Sunday, May 24, 2009

RIP Vivian

I just received some absolutely devastating news, and I have no idea what to do.

As many of you know, I lived in Havana, Cuba for 4.5 months back in the spring of 2004. I lived with 2 different host families. The second was a woman named Vivian, a divorcee with 2 kids, one living in Florida and another named Diosdado who was my age and lived down the street from us. She was an AMAZING host mother, and we were very close while I lived there. She thought of me as a daughter, and I thought of her very much as my mother while I was there. She always took care of me, cooked for me every day, worried about me like a mom, and just generally was a strong source of support in my life during my time in Cuba.

The past couple of years I have completely lost touch with her. She didn't have email, and so our only connection was through her friend's email account, so I'd send emails to her friend, who would then pass them on to her. I've been worrying for years, because for a long time I have not received a response. Still, every few months or so I send a message, just to tell her I am thinking of her and hoping to hear from her soon.

I sent one of these messages about a month ago, but this time slightly more frantic than usual. I had been thinking of her nonstop, and just felt so upset that I hadn't heard from her in so long. I sent a message to the friend, Ada, asking her to pleeease PLEASE send me any information she had about Vivian, since so much time had gone by, and I was worrying about losing the connection forever.

I just walked in the door from a lovely weekend with my mom and Bill, and checked my email, and there was one from Ada saying that Vivian died 3 years ago. She was struck suddenly with brain cancer. By the time she found out, she had less than 6 months to live. Ada doesn't know anything about the whereabouts of any of Vivian's kids.

But she's gone, and I totally missed it. Three years have gone by, and here I have been, living my life, totally unaware. I feel absolutely devastated. I want to cry, but I am just in so much shock I can barely move. I miss her terribly. I hope she knew how much she meant to me.


Vivian and me in our house:


Friday, May 22, 2009


My mom and Bill are here! Yayyyyyy!!! It is SO amazing to have visitors, and I am loving it, even if I am getting absolutely no sleep (combining working with lesson planning and entertaining guests). It's 100% worth it.

Last night we went to the most amazing dinner at a yummy parrilla called La Brigada, where we all ate our body weight in meat, empanadas, salad, mashed potatoes, provoleta, and of course wine and dulce de leche. OMGOMGOMG I am still full.

Also, they are amazing and brought me a huge pile of stuff, mostly clothes and food. Actually, mostly food. :-) I am now happily in possession of Siracha sauce (aka cock sauce), Bragg's, pad thai mix, Reese's peanut butter cups, Teddie chunky peanut butter, and so much more. I'm a happy, happy girl.

Anyway, don't have much time to write, but just wanted to express my happiness to be in contact with the outside world!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Transience, abandonment, and the flakiest people in the world

Most people can't relate to me. My friends and supporters seem to find me interesting, intriguing, filled with stories, ballsy and independent, experienced as hell, well-traveled, free-thinking and adventurous (not to mention slightly insane), but can they actually relate to me? In many ways, yes, but in my transience, almost never.

It's a lonely life, being the one who's always saying good bye. Your skin just kind of thickens after a while, I guess. I keep pushing on. I can't really explain it, but there is something inside of me that keeps me moving, and it hasn't yet found its final resting place. I am (and people like me are) happier traveling, experiencing new people, places and things, and constantly living life in a challenging and slightly uncomfortable way, than I am living a comfortable life in the same place with the same people, doing stuff that makes me, well, "normal."

I sound like such an alterna-hipster, but I assure you, my soul is speaking quite directly right now, regardless of the current trendiness of transience. And the consequence of all of this, the dirty truth of the wandering soul, is that I live my life saying good bye to people I love. I grow attached, and then people disappear, or I do. I hate good-byes.

I'm really, really struggling with this right now. More than ever, my two selves are in conflict. One self wants to travel, see the world, keep moving, and continue to seek new adventures in new places for as long as the wind keeps blowing. It wants to be free, totally independent and guided by instinct. It doesn't want an office job, nor does it crave normality. My other self wants to create a lasting community, live my days with the ones I love most, grow old with those people, find lasting love, and umm.... be financially stable!!! Yes, this other self is quite sick of stressing about money.

They are in total conflict. For example, I simply cannot live in a different country every year while simultaneously creating a lasting community.

So last week, my close friend Megan left, and I was devastated. It was a little reminder that the friends one meets while traveling are a whole separate category. There's no promises made, no longevity expected. We'll always be friends, of course, but I most likely won't be seeing her for the next couple of years.

Then last night, at an amazing concert by a group called Onda Vaga (Highly recommended! Listen to them here.), my close, close, close friend Paul announced that he is leaving in 2 weeks to live in Brazil with his dad. Abandoning me!!! Then I lamented this fact later on with my friend Kieran, and that is when Kieran told me that he would also be leaving Buenos Aires in less than a month.

