There are days when I’m sitting alone somewhere in Toronto watching ordinary people rushing to work, oblivious to their surroundings, attached to their cell phones, thoughtlessly mulling about, that I long for Argentina again.
I lived there for a year, and though admittedly it is not a perfect society — corruption looms large in daily life, and the citizens aren’t necessarily wise to a life outside of sex and clubbing — I miss it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Toronto, but I can become disappointed with it too. It’s a strangely apathetic, yet entitled society. Not only that, but we form attachments to electronics, like cell phones, that we pathetically convince ourselves we need.
Just this past weekend I was sitting at a Tim Horton’s in cottage country with three individuals who were each on their phones, texting, emailing, tweeting like it was as important to them as breathing.
On the old-fashioned land-line telephone, I rarely speak with someone who is not multitasking. They’re always frenzied by something, whether it’s washing the dishes, or checking email, or mopping the floor. Getting someone’s undivided attention in Toronto is almost impossible, they’re easily distracted by things that are not important. We’ve become so obsessed with occupying our time that we rarely sit to enjoy the grace that belongs to being still.
Now I’m not saying that people in Buenos Aires aren’t similar. I guess for me, when I lived there, when I left all the attachments that I coveted for myself here in Toronto, I realized how unimportant they actually were. Well, it’s not that I wasn’t aware of this, but it’s easy to fall into the traps of doing what everybody else is doing. What’s expected of us, is not necessarily what is right for us.
I’ve always prided myself on getting up and looking up — at the sky, the trees, the flowers, whatever it is, I observe. I don’t own a cell phone, I refuse to. And you know what, my life is not negatively impacted by this omission. In fact, my social life is busy and friends have a tendency to show up on time at agreed destinations, because they can’t send me a text cancelling, or postponing. They can’t be late, because I am waiting. I was able to make it without the assistance of a phone. What is their excuse?
This past Toronto winter was brutal. It reminded me of the sunny skies of Argentina. Beautiful clear days at the park in Palermo, sitting on a patio enjoying a cup of coffee, or long walks through tree-lined streets on a quiet Sunday morning.
It’s a metropolis of 14 million hard-working people. Yet every night, after a long day at the office, the people of Buenos Aires are out and about, into the early hours of the morning, and they don’t need alcohol to enjoy their lives or their time together.
I remember taking the train to San Isidro for work, waiting on the platform, observing porteños, impeccably dressed, affectionate, calm, serene, not a worry to be had.
Torontonians can behave terribly, caught up in this absurd, invented rat-race, tripping over each other, stressed out of their minds, self-medicating, isolating themselves at night by sitting on their couches watching too much television. There’s gotta be more than this I think.
In Argentina, unlike here in Toronto, conversations are not inundated with topics like television shows, movies, music, or other people whom they do not know. They talk about things that matter, like their lives, family, friends and not in a negative way either. At least, those were my experiences.
Of course there are a lot of problems with Argentine life. The government is morbidly corrupt, the economy unstable, crime abundant and the people are pretty slutty. But they’re also shamelessly emotional, lacking the WASPy culture that is prevalent in North American society. They say what they think, resolve conflicts as they happen, and frankly, I found them to be generally more happy than Torontonians.
Saying all this though I do love the cynicism of Toronto, the intellectual curiosity, the fact that there is so much to do on any given day and of course, the bars and restaurants are top-notch.
I wish though, that we could bring some of South America’s sensibility here, just enough so that we stopped from time to time to appreciate the value in stillness.