Don’t say I never talk about academia. There, it’s been mentioned!
I’m going around the world, being transient, while writing about a subject that involves transience and migration and lots of other juicy academic flavours.
Later in this trip, I’ve set up contacts in New Zealand and Australia where I can find a corner of a library in which to sit and do some studying or writing. In Argentina, I hadn’t thought about it, so I did some research and put out some feelers to see if anyone had contacts in a Buenos Aires university. I drew a blank.
Quickly, I thought, you might know a cousin of an auntie of a person who once did something in the Department of Foreign Affairs… maybe there’s a name… and so I tracked down a name of someone in the Embassy to ask for a connection that might lead to a corner in a library.
*Sidetrack: “but can’t you study anywhere, Patricio, at any old desk, like in… for example… your HOTEL ROOM?” I hear you. I can and I do, when the noise levels are bearable (thus, not Buenos Aires). Plus I like libraries. I like the sense of people all working on something or distracting themselves by walking up and down endlessly. And I like the passive aggression that readers use to communicate annoyance to the high-heeled, clumping whisperers, but silently. It’s a complex hotbed of psychology.
Anyways, no one at the Embassy answered the phone, or I had the wrong number, so I showed up – it was about 20 minutes walk from my hotel, so no problem. It’s in the chichi area of Palermo, along a big Avenida and takes up some offices in a shared building. The security woman waved me in before I got to use my 12 words of disconnected Spanish on her. Up in the lift and then there was a big sign.
At first it felt like I couldn’t get past the security buzzer/speaker to talk to a person face to face. If I had not had a name, I might not get to ask my university-connection question. I think many embassies deal with a setlist of questions. Mine wasn’t on it. Persistence always works and it did in this case too.
I reflected on the work I’ve just done in South Africa. Encounters with sovereignty are commonly with those people who act as agents of the state, such as border guards. For my research subjects from African nations, even getting to the Embassy or border is massive hurdle. There’s no comparison with the Irish embassy and my encounter there turned out to be charming, with nice and helpful people. However, having to prove oneself to a voice emerging through a security tannoy (however much it is appropriate for national security and that’s not my argument) requires the citizen to perform in a way that convinces the sovereign to allow for a face to face encounter. I’m very lucky in three ways: I’m certain the Irish embassy would have seen me whatever I was there to witter on at the poor souls about; I had a ‘key’ in the form of a contact person; and, lastly, I’m persistent. Transport those three points to the South African context: the willingness of the sovereign, having a ‘key’ and personal confidence, and it makes such a contrast in the experiences.
On the way out, I spotted this gorgeous flower stall to brighten my day.
So what happened in the end up? TheIrish embassy contacted me later with very friendly advice and a potential link-up. I managed to work out a corner to sit in the National Library of Teachers, thanks to Google Translate and, you guessed it, showing up there with my 12 words of Spanish and being persistent. That, and a decent smile and good heart, works every time.