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Destinations, South America

The Last Dance

July 6, 2009 • By

My finals days in Buenos Aires proved to be some of the best days of my 30s.  I drank, ate and danced my way right to the airport.  Between salsa dancing, vino tinto and a dulce de leche overdose, I could barely pack when the time came for pulling out my suitcases.

I finished class a week ago scoring an 85 on my exam.  It wasn’t by best performance but considering I needed to perfect my salsa moves and eat lots of meat before I left I think it’s completely respectable. On the last day of class, each student is expected to give a speech in Spanish.  I carefully drafted my farewell and included my favorite moments as well.  I am sure this comes as no surprise but before I even uttered a word, the tears began to fall.  Eventually, I composed myself and continued until I reached the part about my newfound friends.  I said, “me encanta….sniffle, cry, sniffle…dulce de leche.”  One of my friends pointed out that my crying preceded the part about my love for Argentina and my newfound friends and pertained directly to my love for dulce de leche.  In other words, I would miss dulce de leche more than anything.  HMMM….It’s totally possible but not likely.

After my speech and numerous good-bye activities, I went on a shopping mission, which ended in the purchase of 2 pairs of boots and a bottle of champagne to celebrate not only my last day but of course my new shoes.  Landra and I decided a panqueque de dulce de leche would be more appropriate since we always prefer dessert to wine.  We finished off the day with a trip to a NY type restaurant and a visit to a club called Rumi.  After a Michael Jackson tribute and an hour of electronic music, Landra and I decided it was not our thing.  Elated we lasted until 3 am, we were even happier when we exited and saw 200 18-year-olds in line.  The highlight of our night occurred in the cab on the way home.  It’s not what you think.  We commented to our driver that we hated electronic music and he managed to find the answer to our prayer or maybe just mine.  He landed on a station playing Air Supply’s, “Lost in Love.”  While I was belting out the lyrics, the cabbie passed our destination.  He tried telling us he was so blinded by our beauty he missed our stop. PLEASE!!!!

On my last party night in Argentina, Landra and I planned to go to a party called Vote to Drink.  You see the country shuts down on Election Day (Sunday) and after 6 pm on Saturday all the bars, clubs and restaurants stopped serving alcohol.  In fact, the bars and clubs closed until Monday night.  It is obligatory for Argentineans 18 and older to vote. However, many are so fed up with the corruption that they try to avoid the process entirely.  My local friend claimed she needed to get drunk in order to vote.  I thought it was pretty funny considering officials try very hard to avert protests and riots and all you hear about it food and money being given to villagers to vote for a particular candidate.

We arrived at our “house party” at 11 pm.  We had no idea what to expect but we figured the chef was an American so it wouldn’t be horrible.  There was a DJ and a house full of strangers.  The party started off slow but after a few drinks and some Michael Jackson tunes it turned into quite the party.

And now for the weird part…

At the beginning of the night, Landra and I met a guy from the States who had been living in Buenos Aires for 9 years.  We talked to him for a little bit but I had this weird feeling I knew something about him.  A few drinks later, I cornered him in the bathroom line and asked him if he had a sister who was 35-years-old.  When he replied yes, I told him I met her at Starbucks a month ago.  I am confident he thought I was nuts especially after I said, “Your sister is the reason I am leaving Buenos Aires on Monday.  She changed my life.” (As you may recall, one day while pondering my future, I met a girl at Starbucks who told me she survived on $20 pesos a day and she missed the modern conveniences of home etc.  I talked with this girl for maybe 15 minutes but she had an impact on my decision to leave.  She happened to mention her brother had been living in Buenos Aires for 9 years.) Now you see where this is going.  I thought 9 years seemed to be a random number and when Fred said he lived in Buenos Aires for 9 years my gut said this had to be his sister at the Starbucks.  I went on to describe her and everything she told me fit.  As in life, there is always more to the story.   Fred told me she married at 22, moved to Ireland and somewhere along the way became addicted to drugs.  In and out of rehab, she divorced and he brought her to Buenos Aires to start over.  She had been living with him until recently when she started using drugs again.  I found it a bit ironic he told me this while smoking pot but…it made me realize how often strangers come into our lives and change it without even knowing it.  I was saddened to learn of this girl’s story but hopeful she can still change.

After I calmed down from my discovery, I rejoined Landra and Brian (trust fund, gifted artist, singing sensation, Harvard boy) on the dance floor.  Brian was conversing with the DJ trying to get the guy to play more 80s and less electronic music.  I don’t know what he said but it worked and we danced until 5 am.

For my final meal, I headed to my favorite neighborhood restaurant.  Still reeling from the night before, I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings until I heard a young man next to me struggling with his Spanish.  Talk about déjà vu.  On my third night in Buenos Aires, I went to this exact restaurant and sat where this guy was sitting but I was the one fumbling over my words.  That is how I met my friend Kate (American teacher living in Chile).  She heard my Spanish, realized I was American and started chatting with me. Here I was a few months later doing the very same for this person.  He had arrived three days prior and enrolled in Spanish classes but didn’t know anything.  I gave him some help ordering dessert and pointed out a few things he should know about Buenos Aires.  My trip had come full circle and it was yet another sign it was time to go home.

Alas, Landra arrived for our final dessert together.  We split a (big surprise here) panqueque de dulce de leche with ice cream.  It was the perfect end to my last night in Buenos Aires.  I shed a few tears when Landra and I parted.  Ironically, it was raining – only the 4th time since my arrival in Buenos Aires.

