29 June 2011

Foux du fa fa.

The last time I went to another country was about a year ago, when I went to Europe with Annie and Nate.  That trip was 3 weeks long, which felt like just the right amount of time.  But I've been here in Argentina for a week already and I feel like I haven't done hardly anything.  If I applied the amount of time I've been in Argentina to my Europe trip, I would already have come and gone from London, and made it halfway across southern Germany.  So please bear with me while I pause, take inventory, and try to figure out what happened to the first week (of only ten) of my life in Argentina.

Une.  The Europe trip was considerably better planned.  This spring I've been neck-deep in math and unable to spend much time planning what my trip would look like.  That was a conscious decision I made, and I'm okay with it.  I was going to come here and figure out how to live.  It's just been a tiny bit more taxing and taken a bit longer than I expected.

Deux.  As a result of (une), the Europe trip had more limited expectations.  I knew I'd be there for a short time, so I made decisions beforehand, whereas this trip carries on its shoulders five years' worth of hopes and ambitions, accumulated since at least the first day I set foot in Argentina.  Of course I'm not going to be able to do everything I want to before I have to go home.  I'll convince myself that's fine.

Trois.  I actually have done a lot.  I've had to find a place to live (I have! More on that later), I've had to buy a cellphone, buy fingernail clippers (I can't go on any trip without losing something, and I got started quick this time.  The pouch with fingernail clippers also had the tylenol and, gulp, my retainers.  So I hope Continental responds to my lost item notice.) and shampoo, call BYU's financial aid office, learn how to type Spanish accents on my keyboard, and more.  I'm talking about the boring accoutrements of survival.  And in spite of them, I've still managed to go to church in one of my old wards, meet up with a number of old friends, including my mission president, make some new friends, go to a concert, go to the library, eat things, and just do a lot of old-fashioned walking around the city.  As you well know, these are all things I crave and value dearly, but none really qualify as "productive." I'm learning to reconcile the discontinuity in my ambitions between the drive toward productivity and the drive toward a-productivity (as opposed to unproductivity).  Between the economist in me and the, ahem, poet.  Sure, we'll call him that.
  • Trois (a): What do I even mean by "productive"?  Carrying out an experiment, writing about it, and publishing it, sure.  Maybe learning French.  Maybe reading Gabriel García Marquez.  Signing up for and studying for the GRE, that would be real productive.  But these are not the only important things, nor are they the only things I'm here for.  The trick is that a lot of the things I am here for are difficult to quantify, which is gorgeous, and I like being okay with things that are difficult to quantify; but if one of you is going to sit down and build a tower, aren't you going to count first to make sure you have enough to finish it with?  I feel like God keeps sending me hints about how Planning is Important, so I'm trying to figure out how to Plan for important things that I'm more used to trusting to the realm of Serendipity.  Did you know those were all proper nouns?  Or proper verbs?  Yep, that's a thing.  All right, tangent over.
Quatre.  I really spent a lot of time going around to see different apartments, trying to find one that was Just Right.  Which was multitasking, since I also got to see a lot of the city, which was and is a high priority, and think, which is also a high priority.  Look at me be productive.  (Just Right is a proper adjective.)

24 June 2011

Don't let me down.

