Monday, March 31, 2008

Saudade saudade... (27 March 2008)

Saudade – this is the other side of Brasil. When people hear Brasil, they think of endless dazzling smiles, uplifting music and dancing, sunny beaches, and yes, that is all true. But there’s saudade. Some combination of longing, sadness, nostalgia, missing something…

So it’s kind of all come full circle – I’m on my way back to Japan. I’ve been reminiscing recently about all the places I’ve been the past year…and realize how extremely fortunate I have been to be able to experience all the things I have smelled, seen, heard, tasted, and felt…I’m kinda sintindo saudade…

Of what?

Cuba – of the music flowing in the streets, the slickness of the people, the dinosaur Chevrolets that hunker through La Habana…the smell of Cohibas…the agropecuarios where people remember you after your first visit cause there just aren’t Asians that speak fluent Spanish in Cuba…the utter sheer euphoria of dancing with Ery…

Mexico – god the food…extrano los mercados, los aguacates baratissimos en Morelos, habas with Reynold, exploring the art of DF…quesadillas de masa azul…chile verde…chilaquiles and mole negro and flautas piping hot fresh out of the pot of oil on the street…quiero los tacos en Guanajuato y San Cristobal…carnitas y tamales en Michoacan…

Guatemala – man those pupusas in Guate with Chrissy…the borrachos Hugo and Pampa…innuendos and gossip with Aurora…that stunning scenery, the tapestries, the retina slamming colors…

Brasil…o rei da saudade pra mim agora…pao de queijo, suco de manga, suco de mamao, crema de mamao (Dani!), um picanha bem feito, feijoada with oranges, couve…pineapple with cinnamon…vegan feasts…carne seca com aipim…yucca/mandioca/cassava/aipim goes in a whole nother category of its own…Forro…mais forro…the matte with limao at the beach…agua de coco…the spinach salgados…people saying beijo when they get off the phone…nights in Lapa…the blocos in Salvador, following Olodum around with your whole body vibrating from the bones because there’s just that much percission…

Argentina – the parrilla…alfajores…but yes yes yes, it’s all about the vinto tinto, those Malbecs and Syrahs from Mendoza…the cordero and the friendships I’ve got in Buenos Aires…my adoptive family…

Point: I’m suffering from a heavy dose of Saudade. Unabating, full force saudade for Latin America, for these countries where the Spanish and Portuguese of their colonizers has been transformed into a romantic distinguished warm open language of friendliness, acceptance, and, well, for me, home. It’s where I belong. I recognized it early on, when Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina happened…and now it’s confirmed.

So let the saudade end soon…less than 6 months to go…

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Flying... (26 March 2008)

So as I sit on the plane to Japan, I’m gripped by my most-of-the-time subconscious fears. It’s been 9 months since I left Japan, and same time last year I was sobbing hysterically in a hospital room holding my grandmother’s hand. The earlier optimism and confidence is waning, I know I made the decision to do this and I’m glad I did so, but I’m starting to doubt. So it’s time for deep breaths and persistence, endurance.

I’m trying to be really careful not to fall into patterns this time.- I’m totally able to accept now that I’m not gonna fit in no matter what, so I’ve already done my pre-research and found people through various methods people I feel I may be better able to connect with – primarily Brazilians living in Japan. So we’ll see how that goes.

Of course, I am beyond thrilled to see Ojiichan, and a few friends who I have missed horribly over the past year. So I guess I’ll try and get swept away by the magical, fanciful fairy-tale beauty of springtime in Japan with the sakura blossoming, reinvigorating everything with fresh, pure life…the opposite of what it did for me last year, but I’m ready to look at things as they are and try to see them through a different perspective.

Ok, I’m scared.

On the way to Dreamland (Written March 19)

The Washington, D.C. area takes a lot out of me. More than anything, this time around it was the cold weather. I really simply am not used to gusts of wind that make your nose numb and your eyes water. Aside from that, I just find the area to be quite monotone, and although in one sense it is very culturally diverse, it feels quite…bland. It was ok this time around though, as my stay was just a few days and I had a good amount of people to catch up with. The nice thing about my DC friends now is that our relationships are also really comfortable, so it just feels like every time I come home I have a little list of people to see and we catch up and it doesn’t ever feel like much time has gone by and it’s all good.

I did a lot of research while I was home about Brasil and Argentina and I guess I didn't realize how time consuming and tiring all of this stuff is, looking for information, weeding through it, having to translate with the Spanish and Portuguese, etc. But I’m guessing it’ll all be worth it.

