Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I don't really like it...

When Blogger doesn't post certain comments left by certain brothers of mine. Or when I edit my post and the edits show up just fine for me, but then Alex and Vicky read said post and get mad because they think I spelled their cat's name wrong, when I really fixed it!

Any other Bloggers having troubles?

Come on now Blogger COME ON! It's too late to switch platforms at this point, plus I am too lazy busy to do that, PLUS, remember how much of an hijo de puta the whole process was last time?

I am missing you all, though, despite my resentment towards Blogger.  Thinking of covered bridges in Vermont and hoping everyone's safe.

Love, Kate

Monday, August 29, 2011

Seeing La Boca

Here's a series from beautiful, complicated La Boca, one of Buenos Aires' many barrios. It's, like, a five minute walk from my apartment, but couldn't be more different than the neighborhood I live in, Barracas. Buenos Aires is amazing, because you can pass through so many different worlds in such little time. It reminds me of Mumbai, or something; one moment you'll see such wealth, and the next moment you'll be...stepping in dog poop. And that complexity is a beautiful thing...

...yes, YES!!! Okay, fine! I am falling in love. I was depressed, and then I was homesick, and then I was euphoric, and now I am drunk on this place. I love the food, the grittiness, the green-eyed Mexicans, and that bar in the San Telmo mercado. Sometimes it feels so raw here, so rough and sharp, but once in a while, some enclave will open itself to me, and just like that, I'm overcome.

So, this is La Boca. The barrio was settled, towards the end of the 19th century, by the Genoese. Most believe the neighborhood is called La Boca because it sits at the mouth of the river. The Italian immigrants built the conventillos, which are these squarish houses of corregated tin, and they're really lovely from the outside, sometimes. For the tourists, especially, they've painted them all kinds of colors: sea green and crimson and yellow, but I like the older ones, the ones with unfinished walls and patches of old layers of paint visible, and rust. I've seen them on the inside, too, and that view made me sort of sad. Most residents have only one toilet per building to share (we're talking three stories), and in the winter the conventillos are cold and wet. La Boca isn't the safest, either, especially at night. Vicky told me that squatters live in the abandoned buildings of La Boca, of which there are many, and if someone doesn't like that, they'll set fire to the place with the people inside. And so, sometimes, you'll see buildings with burned-out windows, and you'll know why. It's horrible, and common.

Nevertheless, the neighborhood is famous for a reason. It's colorful, artistic, funky and real. Enjoy, dear ones. As always, I am missing you all. Besitos, queridos. xx

 Mural representing one of the Mothers of the Disappeared

The above plaque marks the home of the late Pedro Laurenz, one of Argentina's most important tango composers. Now this house is falling down and has been painted over dozens of times...and it's for sale. Why doesn't the state buy it? one might ask. But they probably won't get an answer.

And these are how the conventillos look. Pretty, right?

Residue of a street performer...

The ice-cream kiosk was closed...obviously I was sad. Still, lovely right?

The style of painting above is called fileteado; the paintings are filetes porteños. Beautiful, right? It's a style of painting native to BA. 

Thanks Vicky and Alex!!! Full of facts they are.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

To my East Coast ones...

Just wanted to let you know I'm thinking of you all, up there in our Bountiful Nation, riding out the storm!! It's big news, even this far south of the border. Dad said the wind is making Pants pace...and our basement is flooded.

BA, on the other hand, had sunshine and humidity today; an omen of summer? I think yes.

Hoping everyone's staying safe and dry. How I miss you...

Addendum: Looks like the damage was incredibly devastating; I'm praying for you all, especially those in upstate New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont who still don't have power. Sending love and hugs; if I were there I'd help clean up. So much history seems to have been lost, and that makes me feel very sad.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Finding Tango

We discover, Else and I, a market that reminds me of the markets up north. Of course I am grateful, because didn’t I miss them? This San Telmo market has piles and piles of produce at one end, and stray dogs milling around. Beggars cower in corners and ladies sell clothes and hot corn on the cob. We come in from the cold to smell the sweet oranges and prod at the avocados, which are the biggest I’ve seen since Xela. Palvas, I call them, and the man behind the scales corrects me, grinning. Paltas, he says, and slices one open for us to try. Palta is the Quechua name. The avocado is watery and bland; the bigger ones always are. We buy bananas instead.

We sit at the bar of a tiny market restaurant that serves plates of French fries and eggplant, bowls of steaming vegetable soup and small, hard rolls of white bread. Chunky lowballs filled to the brim with red wine. The waiter practices his English with us; Else is hard to understand, he admits, and she explains that she’s from Australia, where the words come out rounder, the consonants not so hard. For our food and wine, we are charged five dollars, and we slide off of our coveted stools as soon as we take our last sip. People are waiting for their own glasses of wine, their own plates of media-lunas and bowls of hot soup.