So I come out of the mall – yes, I went to the mall in Argentina, but there was a good reason and I’ll tell you about it later—and there, stopped at a light, is a bus #152, just the bus I need.  So I knock on the door, but the guy just shakes his finger at me; turns out the stop is half a block behind.  Bad luck, right?  No.  Good luck.  Because the next bus that comes is the one I get on.  As I put my peso veinticinco into the slot, strains of music waft across the bus to my unsuspecting ears.  Actually, music might be too strong a term: a guy, probably somewhere in his thirties, is wearing a fedora, strumming a guitar, and belting out the words to While My Guitar Gently Weeps, unabashed as you please, just as if he were practicing in his own room.  Actually it’s probably more like the kind of singing most of us would be doing only if we were riding a motorcycle or mowing the lawn or doing the dishes with the disposal running the whole time.  I have to say, the words he has down pat.  I find myself singing along in my head and trying to remember the next line, and even where I fail, Juan Lennon here has them all.  But the chords come from another planet, and I don’t think it’s a planet where they play guitar.  They have nothing, nothing to do with the melody he’s yowling.  However, that doesn’t stop him from laboring over them, pausing every few bars to search for the next set of frets while he holds out whatever word he’s on.  It’s so bad I consider just asking him, “Hey man, can I give it a shot?”  out of courtesy to the rest of the people on the bus.  See, I’m sitting there thinking, “I can handle this because I’m adjustable, and he’s funny, but these crusty porteños must be pissed as all hell.  They must hate this guy.”  Finally the dude finishes his long, torturous rendition of Gently Weeps and puts his guitar back in its case, and I breath a sigh of relief that no one seems to have been hurt.  Then a lady stands up to get off the bus – 40, 50 years old – and Dude yells to her, “Hey, Divina, jou rheady to rhan?  Jou rheady to fly?”  She ignores him and moves to the door at the back of the bus, and I start to wonder if the guy might be more of a bother not singing than singing.

But I don’t have long to think about it, because right around the time we cross Avenida 9 de Julio, he gets out the old guitar again and starts playing Don’t Let Me Down.   That is, he starts singing Don’t Let Me Down – I still have no idea what he’s playing.  “Nobahhdy everr lawvmi laik she daaws . . . Uushi daaws . . . Yeshi daaws.”  It’s getting pretty good.  Then he gets to the chorus and yells out “All together now!” and I think, “Oh geez,” – but in the refrain I swear I hear other voices, improbably, mixing in with Che’s baritone honk.   I turn around and see two girls on the back of the bus, grinning like to break their faces off.  So on the next chorus I join in too, and pretty soon, I kid you not, the whole bus is smiling and singing along.  When the dude looks at me with pure grateful joy and sings “And from de fihrst tain that she rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreally dawn me,” rolling that rr for about 3 seconds, I think to myself, Yeah, this is what I came here for.

10 points for the not-so-crusty porteños.  10 points for the boys from Liverpool.  And a hundred points for that dude in a fedora, singing like his life depended upon it on the 152.

23 June 2011

Soul Parking.

Here are some good t-shirts I saw today:

"Please recycle my brother"
"Madonna breaks all the guys.  Please help her!"

Also: I have this theory that almost everyone I meet here has a counterpart from my Northern Hemisphere life.  With most people I can't quite place it, but I'll have this sensation like, You remind me of . . . someone.  As soon as I figure some of these out I'll tell you and you'll have a great idea of what these people are like.  I'm mainly talking about the people I work with, but the other day I saw Davey Morisson's doppelganger step off the subway.  That was pretty cool.  And it makes sense, I mean, if you've got to make 7 billion people in the world, you throw in some duplicates, scatter them to different parts of the globe, and no one's the wiser.

I don't actually think that.  In fact I believe so emphatically in everyone's uniqueness that I felt compelled to put this corny and unnecessary disclaimer. Yay snowflakes.

I'm pretty close to getting a house to rent.  Once I get a house then I feel like I'll be able to settle down my mind and have some more interesting ideas.  The title of this post comes from an actual parking garage I saw in Palermo, but it's kind of a nice serendipitous description for what I'm looking for right now.  Trying to figure out what's the ideal mix of things I value in a house: proximity to my work, price, security, charm (house), charm (neighborhood), proximity to the library, personality of the people who live there, nationality of the people who live there, height, presence of an ice cream shop on the block, smell, presence of a bidet, proximity to the subway, size of kitchen.  Those are pretty much the things I care about, some more than others.  Trying to decide between two houses right now, each of which beats the other in about half of those categories.  They're both great though.  What do you value most in a home away from home?

