in the back of the van. there used to be 7 people here.
The best thing about Paraguay is the soup on the sidewalk café. After walking around, a warm bowl of broth was just what I needed to sit for a second and take the whole thing in. By that point I was overflowing with visual intake and needed time to reflect. I had just come out of Monalisa after walking around on the street through the vendors and mini-malls. What is this Monalisa? It is so out of place that it’s ridiculous. After I walked in, up an escalator, I had to walk right out. What United Statesian wants to walk through the perfume department at Macy’s over and over again in a foreign country? It’s a whole different world from the one on the streets. It reminds me of this mall in Delhi. Delhi is crazy and loud and dirty and amazing, but you walk into this mall right outside of the main city and you’re in Phipps Plaza.
a view from the van of the paraguay side
I think this is a shocking juxtaposition of space that we don’t seem to have in the U.S. Although Phipps may be in a slightly tough area, it’s not in the middle of a neighborhood rougher than Camden, N.J.
But back to the soup. In Buenos Aires I needed street food. Couldn’t get it for anything. The only foods on the street that I found were the sweet nuts they caramelize everywhere. I’m not so much of a sweets person, more salty. So to stumble on an outdoor kitchen with a few tables and chairs was heaven for me. It was more than that, it was nostalgic of previous travels. Sitting on the street and not knowing what you’re eating. In India it’s a little more enjoyable for me because you can just say ‘veg’ and you know that there’s no way meat will be associated with the meal. But I’ve given up that whole battle for this summer on the cone.
So whatever was in the soup that I ate was delicious and having it gave me time to think about what was going on around me. I began to reflect on the similarities of this place with other border areas I had passed through. A border town means so much. It’s a place that symbolizes so many things for the countries where the border lies. From my experience, it’s almost always a place of exchange for goods, and you always see people walking around with heavy bags. Who knows what’s in those bags? In this boarder town, the bags are the same exact plastic checkered bags found all over Nepal and India for transport of goods.
As we left Brazil I noticed signs on the side that guns and cigarettes were allowed, but not drugs. As we passed through the Brazil toll, overhead was another reminder of drugs. But none of us were really checked either way, and the border seemed more than porous. We could have smuggled drugs and Dillon. The reality of the boarder was so different from its intensions.
The Paraguay side was busy with the selling of all goods. The streets were filled with junk, but obviously junk that people need or want or else there wouldn’t be so much of it everywhere. It looked like all the soccer jerseys for Brazil were on the Paraguay side for sale. For sure most of the buying is in bulk for transport, not for personal use. All except for the Monalisa items. I still don’t get that store. I just can’t see the people who are walking on the outside shops looking through all that crap going into the Monalisa to buy perfume. But then again the store was empty beside the United Statesians.
These were the initial impressions I was able to think about all over a bowl of brothy soup. I don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese, so ordering was interesting. More so than it has been before. Which language was I supposed to speak in? I flip-flopped the whole time, mainly focusing on my trusty charades. But I got to watch what was going on around me. I was able to see what was the other dish being prepared, since there was only one other on the street. I got to talk to the girl washing the dishes for the café. I wondered how she was there, if this was her family’s stand, where the family came from. All things I couldn’t ask for a multitude of reasons. First was the language. Second was that the streets were busy. This was no place to relax and pry. This was for a quick warm meal and to move on. Third, I really am not familiar with the culture enough to know if questions like that are appropriate. I find you always stay out of more trouble when you start with a cultural translator at first or more than an hour of observation.
Paraguay is a place I would like to go back to. It’s not a romantic place where you get your dose of touristic impressions. It’s a real place not created for observation but for participation. I like these places. I like being a part of these areas.