On a winter's evening in the leafy Buenos Aires suburb of Belgrano, music could be heard bubbling over the fence of a well manicured garden belonging to one of the many stately mansions that lined this particular Calle. Amongst the music, a bevy of accents and languages mingled with the sounds of clinking glassware. A garden party? In the middle of winter? Why yes, nothing's impossible in Buenos Aires. Peeking through the gate you'd expect to see fancy cocktail dresses and fine suits, but that wasn't the case. Just inside the fence, on the lush abundant lawns, were dozens of people, young and old, in all make and manner of fashion. A first impression from the footpath may have been misleading. This was not a fancy soiree. No, in fact, it seemed more like a casual barbecue amongst friends. Yes, there was a waft of sausages a sizzle about the night air. A glance at a very official sign posted just on the wall near the gate and it was obvious who was hosting this delightful gathering...a very serious looking Kangaroo and his partner, an Emu with a wry smile. This was the Australian Consulate after all, who else did you think might host such an unusual party?
It was July of 1998 and I found my twenty something self wandering through the gates and into the middle of this eclectic little cocktail party searching for a familiar face. Very much as Alice tumbled down into the strange and stunning world of Wonderland, I reluctantly traipsed through the sea of faces and into the beginning of my fairy tale. It wasn't long before an acquaintance caught my eye. An Economist of sorts and a fellow countryman, he struck up a conversation the details of which I can no longer recall. I'm sure we exchanged pleasantries and remarked about the lovely setting in which we found ourselves, but all the while I was scanning the lawns looking for someone else. Finally, I spotted her, the girl I'd come to meet. I politely excused myself and made my way over to the bar where she stood.
She had an unmistakable laugh that made you happy just to hear it. On this evening amidst all of these strange new faces, I was thrilled to hear her laughter. It was after all, the laughter of a friend. As I approached, I noticed she was holding court with a very odd couple. One was a very short and mildly handsome man with a friendly smile who spoke both English and Spanish with a very heavy Italian accent. As it turned out, he also spoke Italian with a very heavy Italian accent. The other half of this odd couple towered over both my friend and the Italian. With his dark eyes and charming good looks, he could have been a citizen of a dozen different countries, but when he spoke, his accent exposed him. Unlike his Italian mate, he didn't struggle with English, but instead spoke it confidently and softly albeit with a subtle but charming Australian accent. I wanted to hear more...
Introductions were made immediately and this mysterious Australian and I began to exchange tales of what had brought each of us here to this enchanted city, to these generous gardens, to this very moment. His was a tale of a capitalist well on his way up the corporate ladder. His firm had brought him to Argentina to work on a important project. He spoke little or no Spanish upon his arrival, but now three months in, he could get by. He'd come along this particular evening because his fellow compatriots had made a tradition out of attending these gatherings on a monthly basis. Who was he to argue? Besides, as he explained, where there are drinks, Australians will never be far away. Curious and curiouser indeed. Mine was the tale of a young student on a scholarship with a love of languages and a greater love of travel. My wanderlust had brought me to Argentina where I'd already spent 6 months absorbing the language, the culture, the food. I'd met other Expats along the way and many had become good friends, including my American roommate who had first told me about this party on this night. It was because of her and my lovely laughing British friend who'd been chatting to this Handsome Australian when I arrived that I found myself at this party. In this moment. Talking to him.
The evening slipped slowly away as we discussed a great many things. From the corner of my eye, I noticed my British friend had finally escaped the well meaning Italian and moved on to a more lively group of Germans. Yes, there were some truly fascinating people at this party, but none so fascinating to me as this Handsome Australian. There was something about him and his gentle manner that made me happy to spend my evening in conversation with him, and him alone.
In the wee hours of the morning, the drinks had stopped flowing and friends and acquaintances alike were bidding one another farewell. It was time to say goodbye to this Handsome Australian. We'd chatted effortlessly through the evening, but when it came to goodbye, we didn't quite know what to say. With an assist from an inebriated Englishman who had interrupted the final moments of our conversation, the Handsome Australian found the courage to ask for my number.
It was in that moment, that my life's trajectory was irrevocably changed. Although it was impossible to appreciate at the time, my path had been completely reset.
And that my friends, is how *this* Alice came to live in the Wonderland of Australia.
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