You are going to Uruquay and I am going my way
–Groucho Marx, ANIMAL CRACKERS
Colonia, Uruguay, November 15
It has been a hot, muggy and smoggy week in Buenos Aires and I thought I would take an hour ferry ride to Colonia, an historic town on the Uruguayan side of the Rio de la Plata.
The hour ferry ride has proved to be quite complicated because of customs, immigration and crowds. The trip has taken three hours. No matter, it is part of my plan to try to cure my ferry-phobia and other than a mild anxiety attack it is not as bad as the freak-out in Washington state I wrote about in “An Uneasy Crossing.”
The street is empty, the weather has broken, and there is a 20-25 MPH wind stinging my eyes, it is cloudy and the temperature is about 60°F.
I go into a small and lively restaurant called the Merco Sur. It is warm and friendly. Large groups of women talk rapidly in cigarette-tinged voices and there are a few other tables with couples, solo men tapping on laptops, and a small family. On a wall-mounted flat-screen television, ESPN broadcasts a NBA game between Boston and Denver.
As I sit eating my bife milanese, the restaurant’s version of chicken-fried steak, I observe that many places maintain local culture solely to attract tourists. The music system plays a familiar tune and I hum along. I realize that the woman’s smooth alto is purring a smooth jazz cover of Radiohead’s song “Creep.“ She sings:
But I’m a creep.
I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.
I also think about this interesting relationship that you and I have. I write knowing you are reading in almost real time. That in some ways changes the writing and the experience. You read, in part because you enjoy the vicarious travel, or you get a voyeuristic thrill as you did during my experience of aural sex in“Again at 3 A.M.” This would not have been possible until fairly recently and it gives the rather solitary job of writing an immediacy and sociability that would not have been previously possible. This makes sitting alone in a restaurant in a distant country, where you can neither understand or be understood, a pleasure. I’m having a ball.
After lunch, I walk up the street and see a small crowd gathered in a plaza. Drums are beating and bagpipes are playing. The Union Jack is waving. Dozens of children are dressed in white shirts and plaid skirts and kilts. The Scots-Uruguayan school parades down the main street to the center of the historic part of town and the students give a stirring performance of Scottish reeling.
The headmistress introduces the dances in accented English. The parents applaud and take pictures. The sun has come out for a brief period and I smile as I realize that so many seem to be training to be somewhere else.
Also see: Found Illusions