Daniel Tunnard, the Brit taking all the buses in Buenos Aires, continues his Colectivaizeishon series with The 64.
The 64 goes down calle Hipólito Yrigoyen. I’m just writing in my notebook that I’ve always admired Hipólito Yrigoyen for getting elected president twice despite having two weird names (in fact, his full name was Juan Hipólito of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Yrigoyen Alem (and is it just me or does that Alem at the end not look a bit like ‘amen’?)) when a car crashes into the back of the bus. Finally, after 21 buses on which absolutely nothing of interest has happened, a moment of action.
Except, if you’re on a bus in a traffic jam and a car travelling at 5 miles per hour crashes into the back of you, the effect is overwhelmingly underwhelming. It nudges the bus forward about a millimetre, and you hear the sickly crunching of a car whose owner is going to spend the weekend on the phone to his insurance company amid much colourful use of the words ‘puta’ and ‘parió’. The bus driver pays no heed to all this and drives off. I’m not sure it’s completely legal to flee the scene of an accident in which one is directly involved, but my concept of what is and isn’t legal in Argentina gets cloudier every week. I think this episode goes under that grey legal area marked ‘One rule for buses, another rule for all other road users’. I think it’s a great law, as my bus journey times are reduced significantly by drivers jumping all the red lights.
Aside from the boredom of spending so much time on buses so low on incident that even when they do crash, it’s such a non-event that it would struggle to make the back pages of the local paper of a small village, the main physical effect of Colectivaizeishon is the return of the pain in my right shoulder, a pain that put a stop to my attempt to take all the buses two years ago. This has been a recurrent problem ever since the invention of the mouse, but it’s compounded by spending eight hours on buses, bent over myself trying to write in an A4 notebook. Luckily, I have my sister Sandra, my quasi-personal yoga teacher (‘quasi’ because I share her with two other lucky people who are sometimes absent). Today is the first time I’ve taken the buses after a morning yoga class, and the difference is notable. For the first thirty minutes. Not even yoga can defeat the discomfort of a Buenos Aires bus. And she isn’t really my sister, either.
The 64 also goes past my psychoanalyst’s office. Yes, I have an analyst. Living in Buenos Aires and not having a psychoanalyst is like living in Scotland and not drinking whisky. There’s such an abundant supply and the quality is so good, it would be a crime not to. Yoga and psychoanalysis are two of the greatest gifts that Buenos Aires has given me. Those two, and the phrase ‘Tampoco es la vaca del corso’ or ‘It’s hardly the carnival cow.’ It is no coincidence that I started writing my first novel in 2006, the same week that I added yoga to the analysis that I’d started a year earlier. There’s a theory that says that a writer or artist shouldn’t do psychoanalysis because it’s precisely the imperfection and tangled mess of a psyche that make the artist. It’s a theory invented by cowards. Psychoanalysis works to untangle the tangles so that you can write great works of literary prowess that fill humanity with unspeakable joy. Or write a book about how you bored your tits off taking all the buses in Buenos Aires, whatever.
(There’s a thought: it was just today I read a friend of a friend comment on Facebook: ‘there are three cures for all ills: psychotherapy, travel and writing.’ Colectivaizeishon feels like all three.)
Like psychoanalysis, yoga is ignored by a huge number who think that it’s all about sitting in absurdly contorted positions going ‘om’, when the reality is a demanding ninety minutes of physical effort that improves your muscles and posture and relaxes your mind. The only thing more relaxing than yoga that I’ve come across is sex, although that rarely lasts more than three minutes at a time, as my wife knows to her chagrin.
And I say chagrin, buy she rarely grins when we shag.
(I lose track of my thoughts momentarily when I’m distracted by a pretty girl walking down Avenida Santa Fe in a short spring dress. I love Avenida Sante Fe.)
For those Argentines reading these articles from abroad, when you next come back to Buenos Aires you’ll notice that our governors have avoided the need to invest in a transport system worthy of the 21st century, and instead have simply turned all the avenues that used to be one way into two-way avenues. Welcome to the future.
Taking by way of example the feminina-festooned Avenida Santa Fe, this has brought certain advantages. The streets either side of the avenue are free of buses and my sister-in-law can now watch TV with the window open. The return journey up Santa Fe instead of Güemes seems faster, and you don’t have to wander the side streets searching for the bus stop, as is the lamentable habit of the present author. Best of all, you get that transgressive thrill of feeling like you’re going the wrong way down the avenue, a thrill that lasts about as long as sex in the Tunnard household, but a thrill nonetheless. ‘Better than a kick in the teeth’, as my wife so often reflects.
But then, what else can be done to improve traffic? Santa Fe is too narrow to stick a tram down the middle, and there’s already a subway running under it. My solution, and you’re not going to like it, is to ban all cars and taxis from the avenue, make it exclusively for buses and bicycles, and widen the pavements for the pedestrians. I told you weren’t going to like it. Better still, ban all cars from entering the city. Like speedboats, the car should be a luxury item for weekend use only, one that you leave during the week in great storage houses on the outskirts of town, whence you take a utopian fast train into the city.
Of course, some people would be exempt from this new rule: doctors, the disabled, other noble cases. Police would have to go on horseback, because there’s nothing prettier than a policeman on a horse, unless you’re being baton-charged by one. Parents taking their kids to school would be totally banned from using cars ever, because they’re a bunch of lazy fuckers who only had children so that they could use them as excuses for their own shortcomings (unless they’re friends of mine and are giving me a lift somewhere, in which case ignore that comment.) And taxis will be replaced by little cars with pedals, like in Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone film. The taxi drivers will kick up a fuss about this at first, but they’ll end up thanking me when they see the positive health benefits. Like in that mineral water advert. ‘¡Gracias, máquina!’ they will cry. ‘What you have done has brought us great pleasure and fulfilment.’ Which is more than my wife ever says.