Monday, December 31, 2007

The end

The last day of the year and I am left wondering if there anything I need to leave behind in 2007 to move forward? The past five years I've marked the first day of the new year with a collage of what I envision for the 12 coming months. Its a fun art project and I've always been a visual person so it helps me focus on my goals and what I imagine for the future. The last few years Hugh and Rachel joined in and made their collages too. Tomorrow we will have a few friends over for a collage making party and lunch. Tonight many argentines will ring in the new year at an all night party or by lighting fireworks that sound like machine guns (like they did on Christmas Eve). I am not in the mood for a rave and then a two hour walk in search of transportation home so we are going to a nice dinner with friends Brad and Laura at a parilla down the street, then coming home to cuddle with Utta and reassure her as the noises progress, that the world is not going to end.

Summer arrived with a blast of scorching days and nights. The thermometer climbed to 100 each day and never moved lower than 80 at night. The air is thick and tropical - Hugh keeps saying its "texas heat". we run the air conditioner non stop all day and night. utta has taken to sleeping off and on from noon till 6 or so. The government of Argentina last week decided (after 20 years of not observing daylight savings) to turn the clocks forward an hour to help conserve energy during the summer months. 6 hours now separates me from my Skype partners in California. The days are a bit shorter but the heat is unrelenting and will undoubtedly take some getting used to. Yesterday I came down with a scratch in my throat and today I have been coughing all day. Its the sort of thing that most locals attribute to the rapid change in weather. One day cool and breezy, the next, humid and unimaginably hot. I went shopping yesterday at the Palermo Mall - to get out of the heat and update my summer wardrobe. Actually, I realized I have no summer wardrobe. Nothing in my clothing arsenal to ward off the rays. So, I battled the hoards at Zara (Argentina's H&M) for a few pairs of shorts and tanks, and found a perfect light cotton long strappy dress at Paula D'Anvers that I bought in sky blue and salmon. When I tried it on, Hugh asked if it was a night gown. Two pairs of flip flops and now I'm set.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gingerbread Graveyard


Friends here who know me as Ambi - yoga teacher, writer, runner, believer in astrology, psychics and alternative medicine would probably be surprised to hear I was in high school a bow wearing cheerleader. Go Hoover Tornados!!! Although most days I don't recognize the self of two years ago much less that 17 year old in pom poms and purple bloomers - every once in a while she makes an appearance. This week the pom poms rustled and swayed themselves into a tizzy. We have got to cheer this girl up! We can't let her mope around the house all week they insisted. So what its the holidays and it doesn't feel like it. So what there are no festive parties to attend, no sparkly gold tops to wear before heading out for eggnog and a gift exchange. So what family is far away and missing you almost as much as you miss them. So what we have no plans for Christmas Eve or Day. Buck up and get with it they cheered on. You need a bit of ritual that's all. Something to bring the holidays from home to sweaty Buenos Aires.

So I got to baking. There was no question what kind - it had to be gingerbread cookies and no substitute ingredients. No swapping dulce de leche in for molasses. No leaving out the cloves or the cinnamon. Wednesday I took 3 buses and walked nearly 5 hours in my hunt for ingredients, cookie cutters and frosting accouterments. Then of course was the packaging - green plates, red napkins, white doilies, red ribbon - each sold at a different and mysteriously difficult to locate shop in a far away neighborhood. It was a treasure hunt and although nearly defeated at the end of the day, I secured my final ingredient (molasses) in a health food store just 3 blks from the apartment after visiting 20 different shops that day that didn't carry nor had heard of the stuff. Whew.

That night I stayed up until one in the morning sifting, mixing, rolling dough, baking and tasting. I got the "your crazy" eyes from Hugh. The first two trays went straight to the gingerbread graveyard - burned to a blackened crisp. The oven was unfamiliar and ran much hotter than expected. I got the hang of it by the 6th tray and then realized I would need to make another batch to have enough for all of the gifting I had in mind. The next day I baked again and decorated the first batch. Mixing red food dye in with Royal Icing, the gingerbread ladies got swirls on their skirts, the men buttons, the stars various designs of circles and lines. Everyone got eyes and wide smiles. Friday the green dye exploded all over the kitchen and the cookies started looking like decorated trees of brown, red, green and white. I lost myself in brown sugar, the shape of a perfect star, lifting the gingerbread men off the cookie sheet carefully so they didn't lose an arm or worse, head and in squeezing colored frosting through a thin plastic baggie with a silver nozzle top. Gingerbread picasso moments.

Deliveries made to the owner of our apt (who also lives in our building), the neighbor lady that brought me a piece of her aloe vera plant when she saw my burned leg, the portero/doorman Carlos, the flowerstand guy across the street we talk to every day, the people who work at the fruit/vegge/meat store across the street, my writers group, laura/brad/gaby, my friend Magdalena, our friends Rodrigo & Laura, Martin my running coach, Cheryl my yoga teacher, Mariano Hughs boxing coach and Marta. Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Somewhere between sleigh bells and bikinis

Last year I enjoyed one of the most festive holiday seasons ever. It started in November when Hugh and I celebrated our 6 year anniversary and Thanksgiving in New York City for 10 days. NYC this time of year is an explosion of Christmas decadence. Rockefeller Plaza and the gigantic decorated tree, the snowflake lightshow adorning Saks 5th Avenue – red and green everywhere and unparalleled shopping madness. Back in SF, we hung from trolley cars and went caroling with friends and other volunteers one Saturday afternoon to the elderly. We hosted a small but intimate tree trimming party with close friends. Hugh made Grandma VinceLee’s baked rigatoni. (This year, Kristie/Brady have another bun in the oven and Augi and Nick are expecting their first. Heather and Greg are coming to BA in January. Rachel and Rey are planning a May wedding and Vaughn – well, he’s still playing it cool.) We had Rey’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner and mom and Carlos came up from San Diego. We baked gingerbread cookies and brought them to each of our neighbors on 21st Street. Christmas Day we opened a ton of presents and Aunt Sea Jai and Uncle Jon, Cousin Elan and baby Sarena stopped by in the afternoon. Friends Alex, Megan (and kids) and dad also made an impromptu visit in time to taste Mom’s pie.

This year is just different. The southern hemisphere suffers or enjoys (depending on your disposition) hot sticky Christmas Eves and blistering New Years Days. Women stroll the sidewalks in flipflops and pastel colored skirts and work on their tan in g-string bikinis in the parks. There are no snowflakes glistening or sleighbells ringing in your neighborhood. Fireplaces (hence stockings) are turned off in September not to reemerge until May or June of the following year.

Last week I saw a small plastic sadly ornamented Christmas Tree in one of the largest shopping malls in Buenos Aires. It startled me because I literally forgot it was the "that time of year". Here there are no twinkling lights in the windows, no Frosty the Snowmen painted on storefronts with smiles begging you to come in. There are no peppy jingling tunes pipped in to the shops or on the radio. I've not caught myself absentmindedly humming “silver bells” as I run the vacuum cleaner. I see no images of Santa or his reindeer. I've talked to a few of my neighbors and shopkeepers about this. They explain that Christmas is not such a big deal here. Its a day for being with family and sharing a nice meal – of taking time off from the routine of work and rushing around. Marta our housekeeper described a tradition her family of 20 has of sitting around a large wooden table in the kitchen Christmas Eve pinching together homemade empanada crusts until they've made hundreds for the family to eat the next day.

I don’t miss the US's mostly commercial expression of the holidays but haven’t quite found a replacement. Its tradition I long for and yet my life here is still embryonic. How can I form pleasant memories of the holidays that draw on the nostalgia of my grandmothers apron and still account for this new place and people I’ve adopted. Traditions need to be started, then experienced and enjoyed the same way for years to come. They start from something and take hold in the memories of their keepers. For this year, the 25th may be a day at the beach or a stroll to get an ice cream cone. It won’t be what it was but its what is for now.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Near death again



14 years ago Hugh survived an unbelievable accident off the coast of Maui. The entire incident including a dramatic and heroic rescue was captured on a watcherby's home video camera. Thus began Hugh's 15 minutes of fame. That 15 minutes has now extended to well over a decade. His story has appeared on literally dozens of reality and news type television programs - in the US and continually broadcast via cable in countries all over the world. We know this because every few months or so a friend will inform us that while they were up in the middle of the night with insomnia in a pensione outside of Florence, they saw the Hugh Hawaii drama on TV - dubbed in Italian or whatever language of the particular place. I'm sure that even someone reads this post, they will suddenly realize - oh my god, I saw that episode on Rescue 911, Dateline or Oh my God I'm Alive last month, or last year.

