There was a time when our artistic predecessors had to flee the United States to nurture their art. The destination of choice was usually Europe, but the journey was about more than just artistic cultivation. James Baldwin and Josephine Baker sought equality in Paris. I sought respect for my craft, and I found it in Buenos Aires.
Like Paris, the citizens of Buenos Aires hold artists and their artistic endeavors in high respects — a respect that can be hard to come by in the United States. Before packing up and leaving for Buenos Aires, when I was 22 years old, someone said to me: “I wouldn’t just go hang out in another country. You should enroll in school.” The words were spoken in a diminishing tone, as if what I was trying to accomplish with my writing was not serious, but just an excuse to “hang out” in another country. I felt like someone brought a mallet to my gut; I was so furious by the comment — I cried.
After I was done raising Atlantis with my tears, I hopped on a plane and left anyway. Now it’s three and a half years later and I have a travel brand and a manuscript of memoirs. Had I listened to that person — none of this would exist. In fact, you wouldn’t be reading this very article. Aren’t you glad I didn’t listen?
Once I arrived in Buenos Aires, a mystical thing happened. My surroundings and the people, whom inhibited it, compelled me to write. I wrote as if words were facing extinction-gone were my inhibitions, caused by the echo of voices from critics and naysayers that often bounced around in my head. I felt artistically liberated and began to see the truth in the translation of the city’s name: good air. I felt like I took in an abundance of it, indeed.
I will never forget the moment when I was at a friends house, spending one of those laid back, trademark Buenos Aires evenings, when her boyfriend asked me what I studied in college. A little skeptical, I gave him a brief account about how I tried college, decided it wasn’t for me and began to pursue my craft on my own. He paused, took another drag on his cigarette and blew out the smoke. He looked at me. “You’re an autodidacta. That is wonderful!” He said in Spanish, shrugging his shoulders. Then he began to name all the greatest autodidacts such as Shakespeare and Leonardo Da Vinci, telling me I was in great company. “Thank you,” I replied, staring at him incredulously. I couldn’t believe my ears. There was no speech about how I was ruining my life because I was not in college, or because I did not have a back up plan. No dream balloon bursting statements like “writing is a hobby not a profession.” These were all speeches and statements I was used to hearing in the states.
Instead, here was a man introducing me to a word for what I was that I had never heard before and reassuring me that I was not alone, that some of the greats chose their own path as well. He had me sold when he mentioned my idol — Shakespeare. It was that evening that sealed Buenos Aires in my heart forever. What about you?
ARE YOU THE NEXT JOSEPHINE BAKER?
How about moving to Buenos Aires to study the Tango? Then, incorporate some of the movements into your own modern style and birth a new form of dance. Put on shows in the operatic theaters of Buenos Aires. There aren’t many women of color in Buenos Aires. You would be unique, and I am almost certain a huge sensation — definitely rewriting history, Josephine Baker status. Just remember to send me a front row seat to your sold out show ;0)
Or maybe you’re the next…
FEMALE JAMES BALDWIN
Wander through el barrio San Telmo, aka artist capital and the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires. You will find street performers, painters, jugglers, dancers and almost every type of artist known to man in San Telmo. Let them inspire you. Walk the cobblestone streets; admire the colonial buildings and spend time in the cafes and tango parlors. Open up your artistic senses and let it all in. Then store it in your mind, find your writing haven and pull out your journal or lap top and get to work.
Organize readings of your completed works in theaters, but if you really want to try something different — take your words to the streets. Buenos Aires is a spectator’s land. Argentines love to stare and are very curious people. You won’t fall short of an audience. Spring time is perfect for a street performance. San Telmo is the perfect stage and the weekend the perfect time. Calle Florida and Plaza Dorrego are also excellent places for performances; often times, you will find a huge crowd gathered around performers on soap boxes.
If you really want to mix it up — add a partner to your one woman show. Perform in English while your partner reinterprets your words in Spanish. You’re sure to draw a larger crowd.
Basically, if you’re an artist, and you need a bit of fresh air to recoup, to get away from the negative energy of the critics and naysayers — hop on a flight to Buenos Aires. The possibilities are limitless, so you should be too.
NOTE: Photo my own. All rights reserved.