Down in the Valley

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“I know there’s California … and all of the places I ain’t ever been to. But down in the valley … these are the places you will find me hiding. These are the places I will always go. I am on my way. I am on my way. I am on my way back to where I started.” ~The Head and the Heart

Part I

In true Argentine form – on my own leisurely time – this final pair of posts is seven months late. But I think the interim has enabled me to complete the circle I wanted to close with.

One year after setting off for an amazing adventure in Argentina, I recently turned up again at the Philadelphia International Airport with several suitcases and little idea of what was to come. Instead of diving south, though, I was moving west.

Getting detained at security for my Argentina and Nepal souvenirs

Airport security mistaking my souvenirs for weapons

Relocating to San Francisco for my job, I now had six suitcases instead of two. But this time, I passed the trip without a wrinkle. I breezed up to the lineless Virgin America check-in counter, and the woman handled my six suitcases in 60 seconds while singing along to a catchy cover of “Tale as Old as Time.” Whereas Bulent had been a Beast, she radiated Beauty.

Two years earlier, two high school friends and I had plotted about moving to California during a period in which we all had felt stuck. But it had always seemed more like the plot in “Crossroads” than a plan we’d ever execute.

Now, though, moving across the country did not feel daunting after moving to a different hemisphere. I had discovered in my Argentine adventure the agency I had to change my life. To unstick myself. To expand my world. To stretch my capability. Unlike when I showed up in Buenos Aires, I not only had the complete address of my apartment when I arrived in San Francisco, but also the keys. The key to my apartment was small and brass. The key to my life, was me.

San Francisco Bay, first weekend in town

First weekend exploring SF

My first night was a lot lonelier without a compañera like Jess. But moving solo has forced me to hone my agency further. I’m growing comfortable with doing things alone and putting myself out there as I build a new network here. I’m also learning how to do “real-people” tasks, like read a map and dodge scammers and sex offenders on craiglist to find an apartment down in the valley with amazing roommates. More book than street smart, I had always relied on others to navigate new places: Jess in Argentina, my friend Behnaz in Spain, my sister Kelly in Europe, etc. Now, I needed to figure things out on my own, and unraveling wasn’t an option.

Well, my belated blogging has given me the chance to prove to myself that I could. My guru, Peter, and I recently celebrated that I’m tackling these challenges, using the optimism we learned in 2011 and the happiness we chose in 2012. And I credit this newfound resilience to our six hard months of self-reflection, followed by my seven months on Argentime.

Hills in SF

SF hills

In my previous post, I made the mistake of thinking too linearly – beginning, middle and end. But what I realized during my final weeks in Argentina and now in San Francisco is that life is actually circular:

In September 2012, “California Girls” came on while I was struggling to run up a San Francisco hill. It ripped me back to September 2011, when I’d seen Katy Perry perform live on my first night in Buenos Aires. Coming full circle, I now found myself trying out life as a California girl.

The concert venue had bordered Rosedal, a massive park that Jess, Angie and I had stumbled upon by accident on one of our first outings in Buenos Aires during an attempt to find somewhere else. I rounded out my last few Saturdays there as well. Ironically, it had become my favorite place in the city – a valuable lesson on how the best things in life usually do find us, especially when we feel lost or are busy looking for something else.

Rosedal

Rosedal

Or have closed ourselves off to them. Last December, I was barely on speaking terms with my dad, but he randomly emailed me an aria, “Vissi d’arte,” performed by Angela Gheorghiu. Luckily, I gave it a listen – dozens of listens – because I then recognized the soprano’s name on the schedule of Teatro Colón, my other favorite place in Buenos Aires. During my last month in the city, I got to see her perform there, one of the top opera houses in the world.

Angela Gheorghiu

Angela Gheorghiu at Teatro Colón

Continuing these circles, Jess and I spent my last night in Buenos Aires in the first neighborhood where we had lived.

On my first day, Lorena, our energetic building porter, became our fairy godmother when she helped me figure out which unit I was living in and let me inside. So it only seemed fit that Jess and I spend my final evening at Lorena’s apartment with her beautiful family. Whereas we’d spent my first night at the Katy Perry concert, we spent my last night watching Lorena’s sassy first-grade daughter nail every word of “Teenage Dream,” astounding for not actually knowing English. I saw how my priorities had shifted during my seven months in Argentina, where people prioritize their families, as the latter “concert” by Lorena’s daughter remains the more meaningful memory.

