Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Argentines don't use the word ahorita, as the Peruvians do, and the Ecuadorians, and the Central Americans, whose meals are churned out like clockwork at the same time each day. Ahora means now; ahorita means right now, this very second, let's go, vamos entonces. It's a word you've heard a million times, a word you still can't pronounce quite right, not with the way the ah becomes or becomes eat. But you figure you should have known that it wouldn't work here anyway, since every other word seems to have shifted its meaning or changed altogether, since you got here. The word for sweater, the word for umbrella, the word for stove. The words for Okay, I'll take it, and the way to say Shut up.

The absence of ahorita suits Argentina. Nothing ever happens right now anyway, and if you even suggest it you'll be met with surprised looks and a possible snort of laughter. 'Now?' the person will say, and blink at you. 'Right now?' And then everyone will order another drink and the minutes will slip into hours, and when you look at your watch again you won't believe the time it reads. Here, nine o'clock means ten-thirty, breakfast means brunch, coffee means an early dinner and meanwhile, your bedtime creeps into the madrugada. You cannot help but get swept up in the way time advances here; six in the evening ceases to be a viable dinner hour, and you drink coffee at nine without ever worrying about whether you'll sleep that night.

Argentina uses 24-hour time, military time, and it takes a while to get used to people saying your clothes will be washed by sixteen, and that they hope you can make the party by twenty. You've always struggled with numbers, in English and Spanish both, and so the 24-hour clock confounds you and you show up for things at the wrong times. No one minds though, of course they don't, they just open the door for you and kiss your cheek, helping you with your coat and profusely thanking you for the three-dollar bottle of Merlot you've brought to share.

So the clock ticks round and round, twenty-four hours a day, and anything becomes possible at four AM. At seven AM. At midnight, eating supper. You wonder whether you'll bring this clock with you when you go, a clock that's warped and slippery like the ones in Dali's paintings. How long will it take, you wonder, for them to fall from you - these languishing hours of which any interpretation is acceptable? And how long will right now stay off limits? The weeks you have left here stretch before you, but because you are now on this country's time, you know not to count them.

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