Friday, September 23, 2011

The End.

It’s been a while since I posted here. For a while there wasn’t much to say, then there wasn’t time to say it.

Jimmy and I sold our apartment here in Buenos Aires, the buyers moved in, the papers are all signed, the wild party might have happened, but I went to bed at 2:00 and Jimmy isn’t up yet so I’ll let him tell that story. Today we will say goodbye to our friends, and to the city we’ve called home, for better and worse, for the past three and half years.

It’s no secret Buenos Aires is not my favorite place in the world. It’s a fascinating place, full of contradictions and surprises. My friend Michele, who never did get down here to visit, sent me this ode to Borges. Filmed in the neighborhoods we’ve lived in, just blocks from my house, it felt like taking a walk through the parks and down the Avenues with my friend. The videographer captured Buenos Aires the way I will try to remember it,  luminosity shining on the misery and the splendor, making even the trash look beautiful.

In the years to come my time here will change in my mind, in my heart. My understanding of the place will mature. My learning will deepen. All the while the city will be changing, because cities do that, so that when I return here someday, ten years from now perhaps, it will be amazingly different, and just the same. I will be as well. I know that living here has changed me in some profound ways. I’ve worked hard to grow here, spent my time doing internal work while living somewhere I don’t feel engaged outwardly.

I leave you with this last photo, of just a few of the amazing people who’ve been a part of the life we’ve lived here. People I could never have imagined I’d find and call friends, even way down here at the end of the world. See you in LA people.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Going to Market...

This morning, hoping to find some tomatillos - small green tomatoes used to make green salsa - I headed to the old Mercado del Progreso on the A line. The A line of the Subte is my favorite. Right on my street, it's the oldest line in the city and still runs old wooden subway cars. During the summer when the windows are open the A line has a wonderful smell. It smells like hot wood. Not burning, but hot. It's a sweet comforting smell that reminds me of something long ago, though I can't ever quite remember what.

The mercado is just off the subte stop so shopping there is as easy as staying in my own neighborhood but the quality of the produce is MUCH better. I enjoyed walking around the market looking at all the fresh food. The smells of the things on offer, the bright colors, all were wonderful. The people were enjoying their morning shopping, laughing and talking. You could see the old ladies figuring in their heads what they'd make for dinner with what looked good today. It took me a couple of turns at different stands to realize those sweet little old ladies would take my turn without blinking an eye, though I wasn't in any hurry and waiting gave me a chance to see how the process worked, to look carefully and see who had the freshest tomatoes or the prettiest lemons. I bought some gorgeous figs from this guy...

and then some vegetables from these folks...

It's a beautiful old building and that alone is worth the 20 minute subte ride from my house. It also means I can buy meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, olives, spices and even some freshly cooked foods all in one place.

I never did find those tomatillos, though I'm glad I went looking because I found a cool new place to shop. I came home with herbs, fruits and vegetables and I arranged them so that I can enjoy how beautiful they are. Food isn't just a joy to eat, it is a joy to see and smell and touch and all the more so when it's fresh. All in all, a morning well spent...

Just washed fruits and vegetables...

Herbs arranged as flowers lets me enjoy the smells and reminds me to use them in my cooking...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A few weeks ago an 8 year old boy in Minnesota, Jacob Balkovich, read a story in school about a boy named Flat Stanley who, having been squished flat by a bulletin board, then traveled to visit friends in an envelope. I had never read this story though it has been loved by children all over the world for 45 years. Jacob made his own Flat Stanley and mailed him from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, to visit me here in Capital Federal, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 5668 miles to the South.

Stanley arrived and immediately began experiencing expatriate life in Buenos Aires, hanging out with me and my friends from all over the world. On his first day he went candombe drumming with my friend Vanessa, who loved Stanley as a child growing up in London. He also went to the International Film Festival with her and arrived back at the house the next day in time for yoga class.

The best part of travel is the amazing people you meet from different places in the world. Museums and cathedrals, statues and monuments, all the fascinating wonderful things there are to see in the world, are only the window dressing. It's about the people.

Here Stanley is enjoying wine and an amazing Thai meal in the home of our friends Greg (America) and Marcos (Argentina) and is having his travels toasted by Karly (America) , whose husband Peter (England) is undoubtedly jealous of all the attention Stanley is getting from his lovely wife.

A few days later Stanley headed out into the city for a look at some local culture. Like most people in Buenos Aires Stanley enjoyed the ease and affordability of the Subte (subway) which he found to be an incredible adventure! We live on the oldest subte line, la linea A or the A line, and the station and trains are like a ride back through time.

