Domestic Manners of the Americans


First came the tattoo. A tattoo of Alice in Wonderland across my sister Daisy’s entire left bicep, when she was living in Costa Rica. A long time after came an Alice sticker with her hair colored in brown on my computer during my first winter at college.

A semester later came the bunny, in time for spring.

A sweet, itinerant bunny I found waiting for me on the steps up to Phillips Hall on one of the first warm afternoons when I’d come to clear out my pigeonhole.

An affectionate little bunny with mussed up hair, it seemed domesticated sitting in the lap of my red dress and willingly endured my clumsy attempts at petting. Later it was a proud, noble bunny sitting on its throne in my bicycle basket.

A sweet bunny always ready for cuddles, a wise, adventurous bunny curled up in the blue sheets of my warm bed, all spruced up and with a new lease on life, thanks to him.


I didn’t name him: in my arms, he was always just bunny. Bunny, too.

I did get him a wicker picnic basket to take him for walks. And tiny little carrots, orange juice, puréed squash and M&Ms.

Bunny preferred monochromatic food: I was diligent with my charge, almost as though I didn’t have a choice. It was a relief to have somewhere to channel my eagerness to please. The bunny sat silently on the table opposite the kitchen, chewing thoughtfully and staring out at his brethren who’d come to graze on the neighbor’s dry lawn.

A week of partying. A bottle of Jim Beam and several joints, dressed, barefoot, spinning and spinning with my possessed little bunny, a fantasy bonfire, running in circles, leaps, jumping stars off the swings, laughing exhausted on the grass. A frenetic, festive, bewitched bunny running round me in a public but secret ritual.


Sometimes my bunny took a moment to sniff around.

He wrinkled his nose at my volume of Chateaubriand’s travels—an impossible genre—and curled up on top of the perfect mattress of Mayakovsky’s discovery of America.

From the way he scrunched his whiskers I could tell that he approved of Beauvoir and was curious about Nelson Algren. But he wasn’t interested in Pavese’s letters to the American trumpet player. He never paid any attention to the correspondence between Mayakovsky and Lilya Brik and he never spared a thought for Baudrillard, Trollope, Tocqueville, Calvino, or the thick volumes of Katherine Mansfield and Alejandra Pizarnik.

He’d impatiently watch me taking notes in the afternoons. He liked to curl up on my belly when I was stretched out on the old brown sofa but required a concave hollow with no filler. His somber musings could not be disturbed by even the slightest digestive gurgle.


I started to re-read Mayakovsky. An Argentine edition and translation from Editorial Entropía (my lovely old Almadía copy lost in a box somewhere in Buenos Aires): a book I’d have loved to publish (I said so to my husband at the time).

First (second) printing: like the Beauvoir. I find Mayakovsky overly descriptive. His fascination with Penn Station, Grand Central, the skyscrapers, all of New York . . . it makes me a little sick. I think that I’d be less bothered if instead of picture-postcard descriptions (which I understand: before the Internet, they were necessary) he’d focused on his emotions.

Of course, politically committed people, in contrast to Pizarnik and what I’ve flipped through of Pavese, demand an eminently sociological perspective of themselves. Also, these are commissioned nonfiction pieces, the market dictating to the author, products that may contain subjectivity, that may still allow the possessor of the gaze to be the protagonist but that, I believe, are more like a report than anything else.

I don’t see what the point of that kind output would be today. At least not on a literary level.


Bunny only began to change the moment we hit Interstate 80. I was heading west to Des Moines where I would take a right angle at Route 35 toward Minneapolis.

By the time we got to Williamsburg, he had transformed completely.

The size of a large dog, sitting in the passenger seat with his safety belt on, he looked like a child in the most realistic Halloween costume in the world.

We dismissively threw the basket purchased to celebrate his adoption in the back seat: at Walmart we filled it with bananas, cheeses, Greek yogurt, cotton candy, and bread. White bread. My dresses had had to be that color for days.

A 19th-century French nobleman had given me dreams about Niagara Falls: if I was going to injure myself, at least let it be while doing something romantic. What had the European dream of the noble savage turned into? After spending a year in a utopian aquarium like a well-behaved goldfish, I fantasized about finding a cow to wrap my arms around, and an indigenous woman, or if not, an illegal immigrant, to drown in my tears of compassion, just like Chateaubriand.

But standing in the parking lot of the agency where we rented the car, with the old-school paper road map spread out before us, Bunny marked out a really rather improbable route. Standing on the map, Bunny, without ever moving his lips, looked straight at me and said: we’re going to South Dakota.


At the start of the journey we talked about it. Also without making a sound.

He put a shy paw on my right hand, the hand I don’t need when driving a car with an automatic gear box. When he was feeling especially affectionate, he put his head in my lap with half-closed eyes so I could stroke him right where his whiskers began.