The front of the market is where the antiques are: here are boxes and boxes of faded postcards from the twenties and warped records to sort through. Brooches with fake diamonds and rubies; ribbon, once white, now faded to golden. Old shoes that cost more than a new pair in the city center, because of how carefully they were crafted years ago and how soft the leather has become. From old record players, music spins over us, and so inside here, it could be any year. No cell phones cry out, and everything’s covered in a thin layer of dust. The men who sell these old, worn things wear berets and smoke pipes. They glance over the edge of their newspapers at Else, who runs her fingers lightly over the beaten silver bracelets and pewter spoons.

Outside, because it is Sunday, this market runs on up and down the street, encompassing fifteen blocks, or maybe twenty. Here are the artisans I’ve met in every city I’ve visited; they have, as they always do, their bracelets with the unpolished stones laid out on plywood tables and blankets spread over the pavement. They drag on their cigarettes and look up at us with lazy eyes. Old women sell antique dishes: plates engraved with gold type, and cups and saucers painted with lilies. There are the ladies who have knit thick, luminous scarves, and Else buys one on impulse. She chooses a scarf with skeins of blue, of heather gray, and of sage green, and she pays the woman and then wraps it around her neck, smiling. Much better, she says, even though the wine from our late lunch still keeps us warm.

And then we turn the corner and here is a crowd packed in tight around music that is playing. This music sways, it lifts and bends around us, it is the even strum of a guitar and, beneath that, a fiddle’s high melody. We push through; it is street tango. The old man is smiling like he’s never been so happy as right now; he guides a woman around, a woman who wears too much makeup, and together they turn, she lifts her leg at the knee just a little and then sets it down, drags her toe along the ground just so, exactly in time with the catch of the song, and that movement, so perfect, suddenly chills me. I have never seen tango like this. What I know of the dance is what I learned as a skater, an ice dancer: the doubled-over beat, the way I pointed the toe and lifted the leg, moved it just a fraction higher with the next beat, always my partner Michael’s hand into pressing mine and his other arm tight around my lower back. No, that wasn’t like this street melody, because how, on ice, can you make your movements so slow? How can you shift only fractions, the way they do? How can you ever move like these two who spin on a small red carpet with their eyes closed. Maybe they’re strangers; maybe they do this every Sunday. In any case, the way they dance convinces me they’re in love.

Later, I will go to the center of town and see a floor filled with dancers. I will watch the women, their high heels clicking, their men guiding them rapturously across the floor. I will see the way they drag their toe along the ground, wrap their left leg around their partners’ right, move their hips just a little to make way for his step forward. God, the way they listen to the music, listen with their bodies and not their brains. It’s like they are breathing the sound of the violins, and the cello's deep chords. Each time I see tango again, I know, it will make me feel this same breathless way. I will feel the chills, I will close my eyes, every time for the rest of my life. I didn’t know it was possible to move like that, so free and careful both, and I never knew the body could merge so smooth into a palette of musical notes.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is it wierd....

That I can't get enough of this??


I freaking miss this girl.

They're not such fans down here....que pena.

And that's all for tonight! But more to come, don't fret; I have seen street tango, and there's so much to tell.

Besitos y buenas noches, mi amigocitos!!!!

y besos para ella tambien, por supuesto!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What we miss

Homesickness can be traced back to Odysseus from Homer’s The Odyssey. Odysseus wept and rolled on the hard ground thinking of home.

It is my fault, I know, for coming this far and for staying this long. It is my fault for choosing to live in this city, which has turned out to be more massive than any cement strip I’ve ever seen. And it’s my fault for being a writer and thus for needing long hours alone, not just to put my hands to the keys, to the page, but also to think, to walk, to read. And so it’s my fault for shutting my door to the friendly faces in the hostels, and for preferring, sometimes, to eat alone, because it is then that I best can observe. I chose this, I have to remember, even though the hours feel very long these days, for I am lonely.

I recently read an article Philip Graham shared with me; a well-known blogger was giving advice to an eager mother on how best to foster her daughter’s impulse to write. Give your child time to be bored, the author suggested, and I truly cannot think of better advice. Give your child books, and give your child time: this is how you teach someone to imagine. Let them grow up, perhaps, on a quiet road far from town; give them a summer without a job, and a list of chores, and when they’ve finished, send them outside or else up to their room, where you know they’ll only find books to entertain them there. It’s what my mother did, after all; she let words wrap themselves around me so now they run as close to my blood as my skin. Words, my words, are my home.

Still, I wonder whether homesickness is always going to be part of the picture. Without it, anyway, would I be able to write? Don’t you need the sadness to make your writing real; don’t you need this sickness, sometimes, because it’s the most interesting thing you can put on the page? Don’t you want the beautiful things to run alongside something ugly? Everything grows deeper that way. I have always been prone to homesickness, easily swept up in nostalgia, and perhaps, though it’s a torment, I am lucky. How blessed I am, after all, to have had a childhood so sweet I still dream about it, and to still have both parents, whose faces I continue to see everywhere.

