Craigslist: 35 year old dance teacher seeking a roommate. $400, Palermo. Palermo…Nick and I fell in love with Palermo on Wednesday night…$400…A dance teacher? We could do this! The number…15-6813-8611. Beep…beep…beep… “Hola?”
“Hola, es Cecilia?”
“Hola, Cecilia, es Sarah, de Craigslist?”
“Oh, si, si…”
“Si, okay [not trusting myself to continue in Spanish, I switched to English, speaking slowly], can Nick and I come and see your apartment today? In the afternoon?”
“Oh, you are the girlfriend of Nicholas?” (Nick had written the inquiry email to Cecilia regarding the apartment.)
“Si, si!” Recognition in Cecilia’s voice.
“Oh, okay, yes, come at 5 o’clock.”
“Okay, see you then!” We hung up. Nick and I smiled at each other, in nervous hope of who Cecilia would be, if this could work out, or if this was just another first step in what can be a frustratingly, seemingly futile ride of Craiglist run-around’s. Well, we had nothing to lose, so we packed our bags, left the Internet café, and headed for Palermo.
Leafy trees, broad boulevards, fruit stands, posh restaurants on the boulevards, quaint cafés tucked onto corner streets, beautiful apartment porches overlooking the calles below. We loved it during the day as we had during the night. We stopped at a fruit stand, and asked for tomates, uvas (grapes), and bananas. (It is so much fun, even if a food is a food we eat in the States, saying it with foreign flavor of the word gives it a new taste…) And we headed to the park. Where I promptly fell asleep on top of woodchips and grass.
I woke up an hour later to see Nick reading under a tree, watching out of the corner of his eyes two porteños playing soccer.
“You should join them,” I said.
“I’m not nearly good enough,” he said back (although I know he is).
We began our walk to the intersection Cecilia listed on Craigslist, stopping for a chorizo from a street vendor, and stopping to admire a gigantic mosque that stretched across an entire city block, its huge minarets a surprising sight in this Catholic city. We reached the intersection, and called Cecilia at exactly 5 o’clock. I was so proud of us for arriving on time!
“Hola, Cecilia. Es Sarah. We are in Palermo!”
“Palermo? I am in San Telmo…” (another barrio all the way across the city).
“Oh, San Telmo? We thought the post said Palermo?”
“Oh, that was for my friend! I made her post.”
Both of us were a little disappointed; we had had high hopes for our future in Palermo. San Telmo? Hmmm…Okay, we could hop on the subte (Buenos Aires’s subway) and be there in one hour.
“Okay, I’ll wait,” Cecilia said.
One hour later we arrived at Calle Piedras. San Telmo was much different than Palermo—busy bustling, with hole-in-the-wall empanadas restaurants serving Quilmes and grande pizzas for only 10 pesos. Down walks Cecilia, tiny with black hair halfway a little past her shoulders (think: Michelle Gabella), wearing a black ballerina dress and poofy, black I-Dream-of-Genie pants, topped off with red bowling shoes.
“Hola!” she laughed as she kissed us both on the cheek.
—Enter Cecilia’s apartamento—
First hallway: Cecilia’s computadora, posted quotes decorating the wall. Living room: huge windows looking out onto Calle Piedras, half of one wall red, a comfy sofa. Kitchen: tiny, but enough elbow room to go crazy cooking. Two chairs. A cabinet full of the herbal foods of vegetarian porteno. Picture: Cecilia sitting on the ledge of the kitchen counter, hand rolling a cigarette, Nick and I sitting on two leather stools up against the kitchen wall, the three of us passing around a cup of maté, as if we had known each other for much longer than twenty minutes.
And we sweated, and pushed ourselves to have our very first, Castellano conversation…Cecilia spoke slowly for us, helping us and correcting us, congratulating us when we expressed something correctly. Whenever Cecilia left the room for a moment, we looked at each other and laughed, at the two of us winding up in a kitchen in San Telmo drinking maté with a stranger that felt like a friend.
“Okay, chicos, buenas ondas…”
“Good waves. That’s what we say here in Buenos Aires for a good feeling. Beunas ondas.”
We left feeling like we were riding the best wave, not wanting Cecilia to think we were desperate, too eager for a good place to live and a Castellano friend, but we were overjoyed at the prospect and couldn’t help but show our excitement.
The next day we took the subte to San Telmo, and explored the neighborhood up and down. Old, old architecture is the marker of this barrio, the colonial-style buildings covered in paint rings of Buenos Aires’s history of immigration, tango, revolucion, redemption, porteno pride. The city’s Socialist headquarters are found here, as well as tango club after tango club. The onda was indeed buena.
After walking down San Telmo’s main cobblestone calle, Defensa, we stopped at Bar el Federal for a Quilmes. Bar el Federal has been a resto-bar (the Argentine slang for restaurant/bar) since the 1800s, and because it is an established landmark—a bar notable—it is preserved in its original form. Old bottles line the upper shelves, the wooden bar lying underneath beautiful stained glass, the floor brick. And it is at Bar el Federal that we decided the waves were too good to pass up. So we called Cecilia.
“So, you want to live with me?”
“Okay, perfect. Let’s meet tomorrow to discuss details.”
Done and done. Muchos besos. We had a home! In San Telmo! With Cecilia. We ordered another Quilmes to celebrate. And another. And went home exhausted, ecstatic after another day of walking for all the hours of daylight.
On Sunday we headed back to our new hood to do some more exploring. Domingo is the day of the San Telmo antique fair, which stretches from the Basilica and Convent de San Francisco—an astounding basilica with arching ceilings and a golden cupola, with floors, ceilings, and corners painted with symbols—all the way to the Plaza Dorego, a distance of at least a half mile.
The vendors sell heirlooms, hand-made jewelery, paintings, frames, Argentine trinkets of Evita and Juan Peron, maté cups, churros, empanadas, and of course, shirts and shirts of Che. We walked through it all day on Sunday, and although we spent hour after hour exploring the wares, there was too much to take in during one afternoon.
As we sat having a late lunch at a small café, Cecilia texted to invite us to her boyfriend’s band recital at one of their friend’s houses. Despite being nervous and self-conscious among Castellano-speaking portenos, we were excited to reach out to our new roommate, and excited to see the culture of young portenos, so we didn’t hesitate to say yes.
While waiting until it was time to meet Cecilia at our future home, we wandered through the Parque Lezama and took a quick tour of the Museo de Historia Nacional, a small museum housing a private collection of Argentine historical artifacts from Italian immigrants, Juan and Eva Peron, and other presidents. In the park we watched Brazilian dancers, mothers drinking Quilmes as their children ran around them, little boys playing a game of soccer, little girls stealing the ball and kicking it out of bounds, and people napping and reading, enjoying their Sunday afternoon. And then it was time to face the Portenos.
We met Cecilia at her/our apartment, hopped on the subte to a barrio of which we still don’t know the name, and jumped into a taxi. Then we arrived at a casa with a beautiful courtyard, and ten-twenty portenos milling about, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and drinking Quilmes from shared bottles and plastic cups. Then the music started. There was a base, a trombone, drums, an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, and a keyboard. There were flamenco songs, rock songs, blues songs, jazz songs, and fusions, all with Argentine Castellano sung with intensity. As we sat there among people who didn’t speak a word of English, it was so scary, but so exhilarating, and I wanted to bottle that feeling—to remember that feeling forever of pushing ourselves to go into an uncomfortable situation where we were more than a little out of place, but welcome nonetheless, and inspired, inspired to learn and be a part of this culture.
And thus, that was our weekend. A new roommate, a new friend, a new world to learn…
And here is our new building. It's not as rough as it might look :)