He didn’t mind my singing but much preferred talking, my plains-hopping bunny. He told me the science fiction story in which a number of rich people, very rich people, wake up one morning in their plush mountain estates only to discover that they’re trapped. Surrounded by an invisible but insurmountable obstacle, a glass wall that has sprung up in the middle of the night. They can still see the world from which they’ve been excluded stretching out massively before them.

The college goldfish bowl. He also told me about a desert beyond the Rockies that we wouldn’t get to see.

The point isn’t, Bunny said, to understand the psychology or sociology of all this. The point is to get out on the road, the point is to go straight ahead. On the road we’ll see more of society than the academy can ever teach you.


But I so enjoyed finding a reference to jaywalking in Mayakovsky! In Laredo, “as is typical of the provinces, the administration has let its imagination run wild!” I read. “White stripes over the asphalt indicating the exact places where pedestrians (whom I never saw, not even in New York) . . . a fine worth almost fifty rubles is levied for crossing at a place not designated for such a use.”

Some time ago I read an article about the invention of this obtuse concept which caused quite the controversy at the beginning of the century amid the jostling for urban space. The origins are still disputed but it is believed that jay—an antiquated term meaning idiotic, stupid, or unsophisticated—implicitly referred to country bumpkins recently arrived in the city and unaware of the rules for circulation on public thoroughfares. The first use of the term in the press can be traced back to the first decade of the twentieth century: an article in the Chicago Tribune that went something like “drivers claim with a degree of frustration that their rapid pace would result in fewer injuries if there weren’t so much jaywalking.” I’d also heard jokes based around the theme on at least two occasions: in such and such part of the country, boom boom—you get big fines for crossing the street somewhere other than a crosswalk.

An extraordinary concept for Latin Americans. Cutting across the street halfway down the block is one of my favorite pastimes, my preferred method of getting across the city: the way is clear! A right I (re-) acquired after my daughter’s initiation into the norms of society that I take great pleasure in exercising—and it’s natural that I should. I like it when the natural inclinations prevalent in our unfashionable, untamed countries point the way to how things should be.

Cars! Unnecessary bourgeois bullshit, with a car you buy yourself an eminently uninteresting life and to those who do I say, well, you can have the freeways but remember that the streets are ours. Never forget that you’re driving a weapon and think hard, very hard, before it gets remotely close to us.


I always forget where Detroit is. For some reason my brain puts it right in the middle of the map, to the south. Mayakovsky goes to Detroit of course. My husband has told me about attempts to regenerate Detroit, some time ago he was planning (perhaps he still is planning) to visit the city: to do interviews, write something . . . I can’t remember who or why.

This is everything I remember about Detroit: that lovely vampire movie by Jim Jarmusch. Eminem. Whatever I learned from that long novel by Eugenides. Isn’t Robocop set there?

My dad, like so many others, first learned about the U.S. through its movies. He mentions things like the building in Die Hard, the stairs in Rocky . . . if you’re watching an American movie with him, one of two things is going to happen: either he knows where it’s set or he spends the whole time trying to work it out. He knows the names of the famous buildings, that kind of thing. It’s not an obsession so much as a profound and, I believe, innocent interest, a fascination with the bright lights that also dazzled Mayakovsky. In any case, I agree with him about one thing: I like to visit places related to some kind of outstanding cultural product. And I tend not to be interested in anything else. For instance, I can’t work up any interest in places that are surely wonderful, like Oceania.

What’s in Australia?

Great white sharks, I said to my husband. Also, it’s out of my way, another reason I doubt I’ll ever go to Detroit.


In Minneapolis we walked the streets of an empty city. An urban space with a degree of charm but also inhospitable, with a post-apocalyptic kind of feel.

Among unsettling albino squirrels, we drank espressos and poured Splenda into a small peanut butter pot designed for spreading over bagels and toast: we shared tiny little portions as we treated ourselves to the sun in Loring Park.

We stared fixedly at a sign that advised us to “Be Alert” outside the municipal convention center. We reluctantly photographed the beautiful Foshay building and drifted silently, thoughtfully, over the Mississippi River across the venerable stone bridge. The sun set lazily over the old mill, now a museum, a few feet away from the very modern Guthrie Theater. On the opposite shore, people were enjoying the public space for what was left of their Sunday.

No one gave my bunny a second glance.

In the United States, he explained, people don’t look at one another. And if they do, it’s a peek—said voyeuristic excess being paid for with an apology or one of those sinister smiles. The winning smile of good manners, a sense of community, straight, white American teeth. The smile of the Cheshire Cat, bunny reminded me. A friend-making smile, an election-clinching smile, a smile that conceals war, bloodshed, and discrimination, a smile that tells you there’s nothing to fear here, we’re brothers. I don’t need to see your papers young man, your smile is plenty enough for me. But keep them on you, just in case.

