Some mendicants, a hill, moistened bints, and deep breaths.

August 27th, 2014

I took a break from lazily depriving myself of sleep the other day (how many stories have started this way?) to visit the Mercado del Progresso, a sort of permanent farmer's market with butchers and produce procurers of upteenth generation hawking goods canopied by what, it turns out, is a great hiding spot for cats. Truly fulfilled is the cat that is content to nap amidst that much opportunity for meat (and fish!) snatching. I left weighed down with various prizes, including a bundle of fresh lemongrass stalks a kid gave me for free on the basis of having known what it was, and was chauffered home in a fifteen minute ride with the windows down, enjoying the sweet breeze like a dog breathing backseat euphoria.

Perhaps the parceled bounty beside me played a part, or the characteristic uninhibited friendliness of the locals filled my cup a little more. I'm sure the sleeplessness had a hand in the cocktail, too, but I tell you, that breeze was a balm that could've cured even the crankiest and foul of moods. In fact, stepping out in Buenos Aires is often accompanied by some exclamation or other of the pleasantness of the breeze, or the quality of the air. Makes sense given the city's name, right?

Not really. As with nearly every Spanish-monikered city, Buenos Aires' name is rather condensed from its true, terrifyingly mouth-stuffed name. She is, in her full glory, "Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire". Or she was, anyway, for that was but the first time she was christened. Some local folks didn't take kindly to her conquistadorial establishment, and the whole thing failed not long after it had begun. Wave two arrived shortly after and established who's boss, at which point it must've seemed painfully obvious that a city with nine words to its name is doomed, and that at least thirteen were needed for commanding the requisite quantities of respect and fear. Hence the revision to "Ciudad de la Santísima Trinidad y Puerto de Santa María del Buen Aire".

That Buen Aire bit, which was all the kids and their progeny could be bothered with in the end, refers to a statue of the virgin kept at a fourteenth century Mercedarian abbey on a hill in Sardinia. Supposedly the statue had taken a stroll one day and plopped itself into the Mediterranean, whereupon it quelled a mighty storm, demonstrating that perambulatory sculpture of the conspicuously unfucked might as well also possess meterological dominion over those parts of the world otherwise dangerous to honest hard-working folk predisposed to believe in peram...well, you know. It was a miracle, and so the statue was retrieved from the sea (I guess it got tired somewhere in there and needed a hand to return to shore), and placed in said abbey. Enamored sailors and zealots called her the Holy Mary of the Fair Winds, and as conquistador Pedro de Mendoza's Boatly Religious Consultant (I don't care for "chaplain") won the rochambeau or whatever was used to decide who gets to pick the city's name, the watery tart prevailed upon this great new continent.

Unrelatedly, as I was saying, this city enjoys the kind of air quality that makes breathing a noticeably pleasurable event (much like a reprieve from suffocation, but without that tricky opener). But if not bestowed by magical names or miraculous hussies backstroking for alms, to whom, to what is this pleasant air due? To a lack of people available to fuck it up, for the most part. The southern hemisphere's low population helped along by the high ratio of water to land means there's a lot less pollution. And though Buenos Aires itself is stacked with people and cars and whatnot, and a late-night walk offers a good look at the sheer amount of garbage a metropolis can produce on a daily basis as rummagers and trucks sort through literal land-barges of trash, the city is palpably cleaner and less congested than anywhere else I've lived (with an exception for a certain medieval fortress in Transylvania, but let's be fair, eh).

Air quality isn't too often a selling point on showcase for people looking for a new landing pad, and if anything is only trotted out as something to be struggled with for egregiously bad cities. It makes quite the difference though, even if you're stuck in the shadow of a statue that has nothing to say about the occasional hail storm.

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