The story itself is not mine to tell but the story of the story's telling has become part of my own. One of the first dates we had was an all expenses paid weekend in Hawaii courtesy of the producers from a docudrama that wanted Hugh to fly back to the "scene" and be interviewed along with his rescuers, lifeguards Bryan and Earl of Maui. Over the next 9 years, film crews visited our homes in San Francisco and occasionally flew Hugh back to Hawaii to reunite with Bryan and Earl and relive the story on camera. Each time we get a copy of the program to add to the Hugh's Near Death Adventure video library and a small stipend. If you haven't heard the story or seen one of the programs on TV, you might be wondering why the interest after so many years? I attribute it to two things: one - the story is that good, and worth telling over and over again. Add that the video footage is suspenseful and exciting makes for great tv. When you watch the live footage you wonder how he could have possibly come out of that experience alive and maybe it helps you believe in miracles. two - hugh is a skilled storyteller. the accident couldn't have happened to a more apt messenger. Each interview is as passionate, as emotion filled and vividly colored with details as if it were yesterday. He's also good at throwing in delicious sound bites like "then pow! i was thrown against the razer sharp wall of the cave for the 10th time in an hour" or "BAM! i couldn't breathe and thought i was going to die!". He's expressive and like most italians, uses his whole body to communicate. His eyebrows raise and sometimes but not every time, he can bring a tear to his eye when asked to recount the feeling of lifeguard Earl lifting him out of the water on to the jet ski screaming "i've got him, i've got him!".

About three weeks ago, the National Geographic Channel hunted him down, here in Buenos Aires. They'd heard about the rescue and wanted to interview him and air a new program. So, they organized a local film crew and a bilingual producer and spent half of today in our apartment on Lafinur. We joked that the next time time the film crews come calling it will be for The History Channel or Where Are They Now? Hugh delivered as usual and this time I stayed and watched the whole interview. Breathless, I found myself hanging on his every word as if hearing it for the first time. Caught in that moment back in 1993 as he clung to his life and came out a changed man. He confessed to the camera "never once did I consider giving up". The producers posted the original video footage and a 10 year old interview on a website.

http://www.cherisundae.com/cattela/hawaiianhole.mov

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday cards

Friends have been asking for our new address so assume the holiday photo cards are on the way. The more the merrier! Send all to:

Lafinur 3200, #4b
Buenos Aires, Argentina 1425

Monday, December 3, 2007

Yogarina

My first job in the Bay Area earned me a fair amount of dough, lots of experience, a life long friend, mentors and a repetitive stress disorder called Myofascial Syndrome. Working in the marketing department at Oracle in the mid nineties meant 12-16 hr workdays, 1-2 hours of bumper to bumper commuting from the city, sitting in a chair staring and interacting with the computer all day and often at night when I got home and on weekends. One year later, I'm sitting in my office about to type an email when I feel a tingling in my left hand. It continues to worsen throughout the day but of course I ignore it. Try to shake it off. By the end of the week I have a piercing pain that shoots from the top of my left shoulder down my arm and into my fingers. Its too painful to turn a doorknob and typing on the computer is out of the question. Sadly, my situation wasn't unique. Several people I worked with had endured similiar even more serious ailments of the carpel tunnel and tendonitis variety. Everyone referred me to a chiropractor nearby that had half of the employee base of Oracle as his patients. After 6 months of physical therapy my condition improved and I was lucky enough to reverse the damage. Mostly he did deep (read painful) stretching of my neck and shoulder area, a few adjustments and had me do lots of stretching exercises on my own. My muscles had literally atrophied. A turning point that I would always remember.

From then on, I started stretching at my desk and throughout the day, getting up every half hour or so so that my body wouldn't get too stiff (still working all hours but at least not turning to stone). I started "working out" and took a yoga class at the Oracle gym every Monday and Wednesday nights. The yoga practice helped tremendously and of course it also helped with the stress of my workaholic existence. Since then, I've never stopped doing yoga - all types, Hatha, Ashtanga and for the two years we lived on S Van Ness in the Mission, I even got into the at first suffocatingly hot Bikram way.

Fast forward 10+ years. One of the things on my list of "to dos" here in Argentina was first, find good yoga and eventually look into teaching programs. The first 5 months kept me busy with learning spanish. It was survival and consumed all my attention and energy. When friend Joni visited last month she brought me a mountain of magazines. One of them was the latest YogaJournal. Reading through it and seeing some of the ads for teacher training in the states and other exotic locales I was reminded of my desire to teach and that unchecked item on my list. Also, my favorite teacher from Yogatree in the Castro was featured in a bold 8 page spread - beautiful and 8 months pregnant demonstrating prenatal poses. Seeing her was another god moment. I decided it was time to put it out "there" and see what happened.

I emailed two friends for suggestions of where to learn how to teach here in BA. One of the friends I emailed is planning to open a hot yoga center next April/May. The kind of place that doesn't exist here yet - big open space, lots of classes, juice bar, workshops. She didn't know of any formal teacher trainings in Argentina. but... she and her biz partner had selected the yoga method in the US they wanted at their center and planned to send 3 people to get trained. Was I interested? She thought I would be great. (we'd attended a yoga retreat weekend a few months ago together). Wow. Unexpected but delighted. We met for a coffee and agreed all around good idea.

The other email I sent was to my current yoga teacher. An american soon to marry an argentine. Cheryl has what argentines call "buena onda". She's got that special yoga vibe of joy, humility, kindness and total calm. The type of person you want to be around all the time so that some of what that is will rub off on you somehow. She approached me after class that week and made an observation and two startling proposals. First she said, yes, you have a beautiful practice and are ready to teach. Second - did I want to learn from her in the Master/Apprentice style "old school" the way she learned from an Indian yogini - meeting privately outside of class, then assisting her in the classes with alignment etc. And, finally, if so, did I want to start teaching her classes in January when she takes off for two months for her honeymoon. Obviously the answer was yes and YES!

So, in the span of a week, I asked the universe for help and Aladdin's genie slithered out. All I had to do was put aside fear and nerves and step in to what I had created. This is the 3rd week of studying the ashtanga primary series with my yogi teacher, also taking 4 classes a week (two with Cheryl and two at an ashtanga studio with spanish speaking teachers only so I can absorb the vocab) Starting January until March I will teach Cheryl's Tuesday and Friday classes. In June, I'll spend a month long intensive in Ft Lauderdale learning a hot ashtanga method that I'll teach in BA when I return. Goodbye myofascial, hello namaste.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Literary happenings

Saturday night I attended my first "literary" party/poetry and other readings event. My prof Suzanne is leaving in a few weeks to spend the holidays and January in Portland with her family. So, the party was to "festijar" the end of the year and I think her way of saying goodbye for a long while. It was a mixed and eclectic bunch - mostly americans but a fare number of argentines and a few brits as well. After an hour or so of socializing and sampling Suzanne's homemade pad thai, we settled in the living room like a good audience to listen and applaud each others creative endeavors. The argentina who hosted the party at her 21st floor apartment with an incredible view went first. She read something but I can't remember anything about it. I was mustering up the will to read next. With a glass of liquid Malbec courage in me, I raised my hand when they asked for volunteers. In the invitation, Suzanne asked us to bring something that expressed where we were creatively. I brought my whole notebook and decided in that moment to read a freewrite from that morning. Nothing special but somehow it fit.

He kissed me. Not the air. Not a cheek press with a lip smack to the wind - the Argentine greeting. No, not that. Definitely not that. I felt two soft puckered lips hit my right cheek. It was warm and intimate like we'd been friends for years. A greeting reserved for only the closest circle of people in his life. How did I get invited in to that place? He touched my shoulder fondly and asked how I was - if everything was ok for me. I said yes and looked him in the eye, unafraid of the exchange, a bit strange as it was. He asked if I was studying, glancing down at my Artists Way oversized book spread open on the table. I said "no, leyendo". I'm reading I said calmly with a smile. He walked out the back door where I saw him open a car door (assume it was his own) pull out a newspaper and bring it back in to one of his customers in the cafe. He'd lent his own morning paper. Yes, this is a place I will come back to. This is a place where I can write, stop for a pause, stare up at the mumbling crowd and out the window across noisy Libertador Avenue to the most lush and tree filled park in the city. One or two blocks from our apartment. Today I feel immensely lucky. luck begets luck. The kiss came from somewhere I'm sure. god moment perhaps. He looked at me like he really knew me. Yes, I've been here before, always outside with Utta but he's never acknowledged me. Before I was a nameless faceless order of cafe con leche or agua con gas. An occasional medialuna on a frivolous day. My visits don't warrant that kiss and yet. Maybe I called for it. I've embraced this city, the people, the culture, the language. Why be surprised that they return the sentiment in their own way. I'm finding my roots and making myself familiar. He told me I have the most beautiful blue eyes. Was he just hitting on me? No, too pedestrian. The kiss was something else entirely. It said welcome - you're loved, you belong here. I understand your order. I support your activity be it writing, reading or drinking green tea. There's no rush today it reassured. We're happy to have you and come again anytime. We're one you and I it said. I know you and you know me even if you don't realize it. Today I was kissed. Before I was hiding but today I was kissed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Clutter