We drank our obligatory whiskey in Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s bar, the writer who grew comfortable with fame as so many have, stealing from his beloved, much-feared wife Zelda the indomitable.

Afterward, exhausted, our minds on the next stop, we hopped weakly into the taxi that took us to another of the ubiquitous beer gardens one sees in every American city with a modicum of infrastructure, with a craft brewery in the back and comfortable chairs set in a circle around a gas fire. A few tables, quiet music, the haziness of the stars in the Yankee night sky made up for by charming strings of colored lightbulbs. An endless menu of weird and wonderful beers with ingenious names; references to every American saying or meme you could possibly care to think of.


I also enjoy Mayakovsky’s description of the Mississippi as the “American Volga.” In Minneapolis, on a pedestrian bridge filming the water flowing beneath us, one of the stupid videos I made with my camera, I had this thought: the Mississippi is like the Andes. Mayakovsky’s Mississippi also reminded me of a spring afternoon riding my bike along the Neva in Saint Petersburg, a vanilla ice cream cone, smiling girls having their photo taken in wedding dresses by the river and the generous quantities of pleasant light that preceded Dostoyevsky’s white nights. I was reading Pasternak of course and now by the side of the Mississippi you’d think I’d have been reading Twain, but no.


The legal fictions invented by man, and a few women, in the twentieth century and earlier—sometimes centuries earlier—are driven by a shared desire: possession. That isn’t, I now realize, the nature of rabbits. In any case, we never succumbed to the mistake of that Machiavellian discourse: we were different species. Traveling companions undeceived by complementary or similar natures. None of that mattered: we were creatures united by a single goal: speed. Everything you need to know about American society can be found in an anthology of its behavior at the wheel, the bunny whispered. And I thought of the hypnotic beginning of Less Than Zero, Easton Ellis’ best. Free circulation, the moral rule wherein lies the root of all behavior, even the most minor act, on streets and in the supermarkets but also on the road; empire, death, invention, global hegemony.

To our right, back on the ample two-lane highway headed for Sioux Falls, was a FedEx truck with three trailers like an asphalt version of the Trans-Siberian Express. The speed limit in South Dakota is five miles faster than the one in Iowa and we’d soon learn why. There’s nothing to see.

Meanwhile, my bunny dreamed of kinetic marvels and the geological glory of his beloved Death Valley. He patiently described in great detail the landscape of hellish heat and delightful infertility that awaited us, he promised, further west. But before us spread a nothingness that was many different kinds of nothing compared to the vast, still, mute tranquility of the desert: the Midwest is a big green nothing owned by the lords of the sugar lobby, a green garden created by those responsible for obesity as a way of life, for the diabetes epidemic.

The sunsets, like in Saint Petersburg, went on forever and we headed for them protected by sunshades, sunglasses, blind arms cheekily sneaking photos through an open window. We noticed a policeman when we stopped in a lay-by to photograph the sun going down in slow motion: Storm Trooper, a highway patrolman of the yellow sirens chasing Hunter S. Thompson down the freeways of Nevada in an aerial shot by the masterful Terry Gilliam. Where do they come from? The night found us in a squat town with empty streets and intermittent traffic lights. Its second-most prominent tourist attraction was a horrible plaster statue of a lion that stood grotesquely at the entrance of the Holiday Inn where we’d be staying that night. In the morning, we promised each other, we’d go check out the stupid falls, just for a moment.


Like Simone de Beauvoir, Mayakovsky is disgusted by the way Americans are always chewing gum. The tourettic tic of the boy from Equus combined with the perverse gnashing braces of a teenage Katy Perry in the video for “Last Friday Night.”

When I was a kid, the teachers at the private schools I went to, who were either British or from the more pretentious areas of greater Buenos Aires, also associated chewing gum with the United States. And to them, most of all, the United States, rather than a wayward model or a threat, represented bad taste. Regarding the gum, they’d say: “You aren’t cows.” Of course my mom never bought me any, gum was always strictly forbidden in her presence. She would tell a story she was proud of: when she was dating my father, at the cinema, if her supersonic ear ever detected gum anywhere remotely near her, she’d indignantly insist they change seats. I wouldn’t like gum either if it weren’t for the fact that they sell nicotine gum. And sugar. And guns.


In Minnesota, as in several other American states, the stores don’t sell alcohol after ten at night. Nothing seems open and when I ask the guy at the gas station when the carriages turn into pumpkins he tells me that if I want something to eat I’ll have to go to a diner and if I want a drink I should try a club. Mayakovsky went to the US in 1925, when prohibition was still in force.