And I know what the cure is, anyway. I’ve found you can’t let people heal you, because sometimes they’re just as sad as you are, and they can leave you at any moment. They’ll come and touch your heart, make you laugh, but when they weep in the night or get in trouble far away, it will only make the missing worse. No, the mountains are the thing, and if I can’t have those, the wind in the trees will do. It’s the outdoors that soothes: it’s always been that way, ever since I moved into my first apartment in Cambridge and realized that the walls we’d spend so many hours painting were sometimes just bricks, tight and dark and cold with the power to choke me. That’s the way cities are; sometimes, sitting in your room with the sounds of the cars and the voices a constant, you wonder whether you’ve ever felt so alone.

I look up homesickness on the Internet today. Most of the pages that come up first are for parents looking to help their children, who they’ve sent away to summer camp. Or kids from Midwestern states who seem never to have left that town until college; they’re the ones who weep in the night while outside the parties rage. So I am a child, I think to myself, but read on. My college roommate, who grew up in a string of cosmopolitan cities in Europe and, later, in the metropolitan Northeast, seemed never to be homesick. Sure, the depression we discovered came so easily at an all-women’s college in wealthy suburbia hit us both, but she didn’t look at the photos her mother had taken of her home, the way I had. I feel listless, she’d say, and zip up her tall black boots and go out. For her, the city healed, the bars that she entered and the music that pumped late at night. The cafes, the traffic—this, after all, was her home, while for me, nothing felt farther.

Wikipedia suggests that those who suffer from homesickness should practice being alone. I read that and sigh, for of course it won’t help. Haven’t I slept in foreign hostels, in rented rooms, in cold and unknown cities, for nine months now? Haven’t I had enough practice? I’m still no better at coping, and looking out the window down at the people who rush about, their plans on their mind and cups of maté in their hands, only makes it worse. It reminds me that I’m my own boss, I must work alone, and until I get an agent, or discuss my book with Donigan over dinner, there will be no meetings I have to attend, no after-work cocktails with my co-workers. You are here doing something, my brain tells my trembling heart every day. Be brave.

I realize, too, that it isn’t just my family I miss. It’s the other countries I have seen; the warmth in Nicaragua that made living so easy, and the way the stars came out, clear and white, in the hot night. It’s the way I got to know Xela, got to know Quito, and it’s the drive outside of Baños that I took with Raphael, clutching at his waist as the wind whipped our hair. Those dripping tunnels, and the waterfall we finally reached. It’s the classroom on the hill, looking over Quito’s colonial center, and it’s even that Mariscal house, where in the long hours of the afternoon, the little birds flew in through the open door and pecked at the crumbs in the kitchen. It’s the buses where I slept, where I wept, where I nibbled bread. It’s the high-up Peruvian towns, where I knew no one.

And so it helps to know that someday, I’ll miss this place too. That’s the sweet thing about homesickness; it makes it easier to fall in love. I’ll miss this funny house, where Alex and Vicky peer at the television and shout at their cat, letting him inside and out, inside and out. I’ll miss the wide, dirty streets, and the way the neighborhoods shift and breathe, now green, now black, now frightening, now bright with the light of that yellow café on the corner. This day will go by, just like all the rest of them, and in the meantime I’ll take walks alone, and I’ll watch out the restaurant window. I’ll go home in my dreams, and when I wake in the morning, I’ll start the day here. My conversations, when I have them, will taste sweet, for already how rich I feel in the hours when the homesickness lapses and a Buenos Aires moment fills me up.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Palermo Home

To Donigan and Holly

How sad it was to leave you today, to leave your home and your white cat and those long, wide windows that look out onto the street. How I wept after Holly stood in the doorway to my bedroom, one hand on the doorjam, and told me she’d miss me. Don’t leave, she’d said, her smile tired and thin because of her cold. Do you know how long it’s been, since someone asked me to stay? How long, too, since someone’s sat on my bed and watched me pack my things, since they’ve put food in a bag for me - chocolate, empanadas, all the things that I love. For the road, Holly said to me, adding crackers to the bag. This is the way my mother packed food every time I’d leave the house to drive back to Wellesley, then back to Cambridge. It’s the way she brushed tears from her eyes as she handed me the bag that last time, when I hugged my family and then drove my car to my grandmother’s house in Connecticut, where it’s sitting now, waiting for me to come home.

God, this year’s awful goodbyes. If I’d known how many there would be before I left, I don’t think I could have borne it. It isn’t just the hillsides, the little towns, the cities where I lost myself and fell in love. I’ve said good-bye to the countries that showed me Spanish, and endless, winding markets, and what real suffering means. I’ve said good-bye to people who taught me how best to climb this region’s many mountains, and where to find the nicest fruit, the biggest, cheapest cut of meat, the coldest beer. I’ve said good-bye to little schools on crumbling blocks, and to the rambling brick building where, for three months, I taught English to those Ecuadorian kids. I cried and kissed my parents when they put me on that bus to San Jose; I said good-bye to Kendra, to Hilary, to Carlos and to Pamela, to Gaby. I said good-bye to Raphael and wondered when I’d see him next; I kissed Eloesa’s mouth and walked away. I have turned my back on so many places, so many people and so many homes. Little rooms, little stoves, and tiny mats where I was told, so many times, to leave my shoes.

