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Fear and Suffering in Buenos Aires

Posted By Matt on June 20, 2008

My most important documents.Early one morning about a week ago I was cruising the lit forum when I received a transmission from Paul. Perhaps "transmission" is strong - it was a private message in the forums. However, for dramatic effect, and to better represent the things that go on in my mind that early in the morning, we're going to go with "transmission" and we're going to imagine Paul manifesting on my desk, projected by my trusty astromech droid, in the form of a commanding blue Ewok with glowing red eyes and gold epaulettes. Straightening his fur, he asked that I help bolster the books section by writing a review of one or more of the books there that currently only have one.

Regretfully, I informed him that, while I would love to, I was out of the country, studying for the semester in Argentina, and Star Wars books were difficult to come by. I tried my best to say this with a stiff upper lip, choking back the sob that threatened to escape my throat as I thought about the impending release of Invincible. If Paul noticed me falter, he was kind enough not to show it. Instead, he seemed to consider what I'd told him about my situation, his attention temporarily fixed on something outside the scope of his holotransmitter. Suddenly, his red eyes glowed anew and found mine.

"If you want to write something on finding Star Wars books in South America," he said, in his high pitched - but still commanding - Ewok voice, "then that would be fun." And with that, his holo wavered, flickered, and was gone. He didn't know he'd made my weekend.

You see, my search had begun almost as soon as I'd arrived here. I posted in the Latin America FanForce forum, asking if anyone knew of a place here in Buenos Aires where I could buy the Legacy comics. I was told the best bet was to order online. Well aware of the problems with international mail, here, I gave up, dejected. McEwok's mission filled me with a new vigor, though, and without even having to see my aunt and uncle barbecued, I wistfully stared off into South America's twin suns and set out that afternoon, humming the Force Theme.

My plan for the first day was hit up two locations: El Ateneo Grand Splendid, perhaps the largest and most famous branch of the book chain El Ateneo in the city, and Camelot Comics, a comic shop on the fabled Avenida Corrientes. As I was heading out, I figured I'd check out the Mythos used bookstore around the corner from me, as it was so close by. No Star Wars books, which was no real surprise, but they did have a book I needed for class at a mere two pesos, so I thought I'd give that a purchase. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the cash wrap I realized I was armed with only a one hundred peso bill.

Something one realizes rather quickly after arriving in Buenos Aires is that, due largely to the economic crisis of 2000, no one ever has any change. When I tried to break it in the nearest subway station by buying ten rides, the cashier there didn't have change either. I quickly formulated a plan: I'd walk to the fairly nearby Alto Palermo mall, which would probably be ritzy enough to break my bill. It was a nice enough day out, anyway. It was on this walk that I received my first two signs from the Force. The first: a toy store along the way had a nice selection of Star Wars action figures, including such notable Expanded Universe entries as Darth Revan and Qymaen jai Sheeelai. The second: I ran into a girl I haven't seen or spoken to since middle school. Clearly, I had a greater destiny.

Upon arriving at the mall, I made a beeline for the McCafe. McCafe is McAwesome and we should McHave them in the United States. They're like Starbucks, but classier, despite actually being inside McDonald's franchises. Sure, you can get coffee to go, but coffee to go is a rarity here. They actually have ceramic mugs and plates and real silverware in McCafe, and you sit down, you relax, and you enjoy your damn coffee. Imagine that? They're opening a Starbucks in this mall, soon, which is redundant. Anyway, I bought a caramel latte and - my wallet now bulging with sweet, sweet, small bills - it occurred to me to check out the bookstore right there in the mall. It was a snooty bookstore, and it didn't have what I was looking for. I left the mall, having spent money on a Havana cigar instead of a book. I was burning daylight, and needed to get to the next spot on my search, beginning to feel less like Luke and more like Indy.

I bought my ten-ride subte pass at the Bulnes station and hopped the D-Line. The subterraneo is a great subway system that manages to be prettier, cleaner, and cheaper than that of my native New York City, as wall as more crowded and more uncomfortable. Notwithstanding, I squeezed in and rode to Callao, where I hopped off and walked to the Ateneo Gran Splendid, smoking my cigar and realizing that a good cigar is like a fine wine, in that I'm not cultured enough to tell the difference from bad ones.

