A Point that Divides the Familiar and the New

In The Art of Travel, 2. Getting oriented, Buenos Aires, Places by CYLeave a Comment

Time I left home: 2.45pm
Time Class Starts: 3.30pm
Google maps tell me my apartment is a 25-minute walk away from school.
I’ll make it. Easy.
3.15pm. 12 Minutes away.
Huh…

On my first day back to Buenos Aires I almost failed to get to class on time, even though it is my second semester here. It was during this 45 minute walk that I realized what was most familiar to me about the Buenos Aires was defined from a specific point. Specifically, from the NYU Buenos Aires campus and about 30 minutes east from it. During my walk I was on the complete opposite side, I was 25 minutes west of the campus.

And that changed everything.

The city that I had spent about 3 and a half months of my life suddenly felt like a totally new place. It was exciting, but given that I had to make it to class on time, it was also an uncomfortable, inconvenient experience that I absolutely did not need at that moment.
Yet because when you’ve committed to traveling by foot, you’re in total control of how fast you can move (except the moments when you have to stop at traffic lights) and in between streets my mind inevitably started reflecting on my current predicament. Despite my mild irritation, deep down I was deeply fascinated by this experience. A city, specifically this part of the city that I had thought I was pretty familiar with was the complete opposite. And it made sense considering how the only times I had ever been in this part of the city was on a bus, or on foot on the main avenue, not one of the parallel streets that I now found myself in because Google Maps told me that it was the fastest route by foot.

3.23pm I spot the graffiti wall that I tells me I’m near campus. Wow I never knew there was a hypermarket between that graffiti wall and campus.
3.27pm. I bought a Gatorade from the minimarket opposite campus.
3.30pm Safely in class on time.

This experience made me realize that:
First, it made me realize my overconfidence in my knowledge of the city, even though I had never actually walked these streets before.
Second, it breathed fresh life to a city that I was worried might become stale for me.
And third, I realized that my reference point for the Palermo/Recoleta neighbourhoods of the city is the NYU Buenos Aires campus. The location of the campus, I realized, split the neighbourhood into two halves: the one in which I knew where the supermarkets, parks, cheapest restaurants were and this half, the one that I had only briefly flirted with but never quite made an effort to get to know. Looks like that is all about to change.

As Kevin Lynch elaborated about the idea of Structure and Identity:
“If an image is to have value for orientation in the living space, it must have several qualities. It must be sufficient, true in a pragmatic sense, allowing the individual to operate within his environment to the exercise desired. The map, whether exact or not, must be good enough to get one home… The image should preferably be open-ended, adaptable to change, allowing the individual to continue to investigate and organize reality: there should be blank spaces where he can extend the drawing for himself.”

My first afternoon of my second semester taught me that the NYU Buenos Aires campus defined familiarity in Buenos Aires. I still have much to see, many places to explore, and little blank spaces that will help me extend my image of Buenos Aires from this reference point,

A point that divides the familiar and the new, a point that helps me transform the new into the familiar.

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(Image: The Graffiti Wall that helped me to reorient myself; Source: CY)

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