It was dark, and I was lost.
The bus had dropped me at the edge of San Telmo, and all the streets looked the same. I was looking for Carlos Calvo 578 — a nameless, faceless bookstore. (Addresses are written backwards in Argentina, by the way.)
I asked a fruit vendor which street I was on. “Calvo,” he said, and smiled when I answered with “¡Gracias a Dios!” Three more blocks and I was there. I opened the door, and fell in love.
Literary love is a powerful thing. I’m obsessed with bookstores of all shapes and sizes, particularly those independently-owned, paperbacks-piled-higgldy-piggldy types. This one, Fedro Libros, was divine: yellow painted walls, two stories, a rickety spiral stair and an enormous section of classics.
Oh, and there was a cat.
I pet the cat, Maurice, while I browsed the bottom floor and waited for my first meeting with the staff of El Sol de San Telmo to start. Isabel, Diana and Clara were expecting us (Evan and Nick, two other students on the trip, are also working at El Sol), but we didn’t find them until we climbed the stairs.
There were kisses all around, murmurs of “Chau” and “Mucho gusto,” and we settled into chairs. Isabel outlined our jobs for us. I will be published twice this summer, since El Sol is a monthly magazine. Deadlines are strict, and topics pertain to the neighborhood of San Telmo.
The point, said Isabel, is to get to the heart of the neighborhood — to write about issues in a compelling way, but also to cover the neighborhood beyond its surface. Hands flapping emphatically, eyebrows raised, she spoke in earnest about the publication’s role in the community. It serves the neighbors — the vecinos. It gives them a voice and an insider’s look at what’s going on in their unique barrio.
The meeting ended soon after and we made our way back to Recoleta, with instructions to return at the same time on Friday for a meeting of the vecinos. Of course I gave Maurice a goodbye pat.
Friday rolled around and we were upstairs again, this time with cookies and Mate, an herbal, tea-like drink. The vecinos assembled. Most were older. I sat between Norah, a pixie-like woman in her 30s with cropped purple hair, and Diana, one of El Sol‘s staff.
Issues were discussed and pitches assigned. I was surprised at the heated disputes over gates on a local park, uneven paving stones and untimely trash pickup. Voices were raised, arms flailed, and one man even stood up to make his point.
These issues may seem small to us foreigners, but they matter to these people. The vecinos come because they live in San Telmo, and they want to see a change.
When all was said and done (which took a couple hours, what with the shouting), I ended up with an assignment about “Eco-Cuadras,” a green organization that plants trees and flowers in public spaces. I’ll start work on it this week and will turn in the final draft on June 26.
On the 28th there will be another meeting of El Sol. I’ll get to re-visit my one true love: Carlos Calvo 578. Let’s hear it for the books.