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The neighborhood of Flores and my Argentine uncle

June 8, 2007

There is a neighborhood in northern Buenos Aires called Flores. A number of my relatives used to live there. It is amid those early-20th-century Parisian-style houses and oaks hugging the cobblestone streets where you’ll find everything that went right and wrong in Argentina.

The majority of the residents of Flores despise time because they say it distances them from those they love and who were from European lands. The residents of the neighborhood use ingenious methods to halt time: They park vintage cars like Fords from the 1930s in front of their homes; hang up portraits of ancient heads of state like King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, Spain’s Francisco Franco and Czar Nicholas II hanging on the walls of their homes.

The stubborn attempt to cling onto the past is like keeping a hope alive. By slowing time the residents of Flores believe that they can protect and cherish those ideals that their migrant relatives brought from faraway European lands.

An uncle called Horacio who lived in Flores would scold me if I brought a modern object like a pocket calculator to his home. “Are you mad!” he’d jump up and say. “Get that contemporary thing out of here – We don’t want to speed the pace of time, now do we?”

Horacio’s home was like a museum. The only modern appliances he had — a television set and fridge — were at least 20 to 30 years old. He’d often talk to me as a child about traveling to Africa on an adventure safari, even if in his lifetime he never traveled outside radius of 100 miles from Buenos Aires.

One day Horacio told me why he had ripped the hands of time off all the time contraptions he owned.

“Time is a migrants worst enemy because it distances us from who we were and shapes us by force into nationals of new countries and circumstances,” he said. “I’m still hopeful that if time is slowed and the past and present are perfectly balanced, the answer why my migrant parents failed to find what they searched for in these parts will drop on my lap like a golden leaf inscribed with wisdom.”

I never knew if Horacio found the great secret that would help him find happiness. The last time I spoke to him was about thirty years ago. I saw an old man who was getting ready to embrace death.

The bitterness brought on by hyperinflation, political and economic turmoil were his death blows.

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