Now I’m on my way to L.A., my other home of sorts. I can’t wait to have some beach time and get, in some modified fashion, what I love about Rio whilst in L.A…the good, fresh produce, the yoga, the beach, nice weather…

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Big Apple

A strange thing happened this time when I arrived in the US. I was flying into New York, which I haven't done in quite a long time. I landed, got my stuff from the overhead compartment, and realized that I felt nothing, absolutely nothing at all, about arriving in this place. I wasn't happy to arrive, I wasn't angry or upset or anything...I was....just. A strange feeling, as the US has for so long elicited such strong emotions within me, ranging from fear, anxiety, disgust, hatred, expectation, and I suppose, at some stage, though I can't recall quite when at the moment, joy and relief. More than anything I felt strange to be in an English-speaking environment. So what does this mean? That I have finally reached a point of indifference about the United States, that I have finally achieved a position of no longer living here, no longer having any ties that keep me bound here, and that now I am simply a visitor, a tourist, who comes to see friends and family and enjoy the good things that exist in this country. It took me nearly 3 years of being out of the country to reach this point.

Well, it was cold. Probably the coldest weather I've been in since Patagonia in 2004. I've successfully avoided winter and cold weather everywhere since then. Whilst living in Japan, the winter months were spent escaping to Southeast Asia. The glamourous feel of New York wasn't there, instead there were dull brick buildings, leafless trees...but a comfortable energy. On the subway to Spencer's house, I was struck by indeed, how diverse New York is. It felt good. A lot of people wear all black in NYC. People in Latin America make fun of me because I wear a lot of black, but man, New Yorkers really wear a lot of black.

Anyway, the 55 hours I was in New York this time around were a whirlwind, a maddening cloud of priceless encounters that I feel will keep me nourished for quite some time. It was great to see Spencer, who the last time I had seen him was spending an afternoon digesting an oversized Brasilian lunch in Ipanema in the scorching Brasilian sun...after my nap, I had lunch with my dad, then ran over to Brooklyn to see Aurora, this totally insane crazy inspiring bursting-with-energy girl from California that I had met in Guatemala...she got back to Cali after being in Guatemala for several weeks, decided to buy a plane ticket to LA without looking at her bank statement, and now she's just being, in NY. Her energy, smile, and laughter are contagious...what a lovely welcome back to the US. From there I rushed over to Columbus to meet Kelsey, and we spent some time wandering around Central Park...then we went over to my dad's partner's office so that I could go eat with them. Mexican food, no, it wasn't the street stalls in DF or the mercado in Toluca, but it did have some good guacamole. MMmmm. They dropped me off at Christina's house where we got to catch up a bit and I stayed overnight with her.

Thursday morning I headed off early to Williamsburg to see Aurora again, we ended up taking a nap in the marvelous bed she was in (after travelling for so long a good good bed is just so precious), and I ran to meet my dad for lunch again. After that, I met Abby at Veselka, and over carrot and orange juice we caught up on the past 6 months for both of us, which meant hearing about Ethiopia, ABC News, TIME, and very soon, Baghdad. Wow. I went home to take a nap, got to catch up with Spencer, had dinner at Khyber Pass (which has now become my favorite restaurant in NYC - Afghan food on St. Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd Ave...there Badenjan Bouranee, this eggplant in a tomato-y sauce covered with a salty yogurt sauce and ground lamb and mint...I must learn how to make it so as not to suffer in Brasil...) with my dad and his partner, then Rajiv came and got me at my dad's house. Don't really know how to put into words the experience of seeing somebody that I was very close to in High School, and completely lost contact with immediately thereafter. I sometimes wonder how this worked out for me...I had so many friends in high school that I had great relationships with, that knew me very well and I felt completely at ease and comfortable with...yet as soon as high school ended our relationships evaporated. I reckon it's a combination of factors (obvious), and I'm sure the number of deaths I was dealing with in very close proximity at the end of high school, and the first semester of college, as well as my decision to leave school and travel South America alone, which was considered completely insane and not mainstream, made me hide away from my high school friends. The majority of them were going down a completely conventional (as viewed through the eyes of the average Montgomery County person) track, college, fraternities, home for holidays, occasional getaways to NYC, Miami, and if lucky, Cancun. Anyway, wow I'm digressing. So seeing Rajiv was wonderful, because I admit that after 5.5 years of not seeing him, I was a bit concerned we weren't going to have much in common anymore, and I didn't want to have a reminiscing conversation...remember when...? You know that time when...? It was not in the least like that and with lots of giggling we tried to fill in the gaps of the last 5 years. Actually it didn't even feel like that much time had gone by, and I felt like we were exactly the same as in high school except we were now in NYC and had completely different living situations. So the night was a whirlwind of a posh overpriced Lower East Side cocktail lounge type place (thor near Essex and Rivington, for those that care), then we hopped over to a CS meeting that Aurora was going to be at. While in line for the bathroom there, I saw Alberto, a guy from CS I had met in...Sao Paulo, in January. How the hell does that happen? The synchronicities and bizarre then all of a sudden I'm speaking Portuguese with this little group of Brasilians at the bar, and I'm with one of my best friends from high school, and this crazy Guate/Cali chick I met travelling...I love love love it. So the Brasilians want to go dance, and we're on our way to somewhere in Brooklyn. Except places are empty for some reason so we end up in this kinda rocker type bar with pool tables where they give you free pizza with your drinks and Rajiv and I are hogging the steaming pies and it just...kinda feels like high school, except not. Rajiv succeeds in getting all of us drunk, and we take a cab back to his place at a healthy 4am, get pizza from his cornershop, and...pass out.