Today I struggled to close my pack as Donigan looked on. It gets bigger every time I leave a place, I told him, and he started to rummage for another bag I could borrow for the shoes and books I couldn’t fit. It’s just for while you cross town, he said. I left today because I thought it best to give you your space; I didn’t feel right about living without paying, tripping over your life with Holly, but I didn’t think that leaving would make me this sad. I just didn’t think it would feel like family this soon. I waited so long to come to you, and when I finally got here, you opened your lives to me. You gave me this bed with the smooth yellow sheets; you gave me hot water, hot food. Never once did you say a cross word, a cruel thing, and always you told me how much you respect me. You praised my writing so much that I turned red and begged to change the subject, and you never once asked for me to pay. And so I know it was time to leave, time to work, time to push myself a little farther past the white, quiet walls of your apartment, but I hope you both know that I will always be grateful for the way you told me, as I walked out the door, that I could always come home.  I’ll never forget you, do you know that?

And so now here I am, in this living room just south of San Telmo. The second floor looks over a busy street that’s lined with bank machines and green-grocers and tiny delis jammed with cheese and wine. The window of my rented room watches the overgrown courtyard below, and that window has tiny cracks that let the wind in, so Alex and Vicky, the two women who live here, show me how to use the heater in the night. They microwave an empanada for me, and ask me whether I can figure out the MP3 player they bought just yesterday. Hijo de puta, Vicky swears; she is too old, she tells me, to learn to use such stupid things. She fiddles with it still while Alex washes the dishes from lunch and then hauls their big black cat onto her lap. 
How old is he? I ask Alex. 
How old is Pirouchi? Alex asks Vicky. 
Stop screaming! Vicky replies. He’s seven. Alex snorts. He’s five, she assures me, and Vicky, from where she sits with the tiny MP3 player in her hands, murmurs Six. Alex nods. 
He’s six, she confirms, and then kisses Pirouchi on his furry black head.

So far from Palermo, I feel. Here the buildings are closer, the people poorer, the grocery stores cheaper and dirtier and crowded. Here, Vicky and Alex talk over each other, finishing each other’s sentences and explaining to me what you can buy at the tienda across the street. Puta madre, they shout at the television, as the male politicians of the world parade past. And I wonder how Holly is feeling now. Are the antibiotics beginning to work? Have you started the movies I left there? And is Sophie sleeping on Donigan’s lap; is he holding his magazine over her? This is your home here, Donigan had said, and so I will practice my Spanish with Alex and Vicky, and after I do that, I’ll come home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Seeing Buenos Aires

Dear ones,

Below are some images of funky BA. It's a city of gardens, of grafitti, of endless cement. Oh, how I wish you were here. But...David and Dad arrive in T-minus three weeks!!! I can't wait I can't wait I can't wait.


 Peronista success...and obvious tactics

 Street tango! So glorious.

Your first Buenos Aires days

You wonder whether anything prepares you. You know that the suburbs can’t—not the sprawl of bargain hardware stores, or the parking lots, or the rain-streaked condos or the parks. The skyline can’t, because it’s every other city skyline you’ve ever seen, just a smattering of tall buildings in the distance, sulking beneath the cloudy sky. Even this widening road can’t help you now, this road that’s taken you so many places already: into Guatemala, Nicaragua, Quito and Lima, La Paz. It’s the same road, you know, that brought you for the first time to New York City, through Chappaqua, White Plains, Mount Vernon and Queens. It can drop hints, this pavement, but it’s never going to talk.

The people in this bus start to shift in their seats and to whisper. They crane their necks and watch how the lives outside these windows grow tighter and tighter, more and more closely packed. This, I think—the quickening of breath—is how you best can tell. Our hearts beat faster; we’re thinking, this is it, in all the many languages we speak. It looks cold out there and suddenly I’m afraid. This can’t be it; these suburbs like anywhere else, and always the gloomy sky. I send my mind back, back to Rosario, which I loved. It’s where the heat of the sun lasted all night long, and the water from the fountain smacked the cobblestones. The cab driver there leaned over and rolled down my window for me to let the humid wind off the river rush inside. He swore good-naturedly at the car in front of him, and he joked that my mochila in the front seat beside him was big enough to be another person. Mi compañera, he’d laughed, punching the horn.

This may be the right road in, but I discover that this city won’t emerge around this bus, swallowing us the way Manhattan does, the moment you cross that bridge. Nor is it like the desert highway towards La Paz, where the red roofs swell the valley that you look down into. It’s not like the rumbling flatness of those Central American cities I rushed in and out of, crushed by honking horns and markets riddled with thieves, sleazy hotels and always, always, the warnings, whispered in shaking voices—Be careful, don’t stay here, be careful, get out. No, it isn’t like that here, for today there’s just the rain on the windshield and the wet roadside grass. The roads curve over and under each other, and along the shoulders of this highway trucks are parked. There’s a Latin Best Buy, an Argentinean Target, and beside me now is a massive supermercado, abandoned carts rattling over the lot like noisy, lost children. I could be entering Syracuse, or Kissimmee, or San Loredo or Albuquerque, because here is this sprawl, this familiar and horrible face of all that’s urban.


