Of the keys to the kingdom and being where you arePosted: May 17, 2011
There are, on any given day, a bounty of small indicators that the life I live here in Buenos Aires is distinct from all those myriad lives I led back in Los Angeles or anywhere else. This is one of the many pleasures afforded the traveler. Little but remarkable differences offer a way to ground yourself in the present, even on the days when you don’t leave your departamento or when you find yourself surrounded by folks who share your language.
Among my first and favorite of these small tokens of difference are the kind of keys people use here. Above is a common set, my own. The key on the right lets you into the building and the one on the left allows entry into my specific studio. I like to run my fingers over their tiny indentations and soft corners. They don’t look or feel like any other keys I’ve owned.
Live more than a month in any place and you’ll find the novelty of it is quick to dissipate. You build routines and habits, find favorite places, begin to retrace routes. Soon, what were the trappings of the itinerant become stuff more static. That’s when you have to start working to notice where you are, even if you want to call that place home.
I won’t say I’m particularly good at living in the present. I have the very unpleasant tendency, particularly when suffering from insomnia, to give myself over to a kind of dire nostalgia. But that’s what these keys are good for. You can grab a hold of them in your pocket and, even after their texture and shape become familiar, know that they open only one door, in one specific spot, in one city.
In no particular order, here are a list of the other quotidian markers of place I enjoy: maté cups and thermoses on the counters of kioskos, or on the tops of desks in offices, or being passed around sitting crowds at the parks; little metal ‘E’s that are scattered on the sidewalks anywhere construction is underway (I don’t know what purpose they serve but they are everywhere here); milk in bags; medialunas displayed on shelves in the windows of every confitería; huge dangling earrings on thin, short and beautiful porteñas; the rat tail that I’ve come to love adorning the napes of young men’s necks; the smell of cooking sugar wafting from the carts where men make and sell garrapiñada; dog-walkers with upwards of six, oddly calm perros strolling along crowded sidewalks; old men walking slowly or sipping cortados at the cafes…