Waking up in a good city with the knowledge that this day is the last is always bittersweet. On one hand, you have a whole day of exploration before you; on the other, afterwards you’re back to the ship, and it carries you on to the unknown.
We had to wake up really early that day to see Rachel back to the ship – she had a field program with SAS, so I think we had to leave home at seven am. Now I was facing a problem: I had no cash and I wanted to go to the market, but Argentinian ATMs kept denying my card. So me and Rachel made an agreement: I would borrow her card and then repay her in Brazil. So, I got some money, and the goal was to find some vintage dress at San Telmo stores to match the Great Gatsby alumni ball theme (oh that asshole who suggested it!)
But first, after delivering Rachel to the ship, we caught a cab to La Boca, the colorful port neighborhood famous for its cafes and night tango performances. It was quiet and sleepy, that area; now fun and expensive, it used to be pretty sketchy and unsafe in the older days.
There was literally nothing to do in La Boca, but walk around the crooked colorblock houses with papier-mache figures sticking out of the windows. The local art museum was closed, so we had nothing else to do but to land on a bus stop and wait for a bus to kill the time. Talking, talking, talking about everything in the world.
The bus eventually came and brought us to San Telmo area. I was hungry, so Jose volunteered to show me to some good place nearby. Turned out that the place was closed; he had another one in mind, but we just didn’t find it. So we ended up at some ice-cream place (oh these ice-cream places) that served nice breakfasts. But okay okay, all food I tried in Buenos Aires was nice. Perhaps I was just lucky – but still…
The actual merkado of San Telmo is a big garage-looking building, hosting all kinds of souvenir, vintage, food and other stands. The vintage part turned out to be a disappointment – nothing worthy at all; but I stopped at the food area and got a big juicy mango, a bunch of blueberries and some local honey. Mission “happiness” accomplished.
On the last round across the mercado I spotted an art stand. The artist, Carrera his surname, was bouncing around with paint on his fingers, showing us all he got. I really liked his style, and even more – the prices. All paintings were piled in the corners of the little store, and one had to be super careful as some were dangerously fragile.
I really loved one painting; but to my disappointment, it was painted not on canvas but on wood, and it was big – no way I would want to carry it back to Moscow. But I liked it a lot. I patiently looked through all he had in his store, but that one painting was the best, especially in terms of colors, for I wanted it for my room.
The artist kept showing me other works, but I still liked that one. At last, with Jose communicating my thoughts to him, the guy found some reasonably-sized painting – all violet and not too attractive – and asked if the size was right. Well I said yes. He then went to his table, dipped his fingers in paint and started drawing – on top of the poor old violet. I didn’t even realize he mostly drew with fingers! I remember I really liked doing that as a kid, but always told to stop horsing around and take a brush. And now that guy just drew pictures with his fingers.
He was patient all right, and kept asking me if the colors were right. I was watching in amusement, as the whole thing came surely unexpected.
In the end, I got a mini-version of that painting I like; or almost a mini-version, as some colors were not exactly in same proportions. But close, very close. For the next half an hour, while we were walking around the Saturday open market nearby, Jose (who nobly volunteered) was carrying the painting around, waiting for it to dry. This guy has some phenomenal patience. I wouldn’t be so patient in his place! ***
Got distracted for a moment – I’m so easily distracted – watching Rick and Elaine, our Lifelong Learners, professors from Hawaii, writers, scientists and just amazing people strolling hand-in-hand by the pool deck. It’s their evening exercise routine. I have this favorite evening writing spot by the pool. They’re both what – about eighty – and the cutest couple ever, always together, often hand-in-hand, with smiles on their faces and full of aloha. Love them. ***
Unexpectedly, the open market was where we finally found the right bombilla. I was almost ready to be a profound mate drinker. Lacking only the mate.
We walked and walked and walked towards the center of the city – or wherever Casa Rosa, the president’s palace, is located. A city sight, but looked quite boring for me – all dark pink, not even a shade or lining of some other color. Across from the palace, the parade was starting; what was surprising – a parade of northern cultures inhabiting Rio. Norwegians, Dutch, Swedes, Finns and others, dressed in traditional costumes, strolled along the street to the big stage. On both sides of the street the stands were set up, selling small souvenirs and some nordic food.
I would’ve liked to stay and watch, but we were running out of time. So I sealed the goodness of the day with the fruits at Jose’s, packed quickly and we hurried to the supermarket by the port – I was totally out of snacks.
Dulce de leche and mate. Chocolate. A pack of local green Coke cans – I mean, where else would you find that flavor? – and some minor stuff. In the end, the bags were big and heavy. People gave me looks at the port. I didn’t care much. They’d no idea how much mate cost in Moscow!!
Time came for the goodbyes – and it felt really weird. Like the world was so small, and all goodbyes – so temporary. And time – time didn’t want to wait, and didn’t give you any chance to delay the departure; the ship won’t wait as well.
Up the gangway (deck five, and eat it, shopper), through the security, up to the cabin, dropping the bags on the bed… Sweet heavens, I barely made it.
A few hours later, I was sipping the first, bitter brew of mate at deck six dining, watching the sun slowly sink behind the dark contours of the city. It was a beautiful sunset, lightened by smiles and embraces of all who came back, darkened by the feeling of loss – that feeling you get every time you leave.
Nature has a perfect taste, said I, trying to capture the pastels of the sky – pale yellow into pink into blue into grey. It perfectly mixes the colors. My friends laugh at my remark, filling the air with some warm familiar energy.
That night the full moon shone, leaving a trace of light on the dark dark waves. The road goes ever on.