Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Iowa

I still like reading the Christmas books of my childhood. Vincent listens.
For many months, I've neglected this blog. In the absence of posting, my first semester at the University of Missouri passed. Since moving to Columbia, Mo., I wrote 24 articles for the Columbia Missourian, co-created a website featuring multi-media reporting, worked with undergraduates as a teaching assistant and completed three graduate courses. I was also required to update two new blogs (Emilie Stigliani's Reporting and Emilie's Fundamentals of Convergence). 

A break is in order. Happily, school starts Jan. 18, so I have several weeks to rest and relax. I plan to spend this time in Cedar Falls and Iowa City with my parents and siblings. Vincent, my brother who attends Swarthmore College, will be on break as well. I look forward to reading, writing, a few day trips and to posting my personal creative work from the coming weeks. In the meantime, happy holidays! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to School

Downtown Columbia, Mo.

I’ve moved to Columbia, Mo to start a master’s in journalism at the University of Missouri. Over the last two weeks, I unpacked boxes, learned to navigate around the city and participated in a journalism boot camp (a two week intensive class designed for students who don’t have newsroom experience). As boot camp draws to a close, I will be plunging into a busy semester of coursework. Once again, I am a full-time student! 
Here is a link to my first article at the Columbia Missourian. It’s about heading back to school.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Final Poem of the Summer

This is the last poem I wrote for the Bread Loaf Poetry Workshop. The professor assigned us to write about a public event. I chose to write about Chernobyl and the effect it had across Europe. My family arrived in Austria just months before the explosion and was among those anxiously waiting for the plume to pass. I was only a year old at the time, so I learned about the disaster from the stories my father told. It has become a powerful reminder to me that environmental issues know no borders. 

for my father

It was one of few threats
that made good
and floated freely
from East to West 
over the ideological curtain 
into sandboxes
and psyches. 
The news rumored rain,
and the Austrians
scanned the sky,
spoke in low voices,
Boiling won’t do any good.
Buy mineralwasser.
Each slight headache
was suspect,
and thousands of miles away, 
firefighters lay ill,
shitting confusion
with constellations in their eyes 
that burned unnatural.
Weeks later, 
the playground reopened
and children tied the red plastic ribbons
that read verboten
to the tails of their kites
that flapped high 
in the fleeting cloudless sky.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Poetry at Bread Loaf

Speaking with poet John Ashbery after his reading
I am back at the Bread Loaf School of English near Middlebury, Vermont for the summer. In anticipation of the journalistic writing I will be doing this fall, I decided to dedicate myself to creative writing endeavors and, therefore, signed up for a poetry workshop. This was a brave decision because I haven't studied poetry since high school and and have no experience trying to pen it. 

Last week, poet John Ashbery came to Bread Loaf to do a reading. I had studied his poem "They Knew What They Wanted" that very day in class. It was a treat to hear him read it a few hours later. Inspired by his reading, I poured myself in the next assignment.

The assignment was to write a poem about something difficult to say. Here is was I said.

Poem About Why I Got Drunk and Ate Too Many Scallops Last Christmas Eve
Each year my family assembles for 
the Feast of the Seven Fishes. All of us,
spend the day chopping garlic and parsley and 
slicing lemons. There’s no fresh fish in Iowa,
so it sits on the counter thawing into a white, wet
In the early evening, my father throws clams into 
the marinara. The scallops are seared in butter, the shrimp
steamed. We girls go to our rooms and put on satin
vintage dresses bought in Madison, New York, St. Louis, and
Amsterdam, especially for this. We paint our faces like
porcelain dolls and tie our hair back.
Then the candles are lit and we take our seats at the table
my grandfather made. He’s been dead five years. We suck
shrimp from their tails, squeak on calamari salad and 
sop oil with bread. We bury each other’s voices.
We crunch on sardine bones, and 
my head floats on wine.   
My father’s eye sockets go dark and
my mother pushes her mandible back where it belongs.
My baby sister’s alabaster skull is still a lovely 
round shape. Even in bone, she’s
beautiful.  We eat air 
and from time to time a fork slips 
from skinless fingers. 
I can’t see. 
I can’t laugh. 
I rattle.
I paint my joke into a calavera in exchange for
eyes and skin. I know it’s coming but please
not yet.
Who will go first? Perhaps I will. Then again, 
sometimes the sickest have the most preparation for 
living. Better to have dressed up bones than an 
empty seat. I’d even be grateful for a lump of coal.
Better to have another helping 
and too much wine.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflections from Iowa