Luckily we were able to find seats. Sometimes the subte cars are so crowded that you can't even move, let alone sit down.

Stanley and I got off the train at the end of the line which let us off into Estacion Retiro or the Retiro Train Station. The station is very famous and can be seen in all the tourist guides about Buenos Aires. It was the location of the opening scene in the Oscar winning film El Secreto de Sus Ojos, The Secret In Their Eyes. It is an example of the beautiful turn of the century architecture Buenos Aires is known for.

Stanley made a quick stop to replenish the batteries in his camera before heading out of the station.

This is the view of the train station from across the Aveninda. Buenos Aires is a very crowded city and the major streets in the city, called Avenidas, are alive with traffic at all times of the day and night as the city is constantly on the move.

This clock tower, called El Torre de Los Ingleses or Clock of the English, in Plaza San Martin, across from the train station, is a very important symbol of the history of Argentina's relationship with England.

Children who attend public schools in Buenos Aires wear a traditional white jacket, called a pinafore, as a national symbol of learning. Stanley was very pleased to meet this brother and sister headed home from school. Silvina and her brother Gabriel were both excited to meet Stanley and to hear about his travels. They asked him to say hello to Jacob and his class mates when he got home.

Valeria is the manager of an art gallery in Recoleta where Stanley stopped to see some art work. He was very interested in art and was excited that he got to stay in a gallery during his visit. He enjoyed Jimmy's art and wanted to see more as we made our way around the city.

We stopped to visit the Museum of Hispano-American Art, El Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano, but they wouldn't let us in with the camera, so we have only this shot to show for it. Inside there were many old pieces of art, mostly of a religious nature. It was created from silver and gold found in South America by Europeans who, as happened in North America, took it from the indigenous people, whom they murdered and/or enslaved in the name of the god in whose honor they created this magnificent art. There was a very small token display representing the native people of this continent, but it was in no way a solid representation of the beauty and magnificence of their art.

We stopped briefly in the garden, a quiet refuge with 20 foot ivy covered walls, to rest a short while before our long walk home.

We left the museum and headed toward el Congreso and home along the Avenida 9 de Julio, which is thought to be the widest Avenue in the world. The Avenue is named for Argentina's independence day which is just 5 days after our own.

The Avenida is long and interesting, full of shops, parks and restaurants. Here we rested for a while before continuing up the Avenida toward home.

Stanley and I got ready to head back onto the Avenida, ready for our trek home.

Here is Stanley with a view of the obelisk in the background. It is one of the pinnacle points to see in Buenos Aires.

Stanley had hoped to see a performance at the Teatro Colon, the old Opera House, but unfortunately it is still under reconstruction. The remodel began just before our arrival here 2 years ago and was supposed to be complete by now, but may make it just in time for the Independence Day Bicentennial Celebration this July.

Before heading in for the evening we stopped at the verdureria, the vegetable stand to get some things for dinner and to say hello to our friend Gordita (little fat girl - which is obviously a nickname).

The following day we had lunch at a Parilla with our friends Alberto and Ricardo, Argentinian architects who helped us with our remodel.

On our way out of San Telmo we passed by some of the coolest graffiti in the city. Buenos Aires is known by graffiti artists the world over for it's incredible graffiti art.

Later, tired of walking and getting cold we grabbed a taxi to get home.

Our Portero (doorman) Abaca welcomes Stanley back from his long day out touring the city.

Finally, the day arrived when it was time for Stanley to return home. His return trip was somewhat delayed by Chilean earth quakes and European ash clouds, or at least, that's what he'd like you to imagine.

We said our final goodbyes at the post office and he settled in to his envelope for the 2 week journey home to Milwaukee. He will likely arrive there sometime around the 12th of May. He will be missed by all those who made his acquaintance here. It was a great visit. Thanks for coming Stanley...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yoga for a late summer evening....

This evening I embraced summer.
I went out onto the terrace with my yoga mat and gave myself the gift of a silent free flow yoga class. The wind and the slant to the tiles make balance a particular challenge, but the beauty of the city on a quiet, warm, breezy night makes it a joy. I wrote this when I came inside:

Drop your head back, all the way back, look at the stars behind you. Arms back with your ears, drop back, lean back, way back, more back, reach for the twinkling city lights...

Stand with your toes and heels touching. Left knee locked. Pick up your right foot, stomach in, look at the Avenida, stretching for miles. Heel forward toward the terrace wall, elbows down, balance there, hold, feel the wind on your face....