Speaking of snowflakes, I think there are lead ones hanging from every one of my eyelashes.  Good night.

22 June 2011

It's a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.

One of the best things about the Argentine football league is that no one's place is secure.  Today Club Atlético River Plate played against some club from Córdoba called Belgrano to avoid descent from the top league into the second echelon: "la B".  This would be like, I don't know, one of the very most venerable teams in the NBA, like the Celtics, having to fight from being sent down into the D-league.  AWESOME.  The best part is:  River CHOKED.  Of course, it's a two-game series, and this game was played in Córdoba, and the next is played in River's home stadium in Buenos Aires.  But Córdoba beat them 2-0, meaning River will have to win very soundly to end up winning the series and staying in the top division.  In more than a hundred years of history, they've never been relegated to anything besides the top division.  HA!  River's mascot is the hen, and toward the end of the game some Cordobes fans were stringing up rubber chickens by the neck.  Oh, and right after half time started, some River fans tore a hole in the chain link fence separating the fans from the field and ran up to their own players to push them and tell them to "ponerle huevo," that is, to really give it more, um, gumption.  So the game was delayed 20 minutes while they brought in the police in full riot gear, I kid you not, to stand in front of the holes in the chain link fence.  THIS IS SOCCER.

The best part, actually, was that I was watching it with people I love.  Alejandro is this big lovable Viking who loves Incubus and his wife Sabrina just seems to have it all together, and she speaks great English and puts up with Alejandro's video games, but not too much.  They live in Ciudad Evita, a suburb an hour from the downtown that actually feels like a town, and actually has houses that are shaped more or less like the ones I'm used to.  I mean a lot of them even have yards.  There is this very strong sense of community there.  It was Sabrina's birthday, so a bunch of friends came over, some of who I knew and some not, but they were all super nice and talked to me nonetheless.  We drank pop and ate salty crunchy things of all shapes and sizes and watched the game and I just felt great.  They are just good people and it feels awesome to be loved by good people.

So that's the marrow of my story for today: my brain's message of hope from my future self to my present self was true.  People are good, life is abundant, God is merciful, and you sometimes don't even have to wait more half a day to be reminded of it.  I slept great, got up and bought some shampoo, and found the little bag of chargers and things which I'd thought I had lost.  I think that means I have lost my bag of tylenol and nail clippers.  Which is fine.  Oh, here's a deceptively non-peripheral part of the story: I started my internship today.  It's scrappy, and I think that's great about it.  I had a good long chat with Celeste about what I'm going to be doing and all the questions I have, and I'll dedicate a subsequent post to that.  Everyone welcomed me with open arms -- or at least, they seemed to be about as welcoming as one could expect, given that EVERY SINGLE OTHER VOLUNTEER in that NGO is FRENCH.  Yeah!  Make of that what you will.  The paid (barely) employees are non-French.  But all the volunteers are French and hearing someone speak Spanish with a French accent is actually really hilarious; I recommend it.

21 June 2011

100 años de soledad.

I'm positing that the human brain has almost unlimited potential to absorb and assimilate changes in environment, but that it requires sleep in order to do it.  I'll test that hypothesis as soon as I write this.

Yeah, I'm here.  I'm here!  But it was a weird day!  But it was a good day.  I want to assiduously avoid making this into an itinerary-based traveblogue, but I might include a lot of boring details today just because I feel like I need to desahogar.  What a great word from Spanish: undrown myself.  I've just gotta unload, vent: undrown myself.  

Here's my first point of advice: don't ever travel alone when you can travel with someone you love, or even like.  That option wasn't really available, so I'm trying the lone wolf thing.  I thought I would love it.  And I don't, or at least not yet.  I recognize that the main component of any place's meaning is the people in it, but if I were better at creating connections with strangers, this would be a lot more fun.  I should just learn to do that, huh?