Friday morning I struggled through my pounding headache to grab breakfast with Kelsey, and it felt right. I feel like at some point, perhaps in 2004, our paths were somewhat aligned, and now it's obvious that they have gone completely different ways, but I feel really good about how it has worked out now, and it is priceless and unable to be bought or faked to have somebody that you love that really loves you and it will always always be like that (I really hope). Went home, and after another nap Rajiv and I went down to Chinatown for lunch and he came with me to Spencer's to get his alfajores. After a chat with Spencer, off I was to my bus to DC. I slept the majority of the way home. What an energizing inspiring grounding 3 days! The range of people I saw, which equates to the range of people in my life, is kind of mind-boggling and wonderful...I saw people from High School, College, Travelling in Central America, South America, and of course my dad...but the thing that really got me was how comfortable it felt with every single person, most of whom have absolutely nothing in common, and it felt like it was just yesterday...I am lucky lucky lucky and I am grateful that I chose to visit NY before trying to set up in Brasil, and now hopefully every single one of the people I caught up with in NY will buy a plane ticket to Rio so we can share again, but not in fleeces and scarves, but instead in bikinis with matte and coconuts...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The End of South America...For Now

The weekend was lovely. Saturday afternoon I went to Niko's grandmother's house for their big family lunch, and met the grand majority of his extended family; a huge meal with a lot of different dishes, all of which were delicious. As soon as I got back home, Rogelio and Anahi (who are the second couple who have adopted me in Olivos) picked me up and we went shopping in San Fernando. I go shopping maybe twice a year, so when I do I'm usually pretty determined to find what I want and when I find it, purchase it with little hesitation. So we wandered around the rainy streets (did I mention it literally rained every single day I was in Argentina...until the day before I left? And the day I left it was a brilliant blue-sky day with a gentle breeze...some sort of conspiracy) until Rogelio couldn't take it anymore.

In the evening Dife, Vale, and I went over to Roge's house, and we went to a corner shop around his house to have a meal, and hung out at home...a muy tranquilo evening. Sunday we slept in, and in the afternoon took a long walk past a villa (the Argentinean equivalent of the Brasilian favela), to get some choripanes. In the evening, we went to the river closer to home to visit Anahi's newborn nephew, a delightful 5 week old. Later that evening, we went to Paula and Peter's home where they were doing a big asado. As we arrived, at around 9pm, the grill was just starting to get lit. Which meant that we started eating at about 11.30pm. Until nearly 1am. This is one of the things that I struggled with the first time around, and this time as well, I find it extremely challenging to eat a meal close to midnight. Anyway, it was all worth it because that bondiola de cerdo (as far as I'm aware, pork shoulder, though I could be completely wrong), and the chorizo was without doubt the best I have ever had in my life. Peter actually works with pigs, so I should have suspected as much.

Monday I went to the doctor then went to Valeria's parents house to say my despedidas...but that resulted in 4 hours at the coffee table passing around mate, discussing family histories and international economics and the virtues of mate, dulce de leche, and what the hell I'm doing with my life. They've always joked that I'm their fifth child, and that day, as I was getting ready to leave, I felt lucky and proud and blessed to have been allowed into this beautiful family's life.