Prairie in Cedar Falls where I like to walk
I’ve had almost four weeks in Iowa to rest and process my trip. When I left in February, the ground was blanketed in several feet of snow. I returned to a verdant world. The ride home from the airport bypassed patchwork fields with dizzying rows of corn and soy sprouts. Tulips, strawberries, mint, tomatoes, peaches, garlic, lettuces and much more were growing and ripening in my mother’s garden. The bike trails that snake around Cedar Falls had filled with vegetation and the prairie reserve near my parents home had grown tall, providing shelter to killdeers, robins, and warblers. 
The lush landscape differs greatly from the polluted sprawl of Buenos Aires, but even more distinct is the sense of security. I can come and go anytime of the day or night without worrying about finding myself on an unsafe street. I have reveled in the freedom and warm weather. I haven’t wanted to sleep. Well after midnight, I’ve found myself on the backyard hammock watching the stars with my brother Vinnie. I’ve gone to the wine bar downtown and sat outside with girlfriends for hours. Under the glow of the street lights and slightly buzzed, I’ve thought, 
“I don’t miss being in Buenos Aires at all.”
I know that it feels good to be home, but hindsight has not brought much clarity about why I needed to go to Buenos Aires and what it means to my life as a whole. Since I was 19, I have felt drawn to living in South America and learning Spanish. Maybe I can’t admit the possibility that there was no specific lesson to be learned there, that my fascination was more whim than integral part of who I am and will become. On the other hand, I wonder if there isn’t something that I am missing, a revelation that will come to me at some later time. I can’t decide, so I let it be and go outside for a walk.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Time to Go

I’ve prepared my backpack, the apartment is tidy, and the sheets are in the wash. My hours in Buenos Aires are numbered--12 to be exact. Waiting for the landlady to check out the apartment and return the security deposit, I am taking stock of my belonging, checking the closets and medicine cabinets for nearly-forgotten objects. 
Despite packing conservatively for the trip, only what could fit in one backpack. I am surprised to find items that I forgot I had even brought. Goggles, ripped jeans, shoes that rub too much--all superfluous to my daily activities. Conversely, there are articles that I overused and would prefer never to see again. The seat of my green corduroys is threadbare and friends who saw me regularly could have bet with favorable odds as to what I would wear. 
Marisa and I in Puerto Madero
Due to a tight budget, I am returning with a bag that is physically lighter than when I left. (My treadless sneakers got tossed, as did the jeans.) The true souvenirs of this trip won’t adorn a coffee table or be framed on the wall. I am going home with an experience more real than any tangible object. In Buenos Aires, and perhaps any large city, ugliness, violence, pollution, and poverty exist alongside passion, friendship, dignity and kindness. I have seen a mob of men threatening pedestrians as they rode to a fútbol game along with men hugging and singing to one another on the street. Armed robbers stealing and impoverished families picking through the garbage. Regular people who were unwilling to intervene when I was in need and ones who opened up their homes and hearts. I am leaving with my Spanish much improved and deep gratitude for those Porteños and fellow tourists whose friendship has made it all worthwhile. Above all, a special thank you to Marisa for being my best companion and support. It's been an adventure!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I woke up to powerful wind blowing through the courtyard. A thick layer of grey clouds hung low and refused to move. My stomach rumbled. I have been fighting a digestive bug that makes it impossible to keep food in my system. Food in equals food out. In the bathroom I discovered that I had managed to use up three rolls of toilet paper over the past three days and that the paper supply was running dangerously low. I zipped on my hoodie and left the apartment to pick up more paper at the grocer five doors down. 
Out on the street, I immediately sensed that something was off. The streets were too  quiet. Where were the people smoking cigarettes on the stoops or the old ladies chatting about discounts as they returned from the supermarket? Where were the taxis rudely edging forward to cut one another off? The stores remained dark, their gates padlocked to the ground. Even the grocer was barred with no explanation as to where everyone was or when they would be back.
I pulled up my hood, stuffed my hands into my pockets and walked back home sifting coins between my fingers. After a quick search on Google, I read that today Buenos Aires celebrates the Día del Trabajador--the Day of the Worker. This makes the sixth national holiday over the past few months. Just last weekend, Argentinians took a four day weekend for Easter. The country supposedly voted last year in favor of the creation of more national holidays, so this year was the first time several were ever observed. I can appreciate the sentiment behind these days off, but as a visitor without a job these holidays are no cause for celebration. 
The Day of the Worker has put me in a foul mood. To be clear, I have nothing against workers getting a break and I do feel that it is unfortunate that their day off is actually a Sunday. My bitterness is not directed at any worker, but rather at my own inability to find good consistent work myself. I am tired of being underemployed or unemployed. I want to work and today I feel frustrated. Tomorrow won’t be a holiday anymore and I will probably feel a bit better.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Being Twenty-six

