On Sidewalks and Walls, at Least 13 of Them


Gracias, che, Wallace Stevens (13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)


I went for a walk this evening when I was sleepy. I wanted the reality of my feet on pavement and tangible proof that this is a melancholy city like everyone says.

I walked past parents waiting to pick up their kids at school. I walked through a 6-block area of clothing outlets. I sat at a cafe and bought a coffee. On my way home, it was dusk, and through an open window I heard four friends cooking dinner in their first floor apartment.


On a wall near this apartment, in simple black lines, five mothers of disappeared children hold a car over their heads. The iron goods store is missing a letter on its sign. Plmberia. Light shines through. A window’s open playing the radio, tango. 


There are 500,000 registered dogs in this city. Some starving artists and/or talented dog whisperers walk 20 dogs at a time for extra money. That’s 20 dogs walking on a sidewalk at once, and one person who is probably not paying attention to the pooper scooping laws. Just saying. 


That was the prettiest one we’ve seen yet today, the construction worker said, when the girl with the long ponytail was just a step past him. Te cojo todo, said the old man, when the girl in the short uniform skirt of the middle school walked by. Ay mamiii, the dude on motorcycle whistled, then slurped. And so 89% of women in Buenos Aires say they often change the route they take to get to work, or school. 


I crossed the street to buy a lighter. A man walked home singing a song I didn’t know, skipping the sidewalks altogether.


You can take a graffiti tour of Buenos Aires, I’m told. For $25 USD, you can tour four neighborhoods by foot and by van, learning about how the urban art scene was born in the fire of the military dictatorship. 


The poor man’s graffiti tour: count how many times you see a wall scrawled with nunca mas, nunca mas. Never again, never again. 


I was going to say these sidewalks are shadowy, but that implies they’re creepy. Around here, the shadows cradle the night. In the shadow of a fig leaf, you can see it’s green, growing, covering the sidewalk with photosynthesized light. 


What are Buenos Aires sidewalks like in the morning? Does Buenos Aires have a morning? The night ends at 5 a.m., and you sleep until noon. Do you dream of sidewalks? 


There’s a sidewalk, he told me, his voice slow and deliberate, savoring each word. It’s in Abasto, where he lives, a neighborhood that's still a neighborhood. In the day, old men with big bellies sit on benches and yell. Che, che, tomamos unos matés?  He puffs out his belly in imitation and turns his voice to an aged squawk. You guys, wanna drink some maté!? Then his voice sinks deep again and he smiles at me. I love that sidewalk. 


Look down, cause you’ll trip if you don’t. Hexagonal tiles ripple in mounds over tree roots. Look down. Someone pulled the Tetris blocks off the screen and made them a sidewalk. Look down. Across the street from where the murals are brightest, most beautiful, the ground opens up into dust and an open manhole. 


Look up. There’s crumbled sidewalk dust and an open manhole and a manhole construction crew, but across the street a mural covers a white house with bright green leaves and technicolor flowers.


I tried to get that mural on my camera. It was washed out. I tried to get two houses on my camera. They were washed out, nowhere near pink and orange, nowhere near the warmth of the light that hit them. 

I’m not sure you can photograph any of these walls. You can only see them walking slowly, moving past them, letting them go.