Monday, January 26, 2009
Alright people, it's been nearly a month since my last real post, a time in which you've been treated to the musings and photos of Julia - although the pictures from Mendoza are of my doing, thank you very much. My most profound thanks to her for keeping the blog afloat, her gusto for keeping everyone updated is to be admired and imitated. So with that in mind, here is an update on the state of Josh, with my thoughts on the past month and life in general:
The city seems completely different than when we first arrived, and I mean this in two ways. The first and most obvious is that since it's the middle of summer here, everyone is gone. Buenos Aires feels somewhat empty, and not just because many of our friends vacated the city. Stores are close more frequently. Bus rides take less time with less traffic, which also makes our street seem quieter than usual - more on this aspect in a little bit - and allows keep our bedroom door open later in the morning before the noise makes it impossible for us to continue sleeping. Porteños do not saturate the public parks as they usually do. Restaurants are on vacation for weeks at a time. It feels as if we are in a tourist town during the off season, just for the exact opposite reasons: we are in the place that empties out during tourist season. Having been on the opposite end of this relationship for the first twenty years of my life, it's refreshing for the summer to be less crowded than other times of the year.
Secondly, Buenos Aires feels more like home now than ever before. This obviously makes sense in that anyone is more likely to feel more at home somewhere the longer they've been there, but it's more than that. When my family came to visit we were just a little more than a month into our (barely legal) residency in Buenos Aires, and for all intents and purposes still newbies in this vast metropolis. We tended to stay with what we knew, unsure of what more our new city had to offer. We got a little more adventurous with our visitors this time around, so now somewhere like Palermo is not just far off land with good nightlife but a place where we've spent a considerable amount of time. We're expanding our horizons, getting to know more and more of a city that has so much to discover. In addition, our visitors pointed out characteristics of Buenos Aires that we remembered being issues when first arriving, but by that point we'd come to accept as part of life. The noise level on our street, the poor quality of some sidewalks and what "paints" them, the thick, black exhaust of buses, wires zigzagging between buildings, all characteristics of Buenos Aires the Behar's and Kenny couldn't help but notice and rightfully lament - really, who wants to step in dog poop on the sidewalk? Or who wants to get pooped on by a bird that is sitting on one of the wires that crosses high above street level? (Note: I finally fell victim to the falling poop of one of these devilish pigeons. If it werent bad enough, it was on our way to Shabbat services, so Julia's father (who will be referred to as Roger from now on, since he is a major player in this post and it's annoying to keep writing had to clean off my shirt once we passed the entrance exam to get into synagogue. I'm still waiting for the good luck that is supposed to accompany any inadvertent interaction with animal feces on city streets, whether it comes from above or below.) Yet, these are all characteristics that we've gotten used to, embraced, and that help illustrate the backdrop of our daily routine. One of the first things Julia's parents would notice in a neighborhood is the state of the sidewalks, which became a running joke between everyone. Belgrano = nice sidewalks = a desirable place to live. Nice sidewalks deserved recognition, as did poop on the sidewalks so as to avoid stepping in it. Now we think about them a little more - the noise has given us further impetus to try and move to a quieter street - but I'm sure they'll once again fade into the scenery of our lives before too long.
Even more, the mere fact that we say things like "back to business as usual", or "return to real life" now that our visitors have gone back to the States signifies that there is a "real life" that we've built here waiting for us. After happily playing tour guides for the past month or so, we return to lives that are surely less fun than weeks of finding new restaurants to eat at and interesting sights to see, but more normal and our own. It was a joy to host so many visitors, but it's also really nice to be living like a regular porteño. In a way, we are like those city dwellers who are returning to Buenos Aires from vacation, except we've been here the whole time. It was great to be on vacation, but as Dorothy said, "there's no place like home".
A few personal highlights from our visitors:
For the first week or so of Kenny and Mia's visit, we played cards about 50% of our waking hours. Hearts, Deuces, Gin Rummy, and my new favorite card game, Pinochle, were our preferred pastimes. We used them as excuses to stay inside on the first few days of their stay when the weather was often nothing to brag about, and continued playing through the weekend after New Year's Day when we played porteño and flocked to Mar del Plata. In our hostel, on the beach, we were dealing out cards left and (or, to) right. I thank Kenny for teaching us Pinochle, even though it brought on some tense moments between Julia and I (apparently I wasn't playing up to her standards), and I will try and spread the Pinochle love, because it's all love.
Our trip to Mendoza was one of the most memorable weekends of our residency thus far. First of all, it was our introduction to overnight "suite" passenger buses, which offer: a fully reclining seat, a meal similar in quality to it's airline brethren, red wine and whiskey, and a film. In other words, it's the perfect storm for a good night's sleep when you would be getting a crappy night's sleep at best on a plane or lesser bus. Unfortunately they were not impervious to Argentine traffic, which delayed our reentry to the city and impeded us from going to work on Monday morning, but that's another story. Secondly, it was our first ever wine tour, which was very exciting in itself. As Julia wrote, we learned a great deal about all aspect of wine production, from the growing to the bottling. Along with the tutelage provided by Roger's impressive knowledge and contagious passion for wine, we are more knowledgeable consumers, but not like this guy:
Besides filling our minds with new and interesting facts about wine, our Mendoza trip was amazing in that it put us within sight of some of the highest mountains in the world. The city of Mendoza lies just east of the Andes, and to the southeast of Aconcagua, which holds the dual honor of highest mountain in the Americas and highest mountain outside of Asia. I know this sounds really childish, but being that close to those big mountains was really exciting to me. I kept saying, "Where are the mountains? I want to see the mountains!" because I've never been in such close proximity to such an impressive range. It's humbling to be in the presence of such immense and awesome wonders. Just as standing next to a skyscraper, looking out on the ocean or any other large body of water, finding yourself in the middle of a storm, or checking out the view from a plane makes you realize how small you are, seeing a mountain range of this size and beauty gave me an aesthetically pleasing sense of perspective that will have to tide me over until we make it down to Patagonia to see the glaciers.
One of the best parts of our visitors coming was the opportunity to get to know Julia's family (and Kenny) better. Our interactions had been restricted mostly to meals in Washington and New York or weekends in Montgomery, so two weeks with Mia and Kenny and then two weeks with Ann and Roger afforded everyone the chance to get a little (or in the case of our live-in visitors, a lot) more familiar with each other. Everyone got along swimmingly, and I got to appreciate Julia's parents' knowledge and ability to wittily apply tidbits of pop-culture. I don't remember how it came up, but we started talking about Julia's Towlie costume from Halloween of 2007, and how the character, who is a towel, tends to respond to people pointing out the fact that he is a towel by saying "you're a towel". Maybe he'd done this on previous occasions privy only to members of the Behar family, but Roger immediately took to this phrase and would whip it out and hilarious and completely appropriate moments. He didn't overuse it and wear out its novelty, but would slip it into conversation at the perfect moment. He wouldn't try and sound like Towlie, he simply delivered the line in his normal voice and normal demeanor, straight faced. He is at the bottom of the list of people I would expect to make a South Park reference in everyday conversation, which obviously made it all the more funny. I know what you're thinking, and I swear I'm not brown nosing right now - I genuinely thought it was funny and laughed out loud, and you would have, too, if you had been there, so stop staring at me with those accusing eyes.
Sorry again for taking so much time off, hopefully now that life is "back to normal" I will get back into the habit of contributing to the blog more and not have to burden you with long rambling posts. That is, until Zach and Evelyn (woohoo!) arrive in a month, and then all bets are off...