It’s my birthday. I am still in Argentina and I am turning twenty-six today. Every year since I can remember, my father has asked me (and all his children), "How does it feel to be X years old?"   The question was posed to me first thing this morning as I sat on the toilet. In front of me, tucked into the toilet paper dispenser, Marisa had left a beautiful card featuring a Chagall painting. It depicted a figure dominating the frame and a little man suspended in the forefront. I turned that card over and read, “¡Feliz Cumpleaños! ¿Como se siente al ser de 26?”
Sitting there, I had a minute to think. How do I feel? I thought of a birthday long ago, maybe it was my 4th, 5th, or 6th (I don’t remember). But I do remember putting on my party dress and combing the inch of hair on my head and then going outdoors to wait for friends to arrive and to ride my pink scooter. I remember taking a lot of pleasure in the sunny sky, the attention lavished on me, and the fact that the scooter and my dress were both pink. 

Although I will probably no longer be seen riding a pink scooter about town, I do feel more or less the same as that young me. I got up from the toilet, brushed my teeth, showered, and put on one of my dressier outfits (clothing options are limited to what I was able to fit in my backpack). And then Marisa and I went off to celebrate the day. I enjoyed the coffee and the processions of people passing by the window carrying branches to celebrate Palm Sunday. And later, when the sun came out, I appreciated its heat on my back. 
Being twenty-six is definitely older. I am well into adulthood. Still, at my core, the way I understand the world has not changed. There is a lot of living still to enjoy--sunny afternoons, time spent with family and friends, and pretty dresses. I am looking forward to it all and twenty-six feels just fine.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Un Recuerdo

I wrote about a childhood memory for my Spanish class. Here it is...

One year later, all six of us posed for a picture--
the Girls dressed for the Epiphany,
Anthony holding the Star of Wonder,
and Vincent nearing his first birthday.
Mis padres se casaron cuando eran bastante mayores. Todavía, tanto mi mama como mi papa querían hijos. Con suerte no tuvieron ningun problema y rápidamente mi mama dió luz a cuatro hijas. Yo soy la tercera. Mis padres estaban contentos, pero mi abuelo, aquien yo le llamaba Nono por su lengua materna que era italiano, no. Aunque él vivía en E.E.U.U por años, nunca dejó sus pensamientos tradicionales. Él quería un nieto. Por fin, con casi 40 años, mi mama se embarazó con un hijo y despues otro hijo. Recuerdo bien el día que mi hermano menor nació. Yo tenía siete años. Era el tiempo del Epifanía y en estos años estuvimos haciendo un tradición austríaca. Mis hermanas y yo estuvimos vestidas como Los Tres Reyes (aunque, en realidad éramos cuatro). Estábamos pasando desde una casa a la otra para cantar en cambio por dinero para paises desarollados. Mi hermana tenía una cara pintada en negro y nosotros llevabamos coronas y togas. Así, fuimos al hospital a buscar nuestro nuevo hermano. Cuando llegamos mis padres y abuelo estaban allí. Mi abuelo tomaba una copa de vino para celebrar. El estaba muy alegre porque llegó el segundo nieto para continuar el apellido familiar. Un pequeño rey ha llegado. Mis padres le llamaron Vincent como un italiano, y Wiliam Michael por mi papa. El padrino, quien era de Uganda, le dió cuarto nombre. Le llamaba Okenya que significa hijo despues muchas hijas.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Impromptu Celebration

