18 July 2011

Olfactory redux.

In winter in this city, the weird and multifarious smells from outside my body sink into my clothes faster than I can sweat my own smell into them.

14 July 2011

Eleanor Rigby.

Have you heard Aretha's cover of Eleanor Rigby?  Hear it.  This is what was playing in my head as I ran around this morning.

I ran!  I got up before the sun and pounded the city's dark streets sans headphones.  I talked to a friend yesterday who's been living in Seattle and doing that, and I think that's what finally helped me get up the gumption to wake up.  That, and what my old mission president told me about how Russell M. Nelson, after having become the world's greatest heart surgeon at age 22 or something like that, taught himself Spanish, Portuguese, and the piano just by waking up early.  "Turn off the TV," he also said.

I don't want to cry over spilt milk, but I should have been doing this sooner.  It's awesome.  One of the main things I've done in this town has been to just walk around and explore, and when you're running you cover a lot more ground.  Of course it's not the same before dawn as during the day, or at night -- there's something particular to be gotten out of aimless wandering at each time of day, I think.  But I discovered a couple museums I might have taken a long time to find otherwise.  And anyway, I feel great; I've always loved the seeming paradox that running in the morning makes me less tired throughout the day.  I mean we're talking 20 minutes, half-hour tops.  I brought along these running shoes and I'm paying slightly exorbitant rent to live in a safe part of town; I might as well get my money's worth.  Also, look, I'm up this early.  Yesterday I got out of bed at about this time.  Today I have a run, a shower, and blog post under my belt.  Ha!  Nothing to dissipate stagnation like a brisk morning jog.  It wasn't even cold out.

10 July 2011

Idea #236

This enormous, incomprehensible, inexplicable, frustrating, overpowering, living, throbbing, bleeding city, I'm seeing it as a metaphor for God's love.

05 July 2011

Haunted Library.

There are 26 public libraries scattered around the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, I learned.  I learned that because the one I visited happened to be the central one that coordinates all the others: Biblioteca Ricardo Güiraldes.  I googled "Biblioteca Buenos Aires" and it was one of the first ones that came up (along with a really cool, kind of useful site that allows you to explore the library in 360 degrees.  I think those things are a little creepy because the perspective is always a little off, so it's like seeing the photorealistic world through a cubist lens.  Maybe Picasso saw the whole world like this.) that was close to my house.  

IT'S COOL.  It's in this old building, from the 30's or 40's, according to Jorge.  Jorge was one of the guys in a little office off of the black-and-white tiled entry hall where I was mostly ignored when I walked in.  I asked What's the Deal With This Library, and was ushered into that little office where Jorge, Lito, Ana, and a businesslike guy who's name I didn't get were shooting the breeze.  I asked them if I could get some kind of library card or something, and since I don't have an Argentine ID document and since I'm only renting, the answer was no.  So I asked if I could just sit and read, and they said Sure, but it's 6:15 and you have to leave by 6:50 at the latest.  (I swear the website said they were open until 8:00)  Do you know the word "mezquino"? That's a great word in Spanish for something we have a great word for in English: stingy.  Libraries are supposed to be refuges against the stinginess of the world.  But don't worry, it turns out this one was, even though they didn't give me a library card.

I went up the marble staircase with the wood balustrade to the 1st floor, which houses the reading room.  I don't know how to describe it; it felt like a room in Hogwarts.  It's just this very old stately building squashed into the confines of a modern reality, it's really wonderful, and its proportions are so weird and charming.  It goes up four stories.  There are colorful glass windows.

On the 1st floor reading room is the kids' section.  The kids' section is a room about 20 feet by 10, with shelves that go up way higher than my reach, much less a kid's.  This library isn't really designed as one of those that you browse around.  You come and ask for a book, and they bring it to you, and you sit in the reading room and read it.  The National Library, which I also went to, is on the same system.  The library loses a lot of its romance that way.  But I suppose real estate is expensive.

Daniela, the kids' section librarian, who is here on tuesdays and thursdays in the evening, was awesome.  Germán's daughter Agustina is going to turn 12 while I'm here, so I want to get her a book.  I have zero confidence in my ability to pick out clothes for any girl of any age, and I thought about getting a toy, but what kind of toy do you get a 12-year-old?  So it's got to be a book.  I asked Daniela for some recommendations, and she told me about some authors she likes, including Graciela Montes, some books of whose I found on the shelf and they are really charming.  So I also asked Daniela for some recommendations on fun things to do in the city and she told me about all these plays her friends are in.  Stay tuned.

