Argentine men are dangerously attractive and the one who approached me, the blonde girl in the smoky Buenos Aires nightclub, was taller, darker and more handsome than most. The alarm bell sounded. It was time to walk the thin line between being prissy and not wishing to waste anybody’s time.
“I have a boyfriend,” I said.
He smirked in the way only Latin men can.
“Where is he?” he grinned.
I paused briefly, but it was long enough.
“If you were mine,” he continued, suddenly serious.
“I would fight any man to death who even tried to talk to you.”
That’s the sort of macho statement you’re supposed to laugh at, but I didn’t. I’ve only been in Buenos Aires two weeks, but suddenly I understand something about pride. These are some of the proudest people I’ve ever met in my life.
See two cars bump and both drivers start shouting. Never apologise. Pride is at stake. Pride is everywhere, from the blatant rudeness and disagreements I’ve seen in restaurants to an astonishing haughtiness that permeates and pulses through every vein in this city.
Even this fuss about the ‘Malvinas’. It’s not just the logical need for oil and political distractionism I once assumed. It’s pride. How dare you? How dare you, oh great European colonialists, how dare you? How dare you sit on an island so close to the Argentine coast yet fail to acknowledge this great and proud nation. How dare you?
Pride is addictive which means Buenos Aires is addictive. It draws you in, it challenges you. Don’t you have any pride? Don’t you want to play this game too? What are you bringing to the table?
I’m a wanderer and I’m weak. Yes, I want to play. I’m creative, I’m a writer damn you. This city might look like it would swallow me up and spit me out but I can do it. I’d survive it. I’d win.
Except I wouldn’t, I know I wouldn’t. Bogotá is what is good for me. Kindness and politeness – even in superficial situations – are highly prized. People show affection and respect for one another. You’re loved, you’re encouraged, you’re welcome. I’m welcome.
Bogotá is healthier too. Go onto the streets at 9pm and it feels late. It is late, because everyone is getting up at 5am to greet the morning Andean sun. Here at 5am, I’m not even thinking about going home. Nor is anyone else. The nightclubs won’t close for a good hour yet. You can always sleep in.
In Bogotá, I drink next to nothing. I don’t need to. In Buenos Aires, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a glass of Malbec in my hand.
Yet I’m plotting because I am a wanderer and that is what I do. I know I could work here. I could find an apartment. I can learn this tango, learn to be a vampire. I’m smart too. I’m ready for a war of words, a battle of wits. I have my pride.
I didn’t laugh at the Argentine, nor did I laugh when he turned out to be smart and funny, when he told me he loved the (Argentine) author Julio Cortázar to the very depths of his soul. When he told me about his family, his work, those he had loved and those he had lost. When he told me I was complicated, a “control freak”, that I needed to live a little.
Yet I watched the whole thing from a distance. I could see the chasm opening under my bar stool. If I had been single, he was exactly the sort of mistake I would have made. He had heartbreak written all over him. He was Buenos Aires.
Travelling home, alone, in the taxi, I had a selfish urge to call and wake up my boyfriend because, after nearly two months, I suddenly needed to know that both he and Bogotá still existed. That there is a place where I am loved and cherished. Where I don’t need to be smart and brilliant, where I just need to be.
I waited impatiently but, when we finally spoke, I couldn’t tell him anything. Skype is useless and my Spanish is worse. I wanted to tell him I’d survived, that I’d danced with the devil and walked away. That I knew this city was no good for me.
Instead I settled on the most accurate summary I could find.
“I’m tired,” I said, watching that beautiful Caribbean smile resonate across his face, lighting up my far away world.
He heard me and with his uncanny way, he understood. He said those three little words that all weary wanderers need to hear.
“Just come home,” he said.
“Just come home.”