“At the time it was impossible to repeal the law forbidding the sale of alcohol because, primarily, it would be against the interests of those selling it.” I’m interested in how the perspective of a foreigner always attracts me more than that of a local. (Hence first generation immigrant literature: spy literature. Hence why I married a sociologist.) “American drunkenness, prohibition,” says Mayakovsky, “is the typical business, the typical prudishness.” In general terms, I find Americans’ tense relationship with alcohol unsettling: the ban on drinking in public streets is extreme, absurd, and very off-putting. The cages they set up for municipal festivals in Iowa City so that people can drink (my husband keeps suggesting we slip one of them a banana), the railings around the bars with tables on the sidewalk: inside the designated area you can drink but you have to smoke outside (I’ve had to resort to such acrobatics on drunken spring nights).

American teenagers lost in the unrelenting heat of Cartagena, the earnest euphoria of being allowed to wander around with beer cans and vividly colored cocktails. The obsession with the driver’s license to prove you’re of age. Alcoholism, alcoholism. What do they think is going to happen if they let you sit down in a square with a bottle of bourbon? What could happen if you were to sit down in a square to drink sweet whiskey in the sun? When I tried out my students on the topic during the first semester, none of them had anything very intelligent to say.

I have vague memories of a Fourth of July spent in a remote town on the West Coast ten years ago. The heat, the clearly drunk people wandering around with alcohol in the brown paper bags they wrap your alcoholic purchases in at the omnipresent liquor stores. The police didn’t do a thing except strut around looking threatening. I remember a sensation of fear and apprehension. In spite of my expectations, getting drunk on the streets of Nevada years later was also an unsatisfactory experience: in 2015, 2016, I found the prospect of Las Vegas claustrophobic in the way I find all American festivities claustrophobic. Artifice taken to an extreme, themed parties, creativity within strict guidelines, precise rules. Like “acting natural” for a photo shoot: impossible.


In the sites set aside for tourists, we felt out of place. Standing in a scenic spot, three hundred obligatory photos to allow ourselves a surreptitious glance at the GPS. Nothing could be farther from a journey than a tourist getaway or vacation. In the midday light, my bunny’s glorious chestnut fur lit up against the waterfalls, a Lilliputian leap that I have to say, apart from that lovely image, brought out more apathy and impatience than wonder.

Back on the road, the vampire bunny, having had too much sun, took a nap. I could hear him breathing, flattered by his blind trust in my skill at the wheel, moved and unsettled by my good luck, like a first-time mother, a beginner fairy godmother in love with the continuous present, clinging to a latent but urgent desire like a thirty-seven-year-old virgin. Argonauts of the Cosmic Road, Lords of the Great Plains, we stopped at gas stations saying we wanted a coffee or to stretch our legs but really looking for the most radically kitsch things we could find, the kind you only find in small stores in the middle of the country. All four of our ears pricked up simultaneously at a mug with a drawing of four presidents’ faces chiseled into a mountainside. With the compass pointed toward Sioux City, we were a few miles from Mount Rushmore, the sublime monument to provincial nationalism. Foot down on the accelerator, we passed by sign after sign promoting a mysterious drugstore in the city of Wall, and a theme park that, like the artificial world in Westworld, or that Saunders story, promised to reproduce for the delight or horror of its visitors, life in the Old West.

We passed by.


Drunk and stoned lying on his back in a motel outside the second most populous city in the state, my bunny exorcized his demons regurgitating marshmallows and doing cartwheels on the old mattress. That morning, in Sioux City, Bunny wanted to know about the conclusion. The conclusion was, I began to explain, that if I dedicated the entire summer to a radical reading program—a lump of sugary gelatin interrupted his yawn halfway down his throat. I looked at the bed covered in damp marshmallows, soft and white like the pouf that had been my little bunny’s tail before we left the house.

Bunny blinked solemnly.

He coughed.

The conclusion was that if I dedicated the entire summer to a radical reading program . . . I still wouldn’t get to where I needed to be to complete my thesis.

I thought I saw the shadow of a satisfied smile pass across his face before Bunny jumped off the bed and used one of his gigantic ears to turn on the old TV. The fourth quarter of the gibbous moon passed down its orders from on high: green. I laid out a spread of olives, pistachios, avocado, kiwi fruit and went into the bathroom with my e-bong and Himalayan salts.

From my underwater refuge I could see my bunny wrinkle his whiskers impatiently, the remote control between his two front paws. The little hops of excitement when he got the channel he wanted and was swaddled in the weird voice of Rick, who had been turned into a pickle, as he fought murderous cockroaches on screen.

