9. 11. 2006
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Britské listy

ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
9. 11. 2006

Letter from Argentina IV:

Flat to let

I roll myself out of bed after just waking up. As I get on my feet I stretch my body, giving a last hateful look to the mattress that is doing this torture to me during the night while I innocently just try to sleep on it. I go downstairs and as I thought it would be, there is the newspaper El clarin already lying on the table. I make myself a coffee before I sit down and look at it. Gaston is not up and about, he must have gotten the paper and gone back to bed. This is his part of our house hunting, getting the newspaper early in the morning, and then I sit down and call everywhere and everyone.

I think at some point I even start dialing random numbers asking them if they have a flat to rent for us! It has been hard going. We reasonable negotiated how to tackle this quest, and even though Gaston's thing isn't waking up early, he much rather preferred it than calling people in Spanish about flats to let. It's funny when learning foreign languages; telephone calls are always the final test to everyone. Gaston wouldn't even have it put on him.

So he goes down the 13th story building where we stay on the top floor from where we can see all the way to Uruguay in our new neighborhood of the rich and famous, `Recoleta', to get the newspaper as soon as the shops open. You have to be right on it: either be the first to see the flat or stay the one that has none. I struggled through my first phone calls but after half a billion and such I rather got the hang of it.

I am already half way through tearing the newspaper apart when Gaston comes downstairs. "Any luck so far?" he smiles optimistically, already reading the expression on my face and judging by the bits of newspaper floating through the room. I show him which ones we can go and see and we plan the timetable for the day, where to go first and work our way back home. "There where some good ones", I say "but of course there was the problem of us being foreigners again". We both sigh.

It's not like Argentines are horrible racists or anything, they just like making as much money as they possible can out of foreigners. And who blames them, right? They also love making laws in this country and so they make them on any funny topic they can think of. And so there is the law on foreigners renting in Buenos Aires. It basically says something as "No you can't. Oh you really want to? Are you sure? Ok, well then...pay a lot! And you may!"

If you are Argentine, you need a guarantee of someone who owns his own house and puts it down as a guarantee for you. So when you rent a house but stop for example lets say...paying the rent, your landlord can go and claim this other house that you had put down as your guarantee. To stop you from doing such..things, as not paying your rent. Yes, it's happened here. In some strange way this is to stop the abuse done to landlords by occupants. In many countries you would say it's the other way around who needs the protection and who needs to stop the abusing, but here in Buenos Aires, everyone will get his own law!

To make things fun and complicated and most of all to satisfy the great passion of all Argentines: paperwork. How they love it. I once tried entering a public library and in a distance of five meters I was stopped four times at different little desks to fill in different little annoying papers! Only to read books! Anyway, my adjusting abilities have shown great debts here and I am already behaving like a local: scamming right back at them. I need a guarantee, I'll have one! I see Gaston's face filling up with surprise as he listens to my new tactic on the phone. I hang up happily after agreeing to look at the flat later that afternoon. "How are we gonna do that?" he demands to know. "Ah, we'll figure something out. I bet as soon as they see what lovely people we are they either forget all about it, or we'll get something off the university. Not to worry."

I am not sure I convinced him, or myself, but I just want a house now. Another day of taking loads of taxies to make it in time across the city to look at yet another flat. One after the other. There is walking through the absolute rain and asking the taxi driver to turn on the air-conditioning cause we are getting cooked alive. There are quick coffees as we pass by a bar and have five minutes to spare to wake us up that turn into quick beers to try and lift our spirits. As we keep trying to run around, getting everywhere in time to see and to find a flat.

And again as the day before and the day therefore, we come home, kick out our shoes and flick on the telly. So we watch the telly and not each other, to not have to recognize your own frustrations in the other ones face. One raised eyebrow is enough for the other to flick `na' with the head, and that's it done. That is us discussing if anything is worth even mentioning or consider of all that we have seen that day. Not to despair. Tomorrow there will be another newspaper lying on the table as I wake up. At least we get to see a lot of the city this way we laugh.

And so the next day I am on the phone again. The most embarrassing thing is when you half way through a conversation realize you have already spoken to or seen their flat before. We even managed to make a meeting twice with the same people, who had a flat that rather intrigued us because it was so odd, until we realized that the oddness about it was it not having any windows. Walking towards our next meeting Gaston has a moment of "Mmm, have we been here before?" and as we turn the corner we are struck seeing those same ladies as the day before standing across the street.

"Yes we have!" he exclaims as he pulls me behind a car. "We are back at that windowless box!" and he persuades me to just walk away, he can't be bothered with this again. I decide to be brave and just go over and explain the mistake. They try to lure us back inside to see it again, but we explain we really are not interested. "We are kind of keen on light," we say.

But with the check out date on our luxurious penthouse in the nicest area of Buenos Aires, Recoleta, coming closer and closer the shoe's are being kicked off rather more furious each night as we come home. Next day, another newspaper and more phone calls we are yet again off to the arranged meetings. We have started looking at unfurnished flats: a lot cheaper and they seem less freaked out by the idea of renting to foreigners since there is a lot less in the flat to worry about getting shipped abroad.

Also they seem to be willing to set a deal on the lacking of the guarantee as I negotiate with them to pay at front for a set period of time. That day we arrive in `Palermo', an area we have been to before because some friends live here and it's close to the university. We get excited. As we go up to the eight floor in "calle Arenales" we enter a nice, white, light, small apartment but with a huge terrace. However, it's completely unfurnished and we worry how to get all the furniture. Also they want us to pay the entire rent at front.

We leave and wonder though the streets, thinking. We both liked the flat and we know that moneywise it is conceivable since we already saw this possibility coming and have discussed it with our parents before, who said they would be able to help us out if necessary. "The shops aren't expensive" I say, "We could buy furniture cheaply and secondhand". Gaston is observed in thoughts but as we take a corner and I see a park in front of me, I take his hand and squeeze it. I want to live here.

"I am going to call them" I say "and tell them that they can send the other people home who came to look at it, because this flat has just been taken!" We get all excited while I take out my phone and call. Ingrid is happy to hear it, she thought we would be perfect for it and would like to have us in it.

The next days are filled with us going to cash machines trying to look as innocent as possible and then running home with another stash of money. Gaston is getting impatience with this collecting like a hamster, little by little, and decides to have the big job done by one transfer of western union. There we sit with a bag full of money and I refuse to walk with it to the agency to pay them and sign the contract so they come and pick us up with the car. One day before check out we hastily go shopping for the first items, having them delivered the next morning, on move in day. Gaston waits in our new flat for the shop to deliver them as I come around in a taxi with all our bags stuffed in it. There we sit, in an empty flat, with two mattresses and a sofa. But it's ours.

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