Monday, 3 February 2014

The Mysterious Case of the Pick-Pocketing Incontinent Parrot

"I put my hand in my pocket, only to find someone had been there before me’’ (Anon.).

The navigator isn’t pregnant with a boob-mounted ruc-sac, nor am I hunch-backed by a haversack. Neither of us are festooned with the golden tethers of touristic paraphernalia, no papperazzic lenses for peeping Toms, nor blinkering guide book to stick our faces in, neither do we have the Westie, the Yorkie nor the jeba maté, still, the tout leaches on. I do have the rolled up brollie, but not the cravat, the caffé con leche but not the pressed jeans, the erudite book but not the tooled leather brogues, the battered walking boots but not the nonchalantly draped cashmere, the self confidence but not that ‘je ne sais quoi’, I do have his age, but not ‘this season’s’ blond for my arm. We’re further isolated by the impediment of three extra inches, fair hair :and the fact that we approach the kerb like lost Britons and look both ways. Of course we attract the attention.

We’ve shed down to the bare essentials for a Sunday morning wander through the centre of town, attempting to blend in, into what looks and feels like a European city. A place that claims to have the clothes sense of Italy, the gastronomy of France, the sophistication of Spain and the post-boxes of Great Britain. We’ve carried out our research in the privacy of the flat, we know where to find one of the most unusual of cemeteries, a different book store, as well as the more mundane airport bus stance. It and we, BA and PB, are such a long way, from the dusty towns up on the Puna. Yet, still I’m convinced that I’m tethered to a giant banner that screams: ‘gringo’, ‘mug’, ‘plata’. A long red arrow is pointing down at me. We’re ripe for attention.

The spread that is Argentine café. The array of sugar sachets, the gelata biscuit, the soda fountain’d glass of water, sitting beside that small cup of deep froth and intense caffeine. Taken today, on the stage of a converted theatre, that is now the Alteneo Grand Splendid bookstore. More emporium than shop. The gold gilded boxes, now quiet reading areas, the orchestra pit, a den of video games, the stalls given over to politics, maps and cookery, the tiered circles to the departments of university study and in the foyer, patrolled by armed security, dance tango and block busters. I graze the glossy coffee table books, mentally ticking off the ‘been there’ photo’s, whilst accumulating a new list of possibilities. From here it’s downhill, throu’ the Recoleta graveyard, and the road for home.

The shadows slowly creep away from the pure shade thrown by the monumental rubber trees, we move into the scattered, glazed high-rise towers, castles of wandering chess pieces, that have spilled out from Puerto Madero. It’s a Sunday slumberous plaza in up-market, down-town Buenos Aries. Quiet, un-edgy territory, subconsciously we’re alert, it’s a habit. I’ve noticed the sleeping body on the bench, the woman wandering some distance away, there’s nothing unusual there, I’m more interested to see if I can photo’ align the flowering tabebuia tree in the glazed façade of the Sheraton Hotel, whilst heading for the airport bus. It’s our last moments of freedom before the purgatorial cattle mart that is air travel. It’s at this moment that we get caught by the ‘attention’. The ‘Incontinent Pick-pocketing Parrot’.

A faux concerned lady approaches us from behind, to point out that we’ve been splattered by a bird’s poop, hat to heel. I suggest that it’s good luck, she suggests that she can help. Of course she has a supply of tissues to hand. The Good Samaritaness. We are uncommunicative and are trying to move off, she suggests the gent's toilets are just around the corner, the divide and conquer tactic, I counter with the suggestion that we’ll make our way to the bus station. I know that there’s a police presence there. She’s persistent, dabbing down the navigator’s back, I’m getting twitchy, there’s too much over familiarity here. We’ve managed to get around the corner, when a man materialises, who miraculously has a bottle of water to hand, he too offers to help me. Oh so generous to give up his sleeping bench, and to use purchased bottled water in such a magnanimous manner. Two machinations are now being played out at the same time. the divide and distract maneuver. The navigator realises that her bag has been manipulated around behind her back, retrieves it, realises that it’s rather light. The purse is missing. It magically re-materialises in the pick-pocket’s hand, she hands it back and they disappear.

It’s annoying to get caught in such an amateur scam, to be marked as a sap, a suitable target, when you make an effort to blend in. At the same time, pleased that our security precautions have proven effective. They got nothing. We, on the other hand got a story and two pseudo parrot pooped shirts. That stink. We’ve also got 27 hours of cooped up, air-conditioned travel with a vague, clinging smell-memory that’s going to linger. Is it me, or the great unwashed across the isle?

It’s later, piecing together the sequence of events, that I remember to give thanks to our guardian angel. Was it luck, divine intervention or just good travel management?