Last Sunday, Marisa and I met up with a friend to explore the San Telmo Market. Stretching over many blocks, including a park, vendors converge on the area to pedal everything from fresh squeezed orange juice to hand crafted daggers. A stroll down Defensa, the main drag of the market, tickles the senses. The smell of fresh baked dough and onions wafts from trays of golden brown empanadas. Antique Swarovski crystal chandeliers glitter above dusty pink dresses and crinkled leathers shoes. A band of nine musicians (a singer, a piano player, a bass player, two violinists, and four bandoneón--folk accordions used in tango) melds the sounds of each instrument into a gasping melody. For a few pesos you can dance the tango with a seasoned milonguero. Dressed in a brown pinstripe suit and smart brimmed hat, he confidently glides his partner across a sheet of plywood.
The market sets the stage for an impromptu celebration of life. As I waited for a puppeteer to begin his show, my attention was drawn to the beat of drums moving up the street. What I saw was a group of long-haired, linen clad young men pounding out rhythms and stepping to the sounds they created. Suddenly, out of the crowd stepped an older woman. She wore a fuchsia sundress and a leopard print sweater. Though her face showed her to be a woman of about 60, she danced with a zeal and confidence that defied age. She led with one hip and then the other, using every part of her body, down to her hands, to express the beat. And she did not stop. She took the lead and headed up the street. We crossed paths again as the group headed back down and the woman was still there unabashedly dancing. 
The music and dancing, the pretty things, the fresh food, these made all the difference. I came home from the market feeling happy. The celebratory spirit of the impromptu dancer has stayed with me. Though the last weeks have brought scares, sadnesses, and tragedies (both personally and globally), life has also presented plenty of reasons to celebrate. 
Yesterday was Marisa’s 29th birthday. Even though we are far from family and friends, we made it special. I bought her flowers and truffles. She treated herself to two pairs of very tall, strappy, black tango shoes. We lit candles, went out for sushi, strolled through the Japanese Garden, and drank wine. In addition to Marisa’s birthday, I, personally, have had reason to celebrate. The University of Missouri accepted me to their Journalism MA program and offered me a full scholarship. This means that I will be able able to attend next fall without accumulating debt.
There are so many reasons to celebrate--a birthday, an unexpected gift, the sunny sky, a good rhythm. I am happy to recognize good things and to take time to enjoy them. Cheers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Restoring Power

