Let me tell you about the familiar.
The hardest thing about blogging from Buenos Aires is that there is so much to say. Every day I come home with new stories and new insights – which, right now, are scattered across the pages of my journal, the notes section of my phone, and some Word documents in my computer. The same is true of my conversations when I catch up with friends from home. How do you fit a month of daily life in a completely new environment into a phone call or a Facebook message? That’s why I love it that many of my friends have narrowed things down by asking the same question: “What’s the best part?”
The best part of Buenos Aires is Buenos Aires. I wish I could tell you that I’ve been to a concert or an event or a museum or even a restaurant that blew me away, but the simple fact of the matter is that I’m most blown away when I walk down the street and it hits me that I get to live here. I could tell you about the adventures I’ve been on with friends and the streets we’ve turned down and the foods we’ve tried, but what I really want you to know is that wherever we go and whatever we do, I never get bored. And I could tell you how often I’ve been overwhelmed by the newness of it all and the differences between here and the United States. But the longer I’m here and the shorter the days feel, the more I’ve found myself slipping into some familiar habits and spaces, reassuring me that wherever I am, who I am and whose I am doesn’t change.
For starters, I’m spending my second afternoon this week studying at the Starbucks close to my apartment. It’s more casual than most of the cafes I’ve found here, which makes it a good place to do homework. At the same time, there’s a familiar undercurrent of energy and a hum of conversation underneath the typical coffeehouse music – all in English, ironically – that plays over the speakers. I keep thinking it should feel stereotypical, being the American who comes to Starbucks on my afternoon off, but instead, I just feel comfortable. It’s a familiar logo from the outside and a familiar atmosphere on the inside, but it’s still on the corner of a busy street in Buenos Aires, and I don’t ever forget where I am.
For one thing, I can just look outside. The floor-to-ceiling windows have a gorgeous view of the sunlight filtering through the leaves of the trees that line both sides of the street. For another, just like in the States, it’s the people that create the atmosphere, and the people I watch come and go from my little nest in the corner of a squashy orange couch fascinate me. At the cluster of chairs next to me, a bunch of bags lay discarded while a man keeps an eye on them and reads a book. I’m puzzled, until three girls close to my age come trooping in and I realize they’re using the couches as home base for a photoshoot. They pull scarves, sweaters and skirts out of the different bags and one heads to the bathroom to change while the other two sit passing the camera back and forth between them to see how the last photos turned out. When she returns in a drastically different outfit, her friend pulls a whole handful of statement necklaces out of another bag. Once accessorized appropriately, they head back out. I’d love to see how some of those photos turn out, but I don’t know that I know how to ask that in Spanish, and I’m engrossed in a video for my academic production class and don’t notice when they leave.
A while later, a street vendor comes in and walks around, carrying a plastic sack of wares like Kleenex, scissors and notebooks. He lays his products on the couch next to me, so I’ll see what he’s selling. But I don’t need anything, so I don’t pick them up, I just watch him do the same at every table and when he circles back to me, shake my head and say “No, gracias.” A wide table just behind me is filled with studious types, bent over their laptops and surrounded by notes and discarded white-and-green paper cups. At some of the tables for two, friends split a snack and share conversation, while at others, individuals divide their attention between the book they’ve brought along and their coffee of choice. The music may be the only thing in English, but feels like the perfect intersection of home and here. Maybe because I’ll never cease to be amazed that across cultures and countries, there’s a basic human level of creativity and comfort where we all connect, coexist, and leave with a loose sense of community.
I’ve lived enough places now to know that when I leave in four months, it’s not going to be the big moments that stick in my head the longest. It’s going to be late night life chats over ice cream, taking wrong turns, window shopping, and studying at Starbucks: the conventional, the common, the everyday, the in-between moments. And more than anything, I want to take from those the ways that familiar became fresh, and the new became known. And who knows? Maybe I’ll make friends with the baristas while I’m at it.