BUENOS AIRES — Sitting in the Forrest Gump Restaurant as the group I’m leading nears the end of its month-long study-abroad trip here, I ponder and mull.
I ponder and mull why this tiny place, on a side street off one of Buenos Aires’ busiest thoroughfares, is named after Forrest Gump. Like many things here, it has an American derivation.
I come here because I like the atmosphere. It’s usually populated by folks much older than I am, providing needed reinforcement of my relative youth after spending mornings with my college-age students.
The Gump food is good. I order whatever the lunch special is that day and hope for the best. I haven’t been disappointed. Most of my students think anything that isn’t authentic Mexican food is bland and therefore nearly inedible, so they hate the food in Argentina. I’ll eat whatever’s put in front of me and like it, damn it. (Sorry. I was channeling my Pop there for a second.)
Also, the Gump wait staff is nice and curious about me. Many people here, when they find out we’re Americans, ask us questions about life back home.
One student was asked by a young woman in a nightclub whether he knew the boy band One Direction. Even though One Direction is based in London, he said he did.
I’m glad he’s learning something from me in class.
I met a young man in a bookstore who asked if I was American. When I said yes, he quickly asked me if I own a gun. When I said I didn’t, he asked, “What do you do during the shootouts?”
I told him shootouts aren’t all that common in the U.S., that I’d neither witnessed nor participated in any. The truth is I’ve been shot at once and heard, and sort of saw, the end of a shootout involving a man and El Centro police, but I didn’t want to give the impression there are shootouts every day in my country.
That day there was a mass shooting in Santa Monica.
So much for that.
Other than cops killing hooligans or hooligans killing hooligans at soccer matches, violence is rare here. An apparently well-behaved teen girl was gruesomely murdered in the usually violence-free neighborhood where we’re staying, and such incidents are so rare it’s been the focus of most of the news coverage, even above three deaths and numerous injuries in a commuter train crash.
Watching the coverage of the murder of the girl, named Angeles, as my final delicious meal at the Forrest Gump ends, an elderly man walks into the restaurant holding hands with either his granddaughter or great-granddaughter. You see such beauty a lot here. The munchkin sits at a table with many old folks and recounts her day, much to the oldsters’ delight.
The little girl, probably 5 or 6, is wearing a white lab coat, the school uniform for many children here. It is as if they are going to do a chemical analysis that day on paste, or maybe finger paint.
It’s one of the strange, quirky, wonderful things about Argentina and why I like coming here so much. But it’s Argentina’s strange, quirky, wonderful thing, not my country’s strange, quirky wonderful thing.
I realize that day at the Forrest Gump that as much as I love it here, I am American through and through.
Bret Kofford teaches writing at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus. His opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of SDSU or its employees. Kofford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org