Anyone else want to kick me while I'm down???

This kind of thing is exactly what I should expect, but yet I can't get used to it! It is starting to feel like everyone I meet is going to leave me, and is making me feel like I need to conduct some sort of extensive interview with people when I meet them, to find out how long they plan to stay, then judge accordingly how worthwhile it is to get to know them. For example,

"Hi, Person X. How long do you plan on sticking around Buenos Aires?"

a) 1-3 months --> Sorry, let's not be friends. You'll only break my heart.
b) 3-6 months --> Cool, let's hang out, but I will try not to get too attached.
c) 6-12 months --> Alright awesome, let's be friends! I will deal with emotions later.
d) 1 year or more --> Let's be BFF!!! We can say good bye to everyone else together.

A big part of the problem, of course, is that all of my friends are also from other countries, who are traveling or living here for reasons similar to mine. So of course, there is an inherit level of transience that just comes with the territory. The solution, then, is to make local friends right??


This brings me to my next topic of discussion/ lamentation. "The flakiest people in the world." AKA Argentinians!!!!

Hey, Argentina-- you're flaky!!! And I'm SO NOT INTO IT!!!

Argentinians seem to operate on a "yes to all questions" principle, which basically means that nothing an Argentinian says ever means anything. Seriously. Ask anyone who's spent any significant time here, and I can almost guarantee they'll agree.

For example, you're at a bar, and you meet a group of Argentinians. You start to hang out, and the next thing you know, an hour as gone by, and you've been chatting it up and hitting it off. You're thinking, cool, new friends! They give you a hug good bye, maybe you even exchange numbers, and then they say, "let's go out sometime!" or "see you later!"

Uh oh. That's bad. "Let's go out sometime" = "See you never."

Seriously, unless you make a specific plan right there on the spot, you will most likely never see the person again. They just like being friendly, and for them saying something like, "let's go out sometime" is equal to saying "good bye." It's just something you say as you walk out a door, but it doesn't actually mean anything.

Another example: You invite an Argentinians out to a party. They respond and say yes, they'll be there. They never show up. TYPICAL! Why? Because there's no such thing as the word "no" in Argentina. So if they can come they say "yes," and if they can't come they say "yes." Seriously. So yes means both yes and no, which means it basically means nothing at all.

The reason that most people seem to cite for this is that people here have generally had the same group of friends their entire life, literally since they were kids, and it's near impossible to find people who are willing to go through the trouble of opening up their posse to a new person. The task of initiation is just too much, I suppose.

Anyway, this makes making friends super difficult, because I keep meeting these awesome people (ahem, "awesome" being a purely subjective term in this case) and thinking we'll hang out, and I never hear from them again. There was a group of girls a while back, for example, who I met through a friend. They were all gung-ho about hanging out and insisted on exchanging email addresses, and then I sent them all an invite to go out last weekend, and not one single one responded! When I mentioned this to my friend who'd introduced us, she was like, "ummmm, Erica, are you surprised?! Don't be! That's just Argentina."

"That's Just Argentina." The slogan of my life. Where no rules apply.

Yes means no.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Movin' on up!

Oooh exciting news! Greg (one of my roommates) moved out of the biggest room in the house, and my other roommate Julie is taking it. Which means I can take HER room, which costs the same as mine and is significantly bigger and still has a balcony and all the same stuff! Yay!! No more being cramped into a tiny little room the size of a closet!

I should be moved in by the time my mom and Bill get here next week!!! :-)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Live your life (wah ohh wah ohhh wah oooohhhhh)

(I hope at least someone gets my TI/ Rihanna reference)

I never wrote about my day trip to Uruguay last Saturday, so here goes.

As I mentioned before, I have to renew my tourist visa every 90 days, and the way you go about doing that is by leaving the country and then coming back. The easiest and fastest way to do that here in Buenos Aires is by going to Colonia, Uruguay which is an easy 1-3 hour boat ride (depending on the speed of the boat) away, straight across the Rio de la Plata, the gorgeous dirty brown river on which my lovely city resides.

My friend Megan and I both arrived on the same day, and thus our visas were expiring at the same time, and we decided to take the trip together. We went via Buequebus, a very misleading company name, because it is a company that has the word "bus" in it, yet only seems to operate boats and planes. Ha!

Anyway, the boat left at 8:45 am on Saturday, so Megan and I met there about 7:45 am, a time that I personally believe is so early that it should not even exist, especially on Saturdays. Since last weekend I was sick with a cold, I'd stayed in on Friday night and gotten a decent night's sleep, but Megan had been out drinking all night and rolled in drunk and reaking of alcohol. Hahaha!!! With me sick and her drunk/tired/hungover, we were in for an interesting day.

