The Expat: Daniel Tunnard

CV: Daniel Tunnard
Born: Sheffield, UK
Age: 35
Profession: Writer of Colectivaizeishon, translator
Education: Spanish and French at University of Sheffield
Currently reading: The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever, and just finished Easy Way To Give Up Smoking by Allen Carr for the third time
Last film seen: Magnolia
Gadget: My record player

When did you first visit Argentina?
I first came here in February 1997 on a long-distance coach from Asunción in Paraguay and was on my way to Uruguay. I was going to spend my year abroad on Montevideo but on my second day in Buenos Aires, I met my future first wife, who was going out with an Italian.
I got very drunk on a cheap bottle of whisky which cost me three pesos, and she gave me her address which I hid in the back of a book and didn’t find for the next two months. When I did find it I wrote to her, she replied and we met again in July 1997, snogged, then I continued at university.

Where did you live then?
There were two hostels in Buenos Aires then: one in Constitución, which was rumoured to be for prostitutes so everyone went to a place called El Aguila in La Paternal neighbourhood.

Did you have a plan with regard to Montevideo?
Oh, yes I had a place at the Universidad de la República and I was going to study Uruguayan history and Latin American literature. But all the classes started at 7pm and went on until 11pm which was far too demanding, so I turned up for a couple of Italian classes with an old Italian woman, and spent the rest of my time sitting around the house drinking cheap gin, smoking and playing darts and watching bad films on cable with my English friend. As they say, “education is wasted on the young.” That was my year abroad.

What happened with your first wife?
I came back for her in Buenos Aires, my other mistress, in January 1999. I’d graduated and worked for seven months getting some money together. When I got to Buenos Aires, it was summer and hot, and I put on a suit and tie, thinking that was what I had to do here, and went looking for teaching jobs without having any qualifications. After a month of sweating, the final place I went to was the William Blake Institute in Barrio Norte. They took me on, trained me — and four years later, closed down… But it was 2002 and everything was closing down then.

How did long-distance love work out for you at that time?
It was all by letter. We wrote three or four letters a week to each other, replying to ones that had arrived two weeks earlier. We knew that email existed but we didn’t really know how to do it. I was working for IBM at the time and even so, I still didn’t really know as we weren’t allowed to use Internet at work and I thought Yahoo was the Internet.
I came here for a year to see what happened and we went to Eastern Europe that winter. In Bucharest we got mugged by the taxi mafia, and were nearly killed. Well, we didn’t, but it felt ropey. So I gave them five pounds and they went away but I thought “she could have been killed there. All those letters would have gone to waste.” So I proposed to her in Krakow as she had Polish grandparents, then it turned out they were actually from the Ukraine.

When did you get married?
We planned to marry in 2001, but as I was going through the DNI trámite we found out it was easier to get documents if I was married. So I kind of did it for the papers, but obviously also for love. Then five years passed… and we split.

What happened after the language school closed?
I became a private teacher and also started working for the Japanese school in Belgrano, which is part of the embassy. Then I became a translator in 2003. I also write, so after I got divorced I had lots of material. My first novel was a shrinking one, as the first chapter was 101 words long, until the final chapter was just word. That wasn’t very good, actually and was more of a novela.
My second book was about divorces, mine and my mum’s. My ex-wife was very pleased with it and said “go ahead and publish it,” while my mum said “Publish this and I’ll sue you.” She never got as far as the end, which is when it got better…
Then I got a job with a production company doing voice-overs for the the new Simpsons. I worked on that for a year-and-a-half then it was axed because of the European financial crisis. I then wrote another novel about a filmmaker who finds Brian May (of the band Queen) in his wardrobe.

Which trámite was harder to process, your DNI or your divorce?
Oh, the divorce was quite easy… and her stepdad was a lawyer so he was able to pull strings and it cost me 100 pesos. It was quite painless compared to the DNI, which needed documents and money. It was something I wanted, but not something Argentina wanted to give me.

Where did you live during your first marriage?
In Palermo Viejo, on Cabrera and Serrano. I still drink at Bangalore, and I like the fact the pavements are now wider. But it’s a bit like Oasis and their first album — I started to hate them in 1997 by the time everyone else liked them. It was like that with Palermo. You feel incredibly cool, then everyone else starts going to your cool place…
I like living in Belgrano too, as there are fishmongers and hardware shops. I’m one block from Belgrano R station, which means I’m one block from being posh.

