Sunday, February 5, 2012

It takes two to tango

I sold most of my wordly possessions before starting this trip. I didn't come with a laundry list of architecture that I must see. I came here to learn about things other than design. I wanted to get away from design. To forget about jobs and responsibility and the names of chairs. I came because South America is supposed to be different. It's supposed to be chaotic and wild. It's not supposed to be polished and chrome-plated and's supposed to be raw. I wanted to learn about taking it back to the basics. I wanted to understand what the world looked like before we built it into cities and skyscrapers. I wanted to connect with unchanged earth and see beauty before it was shaped by human hands. I wanted to see what life could feel like without clocks, and schedules, and fast food. What if time was based on the sun and seasons instead of...seconds on a Rolex? What if distance was measured by footsteps instead of...miles in a BMW?

So far on this trip I've learned to love the great outdoors in ways I never knew were possible. I've learned how much crap I had accumulated in my life that was totally and completely unneccesary. I've learned to slow down a bit and enjoy the moment. I've learned that what defines "hygenic" and "sanitary" are more loose than I orginally thought. I have had many solid nights of sleep without waking up and wondering what was in my email. Make-up? Forget about it. Flat iron? Forget about it. High heels?! Forget about it. Pedicure...well, that would still be nice.

But when I walked the streets of Buenos Aires something woke up inside me. Something that had been hibernating for a while. I noticed it because, for some unexplained reason, I stopped at store windows and admired the pretty things inside; totally unpractical, shiny things. Expensive, unpractical, shiny things. And I liked them.

I liked the chaos here too. It wasn´t like the chaos of tree roots that pierced free from the ground. It wasn't like the chaos of birds calling when you near their nest. It was a living, moving chaos of 13 million people, and what seemed like as many taxies and buses. It was the rise and fall of activity when the streetlight changed to green. It's the cobblestone and smooth paved roads. It's the pedestrian streets and the wide, 16-lane avenida. It's street vendors and pamphlet passers and stray dogs. It's the windows telling me there is a sale, and wifi and plastic counts as money.

It's stone buildings with intricate carving and plaques that tell me why they are important. It's statues in grass plazas with big, shade-giving trees. It's manicured green-spaces. It's steel, and glass, and concrete. It's colorful metal and wood slapped together in make-shift neighborhoods. It's restaurants with designer tables and designer chairs that spill into the street. It's the smell of bread when you walk by the bakery and coffee when you walk by the cafe. It's the click-clack of beautiful, strappy-high heeled shoes as they make their way down the sidewalks. It's the color of scarves that coordinate with leather purses that match the click-clacking high heels. It's the sing-song spanish on cell phones walking quickly to somewhere important. It's businessmen with shaved faces and tailored suites and skinny ties.

This is a panorama too. This is something to behold. There are waterways with boats. There are streets jammed with cars, taxis, buses, bikes...people running across at unmarked intervals. There's a group of teenagers on skateboards. There's a mother with a small child in a stroller. There's a young couple in love necking. There's an old couple in love sitting on a park bench. There's the human mating process unfolding as young males and young females strut and saunter demanding that someone take note. It's street perfomers with music that makes your shoulders shimmey. It's tango dancers with flowers in their hair, fishnet stockings and pure, dynamic passion.

I slowed to admire the modern looking skyscrapers that reflected back the afternoon sun. I admired the old brick buildings given a new lease on life. I passed through antique shops displaying everything from cutlery to dresses to crystal chandelliers. I read the plaques on sculptures and stared in wonder at the massive stone structures. I took note of the furniture, the colors, the textures and the light as I walked by building after building in this bustling downtown. I eye-balled the menus and judged the font. I peaked into lobbies of fancy hotels. I lingered in front of trendy shops with bold graphic desplays. Yeah, Bertoila, you're looking pretty good, this Argentinian climate goes well with your chrome. Hello Mr. Calatrava, nice to see you again. Well, Mr. Van der Rohe, didn't expect to see you here.

I had a revelation while walking the streets of Buenos Aires. I didn't know it, but deep down inside, I'm still a designer. I thought that my time in the wild, in small pueblos, on mountains, wearing the same dirt-colored outfit, eating the same basic diet, had rid me of the title of designer. I was wrong, and it took the sultry, sexy, simmer of Buenos Aires to remind me. She won me over with the hypnotice moves of dancer. At first I fought it. I can´t tango, I've forgotten how, it's been too long. But the music, the movement, the passion of the city it took hold and I remembered...I am, alas, still a designer.

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