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Reflections on Getting Rid of Most of My Stuff

December 28th, 2009 No comments

Whilst traveling about in Argentina, Tracy and I talked once or twice about what the living arrangement would be when I came back to the states to be with her from Denver.  Perhaps I’d get my own apartment, perhaps I’d crash at her place and enjoy floater status for a few weeks while we felt out what would best work, perhaps I’d outright move in with her (our engagement which soon followed provided a nice context for this last option).

Whatever it would be, the joke was that all I needed to do to completely move in with her was walk into her apartment while wearing my big ol’ traveler’s backpack.

What freedom.

And that’s not even counting the emotional freedom of not having to worry about the maintenance/storage/protection associated with clinging to my stuff.

The real, longer-term beauty of the situation is that my time in Argentina showed me how  truly little of my stuff was necessary to be fully functional, productive and happy.  I can now choose what’s actually important to me because the situation decided for me what is not.  I mean, if I haven’t missed it by now…  I haven’t even yet plugged in my desktop computer: turns out I can work just fine without jumbo, dual monitor action, and for it every wi-fi enabled nook of this fine city can serve as my office.

The ultimate reassurance?  If a given item is really that important I can always pull something comparable back out from the Craigslist/secondhand ether into which it was placed.

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Yesterday’s Vision Now a Fulfilled Adventure

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

I tell you, it wasn’t that long ago that, while traipsing about in Guatemala, I had the thought “wouldn’t it be cool to get a flat in a place like this, do my work time magic via laptop and wifi, and otherwise live and love like a local?”  This vision came during the tender, early weeks of my Spanish language immersion, when words like “comer” (to eat) and “comprar” (to buy) were similar enough to confuse and thus prompt me to ask a cab driver if I could eat more pants in the city of Antigua.

How far I have come in the ten months since.

But let me pick up from our earlier cliffhanger before I wax too much nostalgic.  I believe my words spoken shortly after that fine Piriapolis sunset were “Tracy, what do you say you and I share a fantastic life together…” (then a brief pause whilst I completed the fumbling about in my pocket to fish out the ring), “Will you marry me?”  What followed I believe was a bemused and surprised chuckle followed by “Are you serious?”  “Yep, totally”, I replied.  Then she said yes, and possibly with an “Of course” thrown in for good measure (it’s worth mentioning that Tracy and I have been clear for one another on the whole “yep, you’re the one for me” sentiment since September, so I’m tickled that I managed to pull off the whole “surprise” element.)

The ring has a pretty blue topaz gemstone, nearly matching Tracy’s favorite color, a.k.a. “Tracy Lee blue”.  Sorry DeBeers, I think I’ve found another answer to your riddle of how else could two months’ salary last forever: a few months worth of memories living abroad with my love.  Tracy and I agree: that’s just more our style.

The process of leaving Buenos Aires was great.  I spent the better part of the afternoon doing my favorite round of errands in my old neighborhood which gave the whole thing a nice “full circle” feeling: a visit to Antonio’s to pick up some more of those primo cherries (good enough to smuggle through customs undeclared–they would soon be in ma’ belly anyway), another haircut from Frederico (may as well look sharp for spending the holidays with my future in laws), and another steak from Roberto’s (thank goodness the hostel we stayed at but 2 blocks away from his stand had a communal kitchen).

My final day there I did one last round of what I call my Ninja Training (but you can call it a “work out”) in my beloved nearby plaza: a run around the perimeter and then about a dozen push ups (that may not sound impressive, but you try doing ’em with a cadence of 5 seconds down, and 5 seconds up).  Add to that another round of sushi in the Japanese garden and one last stroll about the Recoleta fair with some Freddo helado (ice cream) to boot and you’ve got the fine makings of a fond fair well to the city that has treated me so well.

Now I sit in the living room of Tracy’s parents.  I’m ready to celebrate Christmas (turns out it IS a treat to land smack in the middle of the holiday season!), I’m on the precipice of a groovy new adventure called creating a life in Denver with my gal (should be way easier–I get to use English this time!), and I’m delighted to have been congratulated and warmly welcomed by Tracy’s family.  There’s nowhere I’d rather be.  I offer my heartfelt thanks to all who gave me support and encouragement to live out this dream–especially Tracy, who, by virtue of frankly asking me back in June what I could possibly be waiting for, seems to have devised the most perfect and seamless plan EVER to uproot me from St. Louis and smuggle me to Denver.

Darling, you’re absolutely brilliant.

John

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Christmas Time in Warm Weather

December 20th, 2009 No comments

It’s disorienting in a beautiful way.  Every time I see a Christmas tree while basking in the heat I smile at the novelty, and suspect I’ll STILL be taken by surprise when suddenly I’m thrown in the middle of the more familiar (read: cold) holiday season of the northern hemisphere.

