Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that this is an Amazing Experience™, a Unique Opportunity™, and that Life is Short ™. We forget that we’re here for longer than a vacation and we don’t have to cram everything we want to see, do, and experience into a few days, weeks, or even months. Which is good to remember, because sometimes in life you just need to cancel everything, put on pajamas, and hole up at home for a few days. So we did.
We convinced the boy to skip what would have been his fourth birthday party in three weeks. Until Montevideo, all our kid birthday party experiences had been homespun, low-key affairs. So for us the parties here were a total shock. The boy adored each and every one and would happily attend a perfect stranger’s party, but they left him exhausted for days. They were held in places with names like La Manzana Azul, Adorato, and Abrakadabra, which specialize in kids’ birthday parties. Employees checked the children in at the door while the parents left a cell phone number before leaving altogether. For three hours the children were entertained by magicians, bouncy castles, dance music, food, cake, cotton candy, candy, piñatas, puppets, video games, and more. The arrival of each invitation, while met with great excitement, reminded us of how much we still live on the fringes of the average Uruguayan schedule. These parties went from around afternoon tea until dinner, which for our still very much American schedule was more between dinner and please-just-go-to-sleep-already. So this one party raged on without him while he happily stayed home, drew his way through half a ream of paper, and played quiet games of go-fish.
By Sunday afternoon the paper was running low and the games were running more toward yelling and jumping. Plus, we couldn’t ignore the sunlight and warm air filtering in from outside. After much blustering and procrastinating we finally made it outside into a day that felt almost like Spring. Even the trees looked a little greener around the edges. We wandered out without much direction until we remembered that on Sunday afternoons the golf course changes over from private club to public park. It felt strange to walk through the guarded gate and out onto the golf course, but before long the pull of those acres of rolling green grass, the faint smell of the eucalyptus trees, and the hushed silence of being farther from cars and machines than we have been in two months took over. The next hour was spent charging over fairways, watching flocks of parrots and Southern Lapwings, collecting pinecones, feathers, and sticks, climbing trees, and rolling rapturously on the grass.
On Monday with the kids back in school–possibly being exposed to the latest in their infectious tour of Uruguay, Scarlet Fever and Gastroenteritis–I finally broke the barrier of the five block radius around our apartment. I know there are other neighborhoods to explore. There are side-streets and avenues. There are coffee shops, panaderias, museums and much more out there to find. But, when the sun shines bright and the children are not my responsibility, I can’t turn my feet away from the Rambla–that ribbon of pedestrian walk that follows the coast in and out along its wavy line. Sometimes the wind whips off the water with such force that I have to lean into it to move forward. Trees growing in the fields between sidewalk and water have given into the will of the wind and permanently lean toward the land. The water stretches out to the horizon as if it were the ocean. On the grass there are often dogs running free, stopping now and then to deposit feces on the ground that their owners studiously ignore. In the mornings when I go there are always groups of older men walking in groups of two or four always debating and pontificating. There are younger people out for jogs and strolls. There are workers resting against the wall or on the rocks sharing a mate. And as the weather warms, lip-locked couples have begun to sprout from benches and walls. The open space, even if it is flanked on one side by a busy highway, feels like a short escape from closeness of the city.
Finally, I turned back inland. As I walked into the shadows of buildings, I started thinking about about how unoccupied the apartment buildings and houses can look from the street level. I remember feeling the same way when I first got to the Burg. The houses were pretty from the front, but the facades set right against the sidewalk gave little hint of the lives lived inside. I would walk instead through the alleys where there were glimpses of gardens and play equipment. There were sounds of people talking, laughing, and laughing. It wasn’t just an exercise in voyeurism. When I didn’t have my own life in the Burg, it was immensely comforting to see and hear people living theirs. I haven’t seen an alley yet in Montevideo, but I’m finding the same comfort in seeing other people’s laundry drying outside apartment windows or flapping on lines strung across rooftops. There is something humanizing and intimate about seeing the textile components of strangers’ lives hanging out in what is still, to me, an otherwise largely unknown city.