After Lorena’s, Jess and I headed to a bar a few blocks away to meet some friends. One of them had recommended it while giving me a tour during my first weekend as his favorite bar in the city. But despite living a few blocks from it at our first apartment, we had never gone. So it felt fitting to finally resolve that.

Farewell drinks

Farewell drinks

It also felt full-circle because he was hosting a friend from home, who coincidentally had gone to college with Jess and me – and was in the Latin American studies class where she and I had first met and became interested in traveling to South America together. Another friend who came to say goodbye was also from the United States and, we’d realized within five minutes of meeting each other several months earlier, knew my sister.

The links reminded me of an elderly Uruguayan woman whom Jess and I had met in Colonia. After stopping to ask her for directions, we realized she had spent time in my mom’s hometown, a tiny town in New Jersey.

“The world is very big,” she had commented in Spanish. “But it’s also very small.”

She had been sitting on her stoop with her daughter drinking maté.

Mateando en the park

Mateando in the park

Maté. Back in July 2011, I had edited the first article from my work’s lone reporter in Argentina at the time. Her reference to people sharing maté in a circle from a communal straw had baffled me.

“‘Mate’ is like a tea that people drink together in a round,” she tried to explain to me. “It’s important to name it because it gives the scene a sense of community. It’s much common to drink mate between friends.”

Eight months later, it was a strikingly beautiful circle when she and I planned a training for new reporters in Buenos Aires, and maté now topped my list of supplies we’d need.

As did a parrilla for steak for my final dinner. Yep, it turned out to be true what a friend had warned me had happened to another vegetarian friend while living in Argentina: The steak seduced me. We had a lovely final dinner with our lovely Canadian amigas, collecting some final “research” for our dream to start a travel food blog, an activity I first tried thanks to Julie and Erin inviting me onto this one.

Parrilla

Parrilla

I’m never organized enough to plan going away parties, so it had meant a lot when two high school friends had insisted on coming to say goodbye to me the night before I left for Argentina. This was a circle I never expected to complete in Buenos Aires. But then one night at a bar at 4 a.m., Angie and I decided to stay for one last drink despite having hung up the night as a failure. We ended up befriending a hospitable group of strangers, who later introduced Jess and I to our best Argentine girlfriend. The night before I left for home, she made a point to travel across town to say goodbye.

The way our realities expand with bright people, beautiful places, balancing practices and brilliant moments when we leave our comfort zones awes me. It also piques my curiosity about all the potential other dimensions just waiting to grace our consciousness and enrich our quality of life.

Upon arriving in Argentina, I had been struggling to slow down, which emerged as the main theme of my posts. By the end of my stay, though, I sometimes caught myself out-Argentining the Argentines. One friend called me out for eating too slowly. Others called it a night at the boliche early while Jess and I stayed to close down the dance floor. Restaurants rushed us out the door at what we thought was an appropriate dinner hour. And I apparently think it’s timely to post a blog from May in December.

Boliche

Amigas at the boliche

Sometimes, things did pass too slowly, like the line at the grocery store and the cycle on Maria’s washing machine. And other times, things did go too fast, like the helmetless motorcycle ride home I accepted from a pizza delivery boy after I got off at the wrong stop before I understood the bus system. Or like the entire seven months. I felt as if I had had such a rich experience, yet at the same time had hardly scratched the surface.

After far too much wine on my last night in town, Jess and I fell asleep crying in each other’s arms in one of Maria’s pathetic twin-sized beds. (And we wondered why one of our new friends had mistaken us for a lesbian couple.) As I sat in the back of a cab en route to the airport the next day, the driver rattled off a list of his favorite local spots in disbelief that I hadn’t visited them. Apparently, I’d missed the best pizza in the city and neglected to purchase a tango CD – tragic news for an aspiring food blogger and tango star.

As if to make up for it – and make his hospitable culture proud – he popped in a tango CD to send me off in true Argentine style. We sped along the highway in silence as the sharp, teasing notes filled the cab and the late-afternoon sun bid me farewell through the window.

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2 responses »

  1. I have really enjoyed reading this blog! You 3 ladies are such a breathe of fresh air and truly have inspired me to live life as more of an adventure. I am a friend of Julie’s from home and I recently moved to SF as well …I would love to meet up sometime!

  2. Aww, thank you so much! Thank you for reading. That means the world to hear. So excited that you live here, too! Let’s definitely get together!

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