The other day I read this wonderful post on Fue Buena, about how much fun Stan Wawrinka is having on his trip back to Buenos Aires. Wawrinka is there for the Copa Claro, an ATP 250 which has already gotten underway at the “Cathedral” of Argentinean tennis, the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.
It didn’t really surprise me to see somebody enjoying their time in Buenos Aires. Just four days ago Santiago Ventura and Carlos Moyá had a hilarious twitter exchange about how great Buenos Aires is, also captured at Fue Buena. Here is the tweet that started it:
Solo volvería a jugar al tenis para poder volver al torneo de Buenos Aires. Que gran torneo, que buena afición al tenis, y que gran ciudad
— santiago ventura (@santi_ventura) February 15, 2013
Translation: “I would make a comeback just so I could play the Buenos Aires tournament again. What a great tournament, what great tennis fans and what a great city.”
I couldn’t agree more with that last sentence in Ventura’s tweet: I lived in Buenos Aires from June 2003 until December 2006.
Here are walking directions from the apartment I lived in for most of my stay in Baires to the famed Lawn Tennis Club (Google Maps says it takes 18 minutes to get there, and it’s very right):
Buenos Aires was the place where I actually fell in love with tennis. Sure, I always liked the sport, but it was in that city that I really became the junkie that I am now. It was there that I also started writing about the sport – that’s where I made my first ever comment at Pete Bodo’s TennisWorld. That blog was also the first place where some of my writing showed up – and later it appeared “next door,” at Steve Tignor’s “The Wrap” (later “Concrete Elbow” and now…Steve’s column, I guess). As I mentioned in our “tennis memories” Changeover Chat, it so happened that I went to film school at night (in Argentina you don’t choose your classes – you choose your “major,” and then a schedule is given to you. You can choose the time of day when you attend, at least), so I had a lot of free time during the day. It so happened that both ESPN, Fox Sports and the local TyC Sports showed a ton of (men’s) tennis – from amazing Grand Slam coverage all the way down to challengers. It was in Buenos Aires that I saw a Djokovic match for the first time, and saw him hoist his first trophy in Amersfoort (later Belgrade, and now…nothing, it seems). He got an iPod and some flowers. I also saw Del Po play for the first time – in a Challenger event in Uruguay that was somehow broadcast live.
Anyway, you now have all the elements that would suggest to you that I’m quite familiar with the Buenos Aires 250, and that I have some great stories about the Lawn Tennis Club. I lived within walking distance of the tournament. I was head over heels over the sport.
Yet….I never went to a single session of live tennis while I lived in Buenos Aires. What’s probably more embarrassing to admit is that I never even thought of going to the tournament. The thought never entered my mind. Why?
It wasn’t for lack of resources, I can tell you that much. My parents’ generosity meant that I not only didn’t have to work during my University years, but also that I lived in a studio apartment by myself , with a pretty comfortable “allowance.”
Buenos Aires was the first place where I saw great concerts live (all funded by that nice allowance): I saw Pearl Jam play in Argentina for the first time ever, which doubles as the greatest concert I’ve ever been to; I saw Nine Inch Nails play at the historic Luna Park (which has horrible acoustics). I went to see the Buenos Aires Philharmonic many, many times at the gorgeous Teatro Colón. I sat in the front row of that same incredible building to hear the great violinist Gidon Kremer play his take on Astor Piazzola’s music. And I was in the second row for an unexpected acoustic set of the great Luis Alberto Spinetta, one of my musical heroes, who sadly passed away last year. I could go on and on.
So why didn’t I even consider attending an actual tennis tournament? I know I vaguely entertained the idea of going to the weird December exhibition that they always have at Luna Park (which has drawn some big names like Marat Safin, for instance), but never pursued it seriously. I know I was intrigued by going to Davis Cup at the Parque Roca, but was discouraged by the high ticket prices and the location (not a very nice area, on the other side of the city). Also, those tickets are extremely hard to come by – only a few actually go on sale. Going to the Lawn Tennis Club for an actual event seems like a no-brainer, right?