You always think it’ll come to you so slow, because, after all, these are the moments you’ve been holding your breath for. But don’t they always happen in real-time, just like every other moment in your life? And so by now you figure you should have learned your lesson, and you try not to be surprised. This arrival turns out not to be patched with meaning the way you thought for sure it would be; it isn’t weighted with the knowing smiles of strangers, or a telling, lily-scented gust of wind, or golden shafts of surprise sunlight that pour onto you, all of a sudden, through the clouds that before looked so thick.

No, it won’t be that way at all. The bus pulls through the slums that ring this city and then slowly, slowly grinds to a stop, and everyone climbs off without looking your way. This is where we are! You want to tell the woman beside you, but she is packing up her bag and running her fingers through her hair with someone else, someone waiting, on her mind. You feel like this moment should merit a laugh, or tears, but neither comes; you collect your bag and comb your own hands through your hair. God, how tired you suddenly feel, with no one outside this bus waiting for you. You expected to feel so much, after all, but now, with this press of gray sky, and this sharp and biting wind, all that’s inside you is a dull little stab. Maybe it’s fear, you think, though you’re hoping it’s just the weather.


The man in the taxi doesn’t speak to you. He has a hard time understanding you, he says, and that is that. How cold it is, you tell him, he smiles a false smile and doesn’t answer. You drive on wide, clean roads past the slums, then the parks, then the skyscrapers of Palermo. White statues, cut grass, and even white lines on the road—They were right, you think. This could be anywhere. You see, as you watch the buildings pass you by, silent through the sealed windows of this car, a hundred places you have been already. These are the cold, remarkable parks that every wealthy city boasts. You wish, suddenly, for a scrap of paper to blow across the windshield, or for a man to stop the car so he can wash it, or for an old woman with a baby in one arm to stumble forward with candies and magazines for sale. All these cars, these planes above you, but there’s not a single sign of life. You’ll take anything, you think: can’t the rain just come? Can’t the sun break lose? Why can’t you see, for just a blessed second, one glimpse of the daytime moon? But this city gives you nothing, and so you ride through it, unspeaking, trying to blink these lonesome tears away.

Donigan is kind, of course, his bright blue eyes smiling at you, receiving you into his fourth-floor flat, with the big, open living room, the elegant chairs and coffee tables, the flat-screen by the window and the gleaming, marbled kitchen. There’s the bed he offers you, with the yellow sheets and the matching blinds; this room, and the bathroom across the hall, smell just the way your grandmother’s old house did, and for that you are grateful. You realize, as you have so many times since leaving home, that you can hold your home inside of you. That, at least, is something, and how soft these carpeted floors feel on your bare feet. The warm water in the sink that you splash on your face, and the clean, white towels that sit waiting. He gives you food; he gives you wine. How long it’s been since you’ve heard this close the voice of a friend, the round and familiar sound of your very own accent. Still, when you look out the long front windows and see the buildings all around you, all taller than this one, and the clean streets below you, the even stream of traffic and the pedestrians all dressed in black, in boots, you feel the pang again. Something’s missing, you think; something’s lost on you here. Come to our city, you thought these buildings were saying, but now that you’re here you realize you weren’t hearing the voices of this town. The sirens came from inside you, and you were mistaken.


And so you eat, with Donigan, the fine meals that the wealthy Palermo neighborhood has to offer. You let the rich food, the rich conversation, fill you up as best it can. You walk beneath the eucalyptus that lines the wide, wide streets, and you gaze up at the balconies that spill over with rooftop gardens. Sleek coffee shops; tiny bars; little streets with dripping walls of ivy. These people don’t smile—This is a city, after all, Donigan says. This is New York. But you know that it isn’t, because New York’s streets, though wide like these, though shifting and crammed with the tiniest shops, do not have these smells, these same broken tiles, the same paintings that, late at night, the artists spray onto the walls. No, this isn’t New York, and it isn’t Berlin. Sometimes, you think that you see Montreal, but then you turn a corner and realize you couldn’t be farther from that city, either. And so you try not to look too hard for something you figure you won't find. You try to be grateful for the food, for the sweet wine in the evenings, for the companionship and the warm and quiet bed. Still, the city stretches before you and, deep down, you remain afraid, because this isn’t what you’d hoped for, and there is no one reaching out.


Until one evening you leave the apartment alone. You walk and walk through Palermo, through the old part, through the new part and through Soho. The light is turning as the rain fades, and in the distance you can see a pink line in the sky; this is the sun, slicing through the clouds like the knife you used on your breakfast bread. The puddles in the street are glowing now, and the leaves in the trees, because it is spring, are just starting to open over your head. The man who sells you a box of juice in the tiny kiosk on the corner gives you it for less than it’s worth when you scrounge around for change but can’t find it. How do you like my city? He asks you, and shakes your hand.

