Dirty, dusty bookstore piled high with books in every corner. An abandoned glass half filled with warm beer and two kids in the back giggling over a computer. I almost walked back out, doubting my impulsive stop to try find something, anything to read. But I’d already exhausted my entire collection of reading material brought over from the US and 2008 HELLO! magazines back at the apartment. This desperation had already propelled me to try and blend in with the hostel crowd at a makeshift bookshelf in their lobby. Too many heady existential philiosophical tomes had immediately put me off. Who brings that shit on vacation?
So, here I was lost somewhere in San Telmo at a used bookstore. One of the teenagers sauntered over and spoke to me in rapid fire Spanish. “Uh…no habla espanol….anglais? books?” He winked and shouted something over to his buddy who was now playing some heavy metal Argentinean music and air guitar. He pointed nonchalantly at a pile of books on the floor and studied the warm beer. Shrugging he swigged it and smiled, bending over to help me go through the pile.
Instantly I spotted a book I had been cursing myself for not bringing but I was determined not to show my interes. I casually picked up the nearly new copy of Riding the Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux. “Uh cambio?” He grinned and asked heavy metal dude in the back, refilling his cup with warm beer. Apparently we had a situation where he was the price setter? He winked again and said “<insert mostly spanish here> cinco!” HOLY SHIT!
I put it carefully to the side and resisted the urge to throw the coins at him and run out the door. A BOOK! A surefire anecdote to boredom. For $1.25!! I played it cool and looked through a few more books, selecting another hardcover book billed as an international thriller. The budding lothario then offered me a drink off his warm beer. I delicately declined and circled my finger over the books indicating my desire to wrap things up.
He looked disappointed and asked me why I didn’t have any Spanish books in my pile. I tried in my best Spanglish that I could understand some Spanish but I was lost when it came to reading it. Mustering up more english then I had given him credit for he tried to explain that I had to try to be able to learn. I nodded politely and asked him if he regularly read English books he laughed and shrugged. Yeah buddy, ring up my purchases and I’m outta here.
He gestured to me to wait and came back supremely proud of himself carrying a small paperback. He leaned back to consider my purchases. He opened my Theroux book and showed me the $25 pesos price tag gesturing with his index finger in front of his mouth to be quiet. He told me my grand total was $20 pesos with two gratis books he was throwing in. I looked at the top of the pile and saw the paperback he had been holding, a poetry book in Spanish. He then threw another one in the back and I caught the glimpse of a familiar face.
“You take this,” he insisted. My Life by Bill Clinton sat forlornly on top of the stack. “We hate this guy,” he insisted and raised his warm glass of beer. I took it this time, the tepid Quilnes sliding down my throat. !Vive La Revolucion! We high fived and I headed back out into sweltering streets of San Telmo suddenly not so turned around anymore.
I love this neighborhood.