Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Arco iris" is a much cooler way of saying "rainbow."

I'm almost halfway done processing pictures from the trip. The image header right now is from one of them. It's not the most spectacular shot because it was taken through a bus window and rainbows tend to occur in moist (and therefore grey) conditions, but it's nice. We took a bus ride for part of our journey to the part of Patagonia where I lived, and we saw a rainbow. We actually passed right underneath it as it spanned a valley through which we rode. And no matter how cliche I want that to be, it still makes me smile.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Overheard, While I Was Out Edition

While I was gone, Hubster's cousin got married and his father's family got together. This rare event was highlighted by the following conversation between K, his grandmother (with rather advanced dementia), and his reserved-but-bitingly-witty uncle.

Hubster: blah blah blah Erica's still in Argentina blah blah blah wine and steak.

Grams: Who's taking piano lessons?

Uncle: Darn right it's cold in here!

The End.

I swear this was like the first thing my husband told me about when I got home. "Welcome to the United States, baby! And now a funny and slightly cruel story about making fun of my elders. Glad to have you back!"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chasing a High

A week ago I was trying to pack for home. My grandparents' bathroom scale was waiting to weigh my bag, and I was trying to guess whether they'd charge me the overweight bag fee or just let it go like the last time. The details helped me stay numb about leaving. It's not that I'm unhappy to return to life here. The end of any vacation is bittersweet, and this was a lot more than a usual vacation. For one thing, most vacations aren't permeated by your favorite smell on the planet.

Argentina has a smell. When I told my friends there they were surprised - you can smell a country? The quality changes, as it does with any place, but it's fixed in my mind. My grandparents house has always had the most concentrated scent - wood, wine, leather, cheese, meat, soaps, books, coffee, pastries. The entire country smells of mate and beef and perfume and I don't know what. Writing about it makes me feel dumb, but then again so does sticking my head in my luggage just to catch a whiff of it. The folds of the clothes trap it. The insides of the packages I brought back contain a bit. It's been disappearing all week, but that doesn't make it any less real.

That smell always meant good things. When family would visit, wheeling their bags in their room (which was usually my room I'd given up for them) I would catch my first hint of it. Then the blessed hour would arrive and they'd unzip them and bring out our treasures. It was always Christmas when someone came from Argentina. Dulce de leche was handed out and before rationing would begin, my mom would often let me have a teaspoonful straight from the jar. Mate was unpacked by the kilo for Dad - Rosamonte, a brand I rarely stray from to this day. We kids usually got presents of some kind. Mom and I got that certain Spanish soap she loves. All those memories of delight were made over that smell of their bags, of the place in which they were packed.

Now that smell I love, the smell I lived in for twenty-six days is evaporating from things. It's dissolving into the air of my home, and I can't seem to find it anymore. It might not sound all that good. Maybe no one even knows about it by me, but that smell is one of my favorite things in the world, and it's disappearing again. I would almost trade it for one of the many beautiful and special things I brought back with me.

My bag weighed 33kilos (almost 73lbs). It was full of presents, clothes, almost 4kilos of cheese, and the best smell I know. Now it's empty. The cheese is in the fridge waiting to be cut and probably frozen before being transported to my family's house where my father will gleefully throw it on the grill and we'll all gleefully try to cheat each other out of the final bites. The clothes are in the laundry waiting to be stripped of their perfume in the washer and dowsed in a new scent from our detergents. The presents will be packaged and given away. But the smell will fade. The soap I brought back will give me a whiff of one facet. The mate and coffee and beef we consume in this house will do the same. I guess I'll just have to head down there again for my next true fix.

Cue the withdrawal symptoms.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Things I Missed

I'm home. I've had a hard time reintegrating at times, but these things have made it better:

1. Two-ply toilet paper. It's not necessary, but it sure is nice.

2. My beautiful pillow and mattress. There's no substitute.

3. My entire closet. Oh, how I missed thee. Everything old is new again. And also clean. I could go days and days without having to beg someone to wash my two pairs of jeans.

4. Tex-mex salsa, hummus, and Coke Zero Vanilla. Yuuuum.

5. My cell phone. I can actually call people now. And make plans and everything.

6. Paying with my credit card. When you run a (mostly) cash economy, you have to plan ahead. Me no likey.

7. Internet. All the time. Whenever I want it. And fast. 'Nuff said.

8. TV. I didn't watch any while I was there, and I didn't miss it at the time, but I now I rather like having my shows back.

9. My cats! They're soft, they let me put my ear to their bellies when they purr, and they ignore me until I play with them.

10. Hubster. He left me two weeks ago, and it was nice to not have to translate all day for him, but it's even nicer to be home with him.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Argentine Dispatch #2

I can't believe it's been almost a month. I've already started making plans for Monday's exit, and it's tinged the rest of the week for me. I was afraid an entire month without work would turn into sheer boredom, but I barely notice that I'm not occupied. I guess the structure of the days here in the Interior with their observance of siestas and the meals at strange hours has helped make the time fly. My family and friends work in jobs with more varied hours as well, so I've spent much less time than I anticipated in "entertaining myself" as we like to put it. I'm happy to have spent so much more time in conversation but my journal is woefully out of date. I believe the entry I have to finish is from October 2nd - at the beginning of Buenos Aires, before Patagonia, before my return and all the important conversations I've been having. Am. screwed.

I've had irregular internet access through travel and then problems with modems here. I wanted to post more, but I'll try to journal events and I'll keep writing Argentine Dispatches when I get home. Hubster took the laptop home with him so I'd have one less valuable item to secure everywhere I went. It was a good idea, but I sure would like to type my thoughts more than write them. It's faster and the pencil-and-paper method makes my inner editor cringe and mutter curses after a while. All this to try to remember, to hold on to the memories and the stories and the mental images.

I'm sitting in my friends' study, the family with whom we'd stay when we weren't with our relatives here in the Interior. Their daughter is about to arrive. We were best friends when we were little, and our families renewed our acquaintance with trips even when we moved to Patagonia. I went to school with her on our 6-week visit in '97. She wrote notes to me in a notebook and conjugated verbs on its pages for me to memorize. One page is titled in bold pink marker: "The Four Most Important Verbs in Life." Below it appear the present tenses for amar, comer, dormir, and comprar. I guess if I can say I've loved, eaten, slept, and bought that about covers the basics even today. She visited my family in the States for three months. The youngest with three older brothers, she lived like my sister during that time, and we loved it after lifetimes spent with just our brothers. She danced swing with my friends, slept on my bunk beds, borrowed my uniform sweaters for school, and backed me up in arguments with my brothers. It was awesome.

She left and went back home. She started med school at university in Córdoba, met her boyfriend more recently and became an aunt as her older brothers started families. I went to college, met my husband, graduated, got married, moved and worked. I'm hoping somehow that our friendship has once again survived the deep freeze of distance and time.

We'll be sleeping in twin beds in the same room. Maybe that'll jog our memories.