That night, Vity and Xime came over - I was really bummed as they had been away on vacation in Uruguay when I arrived, but we were able to have a great final dinner with them and it was all smiles and laughs. This time around, when I said bye to all my friends it felt like it was really a temporary goodbye. As if this time around, I was at home, and needed to go take care of some stuff elsewhere, but I'll be coming back. And sooner rather than later. They know that my plans isn't to actually live in Argentina but in Brasil, but I'll just be a short plane ride away. Possible weekends and longer trips are much more plausible. I can't wait.

Tuesday I ran around running errands until I got on my plane and passed out. When I got off the plane in Sao Paulo, I was overtaken by this huge nostalgic, saudade gorgeous to hear the Portuguese announcements, to read the Portuguese in the advertisements, to see Guarana and Pao de Queijo...ahhh....the feeling that the location itself gave me was such a contrast to what I had been feeling in Buenos Aires...and that reinforced the decisions and thought processes that have been occurring as of late. I have so completely been taken with Brasil that I feel I owe it to myself to at least try and give it a shot of staying there.

I got on the plane to New York, and essentially slept the whole way through...
so that was my goodbye, see you later, see you soon, I'll miss you, with South America. Undoubtedly the next continent of my residence...I'm counting down the 6 months it'll take for me to get back on that New World Latin soil...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Grumpy, Blissful, Melancholy, Overjoyed...what are you, Argentina?

The past few days in Buenos Aires have been busy, in a good way.

Wednesday I went to my dentist, who is Valeria's sister, and I've realized that if I have one phobia in the world, it's probably the dentist. That 11 year old falling off a cliff and having a metal bar across my teeth has apparently scarred me for much longer than I had originally anticipated.

So just to put some things in perspective…in the US, when you go to a private dentist and you have a cavity, you pay somewhere between 100 and 200 USD to fill a cavity. Here, you pay 70 pesos to have the nice white fillings…23 USD. I’m not proud of it, but I had 6 cavities. A total of about 130 USD, which would have been the price of 1 in the States…wow.

Apparently, a gynecologist appointment including a pap smear at a private clinic is 20 pesos – 7 USD. So now I’m thinking I need to make annual visits to Buenos Aires to get all my regular medical checkups done. I mean, the money saved easily pays for the flights and the expenses while here, even with liberal doses of Malbec and carne…it’s kind of ridiculous.

It was absolutely wonderful to see Valeria’s family. The father has got to be one of the most gregarious, constantly laughing, joking, friendly, gentle people I’ve ever met. I’m starting to suspect my previous image of Argentina and portenos was greatly distorted because of the Quiroz Paolo family I’m close to, who in fact seem to not be normal Argentineans now that I’m here a second time. The bloodlines of this mixed family come from Portugal, Lebanon, and supposedly Italy and Spain, but they basically look Portuguese and Arab. So yes, they’re all quite attractive and act somewhat like Lebanese Brasilians. I love it. Anyway, we had a great lunch with lots of wine, which was of course ok for me but I wondered how they were going back to work after.

Thursday I finally got my act together (which I don’t even really necessarily think had to be done) and got up early to go into Capital Federal. I was meeting Michael, a Sydneysider who I met in Sao Paulo and Rio…it was really interesting, because when I had a long talk with him in Rio, we both discussed a lot of the things that were frustrating us about Brasil…and obviously, that transformed hugely for me, but not as much for him. That’s ok. However, we seemed to agree on a lot of things about Buenos Aires this time around. The general grumpiness, the trash everywhere, the horrible air pollution (the aires here are not so Buenos anymore…) – we decided to take a bus down to La Boca, an ultra touristy part of town, so that I could take a few pictures. We asked the hostel owner how to get there, and we were told Bus 53. Simple. We were supposed to go down two blocks, take a right, and we would see a bus stop. Except we didn’t see one. So I hop into a small bar/café, ask the girl, she says “No se”, turns around, and walks away. So I go across the street to the kiosco, wait while she chats on the phone to a friend about a party the previous night, then she says to me “Ni idea.” So we go down to the next block, I ask a cop, who doesn’t know, and then in a bakery, who also doesn’t know. I found it strange that we had literally asked 5 different people and none of them know, and none of them seem to care that they don’t know. When I was first in Bs As in 2004, I never took a map anywhere because anytime I needed info on where to go, I could hop in somewhere and ask for directions, and if the person didn’t know, they would do their best to find out or find someone who knew, who could help me. So we are wandering around aimlessly and finally come to the big plaza, where I decide to ask the vendors selling snacks on the side of the road. I felt pretty strongly that I was being glared at, so I finally went to a Bolivian or Peruvian lady who had a nice, genuine smile. She immediately helped us, walked away from her stall to point us in the right direction, and said have a good day – all this without purchasing anything from her. Hmm, the only person who knew/was willing to help me was not Argentinean…

