Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Subte Stuff

So I am deep into my Spanish classes at the University of Buenos Aires. UBA is supposed to be the best place for Spanish, although I have my doubts. I try not to let the fact that the buildings look like the have been standing since pre-Weimar Germany (and survived that whole war thing) bother me too much, but when you have to practically go outside to go to the bathroom you kinda go hmmm.

Everyday I take the subway, called the Subte, to the microcentro. The Subte is more DC than New York with lousy hours and only a couple of lines. The upside is that when they are out of change they let you ride for free. Another fabulous thing is that they have Wi-Fi, although I can’t imagine most of the people who are riding the Subte are the kind with Wi-Fi enabled devices (although I do have one and I ride the Subte). And last but not least, I’m not sure that pulling your wireless device out on the Subte is always the best decision, as I once saw a snatching.

A friend told me the other day that Buenos Aires was the first city in South America to have a subway. Turns out it is not only the first in South America, but the first in the southern hemisphere and in the Spanish speaking world as it was built in 1913. Impressive.

I love my Subte ride to catch a glimpse of people living their lives in the city. There are stunning men in crisp shirts, looking preppy and pressed. There are beautiful women who are impossibly thin, fully made up or making themselves up as we barrel underneath Avenida Santa Fe towards downtown.

The mornings are usually cramped and hot; halfway through my ride there is usually sweat dripping from me and/or my fellow passengers. I prefer the afternoon, when the commuters are ensconced in their downtown offices and the common people are out on the prowl. The usual suspects include a blind man who regularly begs on the Green Line, his grizzled face and voice to match calling out, “Por favor, ayudarme, cinco centavos, por favor,” the tap-tap of his cane serving as the beat for his melancholy song.

Another feature of the Subte are the people hocking their wares. In South America vendors are generally more aggressive than in the North, the ones on the Subte place their selection of Guias (city guides, like London A to Z) or hairbands right on your lap to entice you.

There’s entertainment of a more traditional sense too -jugglers, actors, musicians, and singers. I was serenaded for part of my ride home the other day by a wistful tango, played on an accordion by a white haired man. Beautiful.

Sometimes what you see isn’t beautiful. Many of the people standing up and asking for some change on the Subte are children or poor men and women dragging their children from car to car, hoping for the kindness of strangers. It’s not a common sight in North America and when I first saw it, I couldn’t decide what bothered me more- the children being schlepping around alol day or that their parents are doing it in front of them. I guess if you have to survive, you do what you have to do.

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