Kick your foot up as high as possible, stretch your arm forward, one shoulder stretching toward el Congreso and the other reaching forward toward Barrio Flores. Kicking and stretching equal, simultaneous, 50/50. Don’t move your eyes. Focus, concentrate on the beautiful twinkling lights of the city, if you move your eyes you might lose the balance, kick and stretch and move with the breeze....

Both legs up together, grab your opposite elbows over your knees. Back of the neck on the warm terra cotta tiles, pull your hips down, elbows in close, stomach in. Feel the warmth from the days sunshine soaking into your spine as you try to get your entire spine flat on the terrace....

Savasana. Lay with your eyes softly open, gazing gently at the stars. Heels touch, toes fall open, back of the hands on the soft warm tiles. Inhale and feel the warm summer breeze wash over you. Exhale and hear the city move gently below you. Feel your belly rise, feel your belly fall. As you lay beneath the stars open your heart to the abundance of the Universe. In the soft, open, receptive posture gently allow the Universe to wash you with it’s gentle intentions. Smile gently. Breathe....


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Gypsy Woman....

I’m fairly sure my mother had gypsy blood. Mama was always moving. Even when she stayed in the same city for a while she never stayed in a house for long. When I was a child we moved often. I have no childhood friends, rarely began and ended the school year at the same school and I didn’t know most of my relatives at all, those I did meet I didn’t know for long. We moved for all sorts of reasons, economics, politics, romance, but mostly I think we just moved because moving on was in Mama’s blood. My sister and brother have been fairly stable, but I got the wanderlust. Since I was born I have lived in around 100 houses. I am 46. That’s an average of about 2 a year (gypsies are good at math). Since I lived in one house for 5 years, my record, of course I’ve moved more than twice in some years. I remember a year when my son was small we lived in 9 houses. Since I’ve been in Argentina, 18 months, I’ve lived in 4 houses. In all the places I’ve lived I settled in quickly. I always felt at home. It became habit to connect myself easily to any place I put my tooth brush away. Just as habitual to pick it up again and move it to the next place.

Our apartment here in Argentina is no different. It is my sanctuary in the bustling locomotion that is Buenos Aires. This is an interesting city, maybe a bit too interesting for me. Though I’ve lived in many places I’ve never lived in a city this dense before. Half of the 40 million human beings in Argentina live in the region and half of those commute into the city to work. I think most of them work on my block. As luck would have it they are all on the subway at any time I need to use it and there is rarely a time when the line in the grocery store doesn’t seem to stretch all the way to Rio. It is hectic, crowded, loud and fast paced. This is the perfect environment for many, and we have friends who thrive on it. I have discovered it isn’t for me. There is still much to see, to do, to learn from Buenos Aires and so while our apartment is for sale I will continue to engage with the city. I have learned so much more Spanish since arriving here, though I still am far from fluent and would like to be. I have learned much about the culture, but there are still things that perplex me and while my local friends are too polite to call attention to it, I know I still make social faux pas (is social faux pas redundant?). I have started to feel that I need to hustle too. To rush around and get my fill because when our apartment sells, which will likely be early this spring, we’ll be off to what’s next.

The view from our terrace of New Year's Eve fireworks across the city

When we go this time we won’t be headed back to San Diego, the city that was my happy orbit for 25 years, but to a new place. Miami has a rich international art scene, warm weather (a must for me) and a strong yoga culture with room for a good yoga studio in the neighborhood Jimmy and I want to live in. It is a big metropolitan area, but very spread out, not so dense, a little more room to breathe. I don’t imagine the first house we live in will be our last there, but I do hope we can find a place we like and stay for a while. I don’t think my gypsy’s heart will ever let me be in one place for good, but I do wonder what it would be like to look up one day and notice that I’d slept in the same room for 10 years, or 20....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trade ya...

13 December 2009

I have always loved to read, though in the years since my son grew up and left home I have done less and less reading for pleasure. Working to build a business I seemed always to have necessary reading to do, some book that needed to be read to increase my knowledge or understanding of some thing. Since moving to Argentina I have more free time and have been between stages in my life, with little or no “necessary reading” to do. The longer I am here, the more I read. I don’t read in Spanish, that would be work. It would require that I look words up in every sentence, at least for some time, and maybe for a long time, and while I know I would learn a lot from it, I find I simply don’t want to. I study Spanish in other ways, in conversation, by turning on my subtitles if I watch something on the television, by reading my Argentine friends’ FaceBook posts and with my Rosetta Stone program. Reading I save for pleasure.