This is a bookstore.The thing about the Gran Splendid is that it used to be an opera house, so it's the most beautiful bookstore I've ever been in - the boxes, the stage, the curtains... everything but the seats were still there. As a double major in English and Theater, I felt strangely at peace in an opera house converted into a bookstore. It helped that the boxed Star Wars: El Legado (The Star Wars Vault) was prominently displayed towards the front of the store. Unfortunately, the only Star Wars lit represented were two TPB's, one of Star Wars: Traición (Star Wars: Betrayal), and another of the Attack of the Clones adaptation. At least one of the other locations had a Star Wars: Tales collection, whose title was much longer in Spanish: Star Wars: Historias de la Guerra de las Galaxias. Harry Potter, on the other hand, was extremely well represented.

As I left, I stopped into the Musimundo - a music store - next door to check out their book section. Likewise, nothing. It was getting dark, and, so far unsuccessful on my mission, I was beginning to realize what it must have felt like to have my proton torpedoes miss their mark and impact on the Death Star's surface. I made my way to Corrientes, and searched for Camelot Comics, but they were closed by the time I got there. Dejected, I began to leave. On my way, though, I ran into another sign from the Force: I passed a store (don't know what they sold there, and I'm not sure I want to) called Spaceball. I resolved to strike back the next day. (See what I did there?)

A rancor in the window indicated I was about to make a breakthrough, of sorts. Camelot Comics had no Star Wars comics or Star Wars novels, but they had an entire wall of Star Wars toys from every Hasbro and Kenner line. Characters, creatures, vehicles, and weapons of all sorts were present, not to mention a diorama of Dagobah with a life sized Yoda maquette. Camelot Comics proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you're looking for Star Wars merchandise in a foreign land, you should follow this advice: Go to the nerds. Go directly to the nerds. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Walrus Books, in San Telmo, is an amazing little used bookstore run by expats. Though it exclusively carries English language books, it did not have anything Star Wars related. I had already sated my need for Star Wars geekery with Camelot's collection, though, and my quest was at an end.

Or so I thought. The 34th Annual Buenos Aires International Book Fair was to be in town at La Rural, a huge convention center not too far from where I was staying. I walked there, camera in tow, on the off-chance that maybe, just maybe, there would be a holocron or two, or at least a Star Wars book.

La Rural was, obviously, full of books. Countries from all over the world, not just Latin America, were represented with gigantic installations selling books translated into Spanish. The United States' kiosk had almost no books on it, but it did have a model of a space shuttle and a lot of information about NASA. Seriously.

No Autographs!A number of large Argentine booksellers were present as well. I was surprised and delighted to see that the Dark Lord himself was in attendance, and made sure to take a photo with him. He's a rather nice guy, in real life, I don't know where he gets that reputation. Wouldn't give me an autograph, though. Behind him were a number of Star Wars: Clone Wars digests, so I was definitely getting warmer.

VICTORY!One of the booksellers was a store named Kel, which is devoted to selling nothing but English language books. Clearly, this was my best shot. I scrambled over to science fiction and fantasy and found nothing. Dismay began to set in. Then I hit the jackpot. I turned around to look at the rest of the kiosk and - Yub Yub! - there was a table covered in Star Wars EU novels! (And some other fantasy fandom by some guy Token, Jr. or something.) Nothing too recent, but a wealth nonetheless, so I had to take photos to show them all before I covered them in drool. I had accomplished my mission and found Star Wars EU in Argentina. And I didn't even need my targeting computer.

I went back to skimming through Revelation, recently. It's sitting on my desk beside me as I type this and sip yerba mate out of a gourd emblazoned with the face of Che Guevara - a rebel hero of a type the Argentines love but we Star Wars fans aren't used to. Reflecting on my quest here has proven one thing to me without a doubt: there are geeks in every nation of this great planet, you just need to know where to look.

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