After meeting a friend –and former colleague- for lunch, I stroll down Avenida Santa Fe in Buenos Aires. I need to speed up to keep up with the other pedestrians or I risk being pushed or bumped into. These are busy people walking with a purpose. I used to be one of them, now I’m one more tourist slowing them down.
It is a strange feeling that of being a visitor to my own hometown. There is a nagging voice in my head telling me to hurry up because I’m late. That reaction is probably set off by the surroundings: the same streets I used to pound when I lived there and was, in fact, late for work. Away from the rat race, I can now observe at my leisure the urban tableaux I once belonged to.
I cross Calle Riobamba and my destination is in the middle of the block. I had been to Librería El Ateneo a handful of times before but I was too busy then to appreciate its beauty. It was just another bookshop. Today, I make a point of looking at every architectural feature in detail.
Librería El Ateneo is housed in a 1919 building originally designed as a theatre, Grand Splendid, which was later turned into a cinema. Back in the mists of time, when I was fourteen, my girlfriends and I made the long trek from the suburbs on a lazy summer afternoon to watch Top Gun at this very cinema.
I join the throngs of visitors snapping happily away at the ornate boxes turned into miniature reading rooms or the magnificent ceiling. I spot the cafe, almost hidden behind the stage’s crimson velvet curtains. Before my eyes, cherubs and Greek masks start dancing on a field of gold leaf.
I peruse the shelves, make a purchase and go out into the street. Happy with my acquisitions and the bagful of memories, I try to decide whether I should take the bus or a taxi back to the hotel.
NB: This was partly inspired by a post titled The End for Bookshops? Thanks, Marie!