Thursday, February 12, 2009

Buenos Aires Remodel: Day 147

When we started the remodel of our apartment in Buenos Aires 4 months and 24 days ago I figured there would be parts of the process that would challenge me, but as I stand here 3 - 4 weeks away from completion, I can say that I had no clue what kind of precarious Argentine roller coaster ride we were stepping onto.

I've never even owned a home before, let alone remodeled one, but being no stranger to tools, or home depot back in the States, I was stoked to embark on making my first one come to life. Finally I was giving in to the subconscious baritone man voice inside my head. The one that's steadily been declaiming to me throughout my adult life, "COLLECT TOOLS. BUILD HOME. COLLECT TOOLS. BUILD HOME."

The place we bought way back in August was an open loft apartment on the top floor of a 25 story building. It was formerly the office for one of the black and yellow taxi companies here in Buenos Aires, and it's elevated location in the middle of the city had made it an ideal headquarters for dispatch. For us it was the view and the solitude 25 stories up that were the biggest pulls. Like any mammoth city, Buenos Aires is always pulsing and alive. Taxis, buses, people - they're everywhere. It is constant food for the senses. When you're on vacation the sensory overload goes along with the experience, but when it's the place you live it can be important to be able to remove yourself from it.

We had originally hoped to move into the place when the remodel was finished, but as the economy imploded last year so did our ability to afford to keep renting a temporary apartment. We moved in two days after Christmas. At the time there weren't even window's yet, allowing the wind to whip through unabated. Our amenities would include: a toilet and bathtub in a tileless raw concrete bathroom, a microwave/mini-fridge shrouded in a rain poncho to keep the dust off, a couple of light bulbs hanging from naked ceiling wires, a five-gallon bucket that served as our outdoor kitchen/bathroom sink, and lastly a single-size bed that we divided in two - Annie got the mattress and I got the box spring.

Since that day of moving in much has happened. Work has consistently progressed, and various mental states have come and gone. I've seen the cabinets hung, and I've learned to sleep through howling empty-window nights. I've seen the windows installed, and gotten used to brushing my teeth outside on the terrace. I've lost my patience living under a blanket of concrete dust, and held onto enough of it to laugh the day our one and only toilet accidentally got smashed. Just like we had to learn and adapt to the types of food we can and can't get here, we've had to do the same with local building supplies and tools. For my first home I looked forward to smelling fresh cut 2x4's and meandering down the infinitely long isles in search of solutions at Home Depot, however this city is built with brick and mortar and the gigantic superstore business model hasn't quite caught on yet here. Whether or not either of those things is good can be argued, but at the very least it is definitely different. As for my own tools, ever since that first Phillips screw driver I bought for my college dorm room 15 years ago, I've been amassing a collection of them. When we were filling up the cargo container bound for Argentina and deciding what got moved and what got sold or given away, the tools made the cut. What I didn't know at the time was that the many of them were basically coming here to die. The concrete, and their constant use against it in the remodel would wear them away. Handles would break. Power tools would burn out. Non-metric tape measures would be rendered obsolete.

I can look at and dwell on the difficulties of this remodel on many levels, but as the days go by here that is a place I try not to go to for very long. The longer we live here amongst the dust and the frustrations of all that is different, the more I try to remind myself that experiencing something different is ultimately why were here. I hold onto a laugh because ultimately it's all we have. I try to remind myself of the bigger moments, like knowing that the process of all this has put me in connection with intimate parts of the Argentine culture that I would have never otherwise experienced. Or defining further my own levels of what can be physically and mentally be endured, and learning through necessity how it is as humans we instinctively adapt beyond them. Or taking comfort in the knowledge that a few of the tools that my Grandfather used to work on his home back in Wisconsin, were used to help build my own here on a whole other continent. Or engaging a further disconnection with the material world. I ask myself what's necessary? What's not? What's important? What do I really miss? After living out of a suitcase for 9 months it gets a lot easier to answer those questions. I sometimes think I still hear that man voice in my head, but now he says stuff like "GROW A BEARD. GO TO THE MOUNTAINS. GET A PET MONKEY. SAIL ON A CARGO SHIP. EAT BACON." I'm not sure what all that stuff means, but I do know once we get the stove installed I think I'm going to start with that bacon.

home sweet home

installing the plumbing | a single bed divided into two

glassless windows | the carpenters

Miguel in makeshift rain poncho | Jorge...the master of breaking concrete

I will miss Mauricio the most when this thing is done | Miguel the King of Conrete (Rey de Concreto)

Fernando and Izzy installing windows | working on the ledge 25 stories up

sealing out the wind | rolling with the flow

Annie grinning at the granite | daydreaming of my canvas and brushes

Currently Reading:
The latest blog entry of my friend Jackson Bliss:
"Running in Buenos Aires"

Currently Listening To:
Song: Blackbird
Artist: The Beatles


Clay Shanks said...

Salted Pork?

Anonymous said...

Shanks is right!

Jenna said...

What an incredible adventure! I think people not as easy-going as you (like me?) would have given up a long time ago, but this will be so worth it someday soon. Very cool.