Finding books is one of those things you don’t consider before you move to another country. If you did, you might stock up. Most book stores here carry a select number of English titles, but there are very expensive. The first time Jimmy and I found English books in a store here we excitedly selected three or four each and went to the check out stand. As we were waiting for help from the girl behind the counter I stopped to look at the prices on the books. Not one was less than A$R 60 (60 pesos was about U$S 20 at that time, when the value of the peso and the dollar shift the prices of imported items shift with them) and some were much more. This was double and sometimes triple what we would have paid for these paperback books at home and funds were tight, so we sadly put them back. Thankfully buying books new from a bookstore is not our only choice. We have discovered, as I imagine most immigrants do, other ways to feed our appetites for books.

In San Telmo, an hour from here by subway with some walking, there is a bookstore called Walrus Books. They sell both new and used English language books. It is very small by American standards but they always have a decent selection of books there. If you can’t find something you haven’t read you are either very well read indeed, or a bit picky. This store, as one might imagine is on Calle Estados Unidos (United States Street).

In the middle of Avenida Santa Fe in Barrio Palermo past the Jardin Botanico (botanical garden) and Plaza Italia, past the zoo but before the military base where you turn to go to Jumbo (a supermarket where you can buy imported goods like Jiff peanut butter and Camp maple syrup) there is a book market on an island in the middle of the Avenida. There you’ll find about twenty used book sellers in stalls. If you ask for “libros en ingles” they will pull out a crate or two, or sometimes even three, of dusty, dirty used English language books. Many of them are things I would never read, romance novels or old classics I read in elementary or secondary school. Lots of Agatha Christie for some reason. Still, every time we’ve gone there we’ve each found a book or two to bring home and they usually run A$R 10 - 20. The last time we were there a seller quoted Jimmy A$R 30 (U$S 7.80) for a book he wasn’t sure he wanted. When he hesitated he dropped it A$R 20 or around U$S 5.25. He bought it. If you ever end up on Avenida Santa Fe looking for books, bring something with you to wash your hands because they’ll be black as soot when you’re done sorting through them all and give them a good wiping down when you get home, after you’ve flipped the pages some to get the dust out. A funny thing about asking for English books. When you ask, they'll always ask you what specific book you're looking for. That strikes me as odd, since most of them wouldn't know what you were talking about if you named one and would likely just have to pull the crates out and let you sort through them anyway, even if you were looking for something specific. I also suppose I can't imagine going there thinking to myself, "oh let's go over to the books stalls in Palermo and pick up that new Stephen King book".

The thing we’ve done that has cost the least though has been to have book exchanges. We’ve had two and between us we’ve gotten a number of good books from them. The best thing is that we make it a social event and invite anyone who wants to come to bring two books and something to share to eat. We share coffee and food and talk about life as expats. We always see old friends and meet new people as well. It’s a lovely way to pass an afternoon. These books are free, I don’t even count the cost of whatever we have to eat and drink because that’s just a part of socializing. Better yet these books are easy on the environment and they usually aren’t dirty.

None of these avenues offers the kind of selection you are used to from home, though I’ve found that it means I read things, wonderful things, that I might not have if I could to Barnes and Noble to be enticed by the publisher’s latest selections. I’ve read books here that were written too long ago for them to hold a place of honor at the book store any more. I just read The Known World, by Edward Jones. It was on Oprah’s list some time ago, from those years when I was mostly doing “necessary reading” and so I missed it. I enjoyed it thoroughly and am glad I had the chance to read it.

A final note on where to find books when you live in a non-English speaking country. sells a wide selection of audio books. They are not for everyone. Jimmy finds that he doesn’t enjoy listening to books he’s never read before. He can enjoy the retelling of a story he already knows, but he misses too much if he tries to listen for the first time because he’s usually doing other things at the same time. I have come to love audio books and they are not terribly expensive, between U$S 5 - 15. they do take up some space on your laptop and your iPod but if they are read well it can be a very special kind of joy to listen to a story being told to you.

When I go home to the United States I will enjoy going to a big book store and finding books, but I know it will take me some time not to be overwhelmed by the vastness of my choices. I will also continue to buy books at used bookstores and I will get back to the library because it is a gift I have for many years taken for granted. There are no free public libraries in Argentina and that is something about the United States that should be appreciated. If you pay taxes you’ve already paid for those books and getting them from the library gives the planet a break as well. I doubt I’ll have any more book exchanges when I get home, mostly because I don’t think anyone would come. Americans are too used to having whatever they want at their fingertips, the $18.90 charge on your Amazon card seemingly so much less an inconvenience than having to pick a couple of books to give away and spend three hours with people talking, only to have to select from fewer than one hundred titles. I think though that I will miss book exchanges and plan to do them regularly until it is time for us to go....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Taking Sides...

