Spent a nice day at the La Boca today. La Boca, the “mouth” of the Riachuelo river, a tributary to the larger Río de la Plata (River Plate) that runs through Buenos Aires, remains one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in the city, despite its almost complete touristification. Originally settled primarily by fin-de-siècle Genoese immigrants, it claims itself the birthplace of tango and is identifiable today for its brightly colored high-stacked shanty townism (alleged to have begun traditionally because the barrio-ites were given the leftover paint from the seamen on leave from the freight ships stowing into the harbor). The scene today, of course, is about attracting goofy-hatted touristards like myself. The prime five or six blocks in the caminito district are littered with pricey, unmemorable outdoor cafes, Tango dancers in cheap ill-fitting tango costumery, shitty arts and craft salespeople and two week crash-course animators and cartoonists, just in case you traveled several thousand miles to obtain a caricature portrait of yourself with hilarious giant teeth and ears, which will go nicely next to the picture of an “old west” cardboard cutout you and your disappointingly idiotic children stuck their heads through at Six Flags, Bumfuckville. In any case, if you can wade through the inane irrelevance, there is some significant value in La Boca. It has some amazing architecture, traditional local food just a couple of blocks from the main drag and quite a significant amount of poverty to feel temporally awful about.
We arrived mid-day, while the sun was gushing rays unmercifully down on Arual’s bald spot, and on my delicate modely-high cheek bones, already slightly natural pink from the sweet divine European style double-sided kisses of God. We hadn’t eaten (since we had just woken up an hour or two ago) and I had a powerful craving for Sangria and cerdo of some sort. We had been to La Boca briefly years before, so we knew there was going to be a significant amount of annoying tourist trapism to avoid. Our defenses tightened up even more when the cab pulled up to the bustling, roasted peanut smelling harbor inexplicably blaring Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf, a band that I assume rightfully and summarily died in a just plane crash after that horrible single was released. Either way, it didn’t bode well for our planned natural “ethnic” experience of the barrio.
We powered through the pickpockets and cheesy Tangosists offering pictures (complete with fedora and scarf that had, no doubt, beheaded and been wrapped around, respectively, a few thousand unwashed and potentially infectious touri just that day); slapping away, like the slowly approaching hand of a nipple twisting frat boy, cartoonists, desperate restaurateurs and shoeless patchouli-ed gypsy people under the obscure illusion that I might possibly like to purchase and wear a puka shell necklace or “peace” bracelet made lovingly just that morning in the dark deep unmentionable trenches between their street-crusted hell black toes, spiritual and free, obviously, via a steady and austere regiment of complete socklessness. I stopped occasionally to at least hear the prostitutes out (I hate to be rude) until old threes-a-crowder, Arual, made it all awkward with her stalkery omnipresence.
Once we were free of the mayhem, we could move at our own pace, check out some of the local art, watch some adorably impoverished children play concrete soccer and find a nice little parrillas joint for lunch. We settled on a place modestly named Paradiso, with a large patio under tree cover and offering tasty Choripans (spicy grilled sausages in hoagie rolls). I ordered a full pitcher of Sangria, and scarfed down a Choripan or two, as a nosey guitarist/crooner cranked out the Argentine favorites and went around the crowd (just pointing really) asking friendly questions of the patrons. I avoided eye contact like he had a goiter or an erection, or both, but he nevertheless eventually called on our table. We cringed and over-shrugged violently (even our gestures are like broken sloppy Spanish), moist palms pointing towards an indifferent and kind-of-douchey God asking why he would crucify us so (me being, in the metaphorical scenario, Christ and Arual being the hanger-on Magdalenean whore, in case that wasn’t clear), until I eventually spittle-stammered out “San Francisco, California” in response to what I perceived to be a potential “donde” slipped gently into his Infinite Jest-sized cavalcade of nonsensical Spanish. Americans (point in near future fact), I have found, almost never say they are from the United States. We either say America (suggesting to South Americans that they are not actually one half of a greater hemispheric entity, but really an annex, or extension wing of the “real” America, like those prefab wooden classrooms in high school that the slow-learning or emotionally unstable kids had to use out by the parking lot) or we just give our particular state, like I did, assuming that everyone in the world not named Sarah Palin must intuitively understand our federated state structure and the provincial entities that comprise it. Regardless, I am a terrible person.
Of course, our wild-eyed crooner, having no sense of subtlety, heard San Francisco in my fantastic deep Spanglishized South American travel accent, a slower less sexualized version of the effete pan-European that has served me so well on the Mediterranean coasts of Europe, and gleefully rattled off another couple paragraphs of breakneck incoherence that clearly demanded response. Confused and defensive, I realized that it was time to stop dicking around already. I raised high my glass of Sangria, contorted up a giant goofy chromosomally-ambiguous smile, and rattled off a randomly alternating stream of “si”, “gracias” and “bien” interspersed with unpredictable, inappropriate and insincere imbecilic laughbursts until, finally, he was forced to move along, bewildered, rebuffed, sad and little fearful. I looked around the patio for victory signs and found only head-tilted pity, but it was worth it. Fuck them.
I spent a good portion of the remaining afternoon trying surreptitiously to take a picture of the couple at the table across from us, which were ludicrously dressed in full Martin Fierro-esque Gaucho and Gaucho-wife attire and slowly working through a stove of various pork and beef loins. They were drinking wine heavily and talking to the annoying crooner between songs. Arual and I surmised that they had come into town from their estancia in the countryside, where said Gaucho must run a nice little Shetland pony ranch amongst the utter boredom of his wife, dressed like a Spanish caudillo version of Nicki from Big Love. They caught me taking a picture or two, but what the hell, it’s not my fault they are dressed that way. As I have said to many a policeman that has caught me in my neighbor’s bushes, “hey, I am not the one walking around my bedroom naked, am I, officer?” Dominated.
The crooner wasn’t the only serpent in Paradise, though. We also witnessed a woman, roughly our age, pretty and dressed well and with her similarly well-dressed assumptive boyfriend, then standing just on the edge of the patio and enjoying their own freshly grilled Choripans, accidentally bite-squeeze half of her spicy sausage out the tail end of her hoagie, only to, upon casually chewing and swallowing the causal regretful bite, reach down and locate the sausage from the sidewalk – where barefoot gypsies tread I might remind you – it had by then become one with and place it back in the sandwich for further eating. That doesn’t have anything to do with Buenos Aires, or anything else really, but it deserves recording for the sake of posterity. I drank heavily to wash away the sight and turned to my Gaucho friend to see if he had seen it. He did, and to my delight, we nodded together in the universal language of disgust.
We finished up our pitcher of Sangria and headed out of Paradiso, to do a little sightseeing. After a couple of local shops and some architectural stops, we made a disturbing discovery. Just outside of a rundown walk-through knickknack home museum a few blocks from lunch, we found our short Gaucho man and his “wife” standing on the corner offering to take pictures with tourists for a couple of pesos. My illusions and self-worth duly writhing naked and angry on the ground, replaced by the heavy cross of shame, we doubled our pace, fought our way back through the nine circles of tourist hell and taxied out of La Boca, never to return again………but with no regrets.