A few weeks ago my writing prof talked to us about clutter. Physical, emotional, virtual - how it all takes up space that could be otherwise used for creating. How most of us spend our days with distraction, unintentionally filling the void until the filling up of it is the it we call living. Homework for that week and every week since has been to de-clutter as much and as often as possible. Moving to BA was a forced sort of physical decluttering. I gave away bags of clothes and shoes I knew I'd never need or wear again. I moved here with two large suitcases - no room for junk, momentos or saved things. Liberating yet some days even I tire of seeing myself in one of the 8 recycled t-shirts in the casual category of my new old wardrobe. But other types of clutter - yes, I had it and am getting rid of it. Clutter of time wasted. Internet clutter is a whole new miraculous medium to twitter the hours. I made a list of all websites now officially classified as "clutter" and off the bookmark tab. For good.

www.sfgate.com - Daily Dish, updates every day at 3pm PDT
http://gofugyourself.com - more fashion commentary but dives deep in britney/kfed
www.etonline.com - covers all big stories like TomKat wedding details
www.eonline.com - fashion police, a quick hit when you need it
www.tmz.com - shameful gossip with video
www.perezhilton.com - even more shameful. you might not want to tell anyone you surf this one

I include these links in case anyone out there is not trying to declutter their lives and is in fact looking to pass a few shameful hours gazing at the navels of britney, lindsey or other hollywood types fraught with drama...look no further.

It's been nearly three weeks since I've visited the clutter sites and I don't miss it nor do I miss the coked up feeling of typing in the url and scrolling down the page at yet another angle of someone's lack of underpants wearing evening on tinseltown. I've been forced to examine my own role in it all. What feelings, activities, people have I been avoiding immersed in this mindless clutter? Back in SF, Friday early evenings - exhausted and burnt out from the week of work and dizzying worry. I'd take myself directly to the Walgreens on Post across the street and pick up the latest US Weekly. Reading it on the bart ride home was strangely calming. It became a ritual distraction I'm not proud of but can admit to now that I no longer have access to it. That said, I've asked my friends who will be visiting in the months to come - pls don't bring me any clutter. I'm making room for other things now. TomKat and the OC will have to go on without me.

God Moments

I stepped into the cab three seconds from soaking. During class the weather had turned from cloudy to torrential. Rain pummeled the sidewalk and every moving thing searched frantically for shelter. Cabs were full and on an afternoon like this, impossible to get. I hurried down the one way street with my struggling umbrella hoping for a miracle or dumb luck. In front of a church, it pulled up and as a woman stepped out, I thanked god’s house and motioned to the driver that I wanted to get in.

At first I didn’t notice anything special about him. I was so relieved and spent from the rain to do anything but take a few deep inhales. Then I saw his froggy bulging eyes and wild white hair in the rearview mirror. “Cervino y Lafinur, “ I directed. He grunted and pulled into the heavily rain congested melee of colectivos and taxis. First he asked me where I was from. So obvious even from the way I pronounced the two street names that I wasn’t a local or even a South American. He wanted to know what I did “Que te dedicas?”. He was probing slowly, gathering information for his coming observations of me and of life. “I’m a writer,” I told him with a touch of phony confidence. (wait till I tell Suzanne, my prof, I thought all puffy chested). His eyes widened a bit more and his wrinkly long fingernailed hands gripped the steering wheel tighter.

“What KIND of writing do you do?”
“I write fantasy – about worlds that don’t really exist”. Kind of a shaky answer but what the hell – we’re all making it up as we go in some form or another. His forehead scrunched and eyes half closed asked me in long articulated breaths, “what do you think fantasy is?” Whoa – esoteric turn. Now this is getting interesting. The penetrating stare, witch fingernails and hunched shoulders exuded Harry Potter. I was 9 years old again. “Well, I stammered – fantasy is whatever your imagination can come up with, it could be anything?” I ended my response with a question and my voice went up an octave or two. He went in for the kill. “NO!”, he shook his right index finger at me. “Fantasy is the unique combination of real and imaginary. For example, the Centaur – half man half horse. Or the mermaid, half woman, half fish. People accept the fantasy because it comes along with something they can relate to.” (Shit, I knew that.) Back to the old dusty library of Monsignor Luvidicus Royale of Magical Realism and other voodoo topics. How did I end up in this cab?

He spoke like all Argentines – more with his hands than his voice but talked slowly articulating every word for dramatic effect. Pausing and asking if I understood him. He tells me he works in the world of “espectaculos” – eyes wide again bulging nearly out of their sockets. “You must write for the theater”, he tells me. It wasn’t a suggestion. “Tell the truth” he says. “Tell the truth about the problems of our time, of our people. We are the people. You are the people. Tell the truth in your writing! What else is there?” he demanded to know. I was entranced. Who speaks of the truth in a 10 minute cab ride? Who speaks of the truth anywhere? Is this my sign? It’s almost too obvious. So obvious, it could be mistaken for something else, less like the message it is. Is this as my friend Wendy calls it a “God moment”. We’ve all had them even if we don’t recognize or name them. They’re episodes with strangers (usually short so you could forget easily if you aren’t paying attention) that tell you, ask you, the most personal knowing things. Things that you can’t or don’t talk about with your intimates. Things you may think but don’t say. Things from your subconscious that only God would know to knudge you about, guide you, question you. God moments in cab rides. Tucked away as the title of something. How fantastically bizarre and yet disturbing in its closeness. “You will see a sign promoting a show called Poder de Affectacion – Ninos y Adolescentes de Artes”. He said it again, saying each world slowly looking me in the eye so that I would remember. “Go in and enjoy it. Then come see me about a job”. Pow.

Startled awake, I handed him the cab fare and asked his name. “Nestor Francisco – mother Spanish and father Italian”. We shook hands and I stepped out and away from the fantasy ride. Looked back twice, blinking in the rainy glare to make sure it wasn’t just my imagination.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Burn update

Usually Hugh chides me for running to the doctor at the first sign of illness or injury. This time he encouraged me to go and I'm glad I did. Yesterday I took a cab to Hospital Aleman where we're insured. I went to ER and then sent me immediately up to the Burn Unit (Quemado). It was strangely quiet up there, no visible reception desk and I poke around a bit looking for someone to help me when I passed a room with some poor burn victim wrapped up head to toe like a mummy. his loved ones were standing outside peering in the window with tears running down their faces. boy did i feel stupid to be there with my mate burn. the crying woman told me i needed to call the staff on the intercom and they would attend me. i did and next thing i know half of the wall near from entrance is sliding up like the window of a Burger King drive through. What happened she asks me in spanish. She tells me to hop on the guerney (attached to the sliding wall/window" which I do and she pulls me over to the other side. Don't step on the ground she warns. It took a few seconds to register what and why this was happening. burn victims are so sensitive to infection that they have to take extreme precautions with who and what they let in the unit. i was not supposed to let my dirty feet touch ground - just lay on the guerney and they would help me from there. after a few minutes the doctor came over with the nurse to take a look. they didn't quite understand how i burned myself on the back of my leg - a difficult and unusual place to reach with an accident. i started to feel queasy when i saw the syringe. oh god, i thought - this looks bad. "tengo miedo, tengo miedo" I squeeked. they tried to sooth me but i just gripped the sheet and braced for the worst. they told me the blister was dead skin and needed to be removed. they also had to get the liquid out of it (hence the syringe). so, first the needle, then even more painful was the Brillo like thing the doctor used to scrape every last remnant of burned skin from that part of my leg. Raw doesn't even begin to cover what if felt like after that. then they applied a few different cleansing salves and wrapped my leg in gauze. He took my hand to measure the area. Apparently I burned 1 percent of my body. Each hand size represents that percent of your body and that is how they calculate the severity of burns - this information must be reported to the insurers and various hospital agencies.

Today I went back for a follow up. They reapplied some kind of antibacterial salve and a new bandage. Tomorrow I go back one last time and after that they said I should be able to change the dressing on my own at home. I am not so good with hobbling around and disrupting my routine. Had to miss my running practice last night and couldn't walk Utta today. Could it be yet another "let go and let god" opportunity. i thought i'd had enough already but apparently not. the weather changed today with my mood. london like rain made the blooming lavendar tree outside our window look almost florescent.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ignorance personified



There are moments in ones life when something happens and one says to oneself - "self, what the f*** where you thinking". There are definitely times like that. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times.

