I am the sort of girl who sees beauty in the lines of concrete columns supporting a motorway, rubbish being blown about on a dusty pavement, derelict buildings… but as I searched for a different kind of beauty in Barracas, I honestly did find myself wondering if I could possibly be in the right place.
Carlos has been replacing the entire gas system of a house on the far border of this barrio for the last two weeks, and yesterday the lovely couple who live in the house invited me to visit for lunch. We ate homemade ham and cheese tart, talked of the brave Italian immigrants who travelled so far by boat to settle in Argentina, like their parents, like Carlos’ grandmother. We froze in a cool internal room designed for the heat of the summer rather than a winter with the gas cut off, drank rich coffee enterprisingly brewed on a glowing ancient electric contraption, and I asked them how to find the Calle Lanin. Carlos had work to do and I wanted to explore.
I got the impression that both Carlos and my hosts were slightly nervous about me walking out alone, but they let me go with instructions to get a taxi if ‘you see anything that bothers you’ and to ‘call Carlos if anything happens’. They got me to memorise my route so that I wouldn’t have to stand around on a street corner with a map. After that I confess I felt a bit anxious heading under the ‘autopista’. And I do not think I would have walked there in the dark. It is just not my normal experience to look down a Buenos Aires street in daylight and have the impression of ’emptiness’, but on a Saturday afternoon here the back streets are silent, shop fronts are shuttered and there are few people. Calle Lanin is well hidden. It is therefore also the most wonderful surprise. Just as I was thinking I must have made a mistake, I arrived.
I read the sign on the wall. It began, ‘We are among those who believe that the city has soul…’
There were no cafés that I could see. The only ‘shop’ was three children outside their house selling a few plastic-bead bracelets they had made themselves. This made me smile as I thought of La Boca’s Caminito just some fifteen blocks away, and imagined the possible scene a few years from now…
Right on cue, a pristine white bus parked at one end of the street. Maybe 20 people got out. The bus drove on. The people walked, rather too fast for my liking. They took a few pictures but talked to each other constantly and I wondered if they even noticed the sign I had just read. Before I could say, ‘ceramic’, they had boarded their bus at the other end of the street and I was alone once more. A few folks cycled by, around the corner a small film crew filmed, some locals wandered through with their dogs. I took my time, walked the street twice, tried to capture the colours on my own little camera, but more importantly tried to absorb the spirit of the place into mine.
As I walked back under the ‘autopista’ I realised that Calle Lanin had changed me. I did not feel nervous any more. I walked slowly, I stopped and looked. I tried to feel the soul in the pavements, in the architecture, in the eyes of the people I passed. My phone rang and it was Carlos, ‘I was worried about you. You didn’t call me,’ he said. ‘Two blocks and I’m with you,’ I replied. ‘Don’t worry. I am fine. I found everything,’ I said. And I had.