San Telmo is the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the 17th century it was a blue-collar town. Dockworkers and brick makers lived here. Their families stayed in the colonial buildings that squat on city blocks like concrete linemen.
These days the neighborhood swarms with locals and tourists, especially on Sundays when the antiques fair beckons artists, musicians, vendors and scammers to Plaza Dorrego, the main square. It is not the tango, but when visitors pass shoulder-to-shoulder on these narrow cobble-stoned streets, it is a dance nonetheless.
A block away at the Mercado San Telmo, butchers prepare cuts of beef made to order and shoppers haggle over the cost of scarves and purses.
San Telmo, a neighborhood gritty on the outside but with the heart of a lovelorn poet, is where I am staying. It is littered with bars and cafes and bookstores and restaurants. And the place I am frequenting most is the bathroom in my first-floor apartment.
It’s been a week since arriving in Buenos Aires. Day One was spent trying to reach someone at Aerolineas Argentina, the airline from which my video equipment was stolen. Day Two was filled with incredulity as organizers of the Copa America gave media the runaround and a bartender revealed the pesos I had were counterfeit. Day Three through this moment have been spent on my knees in the bathroom, at times prostrate and begging for the travel gods to just take me.
There are occasions, as I lay dying, the song of the of the Argentine Jack-us Hammer-icus serenades me from first light until the shadows of evening set over the stained glass windows. Like its North American cousin, the woodpecker, the Jack Hammer likes to incessantly peck at things. Here, it pounds away at the concrete apartment until, like a spastic drum major, it keeps time with my throbbing headache.
Luckily, Argentines are a civilized people and they have conveniently placed a revival fountain next to the toilet. It is a convenient appliance. After a round of violent retching I place my face over the water spout and am revitalized enough to fight another day.