This is Pin-Up, a column where, inspired by the informal architectural tradition of presenting designs, I “pin-up” subjects that interest me. Previously, I pinned up The Pietà and obituaries. For this Pin-Up, I decided to do something strange. I am abroad and discombobulated in Buenos Aires, and everything feels like a dream. True things feel surreal. This time, I will Pin-Up three true things from my first month in Buenos Aires, which I have written into a short, surreal, fictional story.  


Here are my three true things: 

  1. I keep spilling food and drinks on my only white dress.
  2. I spent a Sunday in a neighborhood called San Telmo. 
  3. Buenos Aires has the highest number of bookstores per capita—735 bookshops. 


Here is my short story: 

A rule I live by: when you walk by a bookstore, you should go in because it is sure to be delightful. In San Telmo, I followed a sign, Walrus Books. The bookstore was wooden and dark red; it smelled wet and the books were used. The store clerk spoke to me in crisp English—an English bookstore. Two tourists bumbled in: a couple in their seventies wearing a lot of khaki, circular glasses, and camelbak packs with straws attached and all. They were looking for any book about Anthony Bourdain. As one of them squeezed past me, their straw caught on a nail sticking out of a nearby bookshelf. I felt my left side get cold and wet—a big, blue stain dripped from the armpit of my white dress to the frill of the skirt. I snapped my exasperated expression towards the tourists but they were already at the counter, berating the clerk about Anthony Bourdain. It was so strange. Who the hell walks around San Telmo with a camelbak full of blue gatorade?


My feet scuffed softly as I walked the cobblestone street. I turned right or left whenever I felt like it. I found some tall, open windows—another bookstore. There were three big rooms inside, each hotter than the last. The second room was the biggest. Two girls with microbangs clicked on computers at massive, piled desks on either side of the room. Neither of them looked up when I entered. In the last room, I found a bright yellow book on the floor—Conversations with David Foster Wallace in Spanish. It was warm and slick when I picked it up, its waxy cover half-melted in the heat. Without thinking, I wiped my hand on my skirt and froze at the sight of a big, bright yellow handprint on the right thigh of my white dress. I beelined for the door. The microbanged girls never looked up. 


I felt strange; it was very hot. I followed a whiff of conditioned air into Libros del Mundo. It was like a spaceship in there: minimalist style, everything gray, coffee tables that looked like massive, perfectly balanced pebbles. I faced the air conditioning unit and leaned back on a curved wall, looking up at a bright skylight. The wall felt cold and prickly; where was the shopkeeper? My eyes drifted closed and my rule rang true: this was delightful. When my eyes opened again, the light in the store had changed. I shifted off the wall, but my dress remained stuck. I pulled and it peeled off slowly, like duct tape. I turned to look; the back of my dress was coated in a muted gray. The paint was wet. The bookstore was closed. How had I gotten in there? 


I clomped straight into the courtyard of a cafe. Nina Simone was playing loudly, and it sounded good. A group of musicians and two young Argentinian boys shuffled at nearby tables. Nina Simone stopped, and suddenly the musicians struck up a loud tango. One of the boys stared at me through his plume of cigarette smoke; he rose and moved towards me. 


Do you know how to dance? He asked me in Spanish. 

A little, but my car’s coming in three minutes. 

However you want…three minutes is enough time


Another rule: when someone asks you to dance, you should say yes because it is sure to be delightful. The boy took my hand in his and pressed my back towards his potbellied stomach. His smile was gap-toothed, stained, and the smell of his last cigarette was so strong I could taste it. He was maybe twenty three, but his grip was firm. We went on until the song ended: he led me forgivingly, I kept clipping his toe. When we pulled apart, he bowed his head. I went to do the same and noticed a warm, red stain blooming from my chest. My dance partner continued to look at me softly. The red tendrils spread. He didn’t see it.