When it rains, when the wind blows. Colonia del Sacramento
I walk into the hostel, an old family home, and I wait. After a time a woman appears, who seems surprised to have a visitor. She shows me to my room. It's an odd house – no light switches, no doorknobs (naturally, as there are no doors.) The light switch absence is more baffling because there is electricity – fans whirl, lights go on and off, except when it rains, except when the wind blows. Parts of the house are visible, but clearly off limits. Across the courtyard is a kitchen fitted with ancient appliances and an equally ancient couple, who sit all day staring out into the parlour. They say nothing, either to the other or to anyone else. I never see them move.
In this hostel I have my old, my first identity dream. He's a childhood friend, but we haven't spoken in a while. Here he is. I walk to the top of a bridge, take out my wallet, my passport and the rest of my IDs, toss them in the water. Except I don't. I want to, but I can't. Behold, it says, here is your life. Here is what you want, here is what you cannot do, because what comes after? Would there be more or would there be less? I walk down off the bridge, or I would if I didn't wake up.
The next day I walk out of the house. (This hostel is the closest one to the port, three blocks straight ahead, three blocks to the left. The old guy in front of the station will give you the ad and the map.)
The History in a House. Montevideo
This house – a mansion really – began its life for a single family, it still hums with that hope. She sits on a corner plot, near, but not in the exact center of town. Her details are gracious, subdued, comfortable. The father, newly prosperous, was not extravagant, not yet. There was a wife, of course, and daughters. (I know there were daughters because of the balconies, the high staircase with the large landings, perfect for entrances and exits, so much better to make an impression, to catch the breath, to get married and have a house of one's own. Men don't think like this – sons even less.)
It must have begun in the 1940s. The good times lasted until the Junta took the country and ruined it. Times stayed bad until the Junta left in the mid-seventies. The house was re-fitted into a rooming house, cheaper bathrooms, half-done kitchens. The economy boomed – briefly – then died again, renters moved back with their families. Now it's a hostel. There are also bunk beds, a big television in what was the front solarium. The stained glass skylight is still there, the graceful proportions are the same as ever. The house hums with hope, of comfort, of better times, except when it rains, when the wind blows. Then things crash down, buckets appear, you watch your step. Still, there is hope, hope of a future perfect, a hope that kills you. Red Hostel Montevideo.
The Information Woman. Piriapolis
The woman behind the information counter is small and wears glasses. She looks like millions of other people, but not when she speaks. I ask her for a map. She says no problem and smiles. I ask where a certain street is, she gives me a specific, easy-to-understand answer. This makes me so happy I want to jump up down. I don't because that would be embarrassing.
I ask if she could recommend a hotel. She does, in English. I hold my breath.
"You don't understand my Spanish?"
"Oh no, it's fine. But when I was in your country, I had to speak English all the time, I got lonely to hear my own language."
"What", I ask, "did you think of my country?"
"I was lonely", she says.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Everything was fine really, parts were beautiful, there was a lot of food, but I felt like a ghost, I could see everyone but no one could see me. Do you understand?"
"Yes," I say, "I know exactly how you feel."