I play a self-invented game here in Buenos Aires, it’s called, “Is it raining or is that just an air conditioner unit dripping on my head?” It happens frequently not only because most of the city’s ACs that don’t have condensation drip pans but also because of the city’s fickle, extreme weather patterns. One minute it’s humid and blistering hot, then the next minute dark clouds roll in and the sky splits open pouring down gallons of water in seconds, letting thunder shake the earth and lightening touch down in waves. Then, 45 minutes pass and its over. Some weeks ago, we had such a storm that it uprooted hundreds of trees, which laid in the streets for days until someone finally came to pick them up. (They’re not too swift here … they didn’t even take down their Christmas decorations until near the end of January) The city even closed the Botanical Gardens in Palermo because it was unsafe.
This morning, I was sitting on my bed enjoying my manzanilla (camomile) tea when I saw drops falling on my balcony. I assumed that my neighbor probably just had the cold air blasting. But as I approached the banaster, I looked out upon Santa Fe Avenue to find soaked side walks and a sea of multi-colored umbrellas.
The rain today is no comparison to the lightening storm we received on saturday at around 4 a.m. The winds were so strong, I thought my glass doors were going to implode, and the electric strikes were breaking overhead every second and the street gutters were running like rivers. Then there was silence and a still, sticky, stagnant heat. Because I have neither air conditioning nor a fan in my room, I some nights have resorted to sleeping with ice packs. And yes, that is embarrassingly true. So, I ran to the kitchen, grabbed a couple from the freezer, put one on my neck and one at my feet, and began counting sheep.
On wednesday and thursday, the heat was almost intolerable. I resorted to making sense of the complicated bus system to get around town as the subte was making me claustrophobic. One afternoon, I arrived at my volunteer gig flustered and combing back my moist hair trying to make it look decent. “HACE CALORRRRRRRRR!!!!!!” or “IT’S HOTTTTTT!!!!!!” Mariano, the non-profit director, shouted when he opened the door. “Si,” I gasped in agreement, dabbing my forehead.
“But there’s a storm coming, eh” he said. In Buenos Aires, it is popular to throw an Italian-sounding “Eh” on the end of sentences to add emphasis. It always make me want to shout Mama Mia!
“Every time it gets this hot, the rains come and cool it back down. I expect that this storm is going to be huge!” And he was right, in some sense. I checked the forecast, and we are suppose to have thunderstorms all weeklong … the temperature, however, is expected to stay in the 90s and high 80s.
But this is characteristically Buenos Aires. Here, there is a series of movements from one extreme to the other, a coming together and pulling apart of people, things, and conditions, which perhaps is embodied best by the tango and the heat that surrenders to the rain and the rain that yields to the heat, and the air that falls in between that does not move unless provoked by the prevailing winds. And there are couples passionately kissing in the parks as if today were their last day in love and there are couples in the streets furiously shouting at each other as if finally the end of their love had arrived. Until again sweep each other into an everlasting, passionate embrace. And there are women with breast implants wearing high-heels passing by children and old men who are sleeping on the sidewalk in their underwear. And there are car collisions that could have been easily avoided. And amongst it all, there’s me trying to make sense of these paradoxes, even though I don’t even have an umbrella.