Life got real this week. It started with a burglary. Marisa and I had our bags snatched. The contents of my bag included a water bottle, a used handkerchief, 2 maps, the keys to our apartment, money, and my journal. The journal was my greatest personal loss. It included writing and sketches from the last two years as well as sentimental notes, love letters, and an assortment of fortune cookie fortunes. It has taken several days of self-imposed house arrest to recover from this shock. 
A thought from my new journal
It was also unfortunate that the keys to our apartment were taken, not because I fear being robbed again--the bags contained no information as to our local address, but because after the robbery it was difficult to actually get back into the apartment. We had an extra set of keys but they were inside the apartment and the only other set that existed were with the cleaning lady. 
This propelled us to involve our building's custodian who phoned our landlady. She asked the cleaning lady to send the key over to us with a driver and the custodian lent us money so we could pay the driver for his service. We promptly repaid the custodian and Marisa also gave him a generous tip for all his help.
Though the worst was over, we had more challenges ahead. A few days later, I bumped into the custodian as I came home from the grocery store. He was more affable than usual. As I went toward the elevator, he followed and opened the door, even pressing the button to my floor. I thought it odd, but went up and began preparing dinner. 
The buzzer went off and it was the custodian signaling me to pick up the phone. He said he needed to speak to me and that I should go to his apartment. With misgivings, I went. He explained that he had been robbed and that he needed me to lend him 100 pesos (US$25) until next Monday. I truthfully told him that I didn’t have that much. I hadn’t been to the bank since the robbery.
I hoped that he would not repeat his request. However, the next morning he buzzed me again and asked if I now had the money to lend him. I told him no. I felt conflicted because he had lent us 60 pesos for about 15 minutes between the time we had received the key from the driver and gone to to our apartment to retrieve the money. We had no other option. But, he is from Buenos Aires. Shouldn’t he have other people he could borrow money from? 
In the meantime, our electricity went out. I thought it was a temporary outage, so I stayed in the apartment until Marisa got home from class. When she found out that the custodian had asked me for money a second time, she said that we needed to talk to him straight away. She looked up the Spanish translation for what she wanted to say and marched down to his apartment. I nervously followed. She explained to him clearly that she was very sorry but we would not be giving him anymore money. Then we added that our power was out. 
Despite an awkward silence, he came to our apartment to see what was wrong with the electricity. He fiddled around with a light switch and then asked if we had contacted our landlady and went away. I called her and told her the whole situation and explained that the custodian had been up in the apartment but there seemed to be nothing he could do.
She said I should go ask an electrician to come take a look, so off I went in search of one. After explaining the problem to a friendly man at the hardware store, he said that he could come but this was a problem for the custodian to fix. I called the landlady back and informed her of what I had learned. She said she would take care of everything.
By the evening, we still had not heard anything from her and there was still no electricity--no light, no AC, no hot water, no internet, no TV. We ate empanadas from the corner bakery by candlelight and went to bed early. 
The next morning I marched back to the electrician and asked him to please come by and fix the electricity. He said that he could come that afternoon, but I would need to contact the custodian to let him into the basement. So back home, I again contacted the custodian. He asked me to come to his apartment and then asked why we were angry with him. I explained that I had no problem with him whatsoever. He said that we didn’t need an electrician and that he could fix the problem. Besides, he would not be in the building at the time the electrician said he could come by. He had wanted me to call the landlady the day before to work out the payment for his restoring the power. I explained that I was not angry and that when he had asked if we had called our landlady and then left, I had assumed he could not fix the problem.
So again, I called the landlady and asked her to work out the payment. Less than ten minutes later there was a knock on the door and the custodian was there with his tools and a can-do look. He unscrewed the fuse box, readjusted some wires and presto, power was restored. I called the landlady and informed her of the repairs. Before hanging up I put her on the phone with the custodian so they could work out the payment directly.
Yesterday, Marisa and I made a new copy of our key to replace the one that had been stolen. It took two trips to get the key cut correctly, but we persisted. We then made a visit to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. We were in need of something beautiful and it did not disappoint. Our favorite was a series of photomontages by Grete Stern titled “The Dreams.” Her work depicted women up against difficult situations--big waves, locked doors, desolate wilderness. The women appear calm, strong, and undaunted. 
I returned home feeling restored. The anxiety of the week was mitigated. I felt like cooking. I chopped vegetables and boiled them into a rich soup. I ate until I was full and then fell into a deep sleep.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On Being a Porteño

Walking is always my preferred mode of getting from point A to B. This is never more true than when I am in cities. For me, the many people are individual expressions of a place. A popular billboard displayed around Buenos Aires reads, “Cada Persona es un Mundo,” which translates to “Every Person is a World.” This phrase rings true as I watch a little boy sit next to me in the park and roll his car up and down the planks on our bench, or the vegetable vendor laying out his tomatoes with such care that I look back to be sure that he isn’t actually handling eggs. In our motives, our daily tasks, and our personalities, we are incredibly complex and distinct. 
But, in observing people, there are also similar patterns and repeated behaviors that stand out. The common ways people dress, walk, talk, or behave leaves a cultural impression. It takes time, and lots of observation, to really know a culture through the people. And just as I have spent many hours watching them, I too have been observed. 
Often, I have been asked where I am from before I even open my mouth. However, today I had a break through while standing at a corner waiting for the light to change. A man stopped and asked me if I knew where the train station was. I looked up the street, pointed to it, and answered in Spanish. He thanked me and headed for the entrance. Not more than 20 seconds later, an older woman approached and asked if I knew where the Librería was. I told her I didn’t know. 
Then she asked, “De donde eres?” 
I told I was from the United States and she laughed and gave my forearm a squeeze.
“Ah, Soorry,” she said.
I answered that it was no problem. Had there been time, I would have jubilantly explained, “You actually made my day. You thought I was one of you.” 

