How Buenos Aires has changed me

How scheduled is life in the land where you live?

Me and C. are rapidly approaching a summer in the UK (yes, England is on our horizon and, for various reasons, we expect to be dancing tango in Blighty for as long as three months this time), and I’m noticing that in order to make things work for us over there, I have to do far more arranging than I normally do here in Buenos Aires. It feels alien: advance flight bookings, fixed-date month-ahead train tickets, agreements with kind and generous UK folk for them to put us up (or put up with us) or to lend us cars. On such and such date we will be travelling to such and such town to see such and such friends, and we need to sort it now, in case they are off on holiday or offering their sofa to someone else. In other words, I’m doing nothing more than the normal degree of planning that most people do to make things happen smoothly in their lives. So why does it feel do damn strange to me?

In my ‘life before Argentina’, I used to do a great deal of event scheduling. My mum bought me a wall calendar every Christmas, and it used to be packed with my future — weekends filled with dinner parties or country pubs, Southampton footie matches (home and away), visits to family and friends homes, friends and family visits to our home, meetings and greetings, often decided on and agreed weeks ahead. I remember conversations when we’d say to people, It’s going to have to be the month after next I’m afraid, and I’d be thinking, Oh God, when oh when can I have a weekend just for meeeee? But, the truth was that, in general, life felt empty without activities lined up, as if it might slip away unnoticed. Plans meant direction; lists meant action, purpose, time filled usefully; and lists and calendars with items crossed off them meant success and achievement. It was all so… well… organised. Deep down though, I was a person with longings to rebel; I wanted to rip up the calendar, and dance on its pages. As it turned out, I kind of did.

Three years on, I don’t have a calendar in Buenos Aires. I never know the date. I always have to ask people. Days of the week I remember by a few fun but fairly loose weekly fixtures, such as Mondays — tea and dancing and dinner after with mates afterwards, Wednesdays — hooking up with fellow writers, Saturdays — sharing a table with friends and more marvellous tango, Sundays — chilling out with C. Any extra plans involving others tend to get made only days or hours before the start time, and they often allow quite easily for a late change of heart (falling asleep after dancing in the afternoon, can’t do that salsa club at 1am after all, type of thing). When people want to make plans further out than a few days, I find myself saying, Do you mind if we pencil it in and confirm nearer the time? or Can we see how we feel when Sunday comes? Maybe it sounds a bit rude to those who are making generous offers to me or those used to calendars filled with plots and schemes, but I’ve learned that if I don’t feel like doing something in the moment it’s often better not to do it (for everyone concerned, to keep the energy in the situation at ease), and I know that many of my friends here feel the same. Mostly it works, and mostly it works without anyone feeling too let down when things don’t happen ‘as planned’. If it doesn’t work for me in any moment, then it just means I need to relax a little more, smile a little more, laugh a little more, let other people go their own way a little more. As soon as I do that, life feels easier, smoother, freer.

Carlos always says to me, Eat medialunas when you want to eat medialunas, sleep when you want to sleep, write when you want to write, shag when you (actually that last one is my lingo, because he is far too genteel for British words like shag)and so on. And I do. I also impose a bit of discipline as I do have dreams, as you know, and want to keep walking towards them — so, every day, something to progress my writing work, something to move Happy Tango towards publication, something to move the general administration of life in a good direction, something to connect me with the outside world (a friend or my family or a new person I haven’t met yet), something fun, something to put me in better touch with myself, something from my list of things that bring me joy… my time gets filled fast, but on the whole, it gets filled pretty spontaneously depending on my mood, and my soul loves it. I was right about its longings. It feels happier dancing when it feels like it, than sticking to a dance schedule previously set out and agreed with others, written on an agenda or even just sketched out, ahead of time, in my head.

It’s true that some visitors seem to find my unstructured way a bit hard to understand, in that they assume that because I don’t have fixed schedules, I’m not doing anything at all — How exactly do you spend your time? or Well, you don’t have anything to get up for, do you? (meaning a conventional job I s’pose – though actually Carlos has clients so we do set our alarm just like most people – unless it’s Sunday, when I confess, we have actually been known to stay in bed all day — and how completely fabulous that feels at age 47, I can tell you).  Buenos Aires has also taught me that night hours can be just as handy as day hours… it started with dancing tango from midnight until dawn, but now I’m more likely to be writing into the early hours, or eating a very late dinner, as many Argentines do. Time seems to stretch in this city… there are no fixed meal times in my world, or monthly milonga hours (as tango is available almost around the clock), and the concept of ‘9 to 5′ just doesn’t exist in Argentina at all — ’10 to 8’ might be closer to it, but even then it can be  bit fluid.

With no schedule, there tends to be less chance of disappointment, too. I think that if I was a millionaire and could afford full price tickets I’d probably just make my bookings the day before travel. Plans carefully made in advance can always be ripped apart at the last minute by some disruption anyway. This week for example, we’ve got British Airways announcing, un-announcing and possibly re-announcing strikes, plus a volcanic ash cloud threatening to close British airspace on any given day. Maybe we’ll be able to travel on our date. Maybe we won’t. Maybe I’ll finalise the way to pay my taxes before I leave town. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll have a published book by the end of June. Maybe I won’t. Whatever happens, the world will still turn, and I will keep walking towards my dreams and never give up on them.

Meanwhile, I accept that on my UK 2010 journey, a little more scheduling than I normally do in Buenos Aires, might be necessary. On the other hand, if you try to pin me down to something over there and I seem a bit elusive, having read this, you will understand why.

How do you live? Spontaneity or packed calendar on the wall? Sticking to the plan or seeing how you feel on the day? Full dance card the moment you walk through the door and see who’s there, or wait to listen to the music before deciding?

I’m intrigued, because lately, somewhat increasingly, and once again in unexpected ways last week, it seems that whatever detailed plans I add to my overall intentions and aims, something else happens. So at last and I think none too soon, I’m losing faith in the value of my own elaborate schemes… and, as I wrote just a few weeks ago, gaining faith in allowing The Grand Plan to unfold instead. Something else is changing too. Once, as in the saga of Carlos’ passport back in 2007, dealing with the slightest unexpected thing would send me into a tailspin for weeks. Now, it might be a bit unsettling for a few days, but embracing what is (and not what I thought it would be) comes far faster.

Buenos Aires has changed me in oh so many ways. An ability to release ‘the gift’ in the arms of the milongueros I love the most, a passion for the best medialunas in town (the ones I’m gloating over above are served at La Viruta at about 4.15am at weekends), a Barbie inside that creates fab things on the outside… Returning to England always causes me to reflect on how things used to be, and how they are now. No bad thing, I reckon. Especially when I find that I like the new and developing habits of the person I have become. Some say that people never change. I disagree. I think if your soul wants you to chuck the agenda on the floor and dance on it, and you are not stepping up to the task, it will send out its cry to The Universe to give you the opportunity. If you are ready and willing in that moment (and are prepared for some serious life adventuring), all becomes possible. Dancing on that wall calendar? Life in another land? Life with dreams lived rather than only dreamed? What is your soul crying out for today?

Why not take a moment out of the crush of the pre-arranged schedule, to listen.

With thanks to my friend H. for the pic of me and the medialunas in La Viruta, and for the conversation as we walked along Avenida Corrientes on Monday night, that in part, inspired this post.