Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Soul of the City

It was my final week in Argentina before I really felt I had got to know what the country, and the city of Buenos Aires, were all about. When this occurred to me, I couldn't help but feel sad that I was preparing to leave for home when I had only just began to fully appreciate this place.

The transient nature of my student accommodation in Congreso meant that I was never really sure who was going to turn up next - nor was anyone else. Just as we seemed to be saying goodbye to one person, a whole new set of people would arrive eager to make friends and explore everything the city had to offer. The dynamic of the place changed in my final week so that it felt as if we had a perfect balance of personalities, backgrounds, ages and cultures.

I returned to La Milonga for a second attempt at tango in my final week, determined not to let my futile efforts first time round put me off. Several of us from the apartment, along with other friends from school, headed down there to lament our sad lack of tango knowledge and full understanding of what the dance was all about: maybe we were just not melancholy enough to truly take to it in the way an Argentinian can. When we'd drunk a few more beers, the American rock n roll tunes they began to play had more of an effect.

Throughout the rest of the week, I continued the delicate balance of having fun with my newfound friends in this exciting and diverse city, while also focusing and concentrating carefully on trying to get my Spanish up to scratch. The week also saw the first of my goodbyes to the people I had been spending so much of my time with in Argentina as a porteno friend of mine left for his holiday in Peru. Always something I find difficult, it reminded me of the fact that in a few days' time I would have to say goodbye to my other friends and to the city and country I had grown to love.

On my last day of school, I reflected on how quickly the two weeks had passed since my first day there, and looked ahead to my final weekend in Argentina, during which time I saw the last few sights I'd planned to see while I was in the country.

Friday night saw us return to Palermo for a night of more amazing food and Mojitos, followed by another trip to Crobar. The club was even more jampacked than it had been the previous week, but the 80s and 90s electro and dance classics spun throughout the night kept everyone on the dancefloor energised and fired-up enough to stay till the sun came up and beyond.

The following day we stumbled over to La Boca for our planned trip to the Bombonera for Boca Juniors v San Lorenzo: an important fixture, and a stadium with such notoriety made me determined to make the match. The fans of Boca Juniors I had seen and been told about in Buenos Aires were beyond dedicated to their club and the game, the rivalry between them and basically everyone else reaching almost war-like heights. Before the match began, we were taken to a 'traditional La Boca home' and walked across to our place in the stadium: happy though we were with the great view of the goal we had, and the glorious sunshine that was shining on us, we were keen to agree to being moved further up in the stand to avoid any missiles from the San Lorenzo fans hitting us.

Despite having been to Old Trafford for many a spirited match over the last fifteen years, I wasn't fully prepared for the level of noise and atmosphere generated by the Boca faithful. As the players came out on the pitch, flares were let off, the air filling with smoke as drums were beaten and the fans came together to sing as one about their beloved Boca Juniors. A huge banner the size of the stand opposite us was unfurled and manoeuvred deftly by the supporters, and there was a mighty roar as the game kicked off. San Lorenzo ended up grabbing the win in the end, to the disappointment of the Boca fans - a late goal gave us something of a consolation.

On my final Sunday in Argentina, I headed down to the beautiful Teatro Colon for the ballet. A historic venue in Buenos Aires, it had been several years in renovation prior to my visit. I'd been looking forward to being inside for an actual performance since my arrival in the city, and I felt really lucky to have been able to get a ticket during my short time there. I'd paid a tiny amount for my ticket, and when I arrived at the theatre I understood why: me and several others were crouched in a tiny space at the top of the venue leaning over a barrier at waist-height. But this hardly mattered at all - the theatre was the most ornate and beautiful I'd ever seen, and when the ballet began I barely even noticed the pain of my legs as I crouched down to get the best view.

I'd already decided that on my last full day in Buenos Aires I would travel over to Uruguay on a day trip. As I was only in Argentina for three weeks, and would be studying in Buenos Aires for two of them, it unfortunately meant I couldn't see much outside of the city. I figured that going to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay for the day before I returned to the UK would at least mean I had seen something or somewhere outside of Bs. As.

A popular weekend and day trip destination for many portenos, Colonia is accessible by boat from Puerto Madero in just an hour. It's a very tranquil and pretty little town, a million miles from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, and a really fitting place to spend my penultimate day.

After a farewell lunch in Buenos Aires on the afternoon of my departure, I headed to the airport still not quite ready to say goodbye to the country. Nervous about the impact of the air pressure on my damaged ear on my flight home, I wandered around the terminal in something of a daze before take-off. As the flight took off I found myself feeling reflective and also sad to be saying goodbye to the city and the country: while I looked forward to returning home, I also felt a sense of loss about leaving this place that I'd connected with in so many ways. I acknowledged my feelings, and realised that perhaps it meant more to me than even I had realised. But I was comforted by the inner certainty I had that I would one day return.