Skype has literally transformed some of my relationships with friends and family back in the US. My friend Jen and I talk every week on the same day. If I look sad, she notices my expression and probes to find out whats bothering me. She tells me that for her, it doesn't seem real that I've moved so far away. We are sharing as much of our lives if not more than before. My sister and I also talk regularly. She turns the video cam in her Mac towards Dudley so I can say hello to him and watch him chew on a bone. I do the same as Utta is inevitaby by my side snoring, chewing or grunting. Rachel and I have been talking even more lately. She and Rey decided about a month ago to have a destination wedding next May here in Argentina. Woo HOO!!! It will be small - 30 people or so. Everyone will fly to Buenos Aires, hopefully spend some time here and the wedding will take place over a few days celebration at the La Candelaria estancia where I went for my birthday this year.

So, yesterday we were chatting along about the details of the big day (obviously I'm helping with a lot of the coordination and acting as go-between with the estancia people who don't really speak english).

Last week I purchased "Novias" - Argentina's two inch thick bridal magazine - to provide names of vendors for tuxedo rental, djs and the like. Rachel and I had a date to talk at 4pm my time - 11am her time. I was all prepped. Pillows propped up on the single bed in the back quiet bedroom (Hugh in the living room enjoying the output of the new NFL sunday package on directv), heated water for mate, Utta on the bed at my feed and dialed up SF.

We were chatting along as usual but this time, she dialed my mom in San Diego on her cell phone, put her on speaker phone and then laid the phone next to the Mac microphone so that the three of us could talk at once. We wished her a happy 60th.

My mate water was still cooling off and I'd left the thermos top off. The sacred rule of mate preparation is to heat the water to only 82 degrees - just before boiling. Any warmer and the water will burn the leaves and ruin the taste, not to mention scalding the crap out of your tongue. Normally, I stand over the teapot watching fastidiously so that I pull the water from the flame at just the right moment. Well, today I was rushing around before the call and forgot my water on the stove. When I finally ran over to turn it off it had already been boiling for a few minutes. Damn. no time to start over. So, I'll just put the water in the thermos with the lid off to let it cool back down to 82 degrees (a risky proposition but perpetrated by the mate novice from time to time).

I decided at some point in the conversation to show my sister the picture of Argentine weddings from the Novias Magazine - so she could see some of the styles of dresses and tuxedos - also to show Rey who was standing nearby. With the Mac balanced on my lap, Utta at my feet carving a bone, the Novias 10 pound magazine in my right hand....I quite stupidly chose that very moment to pick up the mate thermos filled to the top with scalding hot (boiling remember) water and attempt the multi-tasking feat of showing my sister the magazine photo while at the same time, preparing my first sip of mate from the hopefully cooled off water.

Well, as you may have surmised by now, all went horribly wrong. Computer starts to tilt and slide off my lap, magazine weighing heavily in my arm and absent mindedly as my body tilts to the right side, to save the computer and magazine from ultimate peril of landing softly on the bed, the open thermos in my left hand follows the sideways tilt of my torso and gushes out like the Iguazu Falls onto the bed beside me, soaking the bedspread and sheets and quickly finding its way underneath my right upper thigh. I was wearing a juicy couture knock off sweatsuit, but the water quickly penetrated the fabric to touch raw skin on my backside.

I tried in that moment of contact to do everything at once. Hop up from the bed to get away from the scalding water, detach myself from the computer (had earphones plugged in for better reception) without literally flinging it across the room, scream for help, and get Utta off the bed and away from the water. Hugh burst in to see what was happening. I ran out of the room wailing and immediately planted myself on the bidet - hoping the cool water might relieve the already burning sensation on my leg. Not nearly cold enough. next idea. Hugh jumped on the Skype call to get advice from Nurse Rachel. "Go immediately to the farmacia - she needs burn cream and keep it as cool as possible - use ice!". I was hoping around the house - by this time in my underwear, just howling. The dog poor thing was terribly confused and scared. Hugh brought me a towel full of ice cubes which felt immediately good on my skin. He rushed out to the pharmacy and I went back to my call with Rachel - talking and rubbing ice on the burn for the next 30 minutes. I knew it was going to be bad but I'd never quite burned myself like this before. A few hours later, it got worse and a huge horror film blister emerged. Today I'll visit the ER to make sure nothing gets infected. The spanish verb for burn is "quemar". Me queme. I burned myself. I am going to use that word a lot this week.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

An anniversary love letter...




Dear Hugh,

Seven years ago today I promised to be your lifelong companion. I knew it would be an adventure, our union, but never could I have imagined building entirely new lives together in South America.

From time to time you ask me "Why do you love me?" and I usually answer quickly and without a lot of thought. Loving you is so automatic now, so ingrained in who I am that I forget there was a time before you.

Why I love you comes to me in little reminders every day. The top of your lungs singing to your favorite songs on the radio, your unquenchable thirst for knowledge about our world and the events of the day, the playful interchanges in Spanish you share with Marta - our thrice weekly housemate and caretaker. Of course the daily play sessions you have with Utta, the hide under the sheet game you invented that drives her mad, helps remind me how important it is to frolic and how easy and natural it is for you to access that part of yourself.

Sometimes my love for your comes in the spectacular occasions where you always seem to shine. The bravery of taking Utta and driving alone across the country staying at motels and guarding our things. Then bringing her from Texas to Argentina, landing here alone and getting our new lives set up - the heroism of those incredible first weeks still takes my breath away. The 40th birthday rap you wrote and performed for your friend Jon's party is one of my favorite memories of recent years. The way you prepared for weeks, researching, writing, practicing and enjoying the idea of giving such a unique gift to someone you love, captured who you are to me. Flamboyantly generous, inventive, ridiculously silly and always at the perfect moments - larger than life pure fun.

I know you were surprised to hear me confess this year a desire, finally to start a family. The feeling surprised me too. Somehow the maternal urge got hidden away - seemingly inaccessible. But little by little, as my love for you and trust in us has grown these past seven - really nine years, that part in me is ready to come out. I know that if we do have children, you will be a tireless and fantastic parent. It's a side of you I've already seen in your care for Utta and another reason I feels so grateful and lucky to be married to you.

Wherever our next adventures take us, I want you to know how deeply I love you, how happy I am just being with you and look forward to the lifetime of experiences we've yet to create.

Love,
Your Wife Ambi

Friday, November 9, 2007

Un piercing por favor


Last night I did the unthinkable. I let a stranger poke a dagger like instrument through my nose and insert a corkscrew object with a half moon at the end. I'm pierced. For years I fantasized about getting one. Every time I was in between stuffy suit wearing high paying corporate jobs I would have moments of gazing dreamily out the window - "should I get it now, just take it out for interviews and put it back in on the weekends?" Deep down I knew that wouldn't work. My alter ego wasn't ready to express itself - too hard to detach from the left brain stock wielding cube dweller.

My friend Gaby knew of a place off of Santa Fe y Rodriquez Pena in ritzy Recoleta and I trusted her. She has a cool silver star in her nose and a belly piercing from time spent in Italy. Her piercings don't prevent her from interviewing for corporate marketing jobs here or working at a call center but we are of course talking about a different culture, another world at times - the place where its totally acceptable for a man to grow his hair longish and mullety and go 3 or 4 days without shaving to work - that dirty, sexy bum look I used to see only in Calvin Klein ads.

We met at a place called Bond Street galleria. A small cluster of piercing and tatoo parlors, clothes stores that carried mostly black t-shirts and silver studded belts like what you'd find south of market on Folsom Street. It was filled with mostly teenagers peering through the windows and pouring over catalogs of tatoo designs. All the shops had clear windows and were well lit so I could actually see people in the process of getting inked, poked, pierced. Gag, gulp, nausea. Every shop posted photos of their best work - the soccer player with an intricate portrait of each of his two children blazoned on his chest - so lifelike. One man with a likeness of his double chinned jowly aging mum on his arm. Then there were the piercing displays of silver rods poked though various nether regions of the most intimate kind. ewwww.

We did one lap thru the galleria and settled on the busiest and most well known place near the entrance. We walked in and I said "hola, quiero un piercing en la nariz" and pointed to my nose. The man-boy standing at the counter smiled, nodded and hurried off to return with a tray of my options for the ring - mostly tiny silver balls and a few with cubic zirconia sparkle, all very discreet. Do you have a half-moon (media luna) I asked? In my mind I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like. For many years during her late 30s and 40s my aunt Sea Jai sported 2 nose rings - one silver star and on the other side of her nose slightly higher up, a silver crescent moon. She wore it so well and I always admired her bravado and individual sense of style. At 55, I've no doubt she could still pull off that look if she wanted. So, I channeled Sea Jai and chose the moon.

He asked if I was ready and I nodded half convinced with a gesture towards Gaby. He said no - we don't allow friends in the room. Anxiety level kicked up a notch. Panicking inside I thought only of the worst - pain, botched work, miscommunication and being alone. I gulped and followed him down a windy set of stairs to their basement work room. It was very bright and thankfully sterile feeling. A man with his shirt off bent over a chair was getting a tatoo. I barely noticed him. Was fixated on the empty dentist like lounger chair I assumed would be my post. On the way down the stairs, the man-boy Chris made small talk. Turns out he's from Florida but his parents are Argentine so he's living with them for now in BA. His english was of course perfect and the american accent soothing. At least there will be no translation issues. Check that off the paranoid list of potential mishaps.