The Puerto Madero
which is why residents are known as Porteños
Instead I looked down at my arms. Yes, they have been browned by the summer sun. Also, Marisa has grown quite adept at navigating our route around the city by memory. We are no longer searching each corner for a street sign and squinting over our laminated map. At least at a glance, we are passing as porteños (the name given to people living in Buenos Aires). 

But perhaps it is not just the tan and our familiarity with the streets. It may be that I, myself, am no longer such a wide-eyed observer. Just as they are coming to know me, I am learning to recognize them.  Though the city is made up of almost 3 million individuals, here is what I have inferred of their common culture.
  1. Walking is a leisurely activity. The sidewalks of Buenos Aires are generally crowded and sometimes very narrow. Still, people of all ages walk slowly taking time to chat with friends coming the opposite direction. If you can’t get around to the front of the crowd at the street light, fall into line and take it in slow stride.
  2. Remember to suck your soda. Coca Cola is the beverage of choice. You see adults and children drinking it in the park, on the street, or even at the cafes. However, they don’t just swig from the bottle. They sip it through a straw.
  3. Don’t baby the baby. There are lots of babies all over the city (and many pregnant mamas too). However, I have not spotted a single baby carrier (the kind that doubles as a car seat) and only a handful of Baby Bjorns (the front-loading baby backpack). Most babies, even the really tiny ones, are simply carried in arm through the busy and often dirty streets.
  4. Watch out for the rise and fall. There is a very distinctive rise to the women’s pants in in Buenos Aires. They tend to be on both extremes of a spectrum--the too-short rise that  leaves no part of the female anatomy to the imagination and the ultra-long rise that looks like a penguin.
  5. Fútbol is the Argentinian basketball. After work many of the young men go to the soccer fields to play. There is rivalry and camaraderie--what you might expect to see on a basketball court in the U.S. And the game is not just for the players. Pack a picnic dinner and watch the game unfold field-side. 
  6. Why hug when we can kiss? The Argentinians are very demonstrative with their affections. There is the beso that you give upon meeting a friend, and then there are the besos between couples that can be spotted in almost any park and on many street corners. Though the smooching is sometimes a bit much, for the most part it's nice to see how free people feel to express their love, or lust. In the unlikely event that a couple should desire a little more privacy, they can be quite resourceful. Hiding beneath a picnic tablecloth is one method. But my favorite kiss, so far, took place in plain sight. Here's how it unfolded. Woman waits on corner. Light changes and man crosses the street, making a beeline for her. Before even saying hello, man takes woman's face and plants passionate kiss on her lips. Oh, to be kissed like that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Familiar and Unsettling

We’ve been in Buenos Aires for over a week. Though there have been days with no set agenda, we have kept ourselves busy. The city streets near our apartment have grown familiar and with that comes the feeling of belonging to a place. I have even spotted the building custodian around the neighborhood. Again, there is a pleasure in knowing someone, even if it’s just the person you call when the stove isn’t working.
As I get more comfortable here, more sure of where to go and what to say, I am also discovering things that are less comfortable, or perhaps less digestible. While we are staying in a relatively upscale neighborhood, there is a sense of scarcity even here. Like the rest of the world, the economic situation has people on edge. The banks have strict regulations on how much money people can withdraw in a day, about US$250 and sometimes less. There are times of the day or towards the end of the week when it is impossible to withdraw any money at all, the ATMs are empty.
In addition, there is a shortage of small bills. At the grocery store, the cashier will often give more money in return rather than give the correct amount of coinage. Also, at many restaurants, if you try to pay for a bill with AR$100 (equivalent to US$25), they will often not have change. That’s what happened to us at dinner last night. 
When I don't feel comfortable carrying
a camera, I sometimes sketch.
This shortage of money has a visible effect on the poorest of the Argentine population. While sitting at cafes, restaurants, or even at the park, it is very likely that you will be approached by children and adults who are trying to pedal everything from pens to socks. Most people simply lay the items on your table or lap and move on to the next table, returning in a few minutes to either collect the items or your money.
The most troublesome instance occurred last night while Marisa and I were out for dinner with an American friend. Around 11 PM, a young girl who was definitely no more than ten years old approached our table. She swaggered over carrying herself like some one twice her age. Speaking at lightning speed, and breaking off to bite a piece of her blood sausage sandwich, she leaned onto the table and asked us for money. We said we didn’t have any and offered her a piece of pizza. “Eso no me gusta,” she tossed back, as a piece of blood sausage dropped onto the table. She began picking up our bottles of water and peering in to see if there was any left. I offered her my half full bottle. She took it and proceeded to chug without pausing for a breath. When she had drunk the last drop, she looked down the neck of the bottle. Satisfied that there was none left, she moved on to the next table where she made off with a bottle of Coca Cola. 
We too went on our way. We walked the dark streets quickly, aware of the possible dangers. But it is not just danger that feels unsettling, it is the constant presence of hardened children and weary adults hustling for a few pesos.