Okay, let me step back and mold these scatterlings and orphanages into some semblance of narrative.  Brief semblance of narrative.  I slept a bunch on the plane, spent most of the day getting into my hostel and buying maps and a phone, then looking up more permanent housing situations on the internet.  I know I've told you a million times how much I love big cities, and I do, but man they can alienate you if you're not careful.  I know I mentioned this above, but I feel like my brain has just been overloaded with more input than it can take without one night of sleep to process everything and put it somewhere.  I have a hard enough time molding my life into a directional narrative in Provo, Utah, the most familiar town in the entire world.  And suddenly I've pulled a switch on my brain, altering every environmental variable possible.  Of course it's going to freak out.  It felt a little bit like the first day of my mission, with less magnitude: culture shock lite.  I wasn't expecting that.  But really, I never really had the chance to get used to the particular iteration of Argentine culture I'm immersed in now, since my mission was all in the less densely populated, more neighborhoodsy suburbs.  So today, the crowds and the buildings and the solo lunch of empanadas at a Chinese-run buffet restaurant and the administrative tasks of Just Living, I kind of saw them through lenses the color of existential ennui.  I felt, a few times, like all these people were incomprehensible to me, and they cared about different things than I do, and what if anything do I really care about anyway, and real connection with these people or anyone was just a pie in the sky.  And the rational part of my brain is able to recognize that this feeling always passes and is replaced once again with exultant, glorious joy at God's creation.  But today felt weird.

There more things to tell you about, but I'm literally falling asleep at the keyboard and I literally promised to try and make this brief.  I'll wrap up with 3 tender mercies, connexions from my old life to the current one which which put a dab of hope onto my angsty existential oatmeal.

  • Church.  My search for an apartment took longer than expected, but at the end of the day on my way to the last apartment appointment, I was surprised to find myself walking past a Mormon chapel with a guy about to go in.  So I yelled him down and told him how great it was to just see a mormon; turns out he's the institute director, and I thought to myself, Institute!  That'll be great!  (this is the only time I've ever thought that).  Kind guy.
  • University.  The Belgrano institute is in the neighborhood of Universidad de Belgrano, so I ducked in and spent about a half hour just reveling in the warmth of those books.  I bought a replica of a first-edition 100 años de soledad and saw a lot of South American books I recognized or had heard about.  So that felt great. College bookstores are always going to feel comforting.
  • People.  Specifically, the lady showing me this flat.  It's her own flat, and the rooms are a little pitiful.  But she, Angelica, is great.  72 years old, which she never gets tired of reminding me.  She just welcomed me in and sat me down and started talking to me.  I heard about her time living in La Jolla, California, and about what made her decide to be a teacher.  She had a lot to say, but you could tell when this lady was in her prime she was a really irresistible fireball.  She was a real sweetheart to me, even walking me to the train station on my way back to the hostel.  I wish I could tell you more about her, you would like her.
I've read that in scary or stressful times our brain lays down more densely packed memories and that's why time seems to pass more slowly.  Well let me tell you my brain was just packing them in  today.  It felt like about three days.

02 June 2011


Remember how I like running in the hills?  I know this is all I ever write about anymore.  Just let me enjoy it while it lasts.

The grass, thanks to the rain, is tall and healthy-looking right now.  And when I stand on a rock or some promontory, all I see is the wind shaking the green grass in these uniform waves that catch the nascent sunlight as they undulate across the field, looking for all the world like some tranquil bay in a grass ocean I never knew existed.

The grass is so tall that it hides the paths traversing it.  The deer (I assume they're deer) are uncanny at finding the flattest and stablest ways of moving across the hill, and over the course of months or weeks their light but steady plod beats worn trails.  These trails are the best to run on.  But they're usually not more than about 6 inches wide, and unless I happen across one or see it from just the right angle, I'm oblivious to its existence.  Luckily there are a lot of them and they meet up with one another.  This is one of the metaphors I'm holding onto right now.