Wrong, apparently. But why?
Maybe I thought it wasn’t worth it to go see people I didn’t find all that fascinating (at the time). Back then I was a rabid Federer fan – maybe when you start following tennis so intensively because of a top male/female, you only want to see that person play. If they happen to show up at your home town, sure – you’ll go. But if they don’t? No need to bother. It’s only after time goes by that you realize that you are actually drawn to more than just one player, and a little later to come to terms with the fact that you just love the sport, no matter who plays it, no matter where it’s played.
I think this was happening for me just in 2006, which was my last year in Buenos Aires. And I’m actually pretty sure that this process hadn’t really started until I saw Djokovic play González in that outer court at the French Open, which was live on TV. By then, the 2006 edition of the Buenos Aires tournament had passed. Maybe I would’ve thought of going to the 2007 edition.
But I was gone by that time. And I haven’t been back since. Not going to the “Cathedral” of Argie tennis has become one of the very few regrets of my three and a half years there. Those years still rank as some of my favorite I’ve spent on this Earth.
Did I ever mention that Buenos Aires is my favorite city in the world?
My dad used to say that Buenos Aires was a “tropical Paris.” I haven’t been to Europe, so I can’t say that I agree with that. I will say that Buenos Aires and New York City are sister cities. I remember the first time I arrived in NYC, via train from DC: I was absolutely overwhelmed when I came out of Penn Station and walked on Fifth Avenue. I was overwhelmed by the size of everything, by the speed at which things seem to move, and of course, by the copious amounts of people everywhere. I’ll never forget that moment. But that was 1999, well before I moved to Buenos Aires. The next time I was in NYC, in October 2007, the feeling was quite different: all those things that overwhelmed my senses the first time just seemed nice and comfortable now. New York City felt like Buenos Aires. It was quite a pleasant feeling.
Because I’ve been missing Buenos Aires ever since I left.
I arrived in Buenos Aires in the middle of a dream. Which makes sense, since moving to that city was a dream of mine for a while. With one of my best friends from high-school, I would read Argentinean authors like Ernesto Sábato, Julio Cortázar, and Jorge Luis Borges and listen to Luis Alberto Spinetta and his many creative outlets. We would also listen to Piazzola, some Soda Stereo, some Fito Páez, some Chary García. And I grew up reading Mafalda, the genius comic strip of the genius cartoonist Quino.
Ever since I read Ernesto Sábato’s “El Túnel” (The Tunnel), I dreamed of walking around the places described in the novel. A street here, a park there. Buenos Aires was always in my mind from age 15 onward, so when my mom asked if I was interested in going to film school there, I couldn’t believe that all of a sudden the possibility of moving to the city of my dreams could be a reality.
I barely slept in the days ahead of my move, and I can’t sleep on airplanes, so even though I remember pretty much everything that happened throughout the trip and my first day in the city, it’s all very hazy. I remember it was an overnight flight with a stop in Santiago, Chile. I remember that going over the Andes at dawn was an absolutely beautiful sight. I remember that the son of a friend of my mom’s picked me up at the Ezeiza airport and that he took me to his family’s place in the middle class neighborhood of Caballito, which also happens to be the geographic center of the Buenos Aires Capital District. I remember eating ravioli there. Then he drove me downtown, since the first apartment I lived in was on Carlos Pellegrini, which is the name of one of the many lanes of the 9 de Julio Avenue (also known for being *allegedly* the widest avenue in the world).
I remember that my Argie-phile friend from high school was there – he was a month away from leaving. I remember that as we walked to a restaurant he had picked for our dinner that night, we saw a little music store and I bought a CD I always wanted: Invisible’s “El Jardín de los Presentes” (Invisible was a quasi prog-rock band Spinetta had in the 70s – I still maintain it’s the greatest band in Latin Rock history).
