When I was living in Seattle, which I did for about three months, whenever I mentioned missing something about Uruguay; the abundance of family and friends everyone has, the good quality bottled water and faucet water you can mostly safely drink, the good theater, the amazing live music offer, my boyfriend started calling Montevideo/Uruguay the place where “streets are paved with gold.”
It was not an entirely sarcastic/derogatory comment, as he too appreciates the many amazing things I love about my homeland and we basically dislike the same things about America; the lower level of general culture, the police state, the love of guns, the waging of absurd wars, the fact that friendships tend to be more scarce or more superficial, and families seldom live in the same place or keep in touch the way we Latin Americans usually do.
When I met Rhea and her husband Paul, a couple of sixtysomething Americans who were looking to move to Uruguay yesterday, I understood that these streets may not be paved with “gold,” but they are paved with what is gold to me.
Rhea had wanted to rent my house to spend three weeks in Montevideo to “check it out” with a view of moving down here eventually. She is a librarian and a pianist, so, in my mind, she was “a literary-minded artist” who might surely appreciate my neighbourhood´s rich cultural life, the beauty of the adjacent waterfront, etc.
As I was going to be in Montevideo during all of November, I couldn´t rent Rhea my place. She was so disappointed when she heard this that she made me feel terribly guilty. I really wanted to find a solution for her. It seemed odd that she couldn´t find anything else on airbnb, since there are so many Montevideo listings on the site, but she appeared to be so desperate that I decided to help. I called up a friend who is one of the top production designers for film and TV in Argentina. She has a lovely place on my block, which she herself recycled and decorated with amazing antique furniture. As she was gonna be in BA all November, the place was free and my friend was willing to rent it out.
Before Rhea arrived in Montevideo, allegedly after being in a small car accident and seeing a girl in skimpy clothes running around on the street in Buenos Aires, she had seen pictures of my friend´s place, I had answered all her questions about the house truthfully, and she had sent a 40% deposit. I really didn´t understand why seeing a girl with revealing clothing had affected her that much, but I could see how being in a cab that got hit by another car from behind on the way to the ferry terminal might be a bit disturbing.
However they had gotten that way, these were, no doubt, the most depressing people I had seen in a long, long time. They seemed puzzled that there were keys to the doors and they had to learn which was which. When they saw there was no TV in the house, I thought they were going to get a heart attack. I had mentioned before that there was no WI FI and I would provide a USB dongle. When I was connecting it, Rhea said, “this place is so isolating, with no Internet and no phone.” It was funny because when she said this the Internet was already going and I said I would lend them a Uruguayan cell phone.
This is one of my favorite houses in this city, and this woman called the antique basinette “primitive,” she seemed afraid of the fireplace as a heating device, let alone the gas heater. I thought I would show them all the cool things in the neighborhood to cheer them up after assuring them that if they didn´t like the place it was cool, they could move out the next day and I would help them find something.
Another interesting fact is that these people didn´t speak a word of Spanish, not even “gracias,” and they seemed to expect everyone to speak English; without my help, they couldn´t even go to the supermarket. When I showed them the marvelous boardwalk by the sea, they didn´t even utter a sound: they didn´t want to see the ocean, they wanted a big screen TV. I couldn´t believe what I was seeing. It was the first time I had ever shown someone the rambla and they hadn´t made some sort of comment; I didn´t even get an “it´s nice” from them…
The only two times they seemed at ease was inside the supermarket; yes, you could make these people happy with a supermarket, and when they entered the lobby of the 4-star hotel from where they would figure their next step.
One thing I know for sure is this: wherever LIFE is happening, it´s never happening at a 4-star hotel. You can add as many stars as you like; it ain´t gonna happen.
My gold is the sound of the drums on Saturday afternoon. It´s going to Mingus bar and finding hordes of interesting people to talk to, wonderful musicians playing. It´s going to see a play with actors that can transform my life and bring tears to my eyes. It´s knowing that for the most part, my government wants the same things I want, though they sometimes make concessions I wouldn´t do, especially when it comes to environmental issues. It´s knowing that if I have a problem I can call a friend and they will take care of it, whatever the problem may be.
Sometimes I feel like I am the richest person alive.
In the past, Uruguayans used to migrate to Spain and the US. Now, we are getting lots of Americans and Spaniards. When our people migrated to those countries, they lived like outlaws, doing jobs that locals wouldn´t do; the dirty work. When Americans and Spaniards come here, we welcome them, we have no barriers, they can work here, stay as long as they like, etc. While I agree with this policy, asymmetrical as it may be, when I read about this American who complained that he was not able to bring his weapons in through Uruguayan customs at the airport, I started thinking that maybe we should have some sort of barrier to keep people who love guns and whose church is a supermarket far, far away from our little paradise, flawed as it may be.
Our streets are paved with gold alright, but only for those who have eyes to see it.
NOTE: Names have been changed to protect the identity of two sad, sad people.
FEATURED IMAGE by ana_ge