Once seated on the chair lounger, I asked him if he was going to use a pistol device to do the piercing - like they do with your ears in the mall back home. Even Gaby said that's how it was done with hers - one quick shot and the piercing is done along with insertion of the ring that pops in right after the blast of crisp clean air. "No, he shook his head. I'll use a needle." He then showed me the 3 centimeter long dagger like metal instrument - shaped somewhat like my eyebrow tweezers with a similar girth. Good god! I'm so not prepared for this - a dagger through my nose with no friend to hold my hand? I didn't want to ask any more questions for fear of the answer - especially the dreaded "are you going to numb it at least?" thought lingering in my mind now.

He pulled on surgical gloves and wiped my nose off with something anteseptic smelling. Then he gave me calm instructions as he picked up the dagger "close your eyes and when I tell you, take a deep inhale". Ok, I thought - just conjure up my special place from yoga breathing, time to leave my body. Ooops, too late - daggers going in - owwwww, owwww, friggin owww. Breathe in he hushed and I sucked air as he plunged it harder and deeper into the flesh of my nose. I remembered he said it might "sting" - hah! yeah right. A sting is like when a mosquito bites your leg and one half second later you swat it away and its over. This was a long dull take your breath away ache. Time slowed down and I felt my eyes tear up uncontrollably. "Now I'm going to put the ring in and then we're done". This part was no less jarring as the piercing was shaped like a corkscrew so that it would stay in position without needing a backing like a normal earring. He twisted and turned and finally pulled out the dagger - done. He lowered me down to rest on my back like a patient in the hospital. He dabbed at my ose with q-tips and antiseptic. It was bleeding a bit. I asked for a tissue to wipe my tears. Then he sent me off with a small card of instructions in english of how to wash and care for my new wound the coming weeks.

When I reunited with Gaby upstairs our Halcones motto immediately came to mind. "Fue duro pero lo hice" I said with a forced smile (it was hard but I did it). She laughed and looked a bit concerned for me. My nose ached for the next few hours as the Ibuprophen kicked in. I tried to take a photo of it when I got home but its so tiny you can barely see it unless you look really close. better photo coming...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fun Running


Springtime is race season in BA. The mildest most pleasant time to run so there are races every weekend throughout October and November. Los Halcones try to run them together as often as possible. This past Saturday I ran an 8k with Gaby and Corinne ( a relatively newer Halcone from SF but living and studying here, getting ready to marry her Chilean boyfriend). Martin rode alongside us for half the race taking photos and shouting encouragements "Vamos chicas, muy buen, faltan poco (just a little bit to go!). Some runners carried their homeland flag - Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Chile. The top 3 male finishers were skinny minny like Martin and in their early 20s. The female finishers were all at least mid 30s (some looked early forties).

Yesterday was the BA Marathon. Our team captain Judith of Holland and Martin had always planned to run it together - her first and his umpteenth. Several weeks past they tried to conjole me into running the first half with them. More to aid Judith in pacing herself for the rest of the race as she has trouble with any pace but a near sprint. Much as I wanted to be a good teammate and help her out, the thought of keeping up with the two of them for another half marathon sounded like torture. I'd learned my lesson from the half marathon I did back in August. Although I'm enjoying running 4 or 5 times a week - the distance thing just isn't my gig anymore. 8 or 10ks are just fine by me. So, to their disappointment I passed but promised to come cheer them on. Laura and I met at 10:30 and found our way to the course. The BA Marathon is only 5 years old. I guess running as a sport is fairly new to the area so they've yet to really nail the course (this year was painfully far from the center of the city and impossible to find parking or buses for spectators) or publicize it in such a way that the community comes out to cheer on the athletes. I was shocked to be one of just a handful of cheerleaders along the race route. Laura commented that she thinks its more of a cultural thing. That Argentines don't cheer, support, inspire, motivate each other the way Americans do. Not in sport and not at work either. Interesting observation coming from a Portena. We stood at KM 39 for about 25 minutes before spotting Martin and Judith. She was walking with head down and a defeated expression. Martin looked irked and fed up. We screamed and cheered and ran out to greet them - running alongside them both for a few hundred yards to get her going again. I hadn't thought to wear my running clothes and shoes otherwise would have finished the final 3K with them. We waved them on and walked on along the route to the end. At the finish line there were more people but nothing like what I'd expected - maybe 200 people if that. The race ended at Parque de los Ninos - a scenic spot next to the river with lots of wide open green space and bbq pits. The grass was littered with the weary bodies of marathon finishers - stretching, drinking water, eating bananas or just plain collapsed in the sun. We found Judith and were introduced to her boyfriend 6.5 ft tall Floris (also from Holland). She eeked out our team motto "Fue duro pero lo hice - it was hard but I did it". She said she was feeling good and confident through KM 30. then at KM32 she hit "the wall". walked off and on till the end. We tried to ease her mind of it as much as possible - finishing at all is such an accomplishment and at least she ran in the final kilometer. But Martin was harder on her. He was so disappointed - his team captain, his star athlete, the fastest and most promising runner. He kept harping that if only she had continued on as she had done the first part of the race. He could not let it go. I helped them both stretch out their sore muscles and we all headed home. Next weekend is the biggest race of the year in BA. Its the Nike 10k - more than 25 thousand argentines participate. For some, its the only race of the year.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why I Write

I write to transform nebulous thoughts into concrete ideas

I write to relieve my mind of a constant chatter

I write to think, feel and be someone who doesn't get to be seen very often

I write to create a picture of my life and who I am becoming in BA to friends and family in the US

I write to play with words in more than one language

I write to be funny, sarcastic and flip

I write to know myself better - to see what comes out

I write to absolve myself of guilt for thoughts and actions I'm not proud of

I write to bring something new and undiscovered to my day

I write because it pleases others to read my writing

I write because I love to read and words and stories are inside of me

I write to be in the moment

I write to leave my reality and imagine another

Joni's visit



We've named our small but dark and cozy second bedroom "Joni's Room". She lived there for two weeks during which time we fell into an easy routine of sharing space. Utta loved having a third person in the house - one extra someone to wake up each morning with wet tongue kisses and pouncing on the bed. Every day Utta would tear into Joni's room to wake her up, bouncing up to her and wiggling her back half back and forth. We had slow lazy mornings with coffee (sometimes mate) and walks with Utta. Afternoons and evenings we explored the city. Last Saturday we all took the train to San Isidro - 30 minutes outside downtown BA to ck out a fancy suburb. Had a Piedmont/Ross Kentfied vibe though I've been told that the rich suburbs are much less safe than living in the city as the thieves target those areas for kidnapping, ransoms and the like. yeah, nice.

Joni left no shoe store unturned. The best spas in the city knew her by name. Strangely, she confessed her most memorable culinary experience was the fresh fruit salad in our very own fridge which gracious Marta replenished every Monday, Wed and Friday afternoons. Yesterday before she left for the airport we topped it all off with high tea at the Alvear Palace Hotel. So ends the springtime season of visitors. I'm both sad and renewed. Another turning point in my first year here. The days are getting a bit warmer. I struggle more in my running practice with the humidity (doesn't seem to bother the argentines on the team one bit) and ever present mosquitos. Locals are turning shades of carmel. Wonder how they're going to look after 3 months of sunning themselves in the park. It's an interesting contradiction - the fanaticism for a youthful appearance and daily worship of the wrinkle and spot producing sun. Methinks there's some magical mystery skincare product I've yet to discover....

Friday, October 26, 2007

On Fuego

What a strange week. Lost access to my hotmail account for a few days and was shocked to log on Wednesday to several scary "updates" from friends and family in San Diego. just when i think i've managed to ween myself from obsessive checking of cnn.com for what's going on in the world - orange alerts, amber alerts, a new war, britney or lindsey back in rehab etc, this happens to suck me right back in. Mom and Carlos were evacuated from Escondido - first to a local school then to a nearby hotel until last night. Ramona and fam had bags packed and were ready to go but never had to. Friends Jen and Jackie both evacuated but no damage done to the house thank god. Cousins westley and forrest in Ventura didn't go to school since the air quality was so bad they shut down classes for a few days. Good god what is going on?