I heard the bunny chuckle and I chuckled along with him. The conclusion was that if I dedicated the entire summer to a radical reading program—but now I was the owner of a bunny, a bossy bunny who regurgitated marshmallows and kept one of his hind legs, after the last somersault, pointed at a clock with illustrations of woodland birds from across the United States of America.

So I continued down the halls of the roadside hotels of Interstate 80. Chasing the cottontail who needily, maniacally, like a contortionist, pointed the way promising bison, obsessed with the desert on the other side, smiling with the thousand-colored dusk that spread out impassively behind him when he turned to look at me.


I headed decisively for Keystone, South Dakota: an artificial mountain town for the cowboy tourist. It possessed everything the provincial family adventurer could hope for: a brief walk past a couple of blocks of souvenir shops; a steam train that, for the price of thirty dollars, promised a picturesque journey, helicopter rides, and visits to an abandoned mine (suitable for the whole family). There were plenty of camp sites just a few miles away and millions of pine trees lining small, winding, two-lane highways, well lit and maintained. An old fashioned “saloon” to get drunk in until the early hours—meaning eleven at night. Intricate indigenous crafts made in China and chainsaw wood sculptures made by the only person in the whole town who stayed awake past midnight.

We visited just a few weeks before high season.

Given my inability to make any meaningful progress with my work, I read and smoked American Spirit cigarettes from a sky blue box that had reminded me nostalgically of my thesis director and his own nostalgic longing for cigarettes.

The bunny restlessly fixated on the calendar printed on the first page of my agenda before giving in to my pleading to stay where we were for another night. Almost offended, he found absurd excuses to get me out of bed.

I agreed to everything.

We bought supplies at a tiny market that had apparently never served Spanish-speakers before. We sifted through spectacularly allusive clothing. I tried on fabulous earrings in the shape of dream catchers made by lost tribes. We thoughtfully regarded the nonsensical immensity of the chiseled faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. We peeked through the gap of the door of the bearded man sharing the rustic-style vacation cabin with us. What must he have thought the night before when, drunk on nature and dreaming of summer and the desert, we’d jumped on the bed until very late, for hours, until we were exhausted?


On their tours, Mayakovsky and Beauvoir make the obligatory visit to the windy and today architecturally stunning city of Chicago. When I went to Chicago, I liked two things: firstly, the fact that I’d left Iowa City. Secondly: its Phoenix-like quality. An homage to the glory of rising from out of the ashes. In contrast to the poet, who only visited a few places, Simone de Beauvoir undertook an immense journey, but it was in Chicago where she fell in love with Algren and it was the only place that she went back to, in addition to New York. Mayakovsky says: “Chicago is a city unashamed of its factories,” which I noted because it was exactly what I thought when I visited Moscow and also because it’s what I saw repeated in all the humble but proud towns of the states I passed through on my journey.

Unashamed? Beginning with a certain size of city at least, the United States seems to embrace its factories, assimilate them, pay homage to them. In Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, the old mills become icons, tourist attractions, monuments, and even, when refurbished, pretty buildings with artist’s studios sitting one on top of another that make them most desirable locations in the city. But in the early twentieth century there were good political reasons for the Soviet Union to be hopeful about Chicago. Mayakovsky didn’t travel much around the country so his romantic statement makes sense. Let me be clear: I’m all in favor of drama and grandiose declarations. If you wait until you know everything, you’ll never say anything at all.


Gastronomic observations in Mayakovsky and Simon de Beauvoir. Both agree on the poor quality of the coffee served by the imperialist jackals. But both linger over breakfast, lunch, drinks, the distinctive way in which food is ingested. Beauvoir does something rather sweet: she learns to drink orange juice first thing in the morning and she battles with whiskey until she ends up loving it.

I could identify. Not the whiskey, which I liked already, but the attitude. They both note the Sunday newspaper but again Beauvoir tries it, while Mayakovsky seems satisfied with profound indignation.


Kombucha, kale, and pickles made up the breakfast of the loss of the first tooth. The map unfolded on the rough wood of the table outside our cabin in the woods, with a bed of pine needles, evaluating the prospect of a small rodeo. Going back on ourselves down a minor road that after valleys and gulches would take us to the center of a National Park called the Badlands. Promising.

The Wikipedia description confirms the allure: canyons, valleys, gullies, ravines, hoodoos—extraterrestrial geological masses—and a dry landscape that exposes its different layers of sediment to the harsh sun, a spectacular range of colors across just over five hundred square miles. The bunny hesitated, as was his nature. But that was when it happened, an early indicator that would pass without comment: the ivory tinkle on the wood interrupting our morning routine. The choice to continue our conversation, the ruined smile of my bunny as he casually picked up his right upper incisor, put it back in his mouth and swallowed it proudly like a pill with his last gulp of viscous, algae-colored liquid.


