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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Take the city home

These days, I walk the streets in a nostalgic haze. Sometimes I am laughing, sometimes I am smiling, sometimes I am crying. Tomorrow I leave this apartment, this massive city, to take a bus through the night until I reach Cordoba, one of Argentina’s cultural gems. Part of me knows that I’ll get on that bus and it will make me feel alive, the wheels on the pavement in the night and the stars all around us as we cross the Pampas. Now, I love the rhythm of buses. I can ride them for hours or even days. I can sleep on them; I can read on them. No one bothers you here if you’re weeping, or eating, or drinking wine alone. They just let you be, stare out their window until the bus rolls into the city you’re trying to reach. The ayudantes help me with my backpack and call me mi amor. The country slides past.

Still, by now I should be used to saying goodbye, but it hasn’t gotten easier. I reached this place and I didn’t know if I would love it, but here I am, sunk. It’s just like the guidebooks say—Buenos Aires will seduce you. The city makes my dreams run rich and my blood warmer. It has made me quick on my feet and quick with the language, fearless on city buses that tear around corners and into neighborhoods I don’t yet know. The drivers cry out my street when we reach it, making eye contact with me in the rearview. Gracias! I shout, and leap out. I can jump off a bus now when it’s still moving.

And so now that I’m in love, it’s time to go. I didn’t think it would come this soon, the final day, but it’s always like this—the time you have left creeps up on you until, all of a sudden, you find you can count the hours. Only now it’s worse, because after I leave this country, I’ll go home, home to a place I’m afraid will make me numb. Little offices, little desks. Commutes, money, money, things. Will it fall from me—the ability to live with so little? The ability to walk slowly, to taste fully, to listen with both ears? The ability to see beauty in a crumbling wall? In broken glass? We want so much in that nation of ours; we need so much, and because we’ll never get all we need, we don’t stop wanting. We’ve got these awful gadgets, and we tell ourselves they bring us closer to other people, but they really just force us farther apart. We legitimize interruptions, hasty choices, jam-packed days and too-short nights. Take me with you, this city says, and I begin touching things—the trunks of trees, the curved wrought-iron bar over a window, the rusted metal on a dented car. The warm wood of tall, glossy shutters. It’s as if touching this place will imprint it onto my skin, so that when I leave, the city comes too.

Do you think about what you’ll do when you go home? A friend asked. Do you have dreams about it?  And I had to admit that while of course I think about the months ahead, I dream only about the past. Behind closed lids, my dreams come to me like paintings: the crest of a rounded hill in the Peruvian sierra, or an endless stretch of Bolivian salt. Thick jungle in Ecuador, cobblestones in Nicaragua, the smell of coffee on Antigua’s streets. A border crossing, dense with night, and an endless red dirt road.

Or they arrive in scenes, snippets from a film. I dream about birds flying in through an open window and pecking at crumbs on the floor. I dream about schools on hills, markets where water flows in the street, bakeries crammed with people. There are men who wear kids backpacks and kids who can count money better than I can. There’s Guatemala on Christmas, Ecuador on Easter, Nicaragua on Valentines Day, when the sun rose early and hot. I dream about my teachers and my students, and about men who sell orange juice on the corner. Carlos’ dark eyes, Katie’s easy laugh, and the way Raphael pulled me to him. I dream of Buenos Aires: the concerts in the streets, the crowded parks on weekends, the brown and silty river. The dreams come every night, five or six of them, and when I wake I can remember each one.

So the places are with me in my dreams, for now, and in the meantime, this is how I will say goodbye: I will walk up and down the streets, beneath the summer leaves, and I will smell and hear and feel everything. I will teach my last Spanish class, I will mail my last postcard, I will drink my final glass of wine and eat my final supper. I will kiss my friends good-bye—artisan Felipe and Leo the electrician, Donigan the writer and the beautiful diplomat Holly. I will give Alex and Vicky both hugs, and I will try to hide my tears from Pirucho. I will leave, just like always, and my heart will feel full and empty both.


I bring my laundry to the Laundromat today. It’s the place around the corner, the one that’s shaded by leafy trees and always locked, so you have to push the bell to be let in. It’s the one where the nice man works, the handsome man with kind eyes and worn hands. He has a young son who comes in the afternoons to help fold.

Today, the man fills out the receipt without asking my name. You remembered? I ask him, though I’ve told him only once. How could I forget, he replies, and hands me my receipt. Katy, it says. My Spanish name. He’s a beautiful man, a man who smells of detergent, and today he remembered my name. Don’t let this go, a voice tells me as I step outside, into the sun and the wind that smells so sweet. Nothing matters more than this moment, it says, and right now you have everything you want.


  1. Wow Kate, this is so beautiful. It would make anyone want to travel.

  2. Wow. You should be writing novels. This was stunning, heartbreaking and beautiful and full of love. Your ability to bring to the written page what your mind is experiencing is very moving.
    Kudo's, a thousand kudo's!