Where in the World Are You, Jim Benning?

Travel Blog  •  World Hum  •  12.04.09 | 1:30 PM ET

The subject of our latest up-to-the-minute interview with a traveler somewhere in the world: Jim Benning, coeditor of World Hum. His email landed in our inbox just moments ago.

Where in the world are you?

I’m in Buenos Aires, at a café in Palermo.

What are you doing there?

Waking up late, sipping a café con leche and reading the morning news. More generally, I’m taking a week off of work, checking out the city for the first time.

What do you see around you?

A few porteños are having coffee to the musical stylings of Coldplay. Outside, under shady trees, traffic whizzes down a two-lane street: the ubiquitous black-and-yellow radio taxis, motorcycles, trucks. Beyond that, there’s a little outdoor marketplace where merchants are setting up tables.

Got a pic?

What did you have for dinner last night and where?

I ate in the Villa Crespo neighborhood at a delicious Middle Eastern restaurant, of all things, with an expat friend. I can now confidently report that chicken kabob works nicely with a bottle of malbec.

What are you listening to these days?

Mostly Spanish-language stuff, including some Argentine music I downloaded for the trip: Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Fito Paez, Soda Stereo, Gustavo Cerati, and some classic tango from Carlos Gardel. I’ve also been listening to one of my pan-Latin folk-pop favorites, Ricardo Arjona, who I’ve heard playing on more than a few stereos around town.

What are you reading?

Like any good former lit major visiting Buenos Aires, I brought along a translated collection of short stories by hometown hero Jorge Luis Borges, though I confess I’m having a hard time getting into them. I also brought a copy of the latest edition of “The Best American Travel Writing.” Beyond that, I’ve been reading local newspapers to help revive my Spanish skills and learn a little about what’s going on here these days.

What did you experience in the last 24 hours that you’d recommend?

I poked my head inside a hole-in-the-wall tango room I wandered past last night on the way back from dinner and was surprised by how charming I found it to be. You hear so much about tango in Buenos Aires that it starts to sound like a big cliché, and you start to think maybe it’s just a tourist gimmick—something travel writers can wax rhapsodic about but that locals have long since given up on. But then I watched porteños dressed in street clothes sweeping across the floor as Carlos Gardel’s distinctive baritone voice boomed from the stereo, to an audience of only a few locals. It was a moving sight and, like so many great travel experiences, one of those things I just had to experience first-hand to fully appreciate.

Where in the world are you headed next?

Back to San Diego early next week, then off to Washington, D.C. a couple of days later to teach a Travel Writing in the Digital Age workshop, which should be good fun.

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