Daniel Tunnard, the Brit taking all the buses in Buenos Aires, continues his MAJOR PLUG ALERT! THIS TUESDAY 5th JUNE THE WORLD-FAMOUS GRINGO STAND-UP COMEDY SHOW IN ENGLISH (FEATURING ME AND FOUR OTHER WONDERFULLY FUNNY PEOPLE) MOVES TO SAN TELMO, BECAUSE LET’S FACE IT, NO ONE WANTS TO GO TO CONGRESO ON A COLD TUESDAY NIGHT. SO COME DOWN TO CAFÉ RIVAS, ESTADOS UNIDOS 302 (CORNER OF BALCARCE) ON TUESDAY AT 9PM FOR THE BEST ENGLISH-BASED COMEDY EXPERIENCE IN THE COUNTRY. 30 PESOS, DETAILS HERE ADVANCED BOOKINGS HERE.
Ahem. Daniel Tunnard, the Brit taking all the buses in Buenos Aires, continues his Colectivaizeishon series with The 22.
Millions of things are happening in Buenos Aires at this very moment. A man in Villa Devoto places a bleach bottle with this phone number on top of his Peugeot 504 and wonders exactly when Argentines decided this was the most effective way to sell a car. An old man in San Cristóbal throws crumbs to the pigeons, oblivious to the fact that the pigeons find this quite patronizing, as if they were incapable of finding their own food. And on ‘Salven el Millón’(known elsewhere as ‘Million Dollar Money Drop’), the best programme on Argentine TV (the fact that this is far and away the best programme in Argentina speaks volumes about the sorry state of Argentine programming) Susana Giménez asks which province the town of Londres is in. The competing couple bet $40,000 on Santiago del Estero. The answer is Catamarca.
For the first time in Colectivaizeishon I go past Plaza de Mayo and the Cathedral. I’d love to know the meaning of so many of these architectural references to be found in the buildings in the old part of the city, but the philosophy of Colectivaizeishon is that you can read about that kind of thing elsewhere and Colectivaizeishon can stick to making sarcastic jokes about the quotidian minutiae of Buenos Aires life. One of the few architectural references I do know is regarding the frontispiece above the Cathedral entrance. This depicts the reencounter between Joseph and Jacob (or was it Abraham?) in the book of Genesis, which symbolizes the reunification of Buenos Aires with the rest of Argentina in 1860 (or was it 1862. So of all the curious stories that exist about Buenos Aires architecture, I’ve managed to commit to memory one of the least interesting ones and can’t even remember its most salient points. (Pub quizzes in 1850s Britain often ended in tantrums and name-calling when the question ‘What is the capital of Argentina?’ was answered correctly as ‘Paraná’ but the quizmaster had been using an outdated encyclopaedia and arrogantly insisted it was Buenos Aires. Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ attests to such a dispute.)
The 22 is one of the few buses that connects Retiro with the south without just going straight down Paseo Colón, which is good news for the present author who was running out of things to say about said Paseo, except to say that its name in English could facetiously be translated as ‘Colon Stroll’. In my first years in Buenos Aires I thought Paseo Colón was a tree-lined pedestrian walkway next to the Colón Theatre. This is patently not the case. Only now is such a walkway being built, and it’s called Vatican Square. I am as oblivious to the reasons for this name as am I to finding a punch line for this paragraph.
Instead of doing the Colon Stroll, the 22 takes me through San Telmo. For many years, when I lived in Palermo and any bar, restaurant or shoe shop more than five blocks from my house was a bar, restaurant or shoe shop not worth going to, I used to go to San Telmo but once a year and every time I did it was a letdown. You know when you go to a foreign city that’s supposed to be really cool, but you spend all your time wandering round the main square bored off your tits because you’re too tight to shell out for a guidebook and so haven’t got a clue where all the groovy people in town hang out? That’s what San Telmo was like to me for many a year.
But then we made friends in San Telmo and with that came the sad obligation to have to visit San Telmo more regularly. One of the things I do like about San Telmo is Av. Caseros, basically because it’s British, with the old British railway workers’ buildings and the Bar Británico a few blocks away. All the same, we came to San Telmo late. According to my spies in the south, San Telmo is just the same as Palermo today, they even have a Starbucks, and Plaza Dorrego’s only purpose is to rip off the tourists. A few years ago I read part of a travel book by AA Gill in which he writes some such nonsense as: “Porteños dance the tango on every corner of this city. The señoritas won’t sleep with you unless you marry them, but they will instead allow you one dance of the most sensual tango.” I can only imagine that AA Gill spent the entirety of his stay on Plaza Dorrego or Florida, and that he was really rubbish at picking up women. (But then AA Gill also described the British as “an embarrassing, ugly race […] lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed, beefy-bummed herd” so he’s not a completely rubbish writer.)
I’m surprised to discover that Av. Montes de Oca is named after a man called Manuel Montes de Oca, and not, as I had always imagined, a great mountain of ganders, which would be the literal translation of ‘montes de oca’. What a mountain of ganders is and why a major thoroughfare of La Boca should be named after such a concept are two questions that clearly never occurred to me.
It is on this avenue that I see a man sharpening a knife on his special pushbike. Round about 2005 I was talking to a student who was saying that one of the things she loved about Buenos Aires was that it was a city where men cycled round sharpening whatever blunt instrument presented itself for grateful housewives. I nodded and didn’t tell her how much it bothered me that these people came round buzzing all the intercom buzzers in the building at siesta time. But I decided to go along with my student’s starry-eyed take on porteño life. Two days later, I’m having a nice nap when some idiot buzzes all the intercom buzzers in the building.
‘How much?’ I ask.
‘Three pesos,’ says the chap on the intercom. I go downstairs with a chef’s knife, and the old man proceeds to sharpen it on his pimped-up pushbike. He’s done in five minutes and I give him my three pesos.
‘No,’ he says. ‘Thirteen pesos.’
Thirteen pesos! To sharpen a knife that cost me twelve pesos! Now, I know I have a tendency to zone out a bit when spoken to in Spanish, but where money is concerned I sit up and listen, and this man clearly said three pesos (‘Tres’ and ‘trece’ sound alike in Spanish. So do ‘dos’ and ‘doce’. It’s an imperfect language, really. They have no word for ‘flick’ either. They make great show of the fact that they have one word for ‘the back of the neck’ and we don’t, as if that was something, but instead of ‘toe’ they say ‘foot finger’. They really haven’t given this language any thought at all.) I only have a $100 note on me and this man, obviously, doesn’t have any change. I have to cross the road to the Chinese supermarket and spend ten pesos to get change. I cross back and give thirteen pesos to the sharpener, who doesn’t even say thank you, the git. He cycles off and I look at my knife. He’s buggered it. I could have sharpened it better myself, and with a normal bicycle.
Besides, what do we need knife-sharpening men for in this day and age? What is it that you’re cutting, Madame, that requires such a sharp blade? I say, if you’ll forgive me my impertinence, instead of throwing away money on these rip-off artists, why not spend your money on better-quality meat? Unless you, Madame, have murdered your husband and need to dispose of the body, in which case carry on.