I was on a mission this sunny Buenos Aires winter’s morning: to shop for the first ingredients of my latest little dream. I am a girl of action: from dream seed to first steps within 5 days, not bad eh?
I made it out of the flat by noon and my favourite Subte line D whisked me off to Facultad de Medicina where I sat in a cosy concrete chair in the Plaza Bernardo Houssay to gather my strength. In this newly remodelled public space there are concrete loungers too, and I rather fancied lounging in one of those, but they were all taken. Next time. I made myself be still for fifteen minutes and watch the world of Argentines: playing, reading, sunning, singing, selling, shouting, crying, snogging. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
I dragged myself away from the pigeons, crossed Cordoba and found Uriburu, which heads up through barrio Once: in Once very street has its own particular type of shop, selling its street speciality ‘por mayor’ (wholesale) and possibly ‘por menor’ (to the likes of you and me who only want one). This is very convenient for the shopper because if you want fabric, then you go to the dozens of shops in ‘fabric street’ for example. In Uriburu they are selling a bizarre mix of wedding cake paraphernalia, ’souvenirs’ (read ‘a lot of tat’), tiny plastic lucky ‘duendes’ (gnomes), ribbons, glitzy strings, beads of every imaginable variety, a dazzling of semi-precious stones, and the thing that I was after… macramé threads.
From a baffling range of prospects, I chose the store with DIY hand painted signage, smooth-as-glass polished flat stones in the window and nothing too ‘bling’. I am the discerning natural-artesan-type you understand.
Inside I scanned the walls, and finding only bags of beads, I approached the counter. To my left a woman was selecting maybe fifty of the polished stones that had got me in through the door. I said in my best castellano to the nice young man, ‘I want to learn how to make macramé bracelets and I need…’ He smiled and completed for me with ‘…hilo’, string. He showed me the rainbow of thread reels behind him on the shelf and invited me to choose from two different qualities at $12pesos or $8pesos (I might send Carlos in there next time as this seemed a bit expensive). I wanted all the colours. At one point I had three in my hands, BUT I remembered all the times in my life when I have enthusiastically bought out entire knitting shops, never to finish the first sleeve. I said to myself,
‘Sal you’re doing things differently now remember, you just buy one and see how it goes.’
So, I left behind on the shelf the ocean blue, the heather purple, the summer-swimming-pool aqua and I bought one reel, a smoky neutral grey. I left the stones in the shop too. I thought of the necklaces I own that never see the light of day but live under the bathroom sink. They have some beads in them and some stones, and I can cut them up and they will do. $12 pesos and I had everything I needed: that is to say, apart from the faintest idea about how to tie a single macramé knot…
I sat in the sun on the corner of Lavalle and Uriburu and let my precious waterproof thread pass through my fingers, and as I did so I remembered that they have book shops in Buenos Aires. So I walked to Santa Fé and found El Ateneo.
I would question whether there is a more stunning bookshop in the world that El Ateneo. It was a theatre some eighty years ago, and it is now a perfectly restored theatre that is home to thousands and thousands of books. You can sit and drink coffee in the café on the original stage, where Carlos Gardel once performed. You can sit in chairs on the balconies and read. No-one hassles you. No-one questions why you are wandering round and round and round searching optimistically for the surely large and informative macramé section.
In El Ateneo I found out that macramé skills in Argentina must really be passed down from the ‘abuelos’ (grandparents): the macramé section was, I discovered after a very long wander, made up of one single $24peso book, and I bought it, so now there is no macramé section. But I was delighted with my thin tome of wisdom and its first few pages with their huge childish diagrams of the basic knots. I will give it a go, while I search out my very own ‘abuelo’.
My day was made when walking to the subway, I found a different slim volume of wisdom, the magazine BAINSDER , for sale at a stall on the corner of Santa Fé and Pueyrredón: $6pesos. I have been looking for the latest issue for weeks. This is a really great little mag in English for the likes of me: a foreigner living in Buenos Aires. It fits in my bag. It’s packed with useful information. I was so excited, that I had to stop for a ‘licuado de banane con leche’ to celebrate. And at $12pesos (I am sure a year ago these used to be $6) it made the thread seem a good deal. Another reason to celebrate.
So mission accomplished, plus the bonus of extra Buenos Aires treats for the eyes and the tummy, all inside of five hours. Now all I have to do is work out how to tie the knots that will turn my dream into reality. That’s tomorrow’s little challenge.