“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet, novelist, dramatist, humanist, scientist, theorist, painter, and for ten years a chief minister of state… and I think I’m busy
Buenos Aires – Today, I’m going to reveal a secret or two. Roughly half the population of the planet knows each of these secrets, and the other half suspects, but it’s one of those men are from Mars, women are from Venus things – which, by the way, we’re not. It’s about directions. There’s the old running saw about how men will never stop and ask someone for directions. That much is true. The psychology behind it has always been assumed by women to be that we have some sort of macho thing going about asking for help. Here’s the secret… that’s not why. Have you ever noticed how good men are with a map? They can look at it, plan a route, follow it, figure out shortcuts, all that good stuff. Take away our map, and we’re lost. We’re always muttering about “if you hadn’t left the map on the kitchen table…” – it’s not an excuse, nor really an attempt to blame women, it’s that we’re actually, truly lost without our map. Really. And we know, deep in our brains, that if we were to pull into the closest gas station and ask the guy there… if he doesn’t have a map, and just starts rattling things off and pointing, he doesn’t really know either. Because he doesn’t have a map in front of him.
Now, women take the opposite tack. We, the men, all know that they’re clueless about how to use a map. They turn it this way and that, they try to “line it up” with the way we’re going, they call out turns that don’t exist that somehow only appear to them on the paper, they’re off in G-6 when they should be in D-4. But give them detailed instructions, even long convoluted ones, upfront, and they can remember them and follow them – somehow finding that little cottage by the lake from someone else’s memory of how to get there. Just don’t put a map in front of them. They always want to ask “the guy” for directions. And that’s how we all end up lost, because “the guy” doesn’t really know.
I met up with my friend Elizabeth at Retiro station. She had a day off from work, and we’d decided to go out and wander one of the northern suburbs in search of something interesting – maybe Martinez, or San Isidro. We bought our tickets, and I headed over to the big board that shows each train, when it’s leaving, and what stops it makes. I had my map in front of me. She disappeared. The board said it was about 15 minutes until the next train heading to where we were going. She came running back shouting, “the train is about to leave, come quickly”. She was pointing at a train on another track… “that one, it’s leaving in one minute and it goes to San Isidro!” We jumped on board just as the doors started to close. She’s lived here for over a decade, she takes trains and buses all the time. A couple of stations into the trip, as we were chatting, I noticed the name on the station wasn’t one I recognized from my mapped out route. I pulled out the map. We were going in a different direction. “No, no, the guy at the gate told me this was the train to take.” I had that sinking feeling – she’d asked “the guy”. We had options, we could get off at the next station, go back, and get on the right train, or we could continue on into the unknown. We decided on the latter – and after having consulted the map (which she didn’t believe was correct), decided to exit at the next interesting looking station.
And so, we found ourselves in the municipality of San Martin, and more specifically in the town of Villa Ballester, population 35,000 and some. It’s a pretty little town, lots of old Spanish style homes with tile roofs. We wandered a bit near to the train station, and then headed into the center of town, where we found a cute little plaza and playground. At the entrance were these three graffiti covered sculptures – the winners of the National Open Air Arts competition in 1988… so they’ve been there for a bit. A shame that the town doesn’t keep them cleaned of the graffiti – a lot of it had clearly been there for awhile. There are lots of signs for various chess tournaments and classes posted about town, and a google search on Villa Ballester pops up with various chess related things, including a town chess club – apparently a strong local passtime.
On the far side of the plaza we spotted this sort of spaceship lifting off looking tower. My guess, some sort of municipal water tower. As we approached it though, we could see little windows spiraling up the column – some sort of winding staircase inside apparently. It was all locked up tight, and also graffiti covered. Elizabeth went over and asked another “guy” about it – okay, it’s not directions, we should be allright. He started in on a story about it having been a military water tower, that then later was open to the public, and you used to be able to go up inside it, but the staircase had no real railing and a little girl fell and was killed so the government closed it up. Then he ended the discourse with a sort of “I think, it was a long time ago, before I was born, I don’t really know…” She asked him if there was anything else of interest to see in town – he thought a moment and decided that not really, but we could go back a few train stops to the San Martin stop and see the beautiful town plaza. He started pointing in directions that didn’t relate to the train. She started that direction. I pulled her towards the train station… I had my map with me.
Not more than fifteen minutes later found us alighting from the train in the heart of San Martin. That put us directly facing onto a pedestrian mall, which seems to be the core of the town. Knowing nothing about the town or what to see and do, other than “the beautiful town plaza”, we just decided to wander the length of the mall. Lots of small shops, cheap prices, covering the gamut of everything you might find in typical strip shopping here. As a guess, we both figured the pedestrian mall might very well at some point connect with the plaza. We didn’t have a map, so we’d have to ask, if not.
But, sure enough, a half dozen blocks or so along the mall, it opened up into what is, indeed, a quite beautiful town plaza. Fountains, playground, lots of trees and benches, a small church, and a dominating central statue of San Martin himself. It was beautiful weather, so we sat in the park for a bit, and just enjoyed. Strange trees, big bulging trunks and a bark covered with large bumps, almost like short horns… some kind of palm perhaps?