Friday, January 31, 2014

Is There A There Here?

Or is it the other way around?

No matter how long I'm here, I still get lost.

I suspect that businesses and landmarks move around randomly every time I blink my eyes. What else could it be, really? It couldn't be me. Not hardly, I think. It has to be them.

Where I'm from, and you want to go to the X Building, located on 123 A Street, you begin by locating A Street. Then you find a number on any building, and as the next step, you arbitrarily choose a direction and go that way until you find another number.

That tells you if you're headed the right way or likely to end up in the city dump, so you act accordingly.

Once going the right way, you keep doing that. For example, let's say you get to 100 A Street, then you get to to 120 A Street. The outcome is inevitable. By that time your target of 123 A Street is so imminent that you may bump into it and hurt yourself, and once found, the location stays put, both in fact and in your mind.

Here, not really.

Take my attorneys, for example. They're nominally at Luis Cordero 6 - 41 y P. Córdova, but you won't find them there, even when they are in their office and busy as termites. (Note: The "y" is Spanish for "and". I'm leaving it in for the sake of making this all sound exotic.)

Next up, the "P." in "P. Córdova" isn't "P.", it's "Presidente". You have to know that. I assume that the attorneys were intending to save business-card paper via the abbreviation but they didn't succeed — the card is standard-sized and has lots of white space available to comfortably house the possibly-optional-if-you-know-where-you're-going-anyway "residente", which would move the full expression up from simply "P." to the more-universally-intelligible "Presidente". I guess they ultimately decided that "P." sounded more fun than the longer but simpler "Presidente", but who am I to say? I know nothing, after all, really. (I can't even find my way around town, you know?)

OK, next.

"P. Córdova", or "Presidente Córdova" as it is actually known, isn't even in the picture. The way things work here, you give the street that the business or residence is on, the building number, and then the cross-street. In this case "Presidente Córdova" isn't it, I think, maybe, the cross-street.

I live at "Hermano Miguel 4 - 36 y Calle Larga". Calle Larga is to the south of my address. In the case of my attorneys, Presidente Córdova is to the north of the address. Consistent? No. Confusing? Yes. Maybe only to me, but that isn't the end of it. There's more.

The first time I got to Luis Cordero 6 - 41, there was only a shuttered doorway at that spot. A shuttered doorway here means a roll-up, roll-down steel curtain, something like a North American garage door. That's what businesses use here. When you go home, you roll down the door curtain and padlock it. The next day, there is still usually a business behind it. If the padlocks hold.

Well, when I got to Luis Cordero 6 - 41, there was a shuttered doorway. End of story? No. Not this time, not ever really — there is always more.

In this case, I went one doorway over, to the south, and that doorway opened onto a mid-block parking lot. When I say a mid-block parking lot, what I mean is that there was a parking lot inside the block. Lots of these are in effect inside buildings, though this one was open to the sky.

Inside the block in turn reflects on the architecture here. City blocks are hollow. You can call it that. The facade you see while walking down a street is exactly that. Architecture here is colonial style. Buildings were put up on a hollow-square pattern so that there are solid walls on all four sides and a square open space in the middle. Like ancient Roman villas. You may or may not get the idea, but that's OK. There is still a lot I don't get too. As when looking for attorneys the first time, I made it only so far as a parking lot, on my second try.

But I didn't quit even then. No.

I went yet one more door south, to the next even-more-wrong address, and found a barely-legible sign around eight feet up the wall announcing that this was the office of the two attorneys. Fine. Finally.

It wasn't where I had expected it to be, but I found it. I did. Then I looked for landmarks so I could find it again. Then I mentally plotted a route from my place to there. Half a block north. Turn left. Go two blocks to the "T" intersection. Turn right. Walk. Cross the next street and pay attention to what's on your left. If you do, you will come to the correct doorway. If not, you'll keep walking forever.

Coming to the correct doorway isn't quite enough either because you can't get in. Or out, for that matter. The door latch isn't. There is no latch, no knob. There is a deadbolt lock which can be opened only with a key, from either side, so you have to be let in, and then let out again, but that, as they say, is a rhinoceros of a different bra size.

The foregoing was all background, preliminary, introduction. That was easy, that day. There was an address and the two streets were signed. Many streets aren't, with any sort of regularity. You may find a street sign barely larger than an index card, and it may be informal, and hand-painted by a resident. If you are lucky there is a sign where you need it, and it is sheetmetal or tile, and legible, and you can't count on that, or on anything.

Many streets go around every whichway, unsigned and narrow, so the only landmarks you see ahead of you are the same sorts of landmarks you see behind you. Meanwhile, streets are so narrow that you can't see out to the left or right.

What often happens is that I notice an interesting shop or bit of graffiti and make a mental note to get back there, and can't. Worse, I go into a shop and buy something, or at least look at things, want to get back, and then lose it. One restaurant took me weeks to find again after I'd already found it the first time. Everything is different here. I mean unique, unstandardized, but at the same time built on an endless unending repeating pattern.

During a short walk you'll notice that every doorway is different, but there are so many doorways, and they are all so similar that they blur. Moving up a notch in scale, apply that to whole buildings, to city blocks, and then to entire sections of the city. It gets blurry.

I have been going to one panaderia, one small bakery, for over a year, and every time I go there I need to hunt for it. Even though I've memorized the landmarks and know exactly where to turn and cross the street. I can get there, in one try, with my eyes closed, but not, usually, with them open.

Someone is behind this, and eventually, in time, I will find out who, and I promise to tell you. I promise.

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