Before I packed up my life and moved it to Buenos Aires last November, I watched a procession of Argentinian films and documentaries to educate myself on the culture. In hindsight this proved invaluable, possibly more so than the Spanish classes I attended in fact. Indeed, perhaps the film with the most profound effect on me was Relatos Salvajes.
Translating as ‘Wild Tales’, through six standalone stories this black comedy masterpiece explores argentinidad (literally, and somewhat clumsily, ‘Argentinianness’) at its most hot-blooded and avenging. How enlightening for me it was, then, to see the infamous bridge where the most striking scene of the film was shot, and by this virtue also an important symbol of the watermark for Argentinian cinema. That said, we’ve missed a few important parts in the plot.
A month to celebrate, whilst the first weekend in November marked my one-year anniversary here, just a fortnight later it was my birthday. A lovely nuance of language, ‘cumpleaños’ has inherently more cause for celebration than its English counterpart. The completion, or rather ‘fulfilment’ of years is suitably cherished in these parts, and the introverted Englishman in me almost felt a bit embarrassed by everyone’s kindness and didn’t quite know where to put himself.
To this end, one pleasant little quirk of my job is that we are all given our birthday as a holiday day. Given that this year it fell on the Friday before the Monday feriado, I well and truly lucked in. Having realised this a few months ago, and well in advance of me, delightfully, my better half had secretly been concocting our extra long weekend getaway for the occasion.
After a delicious steak and wine dinner on the Thursday night, under her orders we were back to my apartment in time to blow out the candles on the balcony as the clock struck twelve. I then opened the fantastic football shirt from her mum and put it on, ready to piece together the jigsaw of my good novia’s present. Lots of cellotaped cuttings of paper later, it emerged that said document was our boarding pass for a flight to Salta – the charming desert region in the north – in just 6 hours’ time!
Aided by a brief nap, having thrown a few things into my sports bag, a few hours later we had landed in beautiful Salta and were tucking into the local cuisine of llama empanaditas. Helping us get our bearings, shortly afterwards we took a cable car up to Mount San Bernardo for some incredible views of the city and the surrounding desert in which it is enveloped. A spot more exploring ultimately concluded in us retreating poolside with a bottle of local tipple Salta Rubia, as a purple sun lowered itself behind the mountains for another day.
Saturday was the daytrip to Cafayate, rocky and rugged as one could hope for. A series of stops along the way included photo opportunities of breathtakingly dramatic dry river valleys, multi-coloured overlapping ridges and even a vineyard. In what felt like a barren nowhere, improbably this wilderness doubled up as the fertile breeding ground for rows upon rows of red and white grapes. How delicious the respective homegrown bottles of Malbec and Cabernet which we imbibed in the consecutive nights that followed were too. Unfortunately however, sour notes were to follow.
Yes, with Sunday having been a relaxing day of wandering around a museum or two, we dined at a recommended restaurant not far from the hotel to commemorate our last night in Salta. Opting for the healthy option, we both chose a salad dish. It then emerged that our candlelit dinner for two had at least one other uninvited guest, possibly more.
Unapologetically chomping away through one of the lettuce leaves, leaving a light trail of slobbery destruction in its wake, was a tiny yellowish lava bug. This explained the cluster of green gaps throughout both sets of plated shrubbery. Unimpressed, to understate, but dignified and polite, we sent the food back before paying a discounted bill, making our excuses and hastily exiting.
The less descriptive the better, but the ensuing middle of the night was not a pretty one for either of us. Medical callouts and emergency injections meant that we just about soldiered on to our 11:25 flight back to Buenos Aires the next morning, although that was touch and go as well. Bed-bound/toilet-bound until Wednesday afternoon, this final twist felt both unexpected and unfair in what had been an otherwise hugely enjoyable jaunt to Salta.
The director Damián Szifron describes the motif throughout Relatos Salvajes as being driven by ‘the fuzzy boundary that separates civilisation from barbarism, the vertigo of losing your temper, and the undeniable pleasure of losing control.’
Although I’ve come a long way in the integration process over the past twelve months or so, there’s apparently still a long way to go before argentinidad becomes intrinsic. At no point up until and including now was there ever an overpowering force jolting me to get even with the restaurant that made us so ill. That said, I think we owe it to ourselves and future customers to leave a fairly scathing online review of the place – one in Spanish and the other in English, for good measure.
As for the bridge, a highlight of our Saturday daytrip was unexpectedly recognising an unassuming, terracotta-coloured steel structure blending into the dusty backdrop as we passed it on the way to Cafayate.
In the road rage episode in Relatos Salvajes, an angry driver shunts his adversary off the road, before they grapple in the car as it dangles tantalisingly above the river and subsequently explodes under the bridge after the aggressor lights the fuel tank, both hotheads paling in suitably fiery fashion. Such was the effect of this brilliantly storyboarded scene that, albeit contrastingly tranquil this time round, I instantly placed the bridge upon glimpsing it.
We’re obviously not ready to contemplate another visit quite yet, following our recent tale of woe, but we certainly intend on revisiting Salta one day. Similarly to the bridge, that I initially encountered on-screen as the setting for unfettered chaos but redeemed itself upon the second time of asking, a little bit less wild next time is all we ask for please.