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.

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


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.