City notes

Odd thoughts in a new environment.

Practicing buses

Today, after a couple hours of early housekeeping, I ventured into brilliant sun to try the bus route to and from Ciudad Vieja. The name of the district, which translates as “Old City” or “Old Town,” says it all. It sits on the peninsula where Montevideo began. It’s also where the school is located. Rather than staggering untested to the bus stop come Monday morning, I thought I would see what’s what and get lunch in Ciudad Vieja while I was at it. The practice run was well worth the fares. The ride there went without a hitch, but I learned that the homeward schedule is far less frequent. That added an uncomfortable forty minutes to the wait for a bus after lunch. I had nailed down the schedule for going, but not for coming back. I was also too lightly dressed for waiting in the open on a peninsula with wind coming directly off the Atlantic Ocean one week into spring. My apartment is three kilometers—call it two miles—farther inland. Clothing fine for strolling this neighborhood was not enough in Ciudad Vieja. The brilliant sun grinned as I tried to stop shivering enough to pull up route information on the phone. I finally just shook and waited. Once on the bus and out of the wind I went back to feeling well fed and accomplished. Two lessons rode home with me: check the schedule both ways and carry a windbreaker.

Recycling, garbage and toilet paper

A question I asked the apartment manager when I moved in was where to dispose of garbage and recycling. This was at 4:30 in the morning after getting off the plane. She said it all went to the street. That was a puzzle until after I had slept and then gone out to reconnoiter. There are no garbage cans for individual households or separate dumpsters for buildings. Each block has a row of bins, as in the photo at the head of this column. One is for clean, dry plastic, paper, cardboard and cans. One is for food waste, pet waste (ha ha!), moist paper and cardboard (i.e. prepared food packaging) and glass. The third is for things like the second only more so. Pet waste is specified because apparently there are ordinances requiring pet owners to scoop poop and dispose of it properly, but no one does. Dog owners don’t even take their mutts off the sidewalks for their business. Foot travel requires one eye always where you will step. Business owners clean the walks outside their doors each morning. That’s good for about five minutes. By contrast, people, even pet owners, are scrupulous about their own poop. Like everywhere else in Latin America, the practice here is NOT to flush soiled toilet paper. It goes into a pail beside the toilet, and then gets bagged and tossed into the proper bin on the street. The practice is rooted in culture, but keeping paper out of the sewage may have environmental or technical benefits. Leaving dog waste on sidewalks seems like such a disconnect.

Mental arithmetic

These first days, at least, are filled with quick calculations to translate unfamiliar units into those that I know.

Do I need a jacket? Multiply degrees celsius by 1.8 and add 32 to get Fahrenheit.

Is it too far to walk? Multiply kilometers by .62 to get miles.

How much am I spending? Since arrival, the exchange rate has varied between 41.55 and 41.75 pesos to the dollar. For a quick check, divide total pesos by 42.

28 grams is close to an ounce; a kilo is about 2.2 pounds.

Dividing centimeters by 2.4 is good enough for guesstimate inches.

One liter is a quart and a splash.

A block can be anything. Really. Just like in Austin. How many blocks? As many as it takes.

The rounding errors would be a problem if street life were rocket science. Fortunately, it’s not. These numbers are easy to juggle mentally.

Down time

Every day since getting here I have pushed out to learn something of the city and speak Spanish, even a little, with someone. After a week and a day, I’m weary. The forecast for tomorrow calls for 90% chance of rain. I’m calling it a down day. Tomorrow I’ll stay home, draw, nest a little and nap. Appropriately, it’s a Thursday. Jueves. The fifth day of the week and ninth day on the ground. This apartment is nice enough in all its appointments, but its best feature is excellent light. I’m ready to open all the curtains and watch rain move in from the ocean. I need a down day, a rest day, followed by the next day when everything will still be there to pick up again.