So we get on the bus, the driver gets all grumpy because I have to have him repeat the fare to La Boca because he’s chewing on a stick, and then when I ask him to let me know when we’re near El Caminito, he rolls his eyes and says, If I remember. Let me tell you…every tourist must go to El Caminito, and judging by the fact that the bus is empty, and we were occupying the front row seats, how on earth would he forget?!

So I had been talking to some local friends who advised me that in the last 2 years, the number of international tourists has quintupled. And that’s very apparent by walking anywhere in Capital Federal…so I guess when I was here, it was winter, and there were very few, if any, Asian tourists around…so everytime I got on a bus people were treating me like novelty and going out of their way to help me. Another funny thing that I suspect might be happening is that now that I speak Spanish way better than before, it is not uncommon for people here to think that I am Peruvian or Bolivian. Apparently, over the past few years, there has been increasing numbers of Andeans coming to work in Argentina, and the same process that immigrants face on other continents is transpiring here. Locals claim that the immigrants are stealing jobs, when in many cases they are doing jobs that locals would never dream of doing – handing out flyers in the streets, housekeepers, babysitters…there is a lot of growing resentment (according to the few people I’ve talked to, and just the general interaction I see on the street, but I do recognize I just got here and haven’t been here long etc etc…) So if people think I’m from an Andean country, maybe they’re treating me as inferior. Who knows.

Anyway, we get to El Caminito, a lot of people trying to sell you crafts etc, and I felt that there were way more tourists than previously. So as Michael and I are wandering around discussing all of the above, a guy who was so stereotypically Peruvian comes to hand us flyers for the restaurant where he works, and I (probably a bit rudely) told him no and kind of waved him away, and then he flashes me this brilliant smile and says, well it’s ok if you’re not hungry but can we talk for a minute? So I’m like, uhh ok. So he asks me where I’m from, why I speak Spanish, why am I in Argentina and not Peru (hm I was going to ask YOU the same thing)…he mentioned that he does feel discriminated against here…the other day somebody told him dirty Peruvian, go back to your own country…I asked him how he survives without Peruvian food and we wistfully discusses huancaina and aji and papas rellenos and ceviche…So again, the really friendly person who stuck out to me was a foreigner. Hmm.

In the afternoon I met Sacha, Niko’s cousin, at Belgrano, where the Chinatown is, and, incidentally, we went to eat Peruvian food. Yum. We then walked around the small Chinatown, I taught him what a lot of the produce and sauces were, and it was good. I headed back home after, and in the late afternoon Gustavo came and got me and we went north past San Isidro to the river and to walk along a bike path. It was a great, relaxing day.

Cooked handmade pasta at home, which was DE-licious, and in the evening had a little Japanese lesson with Dife and Vale at home, which was great. They actually learn really quickly and they laminated my hiragana and katakana sheets.

Friday I woke up and went immediately to Virreyes where Valeria’s parents were meeting me. I had been invited to a family asado in Valeria’s grandfather’s house. So various aunts and uncles, their husbands and kids, showed up and we had our fill of chicken, chorizo, morcilla, and asado…my first proper parrilla in Argentina this time around, and not a disappointment in the least. They must be the friendliest, least shy, most tarada/tolola (crazy, silly, stupid sorta thing) family in Olivos/San Isidro. I love them. They have won me over again, first in 2004, and now again in 2008. They joke about how they want to adopt me, they’ll help me find a good Argentinean guy that I can marry for the paperwork, and once I get Argentine citizenship it’s easy for me to get permanent residency in Brasil because they’re Mercosur countries etc etc.

