Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Bus-hawkers

Friday May 17, 2013


Today, for the first time, I ventured onto Montevideo’s public transportation. They don’t have subways, but they do have what appears to be a reasonably efficient bus system. The bus stop is conveniently a few meters away from my new bachelor pad (perhaps more on the apartment another time). I wasn’t sure exactly where to get off, but I had informed the driver of my destination and hoped for the best.

On the following stop, a man jumped onto the bus with a bouquet of leggings flowing out of his hands. He immediately proceeded to give his song and dance as to the quality of his merchandise, as to the special price and that due to his injured arm this was the best way he could make a living. If I closed my eyes I would be transported to the subways of New York. He even had the same rhythm of voice, the same practiced pitch of feigned excitement that was suitably ignored by all the commuters. Some things are universal.

One woman however did buy a pair of the warm-looking leggings. I felt that hawking on a bus was somehow a greater invasion of privacy (harder to ignore?) and yet more effective for the salesman.

The successful merchant got off at the next stop, and was quickly followed by an old man selling bandaids. He was less successful and also got off a stop later, not surprised or moved by the lack of clients.

Anxious to find the street I needed to get off on, I got a good look at the main drag of Montevideo, Avenida 18 de Julio. It reminded me very much of London’s Oxford Street with an eclectic mix of fancy stores and modern stores interspersed with older, more rundown cousins, underneath offices and apartment buildings. Various street-vendors were thrown into the mix. There are two main differences though between 18 de Julio and its British counterpart. The Uruguayan version is much more rundown, with unartistic graffiti sullying the walls.

The second difference, and I think I finally figured out part of the special charm of Montevideo, are the statues. This is not a scientific study, but I get the sense that Montevideo probably has a higher per capita presence of statues than other comparable cities. The classic architecture of Montevideo is European with a hodgepodge of different eras next to each other. In general it gives the city a pretty character beyond the more modern or utilitarian buildings. However, interspersed throughout the city and often in unexpected nooks and crannies, one will find a classic bronze statue. I don’t know if there was a sale decades ago on bronze statues, but for the most part they are very well made, some quite stately and noble looking, though rusted and dirty. One statue reminded me of the scene from Lord of the Rings with the gigantic stone statues guarding the approach to Minas Tirith.

In any case, despite my enrapture with the local scenery, the bus driver remembered my request and told one of the other passengers, who told me where to get off.

But now, back to things Jewish and Rabbinic.

Shavuot was wonderful. It’s been many years since I’ve celebrated a two-day holiday (besides Rosh Hashana), but there was something nice about an additional enforced day of rest. The holiday was filled with fantastic energy in the all-night learning, delicious food, generous hosting and thought-provoking theological discussions. I ended up giving a lecture on the questionably adulterous origins of King David (always a fun and popular talk). The first time around I gave it in English to a small group. Later in the night I received another request and gave it again. The following day word of further interest got around and I gave it in Spanish to a larger audience. I think the talk actually improved as the languages got harder for me.

Next week should be the first normal week on the job for me and I am looking forward to it, though I suspect there is nothing “normal” about this job…

Shabbat Shalom!

3 thoughts on “Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Bus-hawkers”

  1. shabua tov.
    interesante vision de montevideo y de las cosas de esta ciudad.
    hubiera sido interesante tambien quizas un breve resumen de la charla sobre el origen del ray David.
    muchas gracias rabino.

    1. You are right. I should write it up. Perhaps I’ll give a quick summary in a future entry. Thanks!

      1. gracias!
        lo adultero del origen es de yehuda y tamar, del origen de moab, o de las historias “secretas” de ishai con su esposa?
        o de todo ello y mas?

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