intention, of course. But after so many more laps, he began to explain that tango is as much about standing still as it is about moving (unbend that spoon, Uri, can you do that?). Listen, he said pointing to Dagostino in my ear. Listen, yes…NOW!

Now what?

No move, Lui.

A violin cried, the singer waned and we stood still.

Briefly, finally, I was myself again, at ease, my mind in its habitual cadence: I thought of my backyard in Zagreb, the old shrub in the corner and the dead cat under the vines my friend Drago used to disinter every year on a specific day; he’d bring his own spade from his house and –

Now, Luis, walk… Luis!

… Luis!

LUIS!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Doblogango

I am rushing diarrhea pills across town to a friend in need. A British friend with British bowels (custard and marmalade). I am underground of course – I am so often underground these days I am starting to feel strangely unmammalian – but the air is no worse here than above, so…

wait… wait…

…he’s here!

Yesterday he sold mirrors, the kind with two sides: one for your face; one for blackheads that hide, and hairs you cannot see. Today it’s permanent markers. He drops them on your lap, walks away and returns moments later with a pitch in espagnol. “Everything you write with this marker is permanent,” he says of his permanent markers.

…but none of this is the point: The point is he’s got my hair, my teeth, my nose, my FACE. He even swings his arms like me. And in his voice there is that scratchiness – you know what I’m taking about – that scratchiness that is mine. Mine!

A bastard-brother in the southern hemisphere? A genetic experiment? A figment of my imagination??

…there he comes. Shorts, flip-flops, a nervous tick in his lip and a tongue that rolls a rickety R. I give him five, he gives me change. And with my own graceless gait he shuffles out at Bolivar.

Wait! Attend! Wacht! I say. But language fails me (not enough poly in that polyglot, Labas).

I skip Serbo-Croatian and go for broke – a gringo in a wagon full of porteños – I shout my name, LUI! – I shout it loud – LUI LABAS! And again, until he turns on his heels, the markers drop to the ground and he stands before me, my mirror image on the platform.

***

I have pressed my hand against this city, grimed my lungs with its air, missed its buses, digested its food, listened to its people, its traffic, its dogs… and now,

I’VE ARRIVED.

I write this in big letter – ARRIVED – permanent letters that go right through the page. Twice, therefore, I write it. Twice…

Once for him; once for me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Porteñas

The city is quiet. The Boca Juniors are playing in Boca Stadium. All men are inside. All men.

On the corner of Callao and Juncal I’m breathing in a mixture of humid air and exhaust fumes, probably peculiar to Buenos Aires.
I’m breathing unevenly, not from exhaustion, for I do very little these days, but from amazement. With a grin on my face I recall the streets of Zagreb and my eatery on Makarska, where I used to sit for hours sometimes to see a single beauty (and usually she was Serbian). But here, before me – it is breathtaking – not one, not two, but an endless procession of splendours, each one more beautiful than then next. And note, please: I have not sought out some special observation post to bear witness, like a red-faced Brit with binoculars gazing at gazelle in Kenya. This is an utterly ordinary corner, such as you will find in Boca, San Telmo, or San Cristobal. Simply, they are everywhere: green-eyed, hair raven-black, legs lustrous and tan, like a rare breed from an age-old, mysterious gene pool, as unDarwinian as the peacock, designed only to dazzle.

They are – and do not forget it or they will hate you for it! – the Porteñas.

On the corner of Callao and Juncal I take in humid air and exhaust, and my eye wonders… until


there… she strolls like a ballerina, her sun-bronzed arms, like pendula mark the rhythm of this city. She does not see me. I do not exist. I am a pigeon. Less, part of the pavement below her feet. I follow her caramel toes.

… it is said these women could commit suicide by jumping off their ego. If it is true, this is OK. I will catch them at the bottom – maybe – and if feel like it, take them out for a coffee and a media luna… that’s a croissant.

Me llamo Luis Labas, y tu?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Buenos Aires

I landed here a few days ago. I dropped out of the sky of the southern hemisphere, fully dressed, in full possession of my senses, but far from my cot in Recoleta and without the language skills – polyglot though I am! – to negotiate an elegant arrival: I lost my bags, busted my phone and stammered and strained through this vast, enormous grid that is Buenos Aires.

PLUS, it appears I have picked a strange time to come (although this, I can say, is out of my capable hands): It hasn’t stopped raining now for three days. THREE DAYS! And it’s been Biblical. Buckets. Sheets. Cats. Dogs (As Bee would say, strangé*). Yet, perhaps, this has been my only advantage here: in matters of rain I am a professional, I come from the place where it was invented. Holland is not a country, but a rain-scape, a delta caught in perpetual drizzle (at the very least). So in that respect – and only in that respect – I have the upper hand here over these crafty portenos (locals) as they sludge through puddles in waterlogged sneakers and look up stunned at the sky as though the Amazon has come to Argentina. Me, I am whizzing all over the place in my rain suit, in and out of the subte (subway), zigzagging through the city by foot and bus… umm… that is, when I am able to figure out the f!@$%ing bus route, which in Buenos Aires is something like solving a Sudoku puzzle spread over several pages, with instructions in a foreign language… and of course, in the rain.

In the meantime though, I have become adept at hand gestures and on occasion I have been able to make myself understood by corkscrewing my French into what must sound like an ancient dialect to people around here, no more Spanish than Friesian is Dutch, but it works (sometimes) and it has earned me, if not respect, at least some compassion amongst the kiosk owners and the bus drivers of this city.

Finally, I want to register a formal complaint: It has not been unusual for me to go to bed extremely late these days. EXTREMELY LATE. There is no print big enough, no font bold enough to stress this. At hours previously unknown to me, so late into the night that – when arriving home – morning sits at the end of my bed greeting me with a middle finger. That late. Now, I do not expect all the world’s activities to cease and all man woman and child to hush while Lui Labas sleeps, but for God’s sake – the rain-God, if it is he you believe in –
please, silence your dogs!

Adios,
Lui
or, (in Buenos Aires), Luis

ps- if you are wondering what it is I am doing here, I will tell you…
…as soon as I know.

*(pronounced: stranjay)