Proudest day of my second-language-learning life today. Up until now the happiest I’ve been was when I had my first dream in Spanish. I dreamt I was on a ship that sank, and some of the survivors fetched up on an island. Among them were two kids who could only speak Spanish, so I had to be the translator. Later when I checked over what I’d said, I found that it was all correct. But tonight was better. I was talking to a Spanish girl who asked me where I was from. When I said Australia she looked somewhat perplexed. Then she asked, “Ok, so… you learned all your Spanish here then?”
“Because you speak with an Argentine accent.”
Goal! Regional specificity, bitches! I mean, clearly I don’t really speak with an Argentine accent, but apparently I’ve picked up enough of the inflections and pronunciation irregularities to make the genesis of my speech recognisable. Argentine Spanish has a lot of peculiarities, so of course I’ve absorbed these as normal. It’s going to be interesting when I get to a different Spanish-speaking country.
Just a bring-you-up-to-date post today. I went to Uruguay for a while, came back, and moved house again after a convoluted chain of stuffing around. Clemenceau lives in a huge old mansion divided into apartments, and one of them became free. Sweet place, self-contained, like a granny flat, opening off a big back courtyard. The other residents are all youngish European exchange students, which would have been handy for Spanish study. The owner said I could have it, so I told my landlords, arranged for Washington to take over my room, he told his landlords he was leaving, all that stuff. Then about three days out, the guy emails me and says he’s changed his mind. Which left me three days to run around trying to find a place to live.
First some background. This guy has installed a live-in cleaning lady who is supposed to manage the property on-site. This doesn’t work because he lives down the street, so any time there’s a problem she just calls him and makes him deal with it. The issue is mostly that she is stark raving freaking mad. This is not an exaggeration. One of the French girls who lives there said she (the girl) came back after a few days away, having only recently arrived in BA and so not having unpacked yet. The cleaning lady had let herself into the apartment with her master key, gone through all the girl’s stuff, and put everything away according to a system of her own devising. This included finding a box of photos, going through them one by one, and sticking them all up on the wall. Which in a way seems helpful, but if you think about it is really fucking creepy.
Anyway, I’m sure it wasn’t about being helpful, but a passive-aggressive message to clean up your shit. This woman would not do pleasant things. She is one of those hate-filled people who looks forty years older than she is because of all the bitterness and gall washing around inside her, corroding her until she’s at the point of collapsing from the inside like an imploding skyscraper of rage. She truly hates everybody who lives there, because they’re young and pretty and have their whole lives ahead of them, while she resembles a dried-up wad of toothpaste and has to go around cleaning up after them. Most particularly she hates any kind of noise, because that signifies that people are a) having fun, and b) existing in a social environment, two things which she is medically unable to do. When I say she hates noise, I should clarify that it also makes her happy, because then she gets to shout at someone and call the owner. He is paranoid about bothering the neighbours and having trouble with the cops, so much so that recently he’s taken to stalking about in the middle of the night with one ear cocked, a small timid Malaysian man in his pyjamas wandering the hallways like a ghost at three in the morning. The other day some of the tenants sang happy birthday to one of their number. Ten minutes later he popped in the door saying ‘Ok, singing is not allowed in the house, ok?’
So in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t move there. But I didn’t know how mad the whole place was at the time, and wanted to know why I’d been screwed over. The reasoning, as I finally prised out when I stopped by the guy’s house unannounced, was as follows. Some weeks ago Clemenceau had a barbeque at the house. The Wicked Witch of the West arrived to yell at him for making too much noise. Bear in mind this was at 11 o’clock, on a Saturday night, in a country where the nightclubs don’t even open until 2 and the restaurants serve sit-down dinners until about 4. A random German guy who doesn’t live there tried to calm things down by apologising and saying it was all his fault and that he would leave. She was up in his face with one pointing finger, screaming (and I mean screaming) over and over again “Cierra la boca! Cierra la boca!” (Shut your mouth.) I was at this barbeque, with about 25 other people. Therefore when the owner said I was moving in, the Witch told him that I was a) drunken, b) noisy, c) rude, d) trouble, and e) generally reprehensible. And thus I was blacklisted.
Now, generally I wouldn’t mind this. I am the first to admit (usually here on this website) that I am often a) drunken, and that while a) drunken, I am liable to become any or all of b), c), d) or e). But as far as she knew, she was making it all up. The one night she saw me, I had had a couple of beers with dinner and then been talking civilly around the table with everyone else. Didn’t break anything, shout at anyone, all my clothes stayed on, the lot. I know when I’m out of control. So it’s fascinating to watch human maliciousness at work. When I went by the owner’s house the Witch was there cleaning. He called her out and asked if this was the guy. ‘Oh yes,’ she said, eyes glittering, ‘that’s him.’ She then proceeded to bad-mouth me in Spanish for about ten minutes. The second-funniest part of the whole scenario was when I finally told her that while I was Australian, I could actually understand her. She promptly shut the fuck up and went inside.
The funniest part came directly afterwards. As I was politely explaining that it wasn’t really that professional to rescind a lease agreement with three days notice, the guy’s neighbour walked past. He lives in one of those typical long skinny Argentine apartment buildings: two storeys, with a street frontage apartment (his), and then several apartments in a line stretching back behind the first. “What’s that?” she said. “You want to rent an apartment?”
Thus I am now living next door to the guy who barred me from his house. And stealing his internet signal. Suck on that. Carlos and Victoria are a fairly nutty couple who live in the upstairs apartment, I live downstairs. She is a 60-something Paraguayan ex-ballerina who travelled the world in her youth dancing, and now spends all her time hooting with laughter. The house is just bizarre, a classic old-people’s place, pushing the boundaries of kitsch. The shelves are crammed with crappy plaster figurines. Plastic angels are suspended from lengths of curling ribbon. On my wall is a giant picture of flowers sprouting from the Bible with the tagline “Dios es Amor.” (God is Love.) Below that is a model ship, a three-masted square-rig clipper with an aft-rig. There are various screeds to saints and such on other walls, along with fifty floral plates and about a dozen clocks. “I don’t believe in God,” says Victoria, cackling, “I think it’s silly. But I like the angels.” Not just angels. A plaster elephant bestrides the television. Pot-plants are suspended from the ceiling, vines strung between them The piece de resistance is a small indoor fountain, complete with bubbling rapids and surrounded by luridly-coloured plastic and rubber frogs. There is a terrace upstairs. In the room adjoining it is a giant rack of shoes, an old bicycle, and a harp draped in the French flag. Clemenceau would be proud.
Aside from all this ridiculousness things have been fine, mostly just writing and enjoying life. Some good news is that I’ve scored a gig writing a weekly blog for Radio National, on The Book Show website, along with a couple of other people. I’ll be writing about various things to do with literature, books, words, language. Apparently the blog goes live this week – I’ll post links when my articles go up. The poems from this trip continue to go well – the one called Elephant Island Fog that I put up here in one of the Antarctica posts has been accepted by a Tasmanian magazine called Prospect, along with a really old poem that I wrote back in my first days of writing in 2004. It’s nice when something from a former era gets a bit of love. I have about two more weeks here in Buenos Aires, then it’s off to Mendoza to meet two of the five pirates, and after that to Brazil. If I remember to get a visa. Someone remind me in a little while, hey?