Friday, 5 January 2007

Argentina Places – Buenos Aires, City of the Midnight Sun

It surprised me to find out how late the sun sets in Buenos Aires. Sometimes after midnight, sometimes even later, I haven’t actually seen it go down yet. Like you, I thought only Scandinavia, Canada, Alaska and Siberia could claim this. Wrong! Buenos Aires has it too. Perhaps it is only because we’re approaching the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. Maybe in winter, it is dark 24 hours a day.

People have written before me about the strange quality of the light in the city. So strange is it in fact, that to the untrained gringo eye, it appears dark outside after about nine o’clock, with stars and moon showing above. Don’t be fooled. It is still daylight. The locals know. Just look at them, they’re all still wearing sunglasses.

You see people everywhere steadfastly refusing to take them off, even in dark sweaty clubs, deep underground on the metro, or just hiding in dark corners of bars. There could be a number of reasons for this:

1. The pollution. Outside yes, in dark smoky bars maybe, but smoking is banned in bars now. Impossible.
2. Everyone is blind. Unlikely. The few definite blind people I have seen have white sticks (bit of a clue) and walk slowly through the carriages asking people for financial help on the metro. They talk very slowly too, which is great for my Spanish listening skills. Most people in the city sound like machine guns when they talk, so that counts them out of being blind in my book.
3. Everyone is a frustrated rock/pop/film star. Only rock/pop/film stars are allowed to wear sunglasses indoors. It helps them to stay in character and helps them to hide their true introverted insecure nature behind the mask of dark glasses. If everybody wore dark glasses indoors, our stars wouldn’t feel special any more. Their fragile egos would shatter. It is impossible to be cooler than anyone else in Buenos Aires when, sat at a table across from you sits a woman approaching 80, still out and still wearing a huge pair of shades to eat well after midnight. She even looks like Mick Jagger’s mother, which makes you look like a total nobody in comparison. If everyone is a star, being a star is normal which makes it impossible to be a star. So can’t be that.
4. To avoid the effects of autosomal dominant compelling heliophthalmic outburst syndrome? Probably not. Even the doctors don’t know what it is.
5. Expensive sunglasses. Buying your shades from much-vaunted European design houses is an expensive business, hell the logos alone are big enough to cover your cheeks, so people like to wear them 24 hours a day – during the day, at night, while eating, while sleeping, to make sure they get their money’s worth. Well, you never know.
6. Pure misplaced vanity. Hmm.

I tried to fit in. I wore my shades on the metro occasionally, just to look like a porteño. It’s dangerous. I bumped into children and old ladies who were hiding from my field of vision. I couldn’t see properly. I tried to get on the train when the one that I’d heard arriving was on the other platform, the wrong side of the tracks. A blind man grabbed hold of my arm before I fell in the path of the train arriving on our side. I’m not sure if he was saving my life or asking for money. I said ‘Muchos gracias’ and left it at that. I took my shades off before I got on the train. Lesson learnt.

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