AS WE CONTINUED TO EXPLORE how different styles of literature can shape our memories and collective history, we had the opportunity to study Brian Winter’s Long After Midnight at the Niño Bien: A Yanqui’s Missteps in Argentina as a whole school read.
Unlike Borges, who created worlds of fiction to mirror the historical landscape, and other non-fiction authors who attempt to provide an unbiased overview of a situation, Winter, with his personal travel memoir, falls somewhere in the middle. He uses a true story from his life and time in Argentina and sprinkles it with historical facts, locations, and connections to his life and Tango but implements a strong use of personal voice throughout the narration.
There are points throughout the memoir that, although culturally insightful and true, may have been altered by his personal voice, through the use of hyperbole, allusion, imagery, or dialogue to make the novel more interesting and readable and to give readers a connection to their narrator.
As a class we explored the benefits and pitfalls of this style of literature for memorializing the past. We looked for examples where Winter may have used his personal voice for the benefit of his readers or his purpose. One of these passages that we examined closely was his comical ride in a taxi through the center of the city:
My god, it’s hot! The taxi driver moaned, furiously rolling down his window. An oppressive wind shot through the car as we flew down Avenida Corrientes, Buenos Aires’ Broadway. The blinking red, pink, and orange neon lights from the theatres made the heat even more intolerable. Girls in tank tops and high hells sauntered slowly down the sidewalk, their shoulders drooped.
‘Can you believe how hot it is? So hot. The Argentines invented the sensacion termica, the ‘heat index,’ did you know that?’
‘I don’t think that’s true.’ I mumbled.
‘…because it’s hotter here than anywhere else in the world. In any other city, in another life perhaps, we could go swim in the river and cool off. But this isn’t the Rio de la Plata, it’s the Rio de la Mierda. You stick your finger in the river, your finger melts off because of all the acid, the pollution! You know why it’s so dirty, the river? Because there’s so much corruption in this country. I heard that, soon, there won’t even be any fresh water left to wash dishes…’
As a class, we decided to practice using our own personal voice when recording our memories by going on our own taxi rides. Students, in groups of three or four, created a list of questions to ask their taxi drivers and get them talking. Then students were given a period of time to take two or three different taxi rides, ask their drivers questions, and take notes before molding those experiences into their own memoirs. Students took care to use some of the same techniques that Winter used to create his personal voice: hyperbole, imagery, allusion, dialogue, and syntax.
As you read some of the examples below, please notice how the individual narrator’s voice shines through their similar stories. Even though students had similar experiences, each memoir is personal, and readers can get an idea of who their narrator is, based on the way they reveal their voice through the telling of this experience.
by Linhan Z.
“Where are you from?” I asked him, hopefully I could recognize and complement him on something from his hometown, a common friend making technique.
“Paraguay, my friend.” he replied within a millisecond, as if he has been anticipating this question all the time. “I moved here for work and I’ve been here for, 8 years.” He added.
“Why?” I asked him, hoping that I could dump the questions onto him to make him keep talking.
“Why? I tell you why. Look, first Buenos Aires, beautiful city! Here we have beautiful Chicas and delicious steak. Where else would I want to go?”
Just like that, the ice is broke. Continue reading on Spot
by Samhaoir R.
“There’s one!” I yelped before the cab could turn the corner. The cab drivers here were insanely fast and stopped for next to no one. Luckily, Sofia spoke fluent Spanish, and knew how to survive in a big city. Next to her, Alice and I were both clueless when it came to street smarts.
The taxi pulled up beside us as we filed in like ducks in a row. Sofia sounded rushed and panicked.
“What’s the address?” Alice gave a quick shrug and I struggled to remember the foreign wording.
“Well it’s Starbucks…”
“I know that stupid, but where is it? Hurry, the meter’s running!”
I faltered for a moment, gathering my bearings as I racked my brain. It was as if someone clicked a switch in my head.
“Alto Palermo, por favor.” I said to the driver as I stuck my tongue out at Sofia. Continue reading on Spot
by Hannah C.
I leaned towards the driver, probably in his sixties with a large beer belly and unassuming eyes, and asked in tilted Spanish, “Can I ask you something?”
“Me?” rich and throaty, his voice rang through the taxi with a chuckle that seemed to pour from deep in his belly. “Si.”
The instant the words left my lips, I regretted it. Groaning and scolding myself in my head, I stuttered, awkwardly attempting different starts to my question. I couldn’t have been more unsure of his reaction and response! My chin quivering (almost as embarrassing as my nervous stammer), I managed to ask in a horribly squeaky and shaking voice, “Como piensas los Coreanos y los Chinos en Argentina? What do you think of the Koreans and Chinese in Argentina?”
A look of surprise and bemusement crossed his face. Silent and thoughtful, he stared at his hands, clenched on the wheel; I hadn’t the foggiest idea what was on his mind. Starting to panic, I lamely began pretend-texting, as if I were a middle-schooler at a school dance, hoping they might look as if they had somewhere better to be, or as if they weren’t on dance floor by choice. Continue reading on Spot
by Yuan Yuan K.
“You’re interested in football!” He exclaimed with much enthusiasm. She shrugged a “yes” as I glanced her newly purchased River Plate shirt.
“La Boca?” He asked her expectantly, eyebrows raised. La Boca was a popular Argentine soccer team. I felt quite proud of myself that I knew this fact. I wasn’t much use in this conversation though. Sports – actually, pretty much any physical activity – are not my forte in the slightest.
“No!” She objected. I smiled at her animated reaction, and our driver chuckled.
“River Plate?” He confirmed.
“Yes!” She stated proudly. He responded, saying that River Plate was something none of us heard.
“Pardon?” I asked cautiously, asking him to repeat what he said. He started clucking frantically, as everyone in the cab burst into laughter.
This was the moment I realized how full of personality Argentines (from what we have seen so far) were. This man, who we later found out was named Luis, was charismatic enough to entertain us throughout the entire taxi ride. I truly wish him well through his endeavors, and am glad to have met such a character. Opinionated and humorous, some Argentines will meet you halfway if you try to get to know them; maybe even recommend some good local food. Me gusta mucho. Continue reading on Spot
Featured photography by Hannah C.