January 19, 2013 by southerninversion
Time flies, like a bird in search for warmer days. And I too have made my own migration. In what are now the mildly coldest days of winter in Nashville, I find myself on the other end of the world, entrenched in the dense, muggy, summer heat of Buenos Aires. Having been here in the capital city just shy of three weeks, I have grown accustomed to the high temperatures and humidity. Although, passing the holidays here, I must say, was a bit odd due to the tropical weather. For instance, I spent the afternoon of Christmas Eve wearing shorts and a t-shirt, while strolling through the Puerto Madero district with Ana, sweating, as dancers swaggered to the beat of Salsa music along the boardwalk. The balmy breeze did little to cool us down; in fact most places here still rely on ventiladores (fans), instead of the American convenience of air conditioning, to do the trick. Apart from the heat, the ambience here is similar to that of any major urban center. Busy. People here walk fast, and talk fast, but with a smooth drawl that is typical of a Porteño, (a person from BsAs). This type of Spanish accent transforms the pronunciation of y’s, j’s, and ll’s into a “sh” sound and is almost reminiscent of Portuguese, perhaps due to the close proximity.
My time here the first few weeks was really pleasant and relaxing. I spent many days just literally hanging out at Ana’s apartment in the Palermo district. She was able to work from home using her computer to login remotely, as I lounged around, read my Spanish novels, played my fiddle, cooked, made Costa Rican French press coffee, and attempted to make future plans. I only ventured out in the city alone a few times at first, each time growing more confident in my navigation skills and the public transportation network of buses, trains, and subways. I was hesitant due to being warned so often about thieves, and especially after witnessing a failed robbery attempt in the street. However, about two weeks ago Friday, I went to see a great Jazz band, at this club called Notorious. I arrived just as Ibrahím Ferrer, Jr., son of the legendary Cuban Jazz great, was finishing his set. A few days later, I went to the famous ‘La Recoleta’ cemetery, and saw the ornate mausoleums of past Argentinian wealthy elite. These locally renowned figures aspired to flaunt their prosperity with elaborate shrines, to show how lavishly they lived, since they clearly couldn’t take the money with them. I also visited the tomb of Evita, a national hero, who fought for the rights of the working class, yet was ironically buried with extravagance, in the same place as the man who removed her husband from power. Mausoleos en La Recoleta
When I needed some fresh air, if I was bored, or if I just needed to clear my head, I would go for a walk down to the Palermo Lakes nearby. Sometimes I practiced my fiddle down by the paseo, on the way there, as passers-by would either smile, stare, drop a moneda (coin), or just give me strange looks. On Christmas and New Year’s Day, Ana and I went to have lunch with her parents and her brothers at their apartment, just a few blocks away. Her parents are nice, very talkative, and also devout Christians. Her brothers are 28 and 24 years old, respectively shy and engaging. Additionally, Ana’s network of friends are close knit. We have spent several relaxed nights sharing dinners, talking, and hanging out at each others apartments. Her friends all live on different sides of the city, and despite the means of transport, it takes at least 30 minutes to get anywhere here. Buenos Aires is the relative definition of urban sprawl, where almost everyone lives in 5-10 story conjoined apartment buildings and uses public transportation to get around, as cars are impractical to store and maintain. Most lower levels of these buildings are resigned to the front facades of retail stores and markets. Overall, the city is massive, housing over 15 million people (30% of the entire country’s population), its limit extends for over 200 kilometers in breadth. The metal lotus flower sculpture in Bs.As.
Just before the New Year’s holiday Ana and I decided to take a trip just across the river, el Río de la Plata, to the historic town of La Colonia, Uruguay. This town was an originally established by the Portuguese in the 1600’s and was eventually overtaken by the Spaniards leaving a remarkably well preserved architectural history intact. We crossed the river delta in an incredibly slow moving ‘Buquebus’ ferry, which somehow took a ridiculously long ‘three hour tour’. After arriving, we checked into the less than stellar ‘Posada del Carmen’ (our hotel), which later became the joke of the weekend. This place was foul, with a horrid stench of painted over mold, and sheets that were barely large enough to cover the irregularly waffled bed. My new phrase from the weekend was ‘me da asco’ or (this makes me feel ‘gross’).The one saving grace was the air conditioning, a rare luxury here, which I kept on full blast to break the stagnant heat. Due to the fact that we abruptly chose to come on one of the busiest weekends of the year, virtually every room in town was occupied. We discovered this after spending most of the first day and several hours the next day searching for an upgrade. After being resigned to our fate, all we could do was laugh and make jokes about our five star dump, and try to spend as little time there as possible. So we walked down to the old colonial part of town eating ice cream on the way. We watched an impressive sunset from the top of the old lighthouse, and I treated us to a nice dinner to make up for the room situation. The next day we rented bikes and cruised around the old city, visiting the ruins of the Plaza de Toros (bullring). We hung out on the beach a while and drank a liter of cerveza in a bar that was more like a broken down shack, straight out of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, ‘The Rum Diaries’. After two nights in Colonia, we took a much faster catamaran back to Bs.As. to prepare for the New Year’s Eve festivities.
