I suffer from an inescapable desire to compare this to that. Everywhere I go, I put under the subjective lens that it’s taken me all these years to painstakingly construct and send into orbit, like some kind of personal Hubble Telescope, but without blowing the budget quite so much and without such stunning images. (though more than one editor in recent months has asked me if I’ve thought about seriously pursuing photography, but maybe that’s some kind of weird ego-fanning that editors do; if I understood editors, my life would look very different. It would have spangles, and accolades and self-important t-shirts with the word bearshapedsphere (and no, it’s not Bear Shaped Sphere) on them.)
And so I compare Montevideo. To everything. To what I remember from the last time I was here (bigger, more alive!), to New York (smaller, so quiet, architecturally stunning), to Buenos Aires (not so decrepit, such nice people!) and of course to Santiago (architecturally stunning, such great service!). I could go further and compare it to Reykjavik (so old! such a big river!), or any of another of a dozen cities I’ve had the fortune to visit, but in the end… why?
Montevideo is itself. Dominated by a 22-km long Rambla (esplanade) along a river so wide that you cannot see gigantic Buenos Aiires across the way, and that has waves crashing along the shore,a nd fishermen with their bored girlfriends and wives sitting on beach chairs beside them texting (who? other fish widows?) and sipping their imperdible (can’t-be-missed) mate which they sip and sip and sip again.
And architecture so gorgeous I want to pack it in my backpack nd take it home, and bring a giant hose and wash the smell of old urine off its steps and bottle the fashion and bring it back with me and buy a hundred pairs of made-in-Uruguay shoes that I’ll never be able to wear because of my cranky feet, but if I lived here I would try so I wouldn’t get the once-oer from the otherwise lovely waitstaff at the restaurante we went to this evening where for a four-dollar glass of wine, our waitress-turned-sommelier treated us with tremendous delicacy and resptet and made me want to drown my cranky-footed sorrows in glass-after-glass of 2007 Don Pascual Tannat Roble, except the first pour was plenty big, and I’m a bit of a lightweight, wine-wise.
And the food has been great, and we had tiny coffees in little juice glasses for a song, served beside those thimbles of soda water, just like iｎ Chile, except that nothing is like Chile, apart from the fact that they speak Spanish, but it sounds totally different, and they keep on asking how someone from the United States speaks such good Spanish. So I tell them I live in Chile, and whereas in Argentina (specifically Mendoza) that is met with the giant WHY?, here it brings an ohyeah, that must be why you have that lyrical Chilean accent (cantito chileno). Oh, and no one has shouted anything at all at me on the street. Except the guy selling the newspaper, but he was just shouting in general, so I didn’t take it personally.
And all of this we like (especially the not shouting at us on the street). Because who doesn’t like a giant river, delicious food and drink, lovely people and a big,fat fleamarket (Tristan Narvaja) on Sundays that you could walk around in for miles and have 86-year-old women (at least one) clutch your arm and ask you what you’re taking pi tures of and two different me running mosqueta (Uruguayan name for three-card monte) games with little stainless steel cups and what looked like yellow clown noses being hidden underneath? We did not buy any old telephones, nor saw blades or even fried disks of hand-rolled dough called tortas.
But we did walk our mother-daughter feet off, and you can’t put that on a postcard, no matter how many souvenir shops you go to (total so far=none).
Oh, and did I mention, saludos (greetings) from Montevideo? That. More to follow.