Tried to catch some of the coverage on BA channels last night on tv. I knew that with Bush and Arnie making a tour of the "disaster zone", it would have to make the news here. It was laughable. Somehow one of the spanish speaking correspondents found a San Diegan willing to attempt explaining his situation to the viewers in what he thought was espanol. After a few words, he blurted out in english "what's the word again for storm? yeah, yeah tormenta, that's it, like a tormenta". Its not like San Diego of all places lacks a spanish speaking populace but I guess the reporter just couldn't pull it together. Well, its the images that tell the story anyway. Here mother nature is in full spring fling. Friend Joni staying with us for two weeks spent the whole day in bed yesterday with a migraine like headache from allergies. Lots of pollen floating around. Last night rain crashed down for a few hours and flooded streets and parks. Today sunny and breezy again but in the past half hour the dark clouds rolled in again and appear to be threatening my friday evening running practice with another downpour.

am grateful all family and friends are safe in socal. i know thats not the case with everyone.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Playing with words

Yes, Its come to my attention that the blog posts have pittered off a bit since I started the writing class. I'm writing a lot now but the vast majority is not ready for prime time - actually barely worthy of my reading it for the second time much less showing someone else or the universe of blogdom. But my prof says the most important thing at this point is quantity not quality. that quality will reveal itself over time if I continue to generate. so generate i do. some days a poem, lots of free writes (random thoughts without structure), lists and an occasional story. this weekend i worked on a short story based on a white lie I gave to a character that did something differently with the situation than I did or would have done. A few weeks ago, my writers group shared lists of delicious sounding words. some of mine are:

maravilloso (that's spanish for marvelous)
bulldogger
wisteria
poof
twirl
whisper
chocolate
raspberry
fastidious
giggle
butterfly
fragile
expeditious
languid
trombone
slumber
gigantic
puzzle
shadowy
jabber
squeamish
lyrical

these words and others coming soon to a written something....

Back to where we started


Last week we moved into our new old apartment in Palermo. This pic is the view from our balcony looking down onto the street - taken my first week in BA. It's a weird deja vu kind of thing. Walking around the neighborhood, familiar shops and streets but I'm seeing it all with new eyes and an ease with the language. Rather than pointing at the fruit and vegetables I want, I have a short chat with the shopkeeper to ask about what's fresh, what a nice day it is, whether Utta is "macho or embra" (she's embra) although the mosquitos are tormenting me - just like when I arrived and last lived here. Utta remembers the building and the apartment. Animals are funny that way. She knew to turn to the left when the elevator arrived at the fourth floor. She's happier here and so are we - calmer and more relaxed. With the rugs Hugh brought back from our storage in SF the place feels homier and more like us. We have settled in finally (although we are living very simply and trying not to accumulate much, it took 6 taxi rides to move all our stuff when the first time it only took 2). Our portero Carlos is having trouble remembering my name. Ambi is too foreign sounding for him i guess although 90% of the argentines i've met say it easily. so, he's taken to calling me "mujer de senor hugo". back in my radical angry feminist days that would have sent me into a real tizzy. but carlos is sweet and not at all patronizing. it's just part of the language. in fact, its not uncommon to see Cristina Kirchner (soon to be President of Argentina, current Senator and wife of the current President) to be referred to as "mujer de Nestor Kirchner". Yes, she's much more than that and if she's ok with the reference, i can live with mine too.

today I went to Jumbo (the biggest grocery store/home depot like monstrosity in town) to pick up a few necessities - mosquito repellent and the thingy that plugs into the wall and sends off some kind of disarming smell, tupperware, pot holder, baking dish and some food - had grilled salmon for dinner (first seafood in 2 months). Joni arrives tomorrow morning for a 2 week visit. Fortunately this apartment has a small second bedroom with a wee single bed - nothing fancy but for one person it should do. We haven't seen each other since my trip to Mexico and Joni's not much of an email person so we have a lot of catching up to do.

When Jen and Jackie were here, we visited an estancia for a few days near a colonial town called San Antonio de Areco. I got caught up in the whirl of vacationdom and "forgot" one morning about my lactose intolerance. They served cafe con crema - with the crema likely straight out of the cow that morning. well, four hours later my body reminded me. it lasted 5 days this time. wasn't able to eat anything but bread and bananas for days. made it a bit rough the later part of their visit but it was I guess a necessary reminder. so, during that time i stopped drinking coffee altogether. now that my tummy is back to normal, i am on to a new morning routine of mate to jump start my day. whenever i mention my love of mate to an expat they look at me with shock and awe - also will usually burp out some inane remark like "wow, you've really taken this whole argentine thing to heart haven't you?" it's said in uruguay everyone walks around with their mate thermos slung over their shoulder in a fancy little mate bag so they can sip it all day long. i'm thinking of getting one...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My new muse



Her name is La Negrita. That's what the woman called her who made her, then sold her to me. Walking around the plaza of vendors, none of the artsy craftsy stuff caught my eye until....a sea of yellow haired, blue haired, raspberry haired, nectarine haired Negrita dolls. Objectively they were nothing special but something pulled me in closer for a look. They were all so amable, so silly smiling and peaceful in that childlike naivete adults loose with the first pimple. The blue haired Negrita called out for me to pick her up, turn her over, stroke her six raggedy ann braids shooting straight up to the sky as if suspended in air by some supernatural force. squeeze me she encouraged. her expression was simple and perfect, not overly ornate. two thin ovals for eyes drawn with what seemed like chalk or crayon and below a huge kindergarten U for a mouth - big wide happy everythings just fine say hello to me kind of smile. I gave a squeeze to her middle - plump with cotton stuffing. Her head exaggeratedly large for her triangle shaped middle with a black and same color blue as her hair striped mini dress. Her feet swelled out larger than expected to match the fantastic bobbling head. As soon as I picked her up I knew, just knew she was coming home with me. I hesitated for just a second and asked the kind eyed woman artist "cuanto cuesto"? She told me 15 pesos and I borrowed the money from my friend Jennifer. Right away I tucked her half in to my purse so her head still stuck out to peer around.

Later that night I introduced her to Hugh and warned "don't let Utta get near her - she's not a dog's plaything". He looked at me with eyes that said "you're more than a little bit loca". it may be but right now she's as important to me as anything else. Early yesterday morning I tucked La Negrita into the front fold of my coffe stained robe, went out to our small balcony and wrote for an hour in the breezy sun. she just sat there with me quietly. (yes, I know what the neighbors were probably thinking).

Monday, October 8, 2007

Monday in October

Friends Jen and Jackie left today. We had one last leisure lunch together, walked through the park where I run and ordered empanadas for them to carry on the plane. I think I've seen more of Buenos Aires the past two weeks than the previous 6 months. Saturday night we dined at Grappa where they make "pizza a la parilla" - very thin crispy crust that bakes on the grill with sassy toppings like creamed spinach. sounds strange but trust me - ricisimo! then we headed out to enjoy "Noche de los Museos". Once a year, BA opens up more than 100 city museums for an evening of music, dancing, lectures and art - all free. Each museo had its own program. Impossible to hit more than a few in one night so we chose: Decorative Arts museum, Museo de la Mujer (why why why do all women's buildings have to be so sad and decrepid - painfully underfunded, hence underwhelming. lastly to the vibrant Museo Mundial de Tango. They hosted live concerts of various local tango bands. "Tango" to argentines means much more than the dance - as important is the music. We listened to an excellent group called Violentango. They were thirtyfortyish and grungy. had a large following clammoring for their cd after their set so we clammored along and bought one. The youngest of my Halcones running team Ludmila (19yrs) tells me that the coolest tango bands these days are of the electronica ilk.

With the move came other now expected inconveniences....sporadic and slow internet access, no microwave and a lot less closet space. But, Hugh's got the Cowboys on the telly right now, we have our SF City Hall wedding photo hanging on the wall and can now stop worrying about the next place to live - for another 6 months.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Transitions



The past few weeks have been a departure from my usual routine. First, I ended daily spanish lessons with tutor David. He went to NYC for 6 weeks to study under a special voice coach on Broadway - his true passion is theater, acting, producing and directing. The separation was bittersweet. I felt sad to leave behind this part of my argentine adventure, daily talks with David in espanol and 5 days a week intense immersion program. Learning new phrases and practicing my grammar with a rigor I'd never impose on my own. At the same time, I feel ready for a break. Ready to take all I've learned and practice more "en las calles" in the streets. I'm sure I'll return to formal study at some point but not for awhile.

After a long cold winter of me, Hugh and the dog huddled around the heater sipping mate and eating stews and soups, it's springtime and visiting season in BA. First in were Howard and Frank (see 1st pic above). Frank and I worked down the hall from eachother for two years at Schwab so was nice to spend a bit of time together in a more casual setting. They stayed half a block from our apt in Barrio Norte (by coincidence) so was easy to get together. We went to my favorite parilla Don Julios their first night in BA (after their whirlwind tour of Chile and Uruguay) - had a wonderful time talking about our travel experiences and sharing a big steak and Malbec wine. They brought me two precious jars of organic salted peanut butter - a true luxury in peanutbutterless Buenos Aires. Two days later, Jen and Jackie arrived from San Diego. Here for two weeks. They're staying in an apartment just a few blocks from us. I've been looking forward to their visit for months - saving up a lot of touristy excursions for when they arrived. So far we've been to the Recoleta Cemetery, Palermo Gardens, Sofie Martire shoes, Sette Bacco and El Mirasol dinners out, took a day trip to Tigre by train (my first time!), had a dinner party with friends Brad/Laura and Wendy/Maximo(made empanadas - thank you again to Tonito's Mom for the fab recipe!) and today went to a Futbol (soccer) game at the River stadium. Jackie's a photographer and animal lover so has logged no fewer than a hundred quality shots of Utta since they arrived.

