Learning to Listen, Hearing the Music
By Rachael Leonie.
There’s nothing quiet about Buenos Aires.
In San Telmo, the sounds of the city crescendo to exploding heights the further you dive into Calle Defensa. Palermo emits a softer melody of café conversations and the jingle of shops’ front-door bells. Villa Crespo whistles as birds flutter above children at play. Recoleta hums. El Centro squeals. Puerto Madero clicks and clacks as high heels hit the pavement and businessmen snap their briefcases closed.
Yet last week, in this singing city full of action and onda, I found myself drowning in the music. I was suffering through my 9-to-5 job I wasn’t particularly enjoying, trudging outside only long enough to get from point A to point B, and failing to look up at the bustling, musical world encircling me. I forgot why I had come to this city, my reasons for staying, and the personal challenges I had previously dared myself to overcome.
Last Monday night, after an unpleasant day at my desk, answering e-mails and cleaning up the mess of editors before me, I looked into the mirror and saw a sleep-starved reflection staring back. All I wanted was sweatpants and my bed. But I had previously made arrangements with friends, and I, never one to flake last minute (as much a flaw as it is a strength), prepped myself for a night out with the amigas. Ten minutes later and I realized I was twenty late, so I hurriedly stuffed my purse with pesos and ran outside to hail a cab.
Finishing off an apologetic “on my way” text to my friend, I scooted my way deeper into the stopped cab’s back seat. I quickly spat out “buenas” and directions to the driver. But when the cabbie replied to my demands in a sweet, high-pitched “bueeenooo” in response, my head shot up.
There is a woman driving my taxi? This was a first.
Now, I find nothing wrong with female drivers or taxistas–in fact, it wasn’t until that moment that I realized I had never before encountered a female cabbie nor collectivo chauffeur during my travels in South America. This woman had singlehandedly shocked me out of my former petulance and knocked me into a state of investigational intrigue. I wanted to know who she was, why she was a cabbie, and how her days played out as a female taxista in Argentina’s capital.
So I began small talk –cabbies love small talk.
First, I detected an accent: rather than replacing the double ‘l’ with “ja,” she used it for her double ‘r’s. Then, I noticed how she accessorized each sentence by overzealously smacking her hand against the steering wheel. By the time I spotted the colored beads hanging from the rearview mirror, my curiosity had plateaued.
So I asked the question to answer all questions: “Te gustas Buenos Aires?”
And boy, did she ever. She had moved 11 years ago from Mendoza with her mother (“mi madre, una divinaaa…”). Her studies were long behind her and she had wanted to pursue a singing career (“que cantar era lo más copado para mi”). According to her subsequent short stories, she was quite the act (“yo fui la más grosa, como la Madonna de Argentina”). Within our 15-minute, cross-city cab ride, she recounted her most memorable shows, sang a line or two from her favorite songs, and laughed at unspoken thoughts I could almost see whishing through her head.
But the most beautiful part was the gratitude and deference she felt towards Buenos Aires. The city, she said, that inspired her to pursue the unimaginable and begin such a singing career in the first place.
As we neared my destination, I asked her why she transitioned into the taxi business. “Ah, mi querida. Mi tiempo como cantante terminó.” As she pulled the cab over outside my destination, she paused as she allowed herself to fawn over a lingering memory, “I drive this cab from merienda to dusk. I see the city’s energy settle as la gente return home from work, only to pick right up again once dusk falls, and street lamps lite the way for men in buttoned-up shirts and women on their way to milonga. Every night there’s something new and every night Buenos Aires fills me with fresh energy.”
I gawked for a bit before handing over my wilted pesos. I exchanged a heavy “gracias” for her heart-felt “suerte,” exited the cab, and remained on the pavement outside to process the ride.
Thanks to this taxista –who’s name I will always regret not asking—I was reminded once more of the charm, the attraction, the magic of Buenos Aires. I had been turning what could be everyday, exciting life experiences into mundane tasks. I had been ignoring the charmingly eclectic buildings around me; I’d transitioned from my intrigued habit of people watching to mechanically pushing past throngs on the street; and I’d forgotten how giddy I became upon hearing porteño slang.
No more than one minute on that curb, standing outside my destination, and I took all these pleasures in again. Porteños walked past, city lamps shed light upon graffiti-embellished buildings, and I allowed that familiar, energetic hum to enter my ears. I returned to the music, and I was entranced.
Rachael Leonie aka The Wanderita is a spunky twenty-something-year-old who found her way back to Buenos Aires after a series of misadventures through South America. She spends her free time talking porteño with taxi drivers and taste-testing choripán. Follow her as she bares her souls to Buenos Aires at www.TheWanderita.com.