Bison on the road, a species that the TV had assured me was extinct. Their immense eyeballs; human, tired. And the pleasure of the country road free of trucks and human existence, the isolated, rusting mailbox, the stretches of crunchy gravel, the worries about a half-full tank of gas, the wind. My bunny with his crooked smile, chatting away in the heat of the sun, all anecdotes, repetitive, smiling, vague.

National parks. Only puritans would be capable of inventing them, of developing a biological and ecological morality based around preservation, Bunny mused, waving his paws around. A logic by which everything becomes an overprotected natural reserve: there are evident racial implications. He scratched his chin and shook his head indignantly.

Dust and clay, ominous storm clouds. Near a hamlet called Hermoso, the sign in the empty or abandoned bar read: Indians Accepted.

We bought ice-cold Coca-Cola from the vending machine at the only gas station for miles. Save for the odd adventurous fellow expeditionary, we saw no one.

We drank beers at a very dull bar where we recognized the angular features of the skinny bartender with long, ebony hair. We spent the night in cabins at the intersection between Wall’s main street and the interstate that had become our base of operations.


“Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to see the agrarian regions of farms and cereal crops: I was only able to go to areas where there were large numbers of Russians and, of course, workers.”

In contrast to Simone de Beauvoir, who travelled in 1947 and was already world famous, Mayakovsky travelled as a young poet from a threatening, suspicious country. His journey was almost clandestine.

Beauvoir landed in a plane; Mayakovsky was dropped off by a boat in Mexico and entered North America by train. I liked both descriptions because their excitement is palpable: they acknowledge it as they set out.

I have photographs from when I landed at Cedar Rapids, the closest airport to Iowa City. It was August and everything was green. I was moved, prematurely at home, the way I feel in all vast, flat, fertile landscapes. With good reason: it’s the modest landscape of a happy childhood.

Mayakovsky and Beauvoir travelled in their mid-thirties. I’m the same age she was. But where she appeared in newspaper photos talking to local dignitaries and intellectuals, with friends to visit and talks to give at prestigious universities, Mayakovsky drank warm whiskey from the only glass in the home of a clothes salesman who sold him shirts for four dollars. A grimy glass that the poor salesman also used to rinse his mouth and that, according to the poet, reeked of mouthwash.


Families of goats with enormous horns clambering over boulders by the side of the road. The gray, almost violet sky: dark green brush strokes more saturated than anything I’ve ever seen this side of a monitor. The yellow of the parallel lines over the blue asphalt, the white clay and plaster against the red clay. The Window, the Door, the Castle: Cedar Pass and thousands of other unnamed geological formations stretch out north before us in an immense Martian landscape.

The photos I posted on Instagram bear witness to the tranquility of a solitude disrupted by the presence of noisy tourists in their massive RVs and garish fluorescent jackets.

But the bunny, having lost two more teeth breakfasting on cinnamon rolls, dry cereal, and bitter chocolate, was shivering in the passenger seat, suffering from a high fever that interfered with my enjoyment too. He was hallucinating, trapped in a fever dream.

The wind wasn’t helping either. Caught up in the excitement and the tacit instructions of my beloved lagomorph, I’d packed spring clothes. In my only pair of pants and a dirty cotton sweater, I hugged myself as I walked around in golden sandals taking the obligatory photos.

On our way out of the park, I took a few glugs of whiskey with the bunny sleeping behind me in the back seat, exhausted. I marked out a blue lightning bolt on the map: an escape route. With what remained of the day, it would take about six hours to get to Denver and stock up on provisions, and then early next morning we could go another eleven hours without stopping and make it to Las Vegas. From there it was nothing to Death Valley: just a couple of sunrises away.

I started up the car.


I remember the cold indifference of the roads of Nebraska as a blanket of mist. Pressing down on the gas, well above the permitted 75 miles an hour. Stopping at gas stations for just the time needed to fill the tank and purchase coffee, bananas, and pretzels.

I do remember the uplifting relief of the state of Colorado: the contemporary, accessible utopia that contains things—abortion, marijuana—now legal on this earth.

I stopped at an ordinary dispensary and, passport in hand, purchased the weight of flowers for recreational use to which I was entitled as a tourist. In Denver, the blue, majestic Rockies could barely be seen against the backdrop of dark clouds. It was drizzling.

In the parking lot of a Days Inn close to Boulder, I shoved most of the filling of a meat empanada discovered at a very unexpected Argentinian restaurant into the bunny’s dry mouth: he opened his eyes with an effort and grimaced in gratitude.

After unloading the luggage, I trudged back through the lobby with the ailing bunny, who dragged his feet with difficulty across the shiny tiles. The man on the other side of the counter frowned and pointed to a sign that read in large red letters: No Pets Allowed.