The next morning I struggled with my 5 bags to the airport.  I didn’t have time to be sad, as I was a bit preoccupied with my bags.  In what universe did I think I would successfully hide 2 checked bags and 3 carry-ons?  Clearly, the nice lady at Lan Airlines wasn’t buying my story.  She charged me $60 for my overweight luggage.  With every passing minute, these bargain boots are becoming a hazard to my health and wallet.

Destinations, South America

Is 4 am the morning or the late evening?

June 24, 2009 • By

As I am nearing my last days in Argentina, the party has started.  I am not sure it ever ended but I may have stepped it up a notch.  I will quote Landra who says it’s better to GO BIG AND GO HOME than never to have left in the first place.  My weekend was pretty over the top with 2 nights ending at 4 am+.  Why is the unexpected night always the most fun?  Friday, I had my farewell dinner with Tim who told me my roots, eyebrows and all the other things I complained about for several minutes were really not that bad and that I had to hit the town.

With a glitch in the phones Friday night, I couldn’t find my friends so I decided to venture to the bar we had agreed upon earlier in the evening.  I arrived around 12:30 am and didn’t see anyone but rather than call it a night I headed to the Irish bar for a beer.  It only took me about 30 minutes before I was holding court bar side.  While the bartender gave Spanish lessons, I entertained the mixed crowd of Argentineans and American’s with resume and career building advice.  That is when I decided I had to start my own business and I wanted to live here (in Buenos Aires).  I mean my mind ran wild with business opportunities and it occurred to be Guinness just makes life better.  I’m confident I’m not the only one who developed a business venture over the tasty treat.  When 4 am arrived, it was time to say chau to my new amigos.  I felt right at home on Saturday morning.  Instead of Joyce waking me up, Landra did.  She started phone banking and emailing me since she was worried I had vanished after many texts and no responses.  It’s nice to know I have someone checking up on me.  Phone lines going down in Buenos Aires =muchos problemas.  Kelly in the Irish bar=not surprising.

Saturday, Landra and I planned a relatively quiet afternoon and somehow our trip to the museum turned into a dinner party and another night of dancing until 4:30 am.  This is where it gets good.  Remember trust fund kid?  Well I am not entirely sure Brian is a trust fund kid but he is seriously the most hysterical kid I have met in a very long time.  He is 29, dropped out of Harvard (why???), and is a wildly talented musician, artist, writer and so much more.  After I watched him dance and sing wildly for maybe 5 hours (picture Mr. Robotic), I had to Google him simply out of curiosity.  It was the best information I’ve found on someone in quite sometime.  If I had to describe him he is probably a mix of Johnny Depp and the lead singer from the Cars.  The night began with a Vietnamese dinner and ended somewhere with Madonna, Michael Jackson, other favorites of the 70s and 80s.  I knew my night was over when four Argentinean 23-year-old boys approached me on the dance floor.  They spoke very frankly and somewhat innocently, while pointing out going home with them would be a much better alternative to hooking up with Brian who I was dancing with at the time.  I had pins and needles in my feet and even Madonna couldn’t save me.  I bolted for the door, solo.

As it is my final week in Buenos Aires, the crazies are coming out of the woodwork.  Yesterday, I went to a café to study since my final test is Friday.  I was minding my own business sipping coffee and studying verbs when all of a sudden there was a loud commotion and a lady screamed.  I looked up to see a man grabbing cell phones off a table and heading out the door and on to a motorcycle.  Since Spanish is not my first language, it is very easy for me (when focused) to tune out Spanish speaking people.  I did see the man tap my table but I just figured it was a poor person as many people come into the cafes and place things on the table looking for money.  When four cop cars arrived in less than two minutes and 10 police entered my little neighborhood café, I figured I should probably pay attention.  The gist of it is the man looked like a messenger or a poor person and no one paid much attention to him until he made off with their purses and phones.  I guess he didn’t think my intermediate Spanish books held much value.  The woman who screamed thought he had a gun but lots of folks here pretend to have guns and never have them.  Needless to say, my lunch was on the house and the best part – I was the only person who didn’t get robbed.

Today, I went to see my private tutor for the last time.  She is this amazingly beautiful, successful, hard-working woman who has a heart of gold.  When I arrived, her boyfriend of 5 years was breaking up with her. I didn’t quite understand what was happening.  I asked him in Spanish where he was going (he was holding two small bags) and he said Palermo.  Then he kissed me good-bye and left.  All the sudden my tutor was whispering, “hombres son loco.  Estoy triste.”  I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on and I replied “si, por supuesto todos los hombres son loco.” And, then she started to cry and I realized something more happened and I walked in on it.  Oh Vey!  My tutor and I talked in Spanish for a while but I found myself holding back tears especially since we were talking about me leaving Buenos Aires and I became emotional.  I had brought her a bottle of wine as a thank you and when we were both teary-eyed I said maybe we should drink this now.  It was cute.  Later, she told me about her boyfriend and some of his life experiences.  It made me realize how hard it is to be an Argentinean.  To honor her privacy, I will not go into it but we should be thankful for the opportunities we have in our countries.  It is not the same here.

Tomorrow, my hips don’t lie and I’ll be salsa dancing for the last time in Argentina(this trip anyway).  I consumed two rounds of dulce de leche, picked up my tango shoes and purchased otra botella de vino tinta.  I’m ready to bring Buenos Aires back to home sweet home wherever that might me.  By the way, winter has arrived.  It’s a balmy 55 degrees.  Winter South American style is pretty darn fantastic.