I'd like to tell you that I immediately dashed into the crowds to watch the inauguration. I’d like to boast that my Spanish was fluent enough to allow me to understand the speech de la Rua made from the balcony at the Casa Rosada. But the reality was that I was fearful of going into the city alone.
Then reason kicked in. I was going to be there for 10 days and Bill would be working most of that time. It was either head into the crowd or spend my vacation at the hotel swimming pool. I chose the crowd.
By the time I found my way to Plaza de Mayo, all that remained of the festive crowds were metal barricades and a ground littered with celebratory paper and political leaflets. I bent down to pick one up and noticed that it lay on what appeared to be the outline of a human body painted on the paving stones. Inside this outline were a name and a date. These painted figures were everywhere. When I straightened up, I bumped into a woman standing near me. I wanted to ask her what these figures symbolized but my Spanish was limited. I'd spent the last two weeks studying phrases like the one that discusses the peculiarities of keeping an elephant in one's house . . . not exactly the words I need now.
I excused myself for bumping her and began to walk away, but she smiled. Encouraged by the warmth of her smile, I decided to use my fractured Spanish to ask her what the symbols meant.
"Ah," she replied, "they are 'los desaparecidos.'" The disappeared! I shuddered. She then took me by the hand and lead me toward the Plaza obelisk where there were other symbols – she told me that the doves were actually kerchiefs. The "panuelos blancos" that symbolize the mothers of "the disappeared" who, since the mid ‘70s have gathered every Thursday in Plaza de Mayo to protest the disappearance of their children.
We sat on the grass to talk because Esther had phlebitis and though she had been warned by her doctor to stay at home with her leg raised, this retired history professor refused to miss such an "important event." She had traveled by bus since early morning from a mountain town several hours away.
We spent the rest of the afternoon together, wandering through historic sites and chatting, and as we talk the barriers imposed by language crumble. I bless the spirit that urged me away from the hotel and into the square. It has enabled me to do what I love best -- to see a place through the eyes of the people who live there.
© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2008
See Finding Time for God for Beryl's blog on living a contemplative life in a busy world.