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"Don't plan it all. Let life surprise you a little." -- Julia Alvarez
|Episode 11: It Takes Two to Tango|
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:12 PST
|cherie writes: March 1999|
It´s the end of the world. Literally, we are in Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth. It´s where Argentina used to put it´s criminals, and now puts it´s tourists. Here, glacial peaks jut themselves through the sea to form a landscape of long white swan feathers. Today, sipping the best hot chocolate we´ve ever had, we watched the sun turn the icy-water the same shade of pink as a porcelain doll´s cheeks. Nothingness, when you have so much of it, is unimaginably beautiful.
We´re staying in a tin-roofed cabin and enjoying the funny assortment of mismatched pictures every cabin seems to contain. Everything is backwards here: summer is winter, spring is fall, and the ¨C¨ on the shower knob doesn't stand for cold, it´s hot. ¨C¨ for ¨caliente¨.
We just left Buenos Aires (by the plane tickets purchased hours after after our 18 hour bus ride.) There we slept in an old colonial home, that is Argentina´s version of Disney´s Haunted Mansion. Upon entering we found ourselves in the room that was ACTUALLY STRETCHING?But, alarmingly enough, the cockroaches, broken stained-glass, spider-webs, creaky noises, rusty pipes, cracked mirrors, missing tiles, and exposed wires...were real, not for effect. Even the key to our room was that old-fashioned, over-sized heavy brass kind, that we had to leave at the front desk because it was absurdly impractical to carry. The ghosts in our haunted-house were the people straggling home late, zombie-eyed and arms out-stretched for balance. Their clamoring was enough to wake the dead. The doors were both too tall and too thin; and with a squint and an imagination their knotted wood turned into human faces. I found myself flipping the light on, just to make sure the doors weren´t breathing, like they are in Disneyland.
Buenos Aires: where the biggest export is the Tango, is a quaint mixture of old world charm and new world prices. More expensive the than the US, $3 gets you a coke, $4 an orange juice, $7 a hamburger, and $8 for a beer was not uncommon. I did get a great deal on a REAL silver ring. The magnitude of my bargain evidenced by a circle of green-film scaring my finger. It´s worth it though, the city parks alone enough to warrant a visit.
In the parks, lovers snuggled in the grass, the green blades doing their best to shelter them from the oppressive gaze of the not-in-love. Old women had their futures told to them by other old women--some studied a palm, while others consulted a colorful card to see where the seeker´s destiny lied. Social outcasts sold their freaky jewellery, fathers sold their wood-workings, mimes and jugglers vied for shade under the coolness of the trees, little girls flew kites, little boys sold puppies, and people painted white with plaster posed convincingly as statues.
It was here that we took Tango lessons in the park with 20 other couples, dancing at the end of the street of houses painted all 64 of Crayola´s colorful choices. Artists, who could have dipped their brushes in water and taken their colors from the surrounding homes, lined the streets with their unframed masterpieces. Other town squares held performers on each corner, some tap dancing, others playing a flute or sax, and even one with an accordion. The public gardens blossomed with lakes, esplanades and monuments. Though the botanical gardens touted ¨5000 species¨ they must have been referring to bugs, rather than plant life. Fleeing the insects (pun intended) we visited a nearby bay, cluttered with dockside cafes. It was also a graveyard of resting Navy ships--a fishing port turned fine-dining with the charm of iron and rope chains.
Next we visited a cemetery that was the size of a town; a city of dead people, alive with tourists. Giant stone houses were vaults to hold the remains of the famous, whole families buried together... sleeping away eternity. Each house (tomb) contained statues of those who were inside, with murals bearing their stories. Just as ornate, but used to celebrate the living, was the Colon Theater. The gothic-like construction harbored gold-leaf walls, windows of painted glass, and a 6000 pound embroidered curtain that hid a stage upon which the world´s finest have danced, sang and acted. A chandelier of 700 lights held fifteen people squished within it´s crevices, their only job to change the burnt-out bulbs. We watched the ballet dancers practice for next week´s performance, Swan Lake, where a $140 will get you standing-room only. I don´t have enough money to even think about sitting.
I´ll leave you with a snap-shot of our 18 hour bus ridë:Looking like we were trying to guide a 747 to a safe landing, we flagged down the wrong bus--just in time to watch the right bus drive away, the driver visibly amused by our frantic arm waving. Once on route, the driver quickly grew tired of my nagging ¨When do we get there?¨ He answered again ¨a little longer¨, his eyes saying ¨don´t ask me again.¨ His attitude changed when Kristi rubbed her full belly and the driver assumed she was pregnaunt. Thinking only of her comfort, no one occupied the seat next to her, so she could sprawl out lazily. At the boarder check, she was waved by--no one searching her bags. (But, they searched mine enough for two.) I can´t forget the serious faces of the other bus people...waiting, lined up for inspection with all their belongings, and the guards stopping the entire complicated process to take pictures with Kristi and I. After the photo, one boarder-guard practiced his English and said ¨Gib dat one to duh baby,¨ her baby being the all-you-can-eat-buffet resting in her stomach. Back on the bus, one of the drivers rubbed her feet, while another held my flashlight in just the right angle so I could read. 18 hours later I landed in Buenos Aires, well searched, well rested and well fed. Still, we headed to the travel agency for plane tickets.
Stay tuned, the next chapter is for the birds. We go to visit the penguins.
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