El faro, Colonia, Uruguay Our humble abode
On Monday this week, I went to play a round of golf at a local metropolitan public course, in the heart of the city, amidst the concrete jungle of the surrounding buildings. I shot just under 100 which has been my average over the past dozen times I’ve played, hovering right around 95. My persistent goal is to break 90, which is still just beyond my reach. It was amusing to play with two older Porteños, hearing them both encouraging each other and also talking trash in Spanish. It sounded something like this…’Buena bola’ (good ball), ‘ehhhh, pegaste como una hija’ (you hit like a girl), and ‘cortas, todas estan cortas hoy!’ (all my shots are short today). On the back nine holes it was just me and the funny older man as the other left. Due to his blurred vision from having cataracts in both eyes, he kept asking me to follow his ball and to repeatedly help him find it, which I did. In general it was great to get back on a golf course and share a unique cultural experience, to play in another language. After my extensive round of golf, and walking all the way to the course and back, I calculated that I must’ve walked at least 20 kilometers that day. The next day I felt old, tired and extremely sore.
Another one of my solo adventures in the city, included going out one night to a Tango club, to take a class. Most of the people there learning were actually not tourists, but instead Porteños, that didn’t know how to do it. The Tango is a historic folk dance that started here in the 1920’s and had its own culture surrounding it. In modern times, though it has almost become a lost art, but it survives through the interest of people that are reviving the Tango scene here, in small clubs like this. The lessons were split between two large groups of beginners and intermediate to advanced dancers. The instructors taught the basic 8 steps including a few variations including ‘abre la puerta’ (opening the door), and ‘al revés’ (a partner swing). Luckily, I had a brief lesson, about 6 weeks ago in Cholila, so I was accustomed to the movements. I danced several dances with a few different ladies and then the real dance started. It was amazing to see, because the lights went down low and all of the sudden the best dancers, seemingly appeared from nowhere, to crowd the dance floor. I watched several dances as each couple whirled and twirled, and the ladies flung and kicked their legs in small gyrations. The skill level was way beyond mine, but fun to watch nonetheless. After a few hours of this, I caught the bus in the pouring rain back to Ana’s apartment.
It was all good…
Spending time with Ana has been very different than what I had envisioned from afar. While we were only communicating long distance (her being in Buenos Aires, me in Patagonia), over the phone, email, and through Facebook, it was more surreal and hopeful. Maybe I was a bit naive or juvenile in my thinking that this relationship would turn into a fairy tale romance and that we would fall in love and long to be together. For this, I probably carried some unrealistic expectations of how things would develop. However, the good nature of our relationship stalled and things began to unravel and fall apart before it had even started. We spent the majority of our time together in her apartment, as she continued to work from home answering calls and coordinating service projects for the American based, phone intel corporation she works for. I think the fact that I had no real purpose in BsAs, besides visiting and spending time with Ana, I began to get on her nerves. I thought about looking for an internship gig or volunteering somewhere in the city, perhaps working for another luthier, to learn about violins, or to take music lessons, voice lessons, or some other form of interaction. This was an idea to have a greater connection with the city apart from Ana and to allow for more independence, since I planned on spending a month or more with her. Therefore, I browsed some online directories for local volunteer internships, but never found anything inspiring. Instead, I ended up spending many hours researching and planning my upcoming trip to Peru, and to Machu Picchu, with my sister Heather, for her birthday. The big city lights
After a brief ‘honeymoon phase’, the interaction between Ana and I slowly began to grow stale. The last week in particular, her attitude towards me grew colder and more indifferent, to the point where I felt like I was walking on broken glass, and it was very uncomfortable being around her. In retrospect, I think for any couple that has just met, to spend 21 days together consecutively, in close quarters, is difficult and trying on any relationship. Additionally, any time I spoke in Spanish with her, trying to tell stories, I would stumble and lose focus, and ultimately get frustrated, as she would constantly correct me. In general, I don’t like to be corrected, absurdly, even if its in my best interest. I tend to take comments and corrections personally, as an insult or a put down, but its probably just my ego being proud. In reality, we are polar opposites. She is the quintessential planner, and I am more spontaneous. I am very affectionate, physically and emotionally, and I require a fair amount of the same in return, to feel desired and loved. She is much more independent and guarded than I am. She has a tough shell, that is often hard to break through, to find the real person hiding underneath. This became emotionally draining and exhaustive for me, to constantly attempt to engage someone with whom I felt had a waning desire to share my company. Perhaps, it was partly my fault for having high expectations, but I just wanted to pass a few good weeks with her and see where that would lead. So after feeling like it was time for me to leave, I finally did this past Thursday. I left to spend a relaxing week traveling the beaches of Uruguay with my friend Daniel Chuquín, a Colombian, (whom I met on the strawberry farm), and a couple of his friends, Devin and Courtney, who were visiting from Virginia.