However, when I saw her, I knew immediately that something was wrong. She pretty much burst into tears the second we saw each other. And that's when she told me-- her boyfriend back in California had been in a motorcycle accident. He's fine, but he broke a ton of bones, including his femur, and was in the hospital.

(Life is precious... this reminded me, and I hope it also reminds you, to always live life to the fullest.)

... anyway, Megan was obviously freaking out worrying about her boyfriend, but also there was a more complex issue, which was that she'd already been feeling really unhappy here in Buenos Aires and had already been having doubts about how long she'd last. She was more homesick that the rest of us, was having more doubts, and on top of that was hating her teaching job and feeling generally frustrated. This was sort of the icing on the cake. She decided to go home and cut her trip short.

Megan leaves tomorrow. I'm soooo sad. She's become one of my best friends here, and it's just a very real reminder that I'm living in a foreign country, and when you do such a thing, people come and go more than usual. It's a transient place to me. How long will any of us last? She's the first to go, but I'm sure I will go through this many more times before I depart. It's awful.

So yeah, there we are, 7:45am on a Saturday, waiting for a boat to Uruguay, and she's telling me that this is her last week here, that we're saying good bye.

We decided, no matter that I'm sick and she's hungover and hasn't slept and it a mess about leaving and her boyfriend situation, damnit!! we're going to have a fun day!!! And we did. Albeit mellow and relaxing, we ended up having an amazing day in Uruguay.

It started off nicely because we'd bought the cheap tickets on the 3 hour bus, but they transferred us for free onto the 1 hour fast boat, and we arrived by 10am. The whole day before us, we just started walking and exploring. The town is tiny and cute. It's certainly not the type of place I personally could spend a very long time, because there is not too much to see, but it's an ideal relaxing day trip. We walked down the main drag and then wound around to one part of the coast, where we found an artisan market and a cute beach. The day was gorgeous and sunny, and there were people sunbathing, and sailboats drifting out in the water.

The we decided to wind down to the "old town" part of the city, which is really considered to be the big attraction, for tourists anyway! Founded in 1680, the town still maintained a lovely colonial feel, and features very well-maintained old tile and stucco houses lining pretty, cobblestone streets. There are a variety of museums and even a lighthouse, but we decided to take it easy and do a more self-guided tour, so we just enjoyed the sites from outside.

Also, the pedestrian signs are hilarious in Colonia! We decided that the image looks more like someone doing "the robot" than walking. Ha!

Along the river, there are plenty of grassy areas and beach spots to relax, share some mate, read a book, or sunbathe. I imagine it gets very crowded in summer! It was busy while we were there, but we still found ample spots to relax. We ended up finding a great spot overlooking the water and the sailboats, where we spent about 2 glorious hours. Megan slept, and I read a book. It was fantastic.

We started getting hungry and decided to have some lunch. We ended up in one cafe in the Barrio Histórico (old town) to have a soda and a snack, and then wandered back into the center of town to the main drag, where we had yummy sandwiches and I had a coffee. I was exhausted, after all, and oh man, I love the café con leche here!

After lunch we explored yet another part of town along the water, which we agreed was the prettiest part of all. We found a street that winds along the river and where there are a couple of docks you can walk out onto, where make for some amazing views of the land, water, and boats. This picture in particular really reminded me of Westport actually (where my Mom lives in MA, for those who don't know):

I thought this whole area was just gorgeous, especially as the sun was setting.

Overall, Colonia turned out to be a picturesque place to visit and a lovely little escape from the craziness of Buenos Aires. I'd recommend it as a day trip to anyone coming to visit Buenos Aires.

And now, as its Megan's last night in town, I think some shenanigans are in order.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bike Buenos Aires!


I am a happy, happy girl! I borrowed my roommate Greg's bike for the afternoon (why have I not done this yet?!?!) and took off with my friend Paul through San Telmo, downtown, and the ecological reserve. Awesome little ride, even though riding with these buses is NUTS!! Paul, by the way, is my insanely amazing friend who rode his bike in a year from New York to Buenos Aires! I mean, that is just about the coolest thing I have ever heard. Needless to say, he is an inspiration, and I'm so happy to have a bike obsessed friend to enjoy BsAs with!

I will buy a bike ASAP. Now that I know how fun it is, I'm on it! I don't have a place to put one, so the biggest obstacle is finding a place. I need to find a parking garage or something that would be willing to let me store it there for a low monthly rate. We'll see what I come up with. Then, I need to find myself a nice, used cruiser. Hopefully I can make all of this happen in the next couple of weeks.