I asked her if I could play the piano in the reading room, and she said yes.  No one ever lets you play a piano anywhere, much less in a library.  See how copada Daniela is?  See how great this library is?  It gets better.  As I was playing, Jorge came up the stairs with kind of a confidential giggle.  It was a very disarming way of telling me to stop playing the piano.  I've got to tell you about Jorge, he's probably about 50, and he has this very common, almost archetypal look of Argentine man-boy, like he's doing his best to be a responsible adult but it's clear he keeps his mischievous side in good shape.  He's got a goatee and mustache and great hair, graying but pretty long, I mean down to maybe his jaw or something, and he pulls it off the way only latin guys can.  I mean he's wearing a sweater and a jacket and everything; he's a sharp guy; but he still has a lot of fun.  When I told him I was from Utah, he and Lito (who had also come up the stairs) started talking about old westerns and Bonanza and and Dakota del Norte and Dakota del Sur.  I about died when they said Wyoming.  As I was leaving I mentioned how beautiful the building is and Jorge said, "Yeah, it's gorgeous, but . . . do you believe in ghosts?"  He proceeded to tell me about how one time a security guard quit because he heard weird noises walking around and night.  And Jorge didn't believe it, because he's an atheist and does't believe in nothing, but sometimes he has to stay after everyone else has gone, up in his office on the top floor.  And one time out on the balcony that looks out over the inner courtyard he heard footsteps . . . . walking past the door . . . and he went out onto the balcony to listen, and suddenly from three floor below he heard a loud WHAM, from the floor of the reading room.  "Hey Ghost, I think you dropped something!" he yelled out into the courtyard.  "I always throw out some joke, you know, to keep me from getting scared.  People say it's just the wood creaking, and that's fine but wood doesn't creak . . .  tak, tak, tak . . . like footsteps."

It was incredible.  Jorge and Lito said come back soon, we'll sit out here on the patio and tomar mate.  I said, I can't wait.  It's pretty close to my house too.  Well, 18 blocks.  But they're 18 very pretty blocks and I walked them tonight.  I'll be back, especially if they get the wifi fixed.

03 July 2011

I smell.

When you live in a big city, there are just a lot of weird smells to deal with; there's no getting around it.  I suspect this is why city-dwellers have more trouble dealing with stress.

They're not all bad smells.  The subway line A today had the exact same smell as the last time I smelt a deep early-morning fog, managing to somehow evoke a burnt smell and a cold smell and a humid smell all at the same time.  It is a cousin of the smell of when they put a humidifier in your room.  THAT was what I smelled every time the doors opened all along South America's oldest subway line today.  And I don't remember it from before, and it wasn't happening on the other lines, and it wasn't foggy.  But the smell is incredible.

The dogs of Eduardo Guzmán, on the other hand, smell exactly as disgusting as always.  He has at least 5 or 6, and probably more, some of which are tied to the wall in the living room and the rest of which (at least, of the visible ones) live in the patio outside and in the bathroom on the other side of it.  Eduardo, who's 54 years old but seems much younger and is one of those people whose corpulence seems to signal not sloth but strength, grabs the two most excitable of the patio dogs by the scruff of the neck (collars? please.) while I cross over to the bathroom, shoo the dogs out, and hold my nose while I pee because those dogs smell awful.  Most smells of decay I would define as gradual; their stink is more broad than acute.  But these dogs have an urgency to their rottenness, as if this pungency, like something yellow and living and malignant, were an assault developed over the evolutionary eons to startle primordial man into washing his dog.

Yeah, there are a lot of smells, and you can almost tell how far out you are in the city by what smells surround you.  All kinds of transport smells, all the different vehicles' kinds of smoke and fuel.  All kinds of food smells, predominated by pizza and empanadas.  That weird moldy must in the staircase of my hostel that I remembered from some of the apartments I lived in as a missionary.  Unknown (and best left unguessed) smells.  Dust.  And of course the smells of every kind of people -- you're familiar with the pastime of people-watching, but stuffing yourself into a full train forces upon you the singular experience of people-smelling, which can be almost as fascinating, if less pleasant (I make no pretense at being a wonderful subject for this activity.  I did laundry for the first time yesterday.  I've been busy, okay?  I bought some mints.)  How do my synapses deal with all this unexpected information arriving from sense receptors that aren't used to this volume of activity?  I tell you, the human brain is a marvel, and so is the human city.  Let's not forget the nose either.

02 July 2011


I'm living in a place where the river of myth empties into the sea of reality, diluting and replenishing it.  I know, I know, I'm reading Gabriel García Márquez and you can tell, but it's an apt place and time for me to be reading him.  I will tell you more about it later.  I need to go to bed so I can have some more dreams that will become indistinguishable from my waking hours.

I will tell you that last night I dreamt I was Guybrush Threepwood in a huge mansion being attacked by zombies.