Also, Hugh's back. We both agreed that 3 weeks apart is too long but it was a good trip for him and he brought back several of our rugs from storage to use in the apartment. Thursday we move to a new place. Well, new old actually. After nearly 4 weeks of searching for the perfect next apartment - closer to the park for Utta, a bit bigger for us and coming visitors, and in a different neighborhood for a change, we opted to return to the first apartment we lived in when we arrived. It's two bedrooms and in Palermo on Cervino y Lafinur streets, 3 blocks from our favorite parks where Utta can frolick untethered and I can get to my running practice without taking a cab. Its a "coming full circle" kind of moment. I must've perused no fewer than 100 potential apartments online through the short term agencies for expats and seen more than a dozen in person. Was difficult to find places that would accept a dog and we decided that location was more important than anything else. that narrowed down the search quite a bit. So, our new old apartment is in a great location, takes dogs and is 40% cheaper than our current place. Is it "cheto"? no. Its pretty average in terms of furnishings and the building itself. No amenities like a pool or gym or 24 security but we have the portero (doorman) named Carlos who is a sweetheart and a small balcony for Utta to watch people walk by. Goodbye winter in Barrio Norte, Hello summer in Palermo...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thursday nights







I've been remiss posting photos from various outings so here are a few from the last few Thursday nights with the Girls. The first two are from a wine tasting at my place. We had 7 different wines (all red) ranging from 10 pesos (about $3US) to 29 pesos. I wrapped the bottles (quite elegantly don't ya think with the grocery bags) to hide the labels so we could sniff, swirl and attempt to guess the cheapest to the most expensive. My friend and former spanish tutor David would call this kind of activity very "Cheto". Means snooty or "richy". He says the activity of wine tasting isn't really done here - only by a few since the industry here is relatively new - only 5 years ago most younger people drank beer not wine. Well we had a great time as usual. The remaining shots are from the prior week - a visit to one of the few Greek restaurants in town - called Mykonos. Food was tasty but nothing noteworthy (hmmm I just had a flashback to a fabulous meal at Kokkari my fav mediterranean spot in SF). they had the obligatory line dancing and plate smashing. Last night we tried Japanese. I'd purposely avoided this type of food here as I knew it would disappoint and why burst the bubble? Well, yes. not stomach churning but I won't be back. The problem with sushi here is that there are only two types of fish available - salmon or a white river fish called merzaluna. So, how many ways can you put salmon on rice wrapped in seaweed and have it taste different? it doesn't. so Portenos think sushi is a salmon roll. unfortunately i know better. god help me if i ever stop eating meat and pasta....

pasta pasta pasta




Many who haven't visited Argentina assume that all countries south of San Diego feast on rice and frijoles but not so. BA was settled by Italians and Spaniards. More than any other culinary influence, with food you'll find Italian pasta as good as Rome or Florence. Here's a shot of the pasta making process at the little shop two blocks from my house. After taking these photos, I bought some ravioli stuffed with calabaza (squash) and ricotta cheese, creamy tomato sauce and parmesean cheese. Yum!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Someday arrived

A few years ago I was browsing through a bookstore (one of my fav activities) and came across a book by Julia Cameron called The Artists Way. Thumbing through it I was seduced by its premise - take part in these simple daily activities and you too can draw out the artist within. It seemed obvious yet so elusive in that moment. I was working 12+ hour days, stressed all the time, physically and emotionally spent. I knew reading through that book that I had neither the real time nor energy to dedicate to such a "frivolous" endeavor and yet I longed for it. I bought the book with the fantasy that "someday" I'd really sit down and read it, more importantly incorporate some of the artistic principles into my daily life.

Someday arrived last Thursday at 3pm. I signed up for a Creative Writing course taught by a somewhat crunchy, reddish haired middle aged woman from Portland. Her background impressed me (www.instarwriting.com) - Masters in Screenplays, Doctorate in Communication, lived in BA more than 4 yrs, currently working on a book. And beyond that, she looked nice, inviting with a spark of mischief. We met at a cafe in Palermo Soho. 8 other women showed up - all mid 30s and 40s, brainy, bookish and serious about improving their writing. Two different women from England - each had coupled with Argentine men more than 10 years ago and had perfect spanish accents. Others were American but true expats, not just passing thru for a year or 6 months. Women making a life here like me. The Prof "Susanna" did some lecturing but it was mostly discussion style. Introduce a theme and ask for input. "Why do people think small - why is this more common with women?", "Why is getting honest feedback on your writing so important" "How has the business of writing changed? What's needed now to Market one's writing in order to get published". Then we moved on to some fun and introspective exercises. Spent 10 minutes on a "Free write" - just writing on one of 3 themes and don't stop (I was never, I was always, if only) - just to warm up and get the junk out. Then she read the first half of several sentences and we had to finish..."If it weren't so foolish I would...", "If it weren't so expensive I would...", "If I were 21 again I would...", "If I were another person...", "If I gave in to my secret dream I would...", "As my own best friend, I would really cheer if I saw myself ..." Then we did a few silly exercises to poke a bit of fun at writing. Picking from a list of selected words, we had to construct newspaper headlines for trashy tabloids "340 lb Blind Queen Caught in Vampire Monastary" and the like. A few more exercises and discussion and we were over for the day. Time flew and I had so much fun - felt really inspired. Yes. This is why I came to Argentina. The next day in my "free write aka morning pages" time at home I wrote a short piece about an Enormous Purple Elephant. Who knew I had a purple elephant waiting to come alive? What, who else is in there?.......

Monday, September 10, 2007

BA 1/2 Marathon

XVIII HALF MARATHON
BUENOS AIRES CITY®

"This test of competitive character is directed to those who are arranged to confront the challenge of 21 km we hoped to count on the participation of all type of runners, as much professional as amateurs. We remembered all the runners interested that they must be prepared physical and medically to be able to complete this distance."

Maybe I should have read this excerpt from the official race website before heading out yesterday morning. I've been training with "Los Halcones" running team for 3 months now - 4 days a week, 3 hours each session. (If you sometimes wonder what I do with my time these days, now you know. Add daily spanish lessons, walking and feeding myself and the dog, the occasional social outing, conversing with the doorman Luis and there you go)

These last two weeks my coach "El Martin" prepared me to run the BA 1/2 marathon (or so he thought). Last wed I ran 11 miles - the last 5 with the team captain "Judith from Holland who speaks 6 languages effortless and runs like she speaks" and Martin on either side urging me to go faster. Then, Thursday the weather took a peculiar and dramatic turn. Wednesday was winter - cold blustery. Slept with 3 heavy comforters on the bed and wore a sweater to the park with Utta.

Thursday, work up sweating. It was humid and warm. Not spring, but summer. the kind of hot and sticky that leaves you feeling like doing a whole lot of nothing. same on Friday. that night I went to running practice and felt nauseous after two laps around the lake. fatigued and uncomfortable. I started to get worried as the forecast said the weekend would get even warmer and more humid. Martin told me not to worry - that we'd take it easy in the race if need be.

Saturday night he sent me a text message that said "Are you ready to fly like Rocky?" (yes, he's obsessed with Rocky and Apollo Creed and makes constant references to movie scenes where we might learn something about honor, good sportmanship or how Rocky got his groove back) Sunday morning was up by 6am to caffinate, then walk Utta around the block. It was already muggy and thick. Reminded me of the trip Hugh and I took with friends Dan and Michelle to New Orleans one week in July several years ago. The race started and ended at Plaza de Mayo. Site of the most important government building in the city and several other historic points of interest. It was quiet and inspiring. Runners are the same everywhere. Same attire, same long lines for the portapotties 5 minutes before the start. same stretching. same getting their ipods tuned up and the "elites" in the front wearing what seem to be eurobikinis. not attractive in the least but apparently practical on a hot day with 97% humidity and temperatures in the high 70s.

10 minutes after the start I was literally gasping for air. Martin planned to run the entire race at my side theoretically for "encouragement" and "motivation". Little did I know that those words of encouragement would be something like this: "faster Ambi, let's go, you're a falcon not a dove, watch your arms - swing forward a bit more, vamos vamos vamos, rapido rapido rapido". Somewhere around kilometer 10 I started thinking - honestly this must be what hell is like. I could not for the life of me turn off the negative thoughts. Pain, ugh. so hot. need air. need water. when is the next water stop. god i'd love to just walk for a minute. Then Martin again "eye of the tiger, eye of the tiger (yes, he actually said "ojo de tigre"). Do it like "Rocky" (Como Rocky asi!) Nothing at that moment was more infuriating more maddening than having an 89 pound Argentine professional runner screaming at me to channel Rocky freakin Balboa as sweat streamed down my face and my legs shook with exhaustion.