You stumble across an artisan market, where men in holey jeans and beards stand around with half-smoked cigarettes between their fingers, watching you watch them. Ladies knit, sitting beside the hats they’ve already crafted, the sweaters and vests and shawls. Someone’s weaving together a bracelet, a little girl pulls her mother’s hand, and dogs nose through. Incense floats over everything, and beyond that you can smell the faint and pungent tug of marijuana. Someone’s playing a guitar; a girl is singing. An old man with a kind face and light eyes looks up from where he sits behind his stall, a hundred different shells laid out before him on the velvet. He doesn’t say a word as you pore over them, running your fingers over their polished, spotted backs.

So this, you think, as you finally leave the market, is what it is. This softness in the air as the weekend ends; this strolling pace; the woman with the long, dark hair who walks ahead of you. The guy with ten dogs on ten leashes; the crumbling bricks of that building beside you, and the glasses of wine on the table in there. You have seen just a flicker, you know, and there is so much more where that came from: so many other markets, so many other lives, so many other streets that change shape and ramble on. So many years, and so many cracking coats of paint. The veins of this city run deeper than you could ever know, and so how could you have thought that those empty parks and sealed-up cars were everything? How stupid you were, for waiting for some gift like it would fall into your lap. Sometimes, you have to find the signs, and sometimes you must wait. The darkness comes and settles over you, and though you know you must go home, you just keep walking, for you are craving more than anything to be lost.

Monday, August 15, 2011

To a Special Someone, With Love from Buenos Aires

Just wanted to write a little something for my darling Samantha. Today we celebrate the day she was brought, kicking and screaming, into this world! 

Sam has been amazing to me; she's helped me through a few awful nights and a number of long, lonely days. And she is always so happy when I'm happy!!! I can't wait to see her in Buenos Aires in a few short months! Entonces, feliz cumpleaños, querido. Gracias por todo; te quiero!!!


And, as for those who are dying to know what this magical city is like..more to come on my time in Buenos Aires! (After lunch.) As always, I am missing you all...besitos. x

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Last Bus

Tonight is the last of them. The last of them for a while, at least—the last of these solitary nights. Today was the last arrival, the last lonely arrival in a new city. These are the final hours of navigating, days marked by disorientating street maps and spoken directions, however good intentioned, that I always only halfway understand. The tumble of accents, the stretches of streetside markets, the noonday sun and the search to find somewhere to sleep. These arrivals, always different and yet somehow identical, have shaped my routine. First there’s the way a city comes to me through the bus window: the suburbs, then closer clusters of buildings, then factories, parking lots, and finally the station. Always, too, there’s the feeling of not wanting to disembark after the bus has pulled to a shuddering stop, for however long the ride takes, there’s always, afterwards, the familiar comfort of that journey. It's the intangible landscape sweeping by, and how foreign afterwards stillness feels.

And so today was the last of the unknown arrivals, because tomorrow I go to Buenos Aires. I have the address of Donigan’s apartment written down in the little green notepad I’ve had since the beginning; by now, it’s nearly filled with scribbled directions and the email addresses of people I’ve met since Xela. I have a bed, Donigan said, a bed with fresh sheets and, in the fridge, empanadas and salad waiting for us. I have a city that I’ll go to, a city that will hold me for weeks—months, if my money holds out. I see an end to these constant buses, this neverending line of hostels with shared bathrooms, flip-flops in the shower, hasty breakfasts and lonely dinners of rice and stirfry—the frugal traveler's meal.

So why is it, then, that I'm at the brink of weeping? Why is it that I feel like something's over - is it just this Rosario night? Could it be this high-up stone balcony, washed in curls of winter ivy? Could it be the spattering fountain and the curved patterns of the cobblestones in the plaza below? Is it the wide river in sunset, or the lovely, anonymous dinners? Is it sleeping and waking when I want to, and could it be the other, lonely travelers who drink in my conversation like they, too, are dying of the same thirst? Could it be the silent peaks, the silent fields? Is it this sweetness that could not taste this way were it not flecked with sadness? Is it all the cities I have known, but just a little?

Or could it be that each time I reach somewhere new, I fall in love just a little bit more? It’s each place I visit that makes me miss this trip already. It’s the alleys I walk past, the fruit for sale on the sidewalk, the way the days grow just a little longer the farther south I get. It’s the passing over, the constant crossing of lines on the map, and so for this, this, it is the end. But it’s not over, I’m thinking now, and tomorrow I’ll meet a man I’ve never seen but already hold as a friend. I’ll come to Buenos Aires—a magical place, as my mother described it last night—that I’ve dreamed of reaching for so many months. Tomorrow I’ll climb on the bus, the same bus, you could say, that I’ve taken for so many miles already, and I’ll watch out the window and wait for the city to come to me again. First the suburbs, then the clusters of buildings, the factories and finally the station. Will I want to get off, when the bus finally stops? Maybe this time, I wonder, because there's someone waiting, I will. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Another Country's Windows

I haven’t been this cold in months, I think. I wait for the 4 AM bus to leave Tupiza for Villazon, the border town where I’ll get my passport stamped and then enter Argentina. I’m freezing, I hear the girl in front of me whisper to her boyfriend. They are English, I can tell from their accents, and I envy them for the way they curl up together in their seats, sharing a blanket. I pull my jacket closer around me and wish for my hat, my second jacket, a cup of hot tea. Finally, half an hour late, we pull out of the station, southbound. The driver flicks the interior lights on in the inky blackness and blasts the radio, shouting to his ayudante as he goes. I close my eyes and try to sleep, hating him.