What is your official job these days?
I’m doing some scriptwriting for MTV but I’m also riding all the buses in Buenos Aires for a project called Colectivaizeishon. I read a book by A. J. Jacobs called The Know-It-All in which he reads all the Encyclopedia Britannicas in a year, so I decided to set myself a similar sort of challenge which seemed a bit pointless but I could enjoy. I used to be a train spotter, which is like being an alcoholic as it stays with you, so it would have been nice to do a train version.
I’ve lived here for 12 years and know Palermo, Barrio Norte and Belgrano well but didn’t know anything crossing over Rivadavia Avenue, so I thought it would be a fun way to do it.

Do you start at the beginning?
Yes, at the start of the line, often in Saavedra or Belgrano. Buses often go from there to Constitución, and then I go on to somewhere else — often Retiro — then maybe somewhere in the west, then back home.

Any other plans for bus project?
I’m planning to make a documentary about the buses. But I don’t want to film people on the bus so I need to invent some spy glasses.

Do buses ascend consistently?
There is a 1, 2 then 4. There isn’t a 3. Lots of buses have stopped — they go from 1 to 195 — and there are only 141. So 54 are missing, and some have been taken over by other companies. They were originally based on tram lines, as buses started up in competition with the trams.
I like to write a bit of history about each bus, for example, the 151 goes past Bangalore which is where I met Josefina, my second wife.

Which is your favourite bus?
It’s the one I used to take when I lived in Barrio Norte, the 39, and it goes down the guitar street, Talcahuano.

If you were acting President Amado Boudou, what would you do?
I’d bring back trams. Cristina would have the surprise of her life when she got back to Buenos Aires as there wouldn’t be any public transport, just trams and horses. Actually, maybe not horses, you know what they are like with dog shit here. But definitely trams. I’d also demolish the port and put it somewhere where nobody goes, like La Plata, and make a nice clean beach.

…Then three come along
Everyone has a favourite bus in Buenos Aires — in fact, I have a few in particular, including the 59 for extreme frequency, the 140 for speed and air conditioning, and the 39, versions one and three, which leave me outside my front door — but writer Daniel Tunnard has taken this a step further.
Once a week, he takes a cluster of buses for his Colectivaizeishon column which appears (in Spanish) in La Razón newspaper each week.
One revelation he has found, having taken his 56th bus out of 141 in the City of Buenos Aires this past week, is that colectivos travel through villas.
“I was surprised that there are buses that go through shantytowns — the 23 and the 26 — which go through San Lorenzo in Bajo Flores. The 26 actually stops in the villa and you have to get off and walk a block to get back on it. There are two security guards there, watching everything.
“I always thought shantytowns were completely no-go areas, when really they are fairly accessible. Taking the long-distance bus from Retiro, you can see the Villa 31 is right there — but you wouldn’t know how much you can walk down into before someone robbed you or beat you up… I’m tempted.
“I think you need to walk into a villa with your head held high, as if you belong there. And probably without a camera.”
Tunnard’s most recent posting is entitled: “The 136 – Random observations from a really boring bus” — read on for an excerpt.
“I have a schedule with the order I’m supposed to be taking the 141 bus routes in Buenos Aires, which is available for your relaxed perusal on my blog. This monument to my own obsessive-compulsive disorder took me four days with my head in the Guía T and various websites, and I managed to undo a good part of my geeky work on only the fourth day of Colectivaizeishon when I took the wrong bus and had to reshuffle the whole damn programme. After that slip-up, I am resolved to follow the rest of the schedule to the letter. But I’m standing at the 163 bus stop for 20 minutes in Liniers and the 163 just ain’t coming. What if the 163 doesn’t exist anymore? Do I stand here for all eternity, renowned as “the Brit who tried to take all the buses in Buenos Aires but got stuck waiting for ever for the 163 that never came”? Not much of a title for a book. I give up and take the 136, which does the same route, is the same colour and practically the same number as the 163, if you’re colour-blind and dyslexic. As soon as I get on the 136, two 163s whiz past.”

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on January 8, 2012.
Photo by Mariano Fuchila.

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