So I had a horrible dentist appointment today (my fault, not Vero’s) because I had to get double doses of anesthesia on my bottom teeth so she could work on the 4 remaining cavities (my joke is that the fillings cost 1/6 of what they do in the States so I got 6 cavities instead of 1 because it’s the same price…I have a feeling my parents aren’t going to approve of this humour…)

This evening, it was the weekly Friday night get-together at our house, when all the friends come over and Paula cooks an amazing feast. Tonight it was Patagonian Roast Lamb in a tomato sauce with roast potatoes, paprika…and lots of red wine. I’m realizing that my love affair with Buenos Aires is over…but perhaps it was never actually Buenos Aires that I loved, it was the people in Olivos and San Isidro…and I’m pleased to find that that love affair has not ended, and that suggests to me that it never will.

We were listening to Orishas tonight…my favorite song, El Kilo, blasting…and somehow listening to Cuban music in Argentina speaking Portuguese to a friend just felt so right…

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Race...Argentina...Why Brasil?

Argentineans have a reputation for being arrogant, claiming to be the Europeans of South America. And yes, that is why I had originally fallen in love with the country. A mix of Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Hungarians, Polish, Germans, British, Danes, etc etc etc…lots and lots of Caucasians in Buenos Aires. I knew that from last time, of course, but this time it’s been a shock to the system. This is obviously in part due to the fact that I’ve arrived from Brasil, which might be the most racially diverse country of multi-generational immigrants (I hope I’m making sense) – as in, blacks, Asians, whites, indios, and every possible combination thenceforth, identifies themselves as Brasilian. Ask a Japanese descendant walking in Liberdade in Sao Paulo where they’re from and I’d bet money they wouldn’t say Japan. Bahianos, direct descendants of the slaves brought over from Africa, aren’t going to claim they’re Nigerian or Senegalese…they’re Brasilian.

So it’s just been a bit shocking for me to be surrounded by all white people and feel like I stick out. I am aware that this became an issue for me after beginning to live in Japan, obviously still very much a homogeneous society. So now it’s something I notice (I think I wrote about this whilst in Australia), and now I feel it again, very strongly, in Argentina. I don’t feel like I’m being judged in any way, but I take note of the fact that I am the only non-white person in almost every consumer space I occupy.

I’ve been trying to work out why I have down a complete 180 and decided that I love Brasil. Many friends have already asked me about my current tentative decision to go back to Rio de Janeiro to try and settle there, and I know that in the coming weeks I’ll be asked repeatedly.

So one is the race thing I just mentioned. In Rio de Janeiro, there are very few Asians. However, most Cariocas would assume that I am from Sao Paulo or some other part of Brasil, i.e. Amazonas, that is full of Japanese descendants.

Then…the nature. I’ve long missed living by the ocean…I wistfully recall the days in California when I was going daily to the beach, and Rio de Janeiro, beaches it has…Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are familiar names to beach-lovers around the world. The mountains give the city a stunning backdrop.

Also, there’s a level of comfort I haven’t felt in a long time. Because there is so much range of everything, I feel like I can wear whatever, act however, be whatever, in Rio and it’s all good. You go to the beaches and women you would NEVER see in bikinis are sprawled out, completely unashamed.

But I think more than that, it’s the complexity of Brasil and how I constantly realize I am nowhere near figuring it out. The funny thing is that when I first arrived in Brasil I thought it was shallow and there wasn’t much to it and I had figured it all out, and was ready to leave. Now I think completely the opposite.

There are so many levels of society, from the wealthy who will never have to work another day in their lives because they live off their investments, which were probably passed down from their parents…down to the poor of the poor in the favelas, without education, food, hope…but they interact. Because of the availability in Rio de Janeiro of free public spaces, most notably for me Lapa and the beaches, you see these inconceivable extremes of society coming together. The extremes know that the other exists, that they are living within the limits of the same city yet worlds apart…and it’s just an interesting dynamic.

I met somebody in Rio that totally surprised me. A friend of a friend that runs a small hostel type situation in Ipanema, who has had no formal education but through astonishing social skills and street smarts, has managed to attain a high standard of living in this country where so many people accept their fate of what they’re born into in terms of location, color, and social class. But seeing that small window of inspiration has made me realize that there is more to it. And I want to take the time to try and see more windows in this society where it fluctuates between a blissful party and soulful sorrow, where life is pure joy or pure misery, but in the end, you have a coconut to get you through it all.

No Hay Monedas, what's going on Buenos Aires??

The thinking, thinking, and thinking continues. Portenos, please please don’t get all mad at what I write…you know who you are.

