Tuesday, January 16, 2007

An empty city

It's the height of summer and the city is empty.

Waking up after New Year's Day was waking up to a new Buenos Aires, one where you can get a seat on the subte,* where it is possible to catch a bus during rush hour without getting trampled . . . and one where you have to wonder if the restaurant you always go to is going to be closed for vacation when you show up, or whether the pasta shop decided to knock off for the day.

Normally I can tell whether it's a weekday or the weekend by the sounds of the traffic outside my window. Since Jan. 2, every day has sounded like the weekend.

The vacation timetable divides January and February into two quincenas and you typically take either the first or last quincena of either month as your vacation. God help you if you need to enter or leave Buenos Aires during the cambio de quincena, when one group of travelers streams into the city and another group pours out.

Now that the 15th of the month has come and gone and the primera quincena is finished, the first shift has returned from the beach to the city. Among the lobsterpeople, those bright red from baking in the sun, the men look uncomfortable with their sunburned skin pressed against their suits and the women look like raccoons with large white circles around their eyes from their sunglasses.

* There's a lot of British influence here and it's interesting that the subway should be named not the Metro but the subterráneo -- or subte for short -- just as the London subway system is named the Underground.

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