I nodded in confusion and as I retraced my steps I thought about the calendar hanging behind the concierge’s look of indignation: in eight days I’d be leaving Cedar Rapids in a plane that would supposedly take me to Buenos Aires. I didn’t get a refund from the hotel. We slept hugging one another, shivering, in the back of the car.


“Adapting here means to resign yourself. A lot of things would change if Americans were ready to accept that misery exists on the earth, that unhappiness is not, a priori, a crime.”

Beauvoir’s diary, like Mayakovsky’s, is full of little pearls that I highlight throughout to underline my relief, bitterness, and satisfaction. The margins are packed with comments and expressions of agreement in the form of crude emojis in black pen.

“In these parts the word European, which I never use in France, often appears in my conversation.” Of course.

Sitting alone in front of my scrambled eggs at a truck stop, toward the end of the book, I read her texts about the United States of boredom and solitude. Mayakovsky and many more have agonized over the plight of the working class, the office worker lunching alone, a few anonymous mouthfuls in the big city. “They are not a disheartened people but their relationships remain superficial—cold.”

In spite of the criticism both Beauvoir and Mayakovsky are clearly very sorry to leave. Those who know the story well can make out the subtle clues, the winks scattered here and there: you need to delve into the fat volume of correspondence to learn about the most important thing that happened to Simone de Beauvoir on that trip and the reason she returned. Via Google, I’m surprised to learn that the young Mayakovsky shot himself just three years after the publication of My Discovery of America.

Poets always end up killing themselves, I remark sadly to my husband.

You need to stop hanging out with those people, right away.


On the road to Las Vegas, it didn’t even occur to me to wake him up to appreciate the elegant grandeur of the cloudy mountain peaks we were passing through.

At Grand Junction I was able to get him to swallow a few bites of chewed apple that I could only think to feed him mouth to mouth. The acrid smell of alcohol on his pale, chapped lips, the bitterness of the ball of fur and bones he was turning into. He gave off a smell that reminded me of something from my childhood that I couldn’t put my finger on, that gently intoxicated me, leaving me inured to the splendor of the landscapes that followed.

I turned to local radio stations and otherwise remembered things that the bunny had said: piloting a vessel, driving—he was right about this—was the most spectacular form of amnesia.

Everything you encountered was obliterated. Only after the shock of recognition, the secondary sheen of travel: the gleam of extended distances, pitilessness, the infinite sea of the odometer and anonymous faces, portentous rock formations pulverized in an instant.

The predisposition toward amnesia, asceticism, indifference, speed.

And a unique form of fatigue. A set of signs with instructions, maximum permitted speeds, basic needs to be satisfied, poles.

The only question on this journey, my bunny had predicted, was how far one could go in the annihilation of meaning. A journey that ceases to be a trip and thus follows one fundamental rule: that one must aim for the point of no return.


Not even on your third visit do you become immune to the ethereal phosphorescence of Las Vegas. Las Vegas in the distance, the city of light: the column of extraterrestrial communication projected from the top of the Pyramid of Luxor can be seen from far away.

But I wasn’t interested in the massive mall the strip has become, or paying the excessive prices of its themed hotels, so I kept going on Interstate 15 to Primm, the gloomy, rundown town on the border with California, home to the world’s worst gambling addicts. I’d read about its legendary rollercoaster and once fantasized about cracking my spine or a rib on one of its unconventional curves, feeling my blood and adrenaline pump doing a genuinely extreme sport created by no more than a lack of maintenance.

Driven by a hint of nostalgia, we got off at the lobby of Whiskey Pete’s, blending in among the hooked old women, little men in frayed suits, apathetic truckers, and obese tourists presided over by a display of the original Batmobile.

The bunny seemed to have recovered a little, though his ears were still droopy. Back in the passenger seat, he silently stroked my hand as he calmly watched the enticing neon lights pass by the window with the patience of a pensioner—the slight twitching of his whiskers was the only indication of the building excitement bubbling underneath.

We were getting close.

In the elevator to our room on the second floor, a pink man in a Hawaiian shirt opened a suitcase that turned out to be a corner store of illegal products: a multicolored galaxy in the form of pills, powders, and herbs. We shared a few drinks in the hall while we completed our transaction.

As I closed the door, I saw the bunny take little, diffident hops around the room before collapsing backward on the bed in expectation. Hearing him sigh out at length, as though in relieved anticipation, I turned to capture a fleeting glimmer of joy in his clouded eyes along with a ghoulish, gappy smirk.


Loud knocks at the door made me suddenly alarmed at the time: it was past three in the morning. I tripped over several objects along the endless path to the door. It was our delivery: but which one? Fifteen oranges and two bottles of rum, three Coca-Colas, four servings of fries, Szechuan sauce.