Villazon remains the cold, gray town Paul described. The buildings, set evenly along the icy, silent, early-morning streets, loom around me, the dark windows blank eyes that watch me shiver past. The sidewalks are broken by spindly, leafless trees, and the gray sky hangs low. An Australian girl emerged, teeth chattering, from the Tupiza bus, and so we walk together without speaking towards Argentina, sucking on caramels I bought from the bathroom guard with my last three Bolivianos. The border is marked by a long bridge and a sign that reads, in antique white lettering, Bolivia. When I turn and look back, I see that the other side reads Argentina. Just like that, we’re in. I take one last look at Bolivia, and then I am weeping in the cold. 

Good-bye, I am thinking, to the country with stretching deserts and bare hills, women with wheels of cheese in the streets, and those colors of the satchels and clothing. The long braids woven with yarn, the jolting roads, the clusters of mud huts and the spindly smoke of fires fruit-scented roadside fires. The alpaca, the freezing showers, the broken sidewalks. The way I felt, traveling through, like some kind of vagabond in the same three-day clothes, the only gringa in the lurching bus. The freedom of that, the sweet alone-ness. Already, people who look like me, with big packs and light skin, stand around outside the customs office, and I know with a dull and sudden ache that something's over. It's not just Bolivia; it's the last eight months of these places that exist so poor and wealthy both. It's a way of life I made, a way of navigating, and now, as I step over the line that divides that time from this, I feel a little something deep inside me tear. It's over, I am thinking, even though there's still so far to go. Something's lost, I know. I didn't expect this sharp and funny grief, but now I wonder how I didn't see it coming, for with each step forward I move closer and closer back: glass-paned stores, smooth paved roads, new clothes, rich food and the wanting. The taking things for granted, and the ease. Are you okay? The Australian girl asks, and I nod. It’s just the cold, I tell her, and brush the tears away.


It’s a spectacular ride from the border south, different enough to make me wonder whether the line on the map that divides the two countries is a real geographical divide. I lean back in my seat beside the Australian girl and admire the clean bus, the soft seats, the view from the second level of this double decker. The road feels so smooth beneath us, and the scenery—golden fields, distant mountains, the rainbow colors of the rocks and the blue sky of morning—keeps us silent, looking out. I could get used to this, I say, and then the bus shudders to a stop. I imagine a rest stop, even though we’ve only driven two hours, and then the driver comes down the aisle. He says something I can’t understand, something in the Argentinian accent that crushes the words, merges them together, creating a smooth and unrecognizable sound. He rounds up a couple of guys, and the next thing I know I feel them pushing the bus so that we roll forward, the engine off. Eventually, the bus rumbles to life, the guys come back on, flushed and laughing, and off we go. So much for the nice buses, the Australian girl says, grinning. We remember aloud the rickety buses that took us through Bolivia, the ones with the rattling windows and open grates, and marvel at the way those got us to where we needed to go without ever failing us.


I spend my first Argentinean night in Jujuy, a warm, valley city that Paul admired. I stroll up and down its sun-baked streets lined with tall, elegant doorways, the soft colors of the paint on the aging colonial walls, and the cafes that stay open all day and most of the night, serving real coffee with milk. I eat and eat of the spinach quiche that the woman sells in the deli beside my hostel, and I spent long minutes before her shelves of wine, eventually selecting a bottle that costs just three dollars and tastes, when I share it later with the old woman who runs my hostel, like liquid heaven and smells like pine and apples. In the night, the air is soft, and I sleep fully and long; it’s warm enough for just a sheet. The shower in the morning is hot, steaming up the white-tiled bathroom as the sunshine floods in. Que rico, I think as the water pours over me, and I don’t feel sad to be in Argentina, after all. Donigan was right; it does take just a day to forget how sweet a hot shower, or a slice of hot quiche, or a glass of white wine can taste. I feel guilty for how quickly I adjust.

On the ride to Salta the next day, I discover that I’ve learned to sleep, finally, on buses, and I close my eyes to the warm afternoon light and the baking fields of corn and grazing horses. I’m so sleepy, in fact, that when the driver wakes me up to see my ticket, I hand him a baggage slip from a bus ride to Sucre instead, then frown when he kindly shakes his head and passes it back.