But yes, the ride was so invigorating! The only time I've ridden a bike in Argentina was in Mendoza, which was awesome, but this was different! I got back in touch with my bike-commuter self. I miss riding through the streets of Boston, weaving through traffic and cruising up and down hills. I miss the feeling of liberation that it brings, that I can go anywhere at any time, that I can do anything. I miss that. I'm gonna get it for myself here. I want to ride my bike through Buenos Aires in the middle of the night and feel totally free. (With proper lights and safety measures, of course!) ;-p

Anyway, I love bikes!! Nothing has changed, except the fact that I don't currently own one. And THAT, my friends, will be changing very, very soon!


Today marks 3 months in Buenos Aires! And what a 3 months it's been. So much has happened, so much has changed. I'm excited to see what the next 3 months bring!

Monday, May 4, 2009

<3 Yelp!

Hi Yelpers! I got your card today, and I just wanted to dedicate an entire blog post to saying thank you!!! You have no idea how amazing it was to get a card signed by like 15 people! So amazing. I smiled and smiled and smiled and continue to smile as I look at it. You're wonderful people, and I miss you too! I also cracked up at how many references there were to 1) the fact that I hate cilantro (you guys know me so well!) and 2) my extreme inappropriateness! Yep, still got it baby. hehe

Thanks for not forgetting about me!!! I am lucky to have you in my life. <3


Friday, May 1, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

Today, May 1st, is a holiday widely recognized in many countries (including Argentina) as the Day of the Workers, aka Labor Day. I celebrated by working a couple hours this morning (blasphemy, I know, but I need the money), getting sick, and canceling my plans in favor of staying home watching a movie with my roommate and getting to bed early. Yep, that's where I'm headed after this blog post. I turned down a house party, a dinner invitation, and an opportunity to go salsa dancing (my favorite!!) all to stay home and allow myself to relax. It's something I don't do nearly enough. I get sucked into "social butterfly" mode too easily and don't always take care of myself. Today is a new day.

After all, I need to get up very early tomorrow! First thing in the morning (aka I have to get up at 6:30am), my friend Megan and I are heading to Colonia, Uruguay for the day for a little getaway and to get our visas renewed. Yep, I am living here on a tourist visa, which means that every time it expires (every 90 days) I need to leave the country and then re-enter, in order to get a new visa. Total pain, but it's an excuse to go do something different. I don't really have the money for the trip, but hey, I have to do it so I'm going to enjoy it! I think we will just wander around the town, do some exploring, have a very long lunch, and head back. If something super amazing happens, you, my dear blog readers, will be the first to know.

Lastly, I just took this picture while sitting here. It's probably not that interesting to you, but for me it is symbolic, so I'm posting anyway. It's the table next to my desk, in front of my bed. I spend a lot of time staring at it.

That piece of paper in the front on the left is my notice from the Correo Argentino that I received a package. I think it's from Dave. (Hi, Dave!) Unfortunately I still have not picked it up. I have to go all the way across town where I will need to wait in line for a couple hours and then BUY the package. I know, the system is so messed up. But I plan to do it next Wednesday, which is my next day off! I will get that package!! But anyway, this does remind me-- please don't send me a package unless it's like, super important. I learned this the hard way after spending $75 receiving my last 2 (amazing and greatly appreciated!) care packages (one from Ben and one from the Girl Posse! <3 <3). We can stick to cards. ;-)

The flower is a carnation that some random guy gave me on the street. I was walking through Puerto Madero and he tried to hand it to me, and of course my instinct was to assume he was trying to sell them to me and to say "no, gracias" and keep walking. And he was like, "no, it's free! it's a gift!" and just gave it to me. A lovely little random act of kindness. So it's current home is in my bottle of San Telmo Malbec. Yep, my awesome neighborhood even has a wine named after it. ;-)

Stacks of books.. most of which are unread because I spend all my "free" time planning lessons... the "Quilmes" cup I just had to buy for myself as a cheesy souvenir, which is a Quilmes beer can that an artist turned into a mug with a handle. My old broken cell phone that I really need to get rid of...

And of course, my mate. That's that gourd-looking thing with the metal straw thing poking out of it (known as the "bombilla"). The mate (pronounced "mah-tay") is what Argentines use to drink yerba mate, which is a strong, bitter tasting traditional tea. You fill the mate with the yerba, then fill it with hot water and drink it through the bombilla. You just keep refilling it with hot water and passing it around until it gets too weak to enjoy. Some people don't like it, but I absolutely love it. It's a wonderfully social, too-- you see people all over the city drinking mate with friends in parks and on benches. And it's also known to be incredibly good for you, stimulating the metabolism and enhancing mental clarity.

Last but not least is one of my favorite pictures ever of Kirsten, Ben, and Me! Ben mailed it to me (in aforementioned care package!), and I am so happy to have it. Reminds me of my amazing Boston friends every day. I'm having a great time down here and I'm so glad I came, BUT I miss yooooooo!!!!!!!