( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Avenida is a new street, perhaps not a mile long, reaching from a lovely little park down by the harbor to a lovely plaza and park in front of the government house. It is a wide street with wide sidewalks, which are clean, smooth and slippery. Full of carriages and automobiles from nine in the morning until daylight the next day, it is one of the busiest streets in the world. There is little heavy traffic on the Avenida. When it rained the smooth asphalt was exceedingly slippery, so that I have seen four cab horses lying flat in front of my hotel at one time.
Most of the streets in Buenos Aires are narrow, with sidewalks much crowded, and trolley cars that run so close to the pavement that one steps from the curb to the car. At first it is a bit terrifying to have them pass so close to one, but I neither witnessed or heard of an accident. As the blocks are small the car lines and wagon traffic as well are all in one direction in any street, excepting the Avenida, so that if the cars do not run in the right direction on one street one may pass on a short way to the next street and find them running in the opposite direction. There is one street of especially fine shops. This is Calle Florida. In this street all vehicular traffic is suspended after four o'clock in the afternoon; then it is filled to the center with foot passengers, elegantly dressed women and men being numerous. If one wishes to find a person of distinction in South America one has only to watch Calle Florida; sooner or later the sought for friend will be promenading that street.
LIFE IN BUENOS AIRES
I have no intention of writing much of city life in South America, although, after all, it is a most important part of that life—far more so than in our land, since the country is nearly uninhabited and will perhaps be always so, and because it is the desire and ambition of every Argentino to live in Buenos Aires. It is a city with more than a mil-lion. and a quarter population and is growing rapidly, with comparatively little apparent employment for those who must labor. There are human conditions in the city of which I do not approve. Doubt-less there is little about myself of which the Buenos Airians would approve, for that matter, yet I find this entry in my journal:
"I have suddenly begun to observe an astonishing thing. The faces of the women whom I meet in the streets are placid, untroubled and unworried. I have not seen here more than six care-worn, anxious faces, and they were the faces of English and American women. I do not know the secret of life here, nor what it is bringing forth, but any life that leaves the women unwearied and untroubled must have good in it. It is in strange and striking contrast to the drawn, haggard, nerve-worn faces one sees in any city In North America."
I wonder why? I can guess. The woman of South America does not get up very early in the morning; she does not get breakfast, for the family does not eat breakfast, in the North American fashion (and is healthier and happier for abstaining) ; she moves calmly, somewhat leisurely; she has usually maids to help with her household tasks; she reads little and the things that she reads are not likely to harass her soul with desires for unattainable things. She belongs in a certain station and knows it and calmly accepts it. She goes every day to church and says her prayers; she knows how to instill deference, love and obedience into her children ; she has a healthy body and she probably never overworks.
If women do not overwork, what of the men? In government offices the hours are from one to five. There is time in the afternoon for tea. It was a frequent case for astonishment with me when I learned that this man, or the other, could not be seen before he had his breakfast, at noon. An American put the matter to me facetiously in this way: "These people ought to be healthy; they never work between meals." I quote again from my diary :
SENORA X. FROM BOSTON
"I met the Señora X., her husband and children. She is a North American girl, a Bostonian. She came to Argentina after she was sixteen, a few years later married Senor X. Now she actually resembles a typical Spaniard.. The speech, habits of thought, and association with these people have effected this change in the woman. Her husband is a fine, stalwart, -devoted husband. Two senoritas (one four and the other six years of age) were beautifully dressed. Each one was conscious of her clothes, and as careful of them, and her deportment and demean-or, as though she were really an adult. They were like little wax dolls. They sat properly in their chairs ; they held their hands properly ; there was no difference save in age and size between them and the other señoritas several times their age. I must say their manners are charming'; they are delightful little folk to see, but do they never romp and play like children? Really there seems here but two ages : babyhood and youth. There is no childhood between. They are either babies or senors and senoritas."
What are the most durable things on earth? Are they the mountains, built of granite, and the sky scrapers, the cunning work of men's hands? Not at all. The enduring things are the customs of people. This is especially true of people of the East, of people with Moorish traditions. Hereon hangs a tale. A young Englishman met in Buenos Aires a very charming señorita, and during their brief acquaintance asked her to attend the opera with him. To this she graciously consented. Seats at the opera were sold at an outrageous price, and the young Englishman received only a moderate salary; yet he rejoiced at the thought of associating with this wondrous senorita, if for only a few hours and at great cost. When he presented himself with his carriage to escort her to the opera house he found her ready, and her mother, also dressed and ready, at her side. All at once it dawned on him that a Spanish woman does not permit her daughter to go unchaperoned to places of amusement; he blushed at his lack of thought and pretended joy at taking also the mother with the daughter. At the door he excused himself for a moment and ran to the box office and secured the only remaining seat in the house, in an obscure place, far from the other two seats. He was, however, relieved and supposed that certainly the mother would accept this seat and he would sit beside the señorita of his dreams, but alas! the mother and daughter calmly took seats together and the unhappy young man sat raging and furious through three hours of perfect music that had cost him near a month's salary. He escorted the ladies home in glum silence and made no attempt to carry the acquaintance further.
I quote again from my journal:
"April 7. My army blanket and my fur coat have been the two most useful things that I have brought to Argentina, for now the nights are cold and the mornings chill, and hotels have no fires in them. I therefore sit in my room and write wrapped in my fur overcoat. I have met a number of young men; two came to offer their services as interpreters ; others I met in various ways. They have a charming courtesy, in rather marked contrast to what we have among young men at home. There is not the bluntness or the scramble to get past each other, and never the curt and cruel word that is all too common with us. No one here seems ever to pride himself on his ability to say sharp, unkind things of others. I wonder if I shall miss this when I return to North America, and say my-self things that will make my friends dislike me? I wish that I could make our North American boys see that courtesy is the flower of manhood, and is more to be desired than learning or riches. It is the essence of culture.
"However, the young men here have their trifling faults and temptations. They are given money with which to buy cigarettes when they are six years old; they are overfed with meat, given tea, coffee and wine to drink and are not always taught that social purity is necessary or desirable. Nor are they taught that manual labor is honorable ; in fact, the reverse is the conception here. Well, those lads have ambition, wonderful patriotism and love of country, appreciation of music, art and beauty, kindness of heart and charming courtesy. If these could be grafted on some of the stern virtues of the North, what a splendid result would be attained. The thought is a fascinating one to elaborate.