Somehow I made it to the 15km mark though with dread as Martin informed me at the start that our "strategy" for the race wood be to run the first 10k "tranquile" and the second half we would "fly like Halcones". How could I fly when I could barely breathe? When my legs felt like unnecessary appendages - weights that would drag me down and drown me? I was too drained at that point to argue or to think of the words in spanish to express the sentiment "I feel like i'm going to die - Rocky can eat my shorts!". the only thing that squeeked out was "no puedo" (I can't). he didn't buy it and continued to "encourage".

The final kilometer he started in again - "this is your time, your race, give it everything you've got, the fastest you can possibly run". Only pride and vanity nudged me forward and across the finish line with a near heart attack. Martin still had no idea how painful, how laborious, how unfun it was for me to run 13.1 miles in the stiffling heat sucking bus fumes with someone screaming at me the whole time to "vamos!". The Halcones team motto is "Fue duro pero lo hice" (It was hard, but I did it). That's all I said when the race was over. we stretched each other and went home.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

El campo





If these images seem oddly familiar, don't worry you're not going crazy. Yes we went back to the La Candelaria estancia for the second time in a month. This time for 3 days, 2 nights of galloping on polo ponies, playing tennis on clay courts surrounded by eucalyptus trees, long foresty walks with Utta to visit cows and other non citified beasties, asados galore (see charred skinned something or other over the fire) and quiet. Ever since our visit my birthday weekend we both ached to return. Not sure if its the magic of this particular estancia and its lush french countryside like gardens or a more simple need to get away from the roar of the city more often than not. Lately we have been rethinking our plan. 5 months of intensive searching for the perfect apartment in the city has yielded little more than an education in "how things work" in south america. At first I was disappointed. I thought by now we'd be a bit more "settled". We'd have a permanent residence and I'd have my jr. high and high school yearbooks neatly tucked away in my new escritorio/library. Another fantasy gone bust. So, our lease is up end of September. Looking now for a new place to rent for another 6 months - ideally closer to the parks. As the temperature climbs, Utta's capacity for long walks will diminish. Need to find a way for us to be one or two blocks from green space for our Precious. Plan B is to buy or keep renting a small place in the city and start looking for a weekend home (very common here) that we can escape to on a regular basis. Our own slice of La Candelaria.

In the meantime, I am alone in South America. Aren't we all completely alone anyway? Ok, a bit dramatic sounding but somewhat true. Hugh left last night for the US to visit friends in SF and Portland and spend time with grandma Vince Lee in Dallas who recently took a fall and broker her femur - ouchie. At first I was terrified and nervous to be here 3 weeks by myself taking care of Utta. In SF, I wouldn't think twice and would probably welcome the time alone. Here it's something altogether different. I immediate imagined all the worst case scenarios. What if Utta got sick and I couldn't get a cab that would take us to the vet? What if I got mugged on the street - who would I call and who would care? What if I forgot my keys in the apt and couldn't get back in? What if I sprained my ankle for the 3rd time - who would take care of me, of Utta? Panic mongering aside, its quiet but not in a scary way - more in a I need to be ok with some silence in my life kind of way and see what happens.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Gaby, Marita, Ambi y Lau






Everyone in Argentina goes by a nickname. My new friends Gabriela (Gaby) pictured with me, Ana Maria (Marita) and Laura (Lau) - photo below, are no exception. These shots are from a night out with the girls last Thursday at a Peruvian restaurant in town. Ate ceviche for the first time in more than 6 months! About a month ago Laura and I decided we should make Thursdays our regular night out so we see each other more often then in the running group and with our sig o's. I asked David my spanish tutor to teach me some expressions for how to ask someone out so that I could invite a friend potential to our regular Thursdays. I'd been thinking about how to invite Gaby out to do something socially for a few months now. She's one of the Halcones in my running group so I see her at least twice a week but we had never done anything outside of the group. I would ask her about her weekends and she always seemed busy. Worked at a call center during the week, went out with a group of girlfriends saturday night and sundays were reserved for family asados (bbq's). Finally a few weeks ago, I tested my newly practiced phrases "que estas haciendo jueves?" what are you doing this thurs? I invited her to join Laura and I for dinner and she seemed delighted. Ice broken. Marita is a good friend of Laura's who I've met a few times at group gatherings. She speaks perfect english (and her spanish is easy to understand because she's from Peru and has a different, more clearly articulated accent). when the four of us are together its spanish only so its great practice for me. We never run out of things to talk about - much of our conversation is sharing experiences from our different traditions and ways of growing up. what's it like being single and/or coupled....how different (less macho) the argentine men are compared to other south american countries, the benefits of living alone and traveling solo at least once in your life. Different places we've visited, books we're reading, and of course the all time favorite topic - food. This week we go to a greek place called Mykonos where they break dishes over your head.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Greener Grass

The most oft posed question is "Why in the world would you move here from the US????" Argentines look at us wide eyed and incredulous when we say we are living here, making a life here not just passing by for a month to sample the empanadas and Malbecs. The 2001 economic crisis is still quite fresh in people's memory. I've been told by more than a few locals that the majority of Argentines long to move to the US ("land of opportunity" just like the too dulce sweet commercials promise). They have a cynical view of opportunities in their own country after having been robbed, fooled and lied to by the government over the years. Almost weekly the lead article in the local paper "La Nation" laments true inflation levels vs. the laughably low numbers released by government statisticians. You'd only have to be here a week or two to see how quickly the cost of basic food items can and is doubling in some cases. We paid rent on a few weeks ago and for the first time in four months the apt owner wanted US dollars not argentine pesos. At the bank that day there was a long line of locals exchanging pesos for dollars. Hoarding what they believe to be a safer more reliably currency. I'm sure some know the truth. That the strength of the US dollar, despite inflation, provides a much better quality of life for us - even if not for them. Some days I feel guilty about it, most days just grateful.

Very interesting whats going on with the markets in the states these past few weeks. Thanks to my Series 7 classes I have a better clue in to the house of cards affect of mortgage backed securities and the like. Could never happen here as mortgages don't exist. Yep, all real estate transactions are 100% cash. Interesting thing about dealing in cash is that it really strips away the facade of economic status. In the states, a grade school teacher and an investment banker could be living in the same neighborhood courtesy of fancy financing. Here, if you buy an apt in Recoleta - everyone knows you have more than $100,000 cash to spend on your housing. You're not teacher or even a lawyer or banker (unless you come from a family that already had a lot of money). Revealing in a way thats a bit too close for comfort. Do I really want everyone I meet here to have a peek at the Alexander family balance sheet? We are considering our options again as our apt lease is up end of Sept. Whether to rent another six months and see what happens with real estate market post presidential election in October (most think the current presidents wife Christina Kirchner will win easily) or settle in now? If we settle in, do we buy in a more middle class neighborhood to fit in with people our age and educational background or live in one of the ritzy neighborhoods with other expats and the wealthy argentine families we frankly have little in common with...

Monday, August 13, 2007

More pix of B-day weeked





B-day at La Candelaria





Utta ate horse poo. Luckily she barfed it back up within seconds. Other than that minor incident, my birthday weekend at La Candelaria estancia was a perfect 10. The most childlike pee in your pants laughing kind of fun I've had in a long time. Drove two hours with friends Brad and Laura sat morning, arrived in time for a meaty lunch, then rode horses - galloped through the polo field and the foresty grounds of the estate, sipped mate by the fireplace, played Jenga (Brad taught us the word actually means to build in Swahili - one of many facinating facts shared of his years in the peace corps) Sunday morning went out again. Let's just say my "culo" aka hiney is more than a tad bit tender today. Galloping is thrilling. Trotting is just darn painful but I giggled and screeched with delight anyway. After horseys, we rode bikes and went on long walks with Utta. Introduced her to cows. Leisurely meals with homemade everything, asados and Malbec wine. Our first weekend out of the city in 5 months had us both wondering....what the hell took us so long? Rested and ready to take on the second half of this decade with verve.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Animals amuse





Honestly there's not much to say about this but the cows needed airtime on the blog. we went to La Rural last weekend here in BA. Its like a ginormous state fair plus tractor trailer expo plus wine and food tasting. It was fun just to be around all these animals, especially for a city girl like me - more diverse than the zoo and you could get a lot closer too. sorry mom - i know you love the piggies but the camera ran out of juice. they were doing their piggy things, snorting and sleeping. At the end of the "show", all of the animals get auctioned off. One taxi driver said the best cows go for $15k a piece! look how fluffy the sheep are (: