The Airport and the Painting

I fell in love with this painting at the San Telmo market in Buenos Aires. It was fantastic, very much for me, and I was delighted I was able to talk the guy down from 500 to 400 pesos. My only concern was that I would have some challenges getting it home.
Challenges turned out to be an understatement.
The tough thing about backpacking in a foreign country, or anywhere for that manner, is carrying 40 pounds of your own stuff on your back wherever you go. I am lucky enough to have a pretty nice backpack so getting around isn’t too cumbersome. But it has a lot of straps and attachments that hang off.
So I have an oversized duffle bag with a shoulder strap that I stuff it in before I check it in when I am getting on planes. It helps keeps the bag protected and in good shape.
When I was leaving Buenos Aires for the last time I had scheduled a cab to the airport so I figured I would put it in the duffle ahead of time as I would just be going from the curb to check in.
I lost count of how many miscalculations I made on this trip.
I get to the airport and at curbside check in there is a machine that wraps your suitcase in cellophane a bunch of times to ensure it stays sealed under the plane and no one has gone into it. They charge about 10 dollars for this.
I figured this would be a great way to protect my painting. I ask the man to wrap my painting, and while this was probably the first time this man had ever done such a task, or possibly used his arms (he looked like a Double Dare contestant in the middle of some sort of awful physical challenge) we manage to bundle up my painting nicely.
I go inside and get on a very short line to check in. I am excited about this. All I have is my bag to check in, my small backpack to carry on, and my painting which is about 20 by 30 inches. I was somewhat concerned about it fitting in the overhead compartment.
So I checked with one of the airline reps who once again (all together now) did not speak English. So I am trying to ask him if it will fit on the plane, but this has brought a whole new line of questioning about.
He wants to know if I have a receipt for the painting. Of course I don’t because I bought it at a market. He says I can’t get on the plane without a special something or other from an office at the very end of check in. I calmly accept it and with my 40 pound duffle bag slung over my shoulder and my painting delicately in hand, walk down to where I thought he pointed.

After 10 minutes on the wrong line the gentleman at this particular window is very accommodating ands starts giving me people’s names to contact and office doors to knock on. I decide to just go back to my guy at check in, plead ignorance and frustration and try my chances.
Poor decision.
I schlep my 40 pound bag back to the check in desk where the guy insists I get the documentation I need. My previously unflappable cool has given way to a very obvious frustration which I am sure doesn’t bother him because he doesn’t really speak English which shouldn’t even bother me because I am in ArgenFrigginTina.
Finally he learns that he needs to tell me to go to the police depot, which is located 1000 yards past the wrong place I went to last time, in baggage claim inside of a suitcase, under a bridge, guarded by a fleet of magical unicorn-riding trolls.
Well, it might as well have been anyway.
So back I go carrying pack over my shoulder like I’m a lost mortician hauling a dead body to the incinerator.
I finally find a man who asks me if I have a painting, I tell him yes. He gives me an acknowledging nod and shows me into a room. When I get into that room 4 men in uniforms (with no guns or any other type of official thing on them) tell me I am in the wrong room.
So I walk out and the same man who told me to go in sees me, walks me back in, tells the 4 guys in uniform what I am doing. They nod their heads that I am, in fact, in the correct room.
So another non-English speaking man comes out and asks me where I bought my painting. I tell him. He asks for my receipt, I tell him I don’t have one. He then says I can’t take the painting on the plane.
As though this guy was the last line of defense against art thieves in Argentina. Surely no thief would try to get on a plane without a receipt for his stolen painting! In hindsight I am pretty sure I could have written “Rich bought this…no seriously, he did” on a piece of paper and it would have sufficed.
The guy insists I can not leave the country with my painting.
He was acting like I was standing there with a dead Alpaca full of exotic birds and needle drugs. It was a damn painting. I bought it at the market. How does this not suffice?!
Finally he brings in an English speaking woman who knows I am about to start kicking people, and calmly explains that if I undo the 10 dollar wrapping job I have on my painting and show it to the man, AS A FAVOR (they really emphasized that) they will let me take it with me.
But they really wanted me to know that this was only a favor.
A favor really? Ok well I’ll make sure the next time this turd waffle is trying to leave America with something he rightfully owns, I’ll do him the favor and let him. What the hell?
He hands me a box cutter so I can undo the protective wrapping on my painting. Immediately I realize these employees are not cut of the finest cloth because they know I am visibly pissed, yet they still decided to hand me a weapon.
So it takes me 5 minutes to undo the green cellophane around my painting and when I finally show it to them, I swear to you, and I can’t prove that they said this;
“Oh yea that is nice.”
”Yea it’s beautiful.”
But I can’t prove that.
They say it’s ok that I can rewrap it and the man will walk me over to check in to vouch for me, because apparently we are now BFFs.
So I rewrap it, which is kind of like trying to rewrap your Christmas presents after you’ve already torn off the paper. In fact when I finish trying to put it back together, it looks like it was wrapped by a 5 year old.
I walk all the way back to check in desk and walk to the front of the line, because I am NOT about to wait on that crap again. And if somebody had challenged me about it, it would have been sad, but I would jammed my painting in their eye.
My new friend says my painting is NOT in fact stolen, and belongs to me.
As though if I had shown him Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and pinky promised I had bought it at the market, he would have cleared this as well.
I eventually made it through security but I was so frazzled I wanted to just sit down on the floor of duty free and crack open a bottle of Blue Label. But I didn’t. I came home, and so did my painting, undamaged, and in tact.
It now hangs happily above my bar. Which is appropriate, because I need a drink every time I think of what it took to get that painting home.