But most of all, I remember waking up the next day, and feeling, thinking, knowing, that I had somehow fallen asleep in Quito, Ecuador, and woken up from a long, long dream. But I was not in Quito anymore – I was in this incredible city I had wanted to come to for so long.
A dream had become reality.
I used to tell people that a proper tour of Buenos Aires took around two weeks. By 2006, I had perfected this tour of sorts. You had to visit certain neighborhoods. You had to go to the Teatro Colón. You had to walk around everywhere – you had to take the Subte (the metro), the train, and use the greatest bus system I’ve ever seen. You had to walk around Corrientes Avenue, look at the theaters and go into the many, many bookstores. You had to walk around La Recoleta and it’s beautiful buildings and fantastic parks. You had to drop by the cemetery at la Recoleta – a very unique place. You had to walk around Belgrano. You had to walk around, all the time. You had to eat – the best beef in the world can be found in Argentina, and the way they grill it is a very specific and a hard to imitate skill. I rarely order a steak at a restaurant ever since I left – it just makes me sad.
You have to go to an old-timey restaurant and joke around with the middle-aged waiters. You have to walk around Florida, look at the various musical troupes around, and avoid getting drawn into the endless leather clothing shops. You have to have a sánduche de milanesa (a breaded steak sandwich). You have to have a bife de chorizo (I still don’t know what this cut of beef is called here in the US). You have to have a provoleta (a thick slice of provolone cheese – grilled). You need to try a great vacío (see the comment I made about the bife de chorizo). And of course, you have to try a choripán (a thick grilled sausage on a baguette roll).
You need to walk around at night, and feel how the city never sleeps. You need to catch a bus at 2 am on a Friday… and be surrounded by a ton of kids just now going out to clubs. You have to go to a soccer match there: the passion in the stands is simply unparallelled (though, be careful if you do – it’s not the safest activity). You absolutely must go to a rock concert in Argentina – the crowds are simply incredible. You have to check out the omnipresent newspaper stands, which have no qualms about the fact that about a fourth of their items are all kinds of pornography. You have to (somehow) wake up early and buy fresh medialunas (small croissants). You need to have a muzzarella (a simple mozzarella cheese pizza with a few green olives tossed in for good measure) with some friends and some beer.
I could go on and on. You have to do so many things in Buenos Aires – and maybe you won’t get to do them all. Actually, you surely won’t get to do them all. I didn’t, and I was there for over three years. But that’s the thing: there are so, so many things you can do. Nothing seems out of reach, and the possibilities are endless.
As you can tell, I miss Buenos Aires.
I guess this is why I not only smiled when I saw Stan Wawrinka having so much fun in Buenos Aires, but I also felt more than a little jealous: Stan got to go back to Buenos Aires. I haven’t had that chance.
Near the end of my stay there, I got a chance to direct a music video for a version a friend, an Ecuadorian musician, did of a famous tango called “Siempre se vuelve a Buenos Aires” (Translation: You always go back to Buenos Aires). I’m not a huge tango fan, but that simple thought expressed in the song’s title always stuck with me, because it’s true: if you’ve ever been to Buenos Aires, you’ll always go back. Maybe not physically, but surely with your mind, as you navigate all the memories that the city has gifted you.
I am a bit worried that the city that I love so much might not be there anymore – that’s what my sister told me once, and she would know: she moved there in 2007 and only left last year. Things are way more expensive, it’s less safe, etc, etc, etc.
She might be right, but I choose not to believe her until I see for myself. Maybe one day I will get to go back to Buenos Aires – I can’t wait to show the city to my wife. Maybe I can one day cover the Buenos Aires tournament for The Changeover.
Those words probably look pretty unrealistic when you read them, but those are the kinds of ideas I had about going to Buenos Aires when I was a teenager. And look at what happened.
That’s the fun part of having dreams.
(If you enjoyed the photos that appear on this post, do stop by my sister’s Tumblr, Analog Trippin – there’s a lot more great stuff there)