I signed.

Only when I stubbed my left foot against one of the wheels did I see the three other trolleys of leftovers. Feeling dizzy, I crouched down for a few desperate seconds to take in, if not the entirety, then the salient details of the damage. I was wearing a bright fuchsia baby-doll nightgown and an old song by Jefferson Airplane was playing loudly from my computer.

The sheets from both beds were balled up in a corner and there was an immense, dark stain on the rug right under the window. Paper, so much paper, books with pages torn out. Next to the TV: the remnants of a small fire? My suitcase was open and hanging empty from the foot lamp. Graffiti in what I hoped was mayonnaise spelled out an invented alphabet above the headboard. Cigarette smoke, so many empty bottles. My heart was beating like a drum at the absence of any trace of the bunny.

With my eyes closed, I resorted to some kind of Indian mantra learned in a past life. I took a deep breath, mustering all the calm that I knew lurked in my pitiful excuse for a body. And when I looked up into the darkness of the bathroom I saw Him: sturdy and much larger, quick, possessed of irresistible magnetism and strength.


At first it was a stupid dream, just like all the colorless, insipid dreams I’d had throughout my whole life. In the plains, atop a noble bison, my bunny and I ride clean and joyfully against the violet sky of an ordinary spring evening.

The smell of grass and wild flowers, butterflies, muddy, cliquey squirrels scurrying fearfully out of our way. My hair loose, my feet bare, my young breasts moistening a cotton t-shirt with sweet colostrum. A gentle trot quickening into a frightening gallop, the tight, reassuring arm of my bunny, his claws suddenly not entirely inoffensive, my torn dress, and before I turn around, the need to see his face, and—fall.

Dark and wet, we land on a bed of straw that I realize is a lair. Mold. Unable to say a word, I see the bunny who I understand is and isn’t the bunny–Bunny that was once mine, raise his eyebrows cryptically as he calmly sharpens his teeth with a nail file. There’s a dripping sound, I feel an unbearable thirst and discover that both my hands and feet are bound.

The bunny laughs a little, amused. (But that’s not my bunny’s laugh). He comes over and uses the file as a knife to finish cutting up my white dress. (It’s the laugh of a creature from another planet: the laugh of a Behemoth, a sadistic minion of evil, a pyromaniac child of Bakunin, from the city of Moscow, from hell.)

He runs his horrible tongue over his coyote teeth. And opens his immense mouth, a mouth bigger than he is. He comes back over, very slowly, ever closer, until I manage to dislodge the disgusting scrap of white, damp, spongy cotton to scream—a frenetic wail, the snow-white steel sticking into my flesh—jolting me awake.


With the exception of a small box of animal crackers strewn across the sheets, I wake up in a bright, tidy, empty room at Whiskey Pete’s.

From the light slipping through a crack in the curtains I judge that it can’t be later than eleven in the morning. I get up to go to the bathroom where, next to my blue traveling make-up case I see the tools to meet my basic palliative needs lined up in characteristically neat fashion.

Still shaken by the dream, sensing an oncoming headache, I brush my teeth with exaggerated care as I strive to get my memory working.

I start to fill the bathtub and check the messages on my phone. Two missed calls from my best friend, a lot of administrative emails from the university. An excitable message from my husband who’s organizing a welcome dinner for a few hours after my arrival in Buenos Aires.

I check the calendar: I have just over seventy-eight hours to get to the airport.

Not impossible, I conclude. As I set the GPS to work calculating a route, my gaze falls on the Barnum crackers on the bed. Or rather I stop to appreciate the fauna that make up this eccentric jungle mandala.

Before turning on the squat little coffee machine, I choose a cracker in lieu of the breakfast I won’t have time for.

Light as a gazelle, my lynx eyes survey the liberated territory. Winking a spiritual eye at my sister the moon, I chew bunny paste like a sacred communion wafer as I slip off my bright pink nightdress, leaving it in the room’s wastepaper basket as I anticipate a restorative immersion.


Lolita Copacabana

Lolita Copacabana was born in Buenos Aires in 1980. She is the author of Buena leche (2006) and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (2015). In 2017, the Hay Festival named her one of the Bogotá 39, a selection of the best Latin American writers under 40. She is a literary translator and directs Momofuku, a small publishing house in Argentina. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Iowa and lives in El Paso, Texas.

Kit Maude

Kit Maude is a translator based in Buenos Aires. He has translated dozens of Latin American writers for a wide array of publications and writes reviews for ÑOtra Parte and the Times Literary Supplement.

"Domestic Manners of the Americans." Copyright (c) Lolita Copacabana, 2019. English translation copyright (c) Kit Maude, 2020.