Apart from the living situation with Ana, it took me almost a week to feel at ease and comfortable in Buenos Aires. Similar to most of the grandiose cities I’ve ever been to, like, New York City, Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Santiago, I always feel like a fish out of water. Despite growing up in a medium size city of Charlotte, NC and living in Nashville, TN, I’ve always felt more at home living in smaller, quaint locales like Boone, NC and Steamboat Springs, CO, where I spent seven years collectively. Big cities always require an adjustment phase, and you always have to be more alert and careful in whatever you do and wherever you go. The relative comfort I began to feel in the city, was also tinged with precipitous thoughts on the future, of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing a year from now. These slow, tranquil days started to change my disposition to some degree. Instead of deciding on the next place I’ll be traveling to and always being on the move, or simply doing some obscure, random task required on the farms I’ve worked at, I had more time to be pensive and to plan. I am not a natural born planner though, so I usually approach the ‘planning phase’ passively, and just let the cards fall, then I make adjustments. La juventud, (youth)
After arriving at the halfway mark of this trip, I really don’t feel any closer to knowing what I’m going to do or where I’ll be, when I decide to go ‘home’. For now, ‘home’ is Nashville, TN, mostly due to the fact that I own a house there, and miss all my friends there. Overall, I am unsure of exactly the next steps I will take. I still need to search for employment when I return, yet I have also considered staying to work in Argentina, if an opportunity presented itself. Although, I would prefer to live away from the hustle and the hassle of this grand city, if I were to stay. Moreover, most of the people I have met so far on this journey, who are in the midst of a similar major life transition, or are simply just traveling, are much younger than me. Many are fresh out of college from the U.S., traveling before they get their first ‘real job’. Others are from Europe, Israel, and Australia, and other countries, who are taking a full year or more to ‘see the world’, with loose plans, and tight budgets. When they meet me they are often shocked after I explain my ‘story’ (where I’ve been and what I’m up to), and that I am 33 years old. Most perceive me to be 25 to 27 years old, rarely do I ever get 29 and never 30 or above. However, I am still not at the point where this is a compliment. I view this perception of being ‘young’, as being inexperienced, incompetent, or unknowledgeable. Also, in certain respects, it can be a detriment or a hindrance to gaining respect. For example, in a work environment, or any other professional situation.
Having spent the last several years as a manager, the appearance of youth was not always beneficial in regard to the first impressions from customers or vendors. I would sometimes receive snide remarks about being too young or was misjudged of my capabilities by particular people. I had to learn to brush it off and not let it affect my performance. Some of these same customers, after initially giving me a hard time, eventually preferred to only deal directly with me, and even called to wish me well when they got my resignation letter, that I wrote to all the customers I dealt with. Respect is something that can only be earned anyways, and you have to give it to be able to receive it. Perhaps it is something that will come with age though, that maybe I will learn to appreciate looking younger, the older I get. That is almost guaranteed. I figured that if I look 30 when I’m approaching 40 that would be ideal, and maybe I would actually enjoy it! For now it still bothers me. I know it shouldn’t, and that I should be grateful that I am in good health, that I have all my senses, and that I have a loving, supporting family and friends that lift me up when I’m down.
I have always wanted to be able to follow the Buddhist doctrine of meditation, which helps enable consciousness of the present moment and helps calm and center your thoughts. Yet despite having the time to do it, I always make excuses and find it difficult to achieve. Meditation is alluring to quiet the critical voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, that strives for perfection, or that feeds my insecurities. I don’t think I’m alone in this. For me, my biggest critic is myself, not others. I am usually the hardest on myself with opinions, judgement, and criticism. Hopefully, I will have greater resolve in this new year, to stay positive, continue to love and support myself, generating new ideas, and be open to new opportunities. The lessons in patience and understanding that I continue to learn through my life experiences keep teaching me to focus only on the things within my control, and not worry about everything outside my sphere of influence. I know that many of my insecurities are also things I have no control over, so I have to recognize that, accept it, and love myself for who I am. I just have to stay conscious of the things I tell myself, how I let other people treat me, to communicate my thoughts and feelings more, and to continue to live in the moment and make the most of each day. Ironically, I realize that as much as I’d like to be ‘grown up’, and to be treated that way, I am still figuring things out. I am still learning and growing.