Upside Down Notebook

Putting the street into the notebook. By Ben Dangl

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Embassies, Time Travel, Summer in Buenos Aires

February 4th, 2007 · No Comments

The city streets sweat, the subway is an oven and even the rooftops wait for a breeze. It’s summer in Buenos Aires and hottest place is the “Paraguayan embassy.” In order to get a visa to go to Paraguay we were told to wake up early, take this subway to that subway to this block, turn right, don’t ask any questions, hand over the paperwork, dollar bills and a smiling photo and wait for the magic to happen. “What, a visa? You’re in the wrong building,” the Paraguayan woman at the embassy said. At a bar in England the man sitting next to this same woman asked where she was from. He thought she said, “Far away.” We went far away to another “Paraguayan embassy” that was selling pastries and visas.

In a city this large, I can’t help but be lost most of the time. Luckily there are ample buses and subways. I seem to keep asking for directions from the wrong people: Peruvians, Italians, and Chileans – all saying, “don’t ask me, I’m just visiting, too.” More than once I’ve climbed onto the right bus, going the wrong way.

There are few things more satisfying than walking into a freezing, air conditioned store on a hot day after walking city miles in the hot sun. It makes me feel at home. I guess the North Eastern US is like one big naturally air conditioned store, except there is less public transportation.

I think a lot of people travel because they have a romanticized idea of what that place will be like. In their mind, that place is a certain way. In the same way we can look at the past and smooth over the rough edges and remember it as a utopia, we look at other places that we haven’t visited yet in a polished way. Music, photos, movies, books, stories from other people feed our imagination. In this sense, the most exciting part of the trip can be imagining what it will be like before it happens. The difference between romanticizing about a travel destination and a memory is that travel is in the future, not the past. It’s a horizon we chase. This is exactly why time travel would be cool.

[Looking down from a tall building] – From below, the street is everything. It’s our world of stop signs, cars and faces. It doesn’t look so serious from 18 stories up in the air. Everyone looks small, earnest, pre-occupied with a reality they created for traffic. Up here there are more birds. It’s a world of rooftops, lights, wires and skylines. In the distance, there is no sea, just a vast unraveling of buildings that see through windows, feel with doors and breathe through us.

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