Argentina. I came here first in 2004, bought a one way ticket from Lima, and thought that in my 5 weeks I could go down the coast of Argentina, back up the coast of Chile, and return to Peru overland. That didn’t happen. Not even close. I ended up staying a total of 3 weeks in Buenos Aires, shooting back and forth between different parts of Patagonia and other regions such as Mendoza and Iguazu. I was head over heels in love with all things Argentine. Asado, parrilla, vino tinto de Mendoza, alfajores, glaciers, mushrooms (of the gastronomic variety mind you), dulce de leche…it was all all all great. And it still is. But what I’ve realized that I have changed immensely during the past 4 years, and Argentina has as well.

Buenos Aires feels completely different this time. I came in the winter in 2004, so much less tourism, cold brisk days with a chilly wind. Now it’s hot and heavily humid. What’s struck me is how the energy of the city seems to be different to me now. Of course, it could be because I am coming from Rio de Janeiro, which is the definition of laid-back, everything will work out ok because there are palm trees swinging in the breeze under a sunny blue sky. But I think there’s more to it than that.

People seem stressed. Really stressed. In a rush, rude, not smiling, panicking. I arrived Tues nigh/Wed morning in Buenos Aires and went to stay with Julio, a lovely porteno I met in Rio de Janeiro. He lives in Palermo, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Beautiful European architecture, French trees and brick lined streets, boutiques, specialty restaurants…it is lovely. Probably some of it was self-constructed, but I felt very much at unease there, so much so that I went running the other day…now, anybody that knows me at all knows that I DO NOT RUN. So something was definitely going on.

There is a coin crisis in Buenos Aires. Now, please, explain to me how a society can possibly expect to function smoothly if there is literally an upheaval anytime anyone needs a coin. Oh, and wait, it’s not like Myanmar which doesn’t have coins. No, in fact, they’ve got lots of coins here. Buses and trains MUST be paid for with coins…if you get on the bus and you don’t have monedas to pay for your fare, well, you’re getting kicked off. So some people literally have to buy something at a kiosk every time that they have to take any form of transport. That’s a lot of extra chocolate bars and gum that you don’t really need or want. Oh, and some of the kiosks have alarmed “NO HAY MONEDAS” signs. I went to have a medialuna (yes, I still love the food here) the other day. Medialuna means half-moon in Spanish, and that is what it is – a croissant shaped like a half moon, with some delightful sugary glaze on top. It was 1 peso. I gave the girl a 2 peso bill, and she looked at me as if I was evil. “Pero no tenes un peso?” “No.” Upon telling her I didn’t have a peso, she literally asked me WHY “Por que no?” Umm…sorry?

When I went to take the metro and told the guy I didn’t have coins, he told me I had to buy enough credits on my metro card so he wouldn’t have to give me any change. Hmm.

I went to an internet café which had a clearly posted sign about making sure to ask first if there was change for any bill larger than 50 pesos. That’s fair. I had a 20, so I sat down to use the internet, and afterwards, went to pay with my 20. And was met with more evil looks. “Por que no preguntaste antes si tuvieramos cambio para 20?” Umm I didn’t ask if you had change for a 20 because it says only to ask if you need change for a 50. So I asked if they had change, she haughtily replied no, and then I said, well, I guess I can’t pay you because I’m not giving you 20 pesos for a 1 peso usage. And then she opens the drawer full of change. What on earth is going on in this city?!?!

There are, of course, a lot of wonderful things about Buenos Aires. The Europeanness of the city didn’t strike me so much the first time I was here because it was a period of my life when I had been going to Europe very very frequently – as much as 3 times a year. However, the last time I have been to Europe was in December 2005…so about 2 and a half years now. Considering that since I was in Argentina in 2004, I have traveled through the Middle East, West Africa, South and Southeast Asia, lived in Japan, Australia, and most recently through Central America, yes, the European aspects shock me, and yes, they are beautiful. The city is architecturally stunning, with the facades and walls and lanterns and number plates on doors and carving and woodwork.

On Wednesday night I went with a group of CS to the Jardim Botanico for a free poetry and music night, and it was lovely. I was struck by oh-how-far I felt from Brasil. Cross a border and you’re crossing a continent, it felt like. Or 3.

Thursday I met Mariano and we went for a stroll on Avenida Corrientes, which is the epitome of crowded, busy working people but we had a great time looking at bookstores and discussing music, literature, and film…he’s macanudo.

