Saturday, August 11, 2007

Reflections (Helen)

We have been home now for 2.5 months and I think I finally have some perspective on our time in Argentina. I think about BA in a sort of mental split screen. One side has a long list of positives - people, places, and things that I miss and would like to import here to the US. The other side is a sort of PTSD based entirely on my (and Ken's) inability to communicate for such an extended period of time. I felt like Blanche Dubois always "dependant on the kindness of strangers" to get through the day. And honestly, the Portenos were incredibly helpful and kind. But as more time went by, the helplessness and dependancy didn't resolve, it only became that much more of a burden. So, the negative side of the list is short but profound. I will use my experience in BA, here in the US, with our many immigrants. While I always had sympathy for their plight, I now have empathy as well.

As for the good stuff.....

I miss the relaxed, "easy" life style in BA. I know how crazy that could sound, because, honestly if there is a harder way to do something the Portenos will find it. I was always amazed at how people took 10 steps to do something that could be done in 2. Just going to the Post Office could take 3 hours. So, I can't really put my finger on it - life is just less complicated, easier somehow. Life in the US is more frenetic. We do everything as quickly and efficiently as possible. We take 2 weeks of vacation a year and fly through our destination on a mission to do as much as possible in as short a time as possible. The only things we don't do faster in the US are talk and drive.

I miss the restaurant life in BA. The cafes. Eating in a restaurant here can make me a nervous wreck now. There is even a commercial for a restaurant that is comparing their relaxed atmosphere to the average restaurant by showing the waitress asking the patron (muy rapido) - "do you want dessert? Ok, I"ll have it ready for you in the car." My first week back I went out to lunch with a friend and I swear that waitress asked us every 3-4 minutes if she could get us something. I had almost a full plate of food in front of me and she asked me if I was ready for dessert. I said, "I'm not even half finished with my lunch" and she very politely asked me if I wanted a box! I just smiled and said no, but on the inside I was saying "NO, I DO NOT WANT A BOX! STOP STALKING ME. GET THE F--- AWAY FROM ME". Of course, the upside to all this is that Ken and I are rediscovering privately owned restaurants and staying away from the corporate chains.

I miss the upside of how the Argentine gov't still doesn't regulate your every move. Por exemplo, the farmacia. I liked not needing a prescription for everything. On the otherhand, the selection of drugs in BA was poor.

I miss public transportation - even during rush hour when I just simply could not believe that the bus driver was going to stop and let one more person on that bus. I do not however, miss the noise and pollution of the bus.

Before Argentina I was angry at my gov't. I was angry at all the things we don't do better. Now, even tho I am still angry at the Bush Administration, I am also proud of how resiliently we will return to a better administration. I do not have to bribe policemen to keep my car from being impounded. I am not afraid my economy will collapse. I am not afraid of a military takeover (altho I think Bush was trying for that).

I miss the ex-pat personality. They are sterotypically an adventurous, open, friendly, confident, wanderlust, interesting group that were available in group-form at a moments notice.

I miss the flow of BA. The streets would fill up and then empty out everyday at the same time. It would draw me out of the apartment and into the flow of their well-oiled community-think machine.

I could continue to list the many things I miss, and then their flip side that I do not miss, but that is because with all good comes a little bad, and with all bad comes a little good.

People always ask me "Was Argentina fun?" No. It was hard. It was interesting. It changed me. I miss it. I don't miss it. I have enormous gratitude towards those people who made my visit good. I will always feel a certain melancholy when thinking of my time there. I had fun moments. I could go on.......

Monday, August 06, 2007

Helen's High School Reunion

Last Saturday, we went to Helen’s 35th high school reunion in Silver Spring, Maryland. Helen was unquestionably the most beautiful woman in the room and arguably the life of the party.

She worked the room like a politician: telling everyone who wonderful they looked and how she has such fond memories of them from school. She was a star and the room was in orbit around her.

There was a really good Top-40 band fronted by a member of Helen’s class. Once the dancing started, Helen was getting groups together, making the wall flowers get up, even leading everyone in a conga line that circled the dance floor.

Every man in the room searched for an opportunity to talk to her.

I kept her drink filled, and checked in on her frequently. There was a caricature artist in the lobby. This was not my school, and no one knew me, so I told the artist that I was a computer programmer who has the hobbies of martial arts—especially the nunchucks-- and bow hunting.

I wanted a Napoleon Dynamite picture with my skills: “computer hacking skills, nunchuck skills, and bow hunting skills.” I thought 50 dead wolverines would be too much for him to draw.

The swinging nun chucks kind of look

like a wheelchair, and the bow hunting became archery, but I was laughing to myself the entore time he was drawing because it was so rediculous and he so totally believed me.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What I have been up to . . .

Well, it’s August already. Sabbatical is officially over as of today. I had a meeting at the college and actually put on a tie. I have not been writing too much because—it’s not the same here. Nothing is really new and novel and exciting. Anyway, here is an update about what I have been up to.

I went to visit my mother in California. She lives in the Bay Area in a community for 50+ called Rossmore. She moved to California in 1992 after the last of the original neighbors left the street where she lived, and I grew up, in Baltimore.

Both of my sisters were already living near San Francisco, so it seemed like a good place for her to go. She is 83 now and does not drive anymore. My sisters check in on her and take her shopping and to the doctors. Twice a year I go out to give them a break.

When I arrived at the Oakland airport, my niece, Lauren, and her brother, Michael, were dispatched to get me. As we made our way to the Caldecot Tunnel, Lauren’s car overheated. My already-long journey was about to get longer. We had to wait for my sister, Karolyn, to rescue us in rush hour traffic.

I stayed with my other sister, Kathy. Her son, John, visited us while we were in Buenos Aires. Kathy was supposed to come and we were going to celebrate our birthdays together. She got cancer and has been undergoing treatment. While I was there, she went out without the head scarf for the first time. We thought it was amusing that we now have the same haircut.

Traveling between my sister’s house in Orinda to my mother’s in Rossmore, I pass Lafayette. For the past years or so, some people have been placing crosses on a hillside for each American soldier who has died in Iraq. While I visited, it was up to 3592; it’s higher now.

There was a bit of excitement one day at my mother’s. A power transformer blew and sparks ignited the hillside behind her condo. We watched the fire copter scoop water from the pond on the golf course and drop it on the fire. That was fun.

Another fun time was Friday the 13th. It was pretty strange that 777 and Friday the 13th occurred in the same week. Anyway, my brother-in-law, Dan, is a VIP in an accounting firm in the City. They were having their annual company meeting and family night and Dan got me a ticket. After their meeting, my sister and I met him at a really great cocktail party in the terrace of a hotel across from the ferry building. After getting all liquored-up there, I stumbled to the stadium to watch the Giants and the Dodgers. It was funny to think that two New York teams are now California teams and playing in San Francisco.

Barry Bonds went hitless that night, but that did not stop a thousand camera flashes with each pitch. In the seat in front of us was Meredith—a three-year-old who kept sticking her hand in Dan’s soda for ice and “allowing” us to shell peanuts for her.

Before my week was up, Lauren’s car was determined to be unfixable. Her dad went out and bought her a new Nissan as a wedding present. She gets married September 1st. (Dan has some scratch.)

So, I am back home now and have broken ground on my parrilla. I’ll keep you apprised on the progress.