I got a little lost yesterday. I decided to take a long walk to a neighboring village called Las Canitas. It is a smaller, more quaint area from the city center. I hesitate to call it a suburb, but it seems like a quieter place to raise a family. There is much more hustle in Palermo. I walked miles, past the skyscraper apartment buildings towering over me and refuse on the street. Past the train tracks rumbling overhead. Past decrepit billboards and peddlers handing out advertisements. All the street smog and debris of Avenida Santa Fe, a main thoroughfare.
In Las Canitas, I stopped and had a coffee (what else?), where a porteno identified me as a foreigner and offered me Spanish lessons without me ever having saying to say a word. Drat. I started on my way back, and I had an out of body experience. Not the new age out of body experience; I mean the experience where you feel as if you’re in a foreign place and time. You’ve been intercepted and you’re treading on a new radio wave. More self aware. As I walked along the trashed sidewalks, I felt like a little cartoon girl, a tiny blip in the city map. I had my green army satchel slung over my chest and my sun glasses guarding me for protection.
As I neared the Palermo area again, I became lost. I fell off the map somehow. I passed some beautiful lakes and paddle boats and turned out into a street that was not on my map. What could I do? If I walked on, I could get myself in more trouble. If I talked to someone, he or she could try to rob me or take advantage of me. I decided to walk on–like any true cartoon character, I walked further into the darkening woods. Small green parrots littered the ground hunting for semillas–seeds.
I turned and startled a wood pecker. He had a swash of red on the back of his head. His back feathers were a splotchy black and white pattern. He sunk his beak in the cold mud twice and flew onto a tree trunk. I watched him for a little bit until I realized that some street men (cartoneros?) were camped out across the way. I walked on with my map hiding snug in my bag.
Every block or so, I would dart behind a tree or statue and look at my map. I could not understand why I could not correct my journey, but at the time, I didn’t know that I was much further from my destination. I had left the lakes and found a horse track. You would think I could find a vast horse track on the map, but I was clearly in need of help.
Going deeper into the park, I saw a lady selling ice cream coming toward me. She walked her off-kilter bicycle with the styrofoam ice cream box hoisted in the front. “Hola!” I said, “Puede ayudarme?” Can you help me?
I took out my map and tried to make sense of where we were. Finally, she said, “Well come with me–I’m heading that way to sell some ice cream to students.” She was a very kind person and kept me company most of the way onto the right track again. It was important to me to find a woman to help me. She warned me, “Don’t go into this park at night. Teni cuidado!”
She listened to me as I asked her the most basic of questions in broken Spanish. Her story was captivating. She commutes two hours into the city every day to sell ice cream, most likely on a train. This cannot be a lucrative endeavor, but she travels two hours in and two hours back at the end of the day. Her best selling areas are the schools. She didn’t seem to have any bitterness about the commute or the harsh job of vending ice cream on a bicycle everyday. I felt indebted to her and her story warmed my heart. Upon saying goodbye I gave her a few pesos to thank her for her kindness.
After bidding her goodbye, I saw a monument I recognized close to home–a general poised on a horse. My journey was over. I was still a little cartoon girl shadowed by the skyscrapers, but I was getting on.