Leaving Buenos Aires Behind





Now the poker is to start.

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A Foreigner in Buenos Aires

There is a painting in the Malba gallery by the Argentinian Miguel Covarrubias from 1928, called ‘George Gershwin, An American in Paris’.


It’s one of those Modernist non-perspective cafe hubbub scenes. In the left foreground, shy, somewhat blank, unblinking, is the composer, suited and hatted, a foreigner more delighted than bored, but not quite either. I’m feeling much the same way.

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Nervous at Heathrow

The anticipation of playing in a big poker tournament is added to, or subtracted from, the joyful anxiety of visiting a city that I’ve never seen before, the prospect of solitary, self-determining travel.

I fixed upon Buenos Aires as my spiritual home long before hearing tango, before I ever saw Maradona play–but I’d always cheered for the underdog and never for England, so in the world that I entered as a six-year-old American interloper in London, where identification through football was a passport through an otherwise bewildering playground, the England World Cup-winning side had a central place in the myths of origins of the now. I built my own unofficial version, in which the Argentinian captain Rattin was a wronged, dignified figure, contrary to the official vilification of him and his teammates as ‘animals’.

And when, too early, I read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, I fell for, as I was meant to, as the author had before me, for the outlaw figure of the gaucho Martin Fierro. That positioning of myself, in relation to gaucho-outlaws, to football, to England, and so forth, was a way of announcing who I was in terms of who I was not: I am not English, I do not admire the Bobbys Moore and Charlton; my exemplars would be darker, more troubled, more honest.

Here I am now, at Gate 42, waiting for my plane to board, Buenos Aires via Sao Paulo, and I wish my ears and ears could distinguish the Brazilians from the Argentinians around me. I shall read some Cortazar, drink a bloody Mary, swallow a sleeping pill, and wake up far away.

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Making preparations for Buenos Aires

The second season of the Latin America Poker Tour reaches its Grand Final on the 16th of April at Mar del Plata. I’ll be there, having qualified on PokerStars. For nearly as long as I can remember, I’ve longed to go to Argentina. Without any knowledge of the place except through literature and music and football, and indeed without having any Spanish really beyond ‘Hola’, ‘Buenos dios’ and ‘┬íHay un incendio!’, I’ve regarded Buenos Aires as my spiritual home.

The last time I played a big poker tournament was the London leg of the EPT in 2008. I reread the notes I’d made in Vegas the previous summer. I counselled myself to choose my spots, to fight aggression with aggression, to take the same amount of time over every action, and not to, never to, overplay KJ. This time, I’m rereading Borges and Cortazar, listening to tango, and dreaming of Buenos Aires.

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