Friday, February 18, 2011

First Impressions of Buenos Aires

My sister, Marisa, and I will stay in Buenos Aires for the next three months. Marisa will take classes to progress in her study of tango; she has been dancing in the U.S. for almost three years. I hope to teach English for a few hours each day and also improve my Spanish.  We rent a small house in the neighborhood of Palermo. 
I didn't take picture of the fabulous sunlight,
but here is the evening view.
Last night we slept without blankets. Even though Marisa left the balcony door wide open, the night air never grew chilly. As far as I can tell, Buenos Aires lives up to its name. I awoke this morning rested and ready to see what the first full day would bring. The sun streamed in through the large sliding glass doors and a woman wearing a colorful house coat watered her hanging potted plants in the adjacent apartment building. 
The streets offered their share of excitement. We strolled to the a neighborhood called Recoleta. As we waited at a street crossing a spectacled man standing in front of me turned around and said, “Hace calor.” It was extremely hot, so I answered, “Sí.”  From that single syllable, he deduced that I was American and promptly began to explain in a mixture of English and Spanish why he didn’t like Obama. His critique has nothing to do with Obama’s foreign policies. The man’s dislike is purely personal. It turns out that Obama has an uncanny resemblance to his ex girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Moreover, the Obama look alike showers his girlfriend with gifts. I told the man that I was sorry things hadn’t worked out in his favor and then let him walk up ahead.
After a brief stop and the Casa Rosada which is a familiar sight to anyone who has ever seen the musical Evita, we headed down a side street. We kept a steady pace, each immersed in our own thoughts. Suddenly there came a scream from further up the block  followed by the sound of a quickly accelerating motorcycle. It whizzed by carrying two men. The man in back held his helmet under his arm and looked back quickly. Within a split second several men ran past me whistling and yelling. They were followed by an elderly woman saying, “Me robaron mi cellular.” I stood by for a few seconds wondering if there was anything I could do. Deciding there wasn’t, I continued down the street. 
For now, Buenos Aires remains an enigma. I am enjoying the weather, the architecture, and the plants, but have yet to confidently navigate the people who live here. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reflections for a New Year

I took my family's three dogs for a walk over the train tracks, through the forest, and along the river.  The dogs ran free following scents only their noses smelled.  I walked along in silence, except for the snow crunching underfoot.  The bleak grey sky scared me. It felt vast and lonely.  I often feel a bit melancholy when I’m alone in nature--it calls to mind the inescapable cycle of change.  
Melancholy is not always bad though--it also makes me want to face reality as it is and love it’s imperfections and disappointments. The new year finds me far from where I was last year--in a different place with new plans.  I am in Iowa until mid-February when I will fly to Buenos Aires where I will stay until June.  Upstate New York and the life I lived there is quickly becoming a chapter in my past.  Somewhere I was, which will go on changing in my absence. 
As for me, I am changing too. I appreciate all the joy in my life over the past year--time with family, dinner with friends, exhilarating hikes, honest conversations, and big belly laughs.  I am happy for opportunities I have had to study English and publish my writing.  I take with me new skills as well.  This year I learned to build a fire, rock climb, and to be better at corresponding with friends far away. 
Like every year, there have been disappoints and sadnesses as well.  I am learning to accept those things that are most difficult.  To do this, I take my cue from the dogs.  Dedicate yourself to the moment, a new adventure may only be a sniff away.