“Un café con leche, por favor y una medialuna dulce.”
“Café con leche y medialuna dulce; ¿algo más?”
I don’t ask for a menu when I sit down because I don’t need one (also because no one else asks for one at a place like this). The cafes are all different: different names, owners, prices. Despite that though, they’re all exactly the same: same standard menu items, same plastic-y, too-small napkins, same sugar packets that hold three times as much sugar as those I’ve seen anywhere else, same ability to make a latte at whatever hour of the day. I’ve found what I like, what I know they’ll have, and I order it. When I’m not yet caffeinated my objective is simple: acquire a latte and a small lightly glazed Argentine croissant in as few words as possible so as to blend in and not make a complete fool of myself first thing in the morning. Who knows, I might like this café, I could want to come back here someday. After all, I’ve only been here two weeks.
And what a two weeks they’ve been. Moments like this one, sitting in one of Buenos Aires’s countless corner cafes with a coffee and enough time to write, have been rare. Between orientation and information sessions with my program, touristy activities with my fellow students, and acquiring all the necessities for living a normal life (cell phone, public transport card, cash, peanut butter), reflection time has been slim. Normally I would be a little perturbed by this imbalance in my schedule. Journaling, blogging, pondering, processing is crucial for me to keep a clear perspective of what is going on around me and how it relates to what I need to do in the future.
This being said, I’m thankful for my infinite to-do list and how it has forced me to change. During my first days in Argentina I shifted from my typical more contemplative M.O. to one purely geared towards adapting to this new world in which I find myself. In this mindset I seem to remember things with more ease (I had my new phone number memorized before I’d even taken the phone out of its box), pick things up faster, be surprised by fewer things, accepting of more, and completely game to try things I might not have the courage to in the States (It looks like canned tuna, white rice, lettuce, and carrots, all mixed together with some sort of creamy dressing…sure, why not? – an actual thought process of mine over dinner one evening last week).
I know this change isn’t permanent; I haven’t discovered some new fearless, more relaxed me. I’ve simply become this way because it was my best and only option. In order to stay happy and calm in a situation of great change, I had to adjust. I’m not completely unaffected by the chaos of this move, mind you. The street noise is grating and constant, the perpetual vigilance required to avoid falling victim to petty theft, a pain. I would be lying however, if I said I wasn’t enjoying my time here. From what I’ve seen already, Buenos Aires (or Porteño) culture values things I too hold dear: sipping coffee mid-day and chatting with friends, fine art that’s affordable for everyone to go see, and reading voraciously – sidewalk magazine sellers have everything from this month’s Vanity Fair to today’s newspapers, to translated volumes of Marx and Shakespeare. Classes haven’t yet begun and I’m sure I’ll have to adapt further to navigate the Argentine education system with any success, but it’s all a part of this adventure and it’s not as though I have any other choice, which I’m viewing as a very good thing.