I've been thinking a lot about President Obama and the congress. There are a lot of people in America today, maybe not half, but a lot, who think that we’d have been better off with the other guy. There are many among us, in our nation family, who are battling for territory, resources, power, attention, respect.

When I was a little girl my older brother and younger sister and I fought, a lot. We used all the classic tools in the arsenals of children, name calling, manipulation, teasing, tattling, and no, we didn’t balk at all out physical assault. I was severely punished one day for throwing a telephone at my brother’s head (phones weighed about 10 pounds then). He had kicked me, hard, but Mama didn’t walk in until the telephone was in full flight, headed for a collision with my brother’s frontal lobe (contrary to what I would have said to him at the time there was no brain damage). Our house was often a battle zone, every kid for him or her self, in skirmishes over territory, the distribution of wealth and resources, even affection. We formed alliances, held peace talks, shifted party lines. We had fun too, don’t get me wrong, we played together and we laughed and we did chores and had friends, but we didn’t hesitate to hurt one another if we thought it would get us somewhere.

The one thing that disrupted this internal war was an attack from the outside. I could beat up my baby sister, but if you touched her, you’d better get ready because you were taking on me, and my big brother too. My brother wouldn’t hesitate to hit either one of us but he’d go toe to toe with you if you called us ugly names. My little sister Maggie wore glasses and I can’t even begin to count the number of times I got into it with some stupid kid who thought the epitome of humor was teasing a six year old until she cried. We didn’t hesitate to gang up on someone who was bigger than us either, joining forces to defeat a greater foe. The irony of this was completely lost on us.

Like the truces in my childhood home, calm moments occur in America's internal battles. A great man dies, a moment of national tragedy is remembered, these moments calm the internal din. They don’t end the skirmishes though, because they can’t hold our attention. The last things that held our attention long enough to get us all working together were World War II and the "Race to Space" against communist Russia.

Japanese Americans volunteered for war while their own families were interned in camps. Black men went to train at Tuskegee though in town they couldn’t drink from the same fountains as the white people whose lives they would soon fight to protect. Women turned in their nylons for the war effort, children collected cans to make munitions and later studied science to increase the nations "brain bank". Everyone did without. Everyone pitched in. While we certainly had our internal problems, we worked together to sustain our nation. The world was knocking on our door and it was bringing war with it. We would stand together to face that threat.

President Obama has detractors in America, but I believe he can use that "us against them" energy to bring our country together. He is after all, one of US. The real “enemy” to focus the fear and hatred on is planetary change. 

There are things happening in the world today that are more frightening than anything we might have imagined during the war years. Our planet is in peril. It can be saved, and better yet, as in our battle to save the world from fascism, there is money to be made by saving it! Unfortunately, as in the years leading up to America’s involvement in WWII, we are unprepared and a high price is going to be paid for having waited so long to gear up for this war.

I’m talking about the race to own the solutions that give the world clean water, fresh food and CLEAN ENERGY to move our goods and services around the globe. The enemy is not a country or a people but a situation that must be solved and solved quickly if we are to survive. Eventually, to solve the problem we will have to pull together as a planet but if America wants to retain her place as Leader of the Free World she is going to need a nemesis, a competitor to race against. China is perfectly poised to be that focus. China is a nation on the verge of greatness.

Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times,

It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

 If President Obama wants to get the focus off of the internal differences, I am sorry to say, he is going to need to do something that is antithetical to his way of operating in the world. He is going to have to focus the attention of his enemies on a very real external threat. Someone is going to win the war on climate change by creating and producing technology that cures the planet. I want America to be that country. China is over taking us while we bicker and is happy to make massive gains while watching us quibble internally, the clock ticking away our chance to be a world leader in this arena. What’s amazing is that we are so focused on our internal fights that we don’t even yet realize this will soon be the only arena anyone is watching.  It is very quickly becoming the only thing that matters.

Make no mistake, I understand that what I am suggesting is an appeal to something base in us. It is in our nature as humans to form groups for the purpose of survival, us against them. I look longingly toward the day when we finally get it as a planet that we are in this together. I don’t think that day is coming soon enough for this battle though. I think to win this one we’re going to have to make the focus nationalistic. Right now the two factions of America, Conservative against Liberal, Business against Environment, Nationalist against Globalist, are waging an all out Us-Against-Them war, but the enemy is not us! We need to turn our attentions outward. Time is short. Someday, when we’re all grown up and have learned to solve our problems like adults we will look back on this time from a different perspective. But America is a young country and I am not opposed to using the bluster of that youth for higher purposes. Are you?