I got back to Olivos on Friday afternoon. Arrived to meet Dife and Valeria, the couple who had adopted me in 2004. They were friends of a friend of mine in LA, and I met them at a birthday party, and proceeded to spend 3 weeks at their house. I was really apprehensive and hesitant about seeing them this time, because I was worried that our dynamic would be so different. Apparently, there was absolutely no need to worry because it is exactly the same love, warmth, humor, and acceptance that I had here in 2004. Which leads me to believe that they are my friends for life. They remember exactly what I love, the jokes we used to make, the words I used to mix up, the lunfardo (Buenos Aires slang) they used to teach me…I mean, really, they are absolutely lovely special people and I am so lucky to have them in my life.

Friday night the entire group of friends from 2004 came over for dinner, and it felt as if not a day had passed. A feast with lots of red wine…heaven. Saturday we did a surprise party for a friend, and I made 10 rolls of sushi – a huge success. Because everyone knows how much I love choripan with chimichurri – Chorizo is the type of sausage here that is melt in your mouth delicious…pan is bread…so it’s a sausage sandwich…and chimichurri is a sauce that came from the Europeans who told the locals Give Me Curry…chimichurry…so legend says…Anyway, we had sushi and choripan. No complaints whatsoever.

I headed into Caballito for a CS party where I was able to speak lots of Portuguese : )

Sunday was sleep, sleep, sleep…then in the afternoon Rogelio and Anahi took us to Plaza Franca for the Artisan market, and to La Florida. We cooked some milanesas for dinner…mmm…

Monday Gustavo, who was one of my first Couchsurfers who stayed with me in Tokyo in March 2006, took me out for lunch. Bife de Chorizo to die for, and we somehow decided to drink a bottle delectable wine, and indulged in carrot cake…I didn’t move much that afternoon…

In the evening I met Niko’s cousins who took me to La Bomba del Tiempo, a percussion event full of marijuana, Argentineans with dreads, and lots and lots of foreigners. It’s shocking how full the city is of international tourists these days. Seem to be North American and European…still don’t see many Asians at all.

Which leads me to my next topic….

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Current New Tentative Life Plan

So, the past couple weeks have been a true whirlwind as I tried to figure out what the hell I’m doing. Went back to Rio de Janeiro after a wedding in Sao Paulo and have determined that for now, Rio de Janeiro is where I want to be.

But I also realized that I miss Japan…most importantly my grandfather who is getting older, with 94 just around the corner, and a small handful of friends there, who are nevertheless very dear to me. Also, I do love cherry blossom season though last year I hated everything about Japan and spring and flowers during the season because of what was going on…so I want to try and reconcile myself with Japan, with sakura, with everything, really…see if I can go back to Japan a year after the hospital visits and nervous breakdowns and actually enjoy it and come to peace with things.

As I’ve been saying for quite some time now, I also really miss my friends in Europe, in particular France and Holland (and Dublin)…so I want to get over there for a few weeks before I go back to Brasil as well…

Basically what the past year has taught me is that yes, it is really important to me that I find a place where I feel comfortable, where I feel I can have the room to grow and develop and be ME without the constraints and judgments of a society such as what I felt in the United States and Japan. But what I’ve also learned is that no matter where I am, ultimately the people that make me feel like me and love it are the dear friends in my life, who are, for better or worse, scattered around the world. Therefore, I am still trying to find a balance between being where I want to be, and being with the people I want to be with.

I think that logically it makes sense for me to go visit the people I want to see before getting back to Rio de Janeiro and really trying to set up some form of lifestyle there. And why do I think I want to be there? Well, Brasil in general…I don’t really know how it morphed into what it has turned into, but I’m guessing I should just accept it. I got there, didn’t really like it, thought, hmm, what’s the big deal. Now, I’m absolutely head over heels in love with the country, am in Argentina thinking about Brasil, looking for Portuguese speakers everywhere I go…who knows. What I do know is that since leaving Japan last July, I visited Australia, the US, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica before visiting Brasil; and in each one of those countries, I enjoyed them for what they were, but I was always ready to leave when it came time to leave. In Brasil, I thought I would stay until Carnaval, then kept finding an excuse to stay longer…I stayed a total of 7 weeks, and was ready to jump out of the cab on the way to the airport in Rio. So I’d say that’s a pretty good sign.

Anyway, I’ll be leaving Argentina in just over a week so I’ve got to get busy eating and drinking my beloved red wines!