In Salta, I find a hostel at the end of a whitewashed block south of the center, which is painted inside and out with every imaginable color. A gray cat lives here, a cat who sleeps on my bed by night and races up and down the stairs, over the connecting roofs, by day. The owners, a twenty-something couple with baggy pants and loose, curly hair, pour me a glass of wine on the first night and then sing together while a guest from Cordoba strums his guitar. I find, too, a market like the ones I found in Bolivia and every other place, a market with tiled counters where ladies serve up soup and plates of egg and pork and salad, juices of banana and orange and carrot. I see the manta of the indigenous everywhere, and the same braids woven with yarn. I am not so far, I discover, from the countries where I found something special and fell in love. Here, too, I can sit on the curb and drink soup from a bag, and I can wear the same clothes for three days in a row, as the Argentinian owner of my hostel does. I have not lost the freedom, I discover, that I felt in those freezing, high-up countries. It's the Latin, after all, that I've been living, and it just tastes different here. On these shadowed streets it's smoother, now painted with long Spanish windows, the shades halfway drawn to mute the sun. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011


 I follow Paul to Tupiza, taking a bumpy, jolting ride from Potosi, where I’m placed in the back of the bus, the second-to-last seat, beside a woman who shares my cornmeal rolls and asks me about New York. I pretend, to make it easier, that I’m from the city. Every time we hit a speedbump, a rock, a break in the road, the bus lurches, we jump and fall in our seats, and the baby behind me screams. Hush, the woman holding him says. Hush, and she bumps him on her knee, feeding him pieces of cut-up banana. We drive on this unpaved road, where a few yards away there’s a paved version that matches our curves and bends. I wonder about this, a few times I let myself get angry, but I tell myself it’s not Bolivia’s fault. I never do find out why they’ve built two roads, one paved, one not, and we must take the latter.

I find, in Tupiza, a hostel with three narrow stories and a white roofdeck that reminds me of Antigua. I find two tall British boys who stay up with me until two in the morning, drinking wine and watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They claim it’s a coincidence that this movie is playing, while we sit in the very town where those two outlaws met their makers. I argue that the movie plays every night, every other night, at least, but they are determined to believe it’s good fortune. They know most of the lines, reciting them just before Paul and Robert speak them, and then cackle when they hear them repeated.

I find jagged red hills that ring the town and stretch out to the north and south, glowing pink in the morning and violet as the sun sets. I find the Devil’s Door, two narrow, enormous slabs of brick-colored rock that stand two hundred feet high, flanked on either side by red dust and the tallest cacti I’ve seen since northern Peru. I find a stretching blue sky, speckled brown hills, a landscape so like my country's southwest. I find clean wind and dogs who live together at the end of an empty road in a ramshackle house. They’re dogs who bark and bark as I walk past, frightening me so that I pick up stones in case I might need to hurl them, but in the end those dogs are harmless, they just bark and then skulk away, back towards the half-finished group of adobe houses, the yard of old tires, of dried-up trees.

I find a town in the midst of its country’s Independence Day celebration; the parades last from Friday to early Sunday morning, and the music pumps. The ladies in the streets sell chocolate covered donuts, puffy soaked corn, glasses of chicha and paper cups of papas fritas, while an old man spins a manual merry-go-round while he sips his glass of beer and the little children perched on the tiny horses scream and demand more. That night, I say good-bye to the English guys, who are taking the night train to Uyuni, and then I crawl into bed and sleep to the sound of the Independence Day music. When my alarm sounds at 3 AM, just in time for the bus that will bring me to Bolivia’s border, I hear the music once more, pumping from the speakers set up in front of the train station. I step out onto the street, hoping that the drunk man screaming, shirtless on the corner, doesn’t notice as I walk with my pack beneath the bowl of twinkling stars. In the inky night, this town is just as busy as it was in the day. The streets are spilling over with people walking home, drunk off the celebrations of their nation’s independence.

Look! Look!

I'm famous!


Donigan, is this your doing? Actually, don't tell me.

I've been discovered!

By the way team, I'm in Argentina now! Once I finish this lush glass of Mendoza wine, I'll tell you all about it. xx

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sucre Dazzles

Below are some snapshots of Sucre's gleaming colonial center. Sucre's located, oh, I don't know, about three long bus rides east of La Paz, and because it's set in a valley, it enjoys a nice mild climate and lots of beautiful fruits and veggies. If you can forget for a moment that Sucre was once the most important city in Latin America, and now is a nearly forgotten destination in Bolivia, where beggars cram the streets and tourists blunder around, you can appreciate the gorgeous white walls and cathedrals. It was warm in Sucre, the air smelled sweet, the produce was bountiful, and the ladies in the market served me up this yummy corn breakfast drink while their dishwashers snickered at me because I am a gringita. And then they gave me flaky, airy empanadas, and charged me about fifteen cents for the whole shebang. I've discovered that you can learn more about a city like Sucre by visiting its market than by visiting its museums, which are more often than not staffed by gruff men who never have change.

Am I jaded by all of this travel? Have I been reading too much of Open Veins of Latin America? Regardless of the answers to those rhetorical questions, I loved strolling Sucre, even though some of the poor men crumpled on the sidewalk made me weep. There's nothing worse, is there, than seeing about three tons of gold inside a cathedral, and then passing outside a long line of old ladies with no teeth and no shoes who are begging on the ground.