Paragliding is rad.  I had no idea: it turns out that a skilled pilot can ride the winds to gain altitude, and thus stay up indefinitely.  After about 20 minutes of twirling about I think I must have exhaled a bit too audibly during one of the sudden ascensions, for Eduardo, my rad pilot, asked right away if my stomach was ok.  The well seasoned pilot, I gather, possesses perception of such things bordering on clairvoyance, for he was right: delighted as I was in the moment, other parts of me were ready to descend.

As far as the whole “action sports” thing goes: it should be noted I anticipated imminent death more on the way up than the way down.  While driving up the winding, gravelly road etched into the mountain side and laden with large rocks, with mere shrubbery doing rail-guard duty between the 4×4 we rode in and 50+ foot drops down the mountain, I was keen on leaning my weight to the mountain-facing side of the car like never before.

From Mendoza we returned to Buenos Aires by plane, sailed to Montevideo by ferry, and arrived in Piriapolis by bus (but not before an evening spent in Montevideo, including a fine meal at a restaurant named after what sounds like a made-up mobster, Don Peperone, which we assume has delightfully comical Spanish pronunciation “Pepperoni”).

Piriapolis is a beautiful and (currently) sleepy beach town that is gearing up for their high season, and we were happy to help with their dress rehearsal.  I think they’d finished the beach prep work by the time we arrived, for the sand was white, fine, and felt fantastic on bare feet (both of ’em).  It was just after watching the sunset for 2 minutes one evening by said beach that I, in order to make the world a more interesting place, suggested that Tracy and I enjoy a fantastic life together, and I asked her to marry me.

What did she say?  Tune in next time to find out, it’ll be the grand homecoming finale!

John

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Argentine Wine is Mighty Fine

December 14th, 2009 No comments

And being in Mendoza is a pretty good way to experience that.

When Tracy and I arrived at Mendoza’s bus terminal at 8am the other day we were soon met by a woman who thought we might like to rent one of her furnished tourist apartments for our stay (there’s something about standing next to a heap of luggage with nose buried in a copy Lonely Planet that really gives you away as a tourist).  She (and her husband Julio who soon joined us) seemed friendly enough and the idea of having our own place with a kitchen for a paltry 120 pesos a night enticed us to agree to give the place a look.

It was probably at about block 4 of our 5-block walk to their car when the wisdom of NOT getting into the car of someone who just picked you up at the bus station kicked in, so we ultimately declined with our apologies and said we’d circle back with them after taking some more time to orient ourselves in the city.  (Paranoid?  Maybe.  But in fairness we’d watched the new Will Smith movie the night before during the bus ride.  You know, the one where he offs himself with a jelly fish in an ice bath in order to donate his organs and be a hero.  We as scraggly travelers may not have cash enough to justify such an elaborate ruse by would-be evil doers, but our organs are in fab shape, yo.)

We did circle back with them the next day.  After a one-night stay at the good-time party hostel Damajuana (that looks and acts like a frat house) for 170 pesos, complete with shared bathroom and sudden blaring tunes at 2am, we were in a good place to appreciate the heck out of Nancy and Julio’s offerings*.  With kitchen, air conditioning, and peaceful sleeping conditions we are delighted.  AND after now three nights I’m pleased to report that NOT A SINGLE organ of ours has been harvested.

Right then, so about wine: I’ll not go too much into our bike tour of neighboring Maipu’s wineries as it got cut short by the rare privilege of getting to experience what must have been the bulk of desert-like Mendoza’s annual 200mm of rain (this may have been for the best, as I’m still feeling the effects of the hard plastic seats after a mere 13km).  It was the Vines of Mendoza wine tasting room that really captivated my interest: for 60 pesos you can do what’s called a “flight of wine”, or a carefully selected progression of 5 glasses of wine complete with insightful descrption of each.

I am still at a place where drinking wine usually amounts to sipping quasi-grape juice with a kick, of variable nummy-ness, and that hopefully doesn’t burn too much going down.  I still like it, I just don’t have many distinctions by which to appreciate the difference between, say, top shelf vs. three-buck-chuck.  That said, having a little card that tells me what subtleties to notice and enjoy does wonders for helping my suggestible little brain appreciate the particulars of one specific wine versus the next.  Tracy and I both became fans of 4 out of the 5 wines in our flight, and were moved enough to buy a dozen bottles, shipped to her folks’ place in time for the holidays.  Y’all please let me know if any pretentiousness about my expanding wine appreciation creeps into my day to day conversing, ok?

In two hours we paraglide.  Soon I’ll know if it gives as much of a buzz as the rapid fire wine tasting we did to pick bottles 10, 11, and 12 of the aforementioned dozen!

John

*It should be noted that I LOVED those kinds of hostels during Eurotrip ’04, and I’m struck by how strongly the sentiment “I’m getting too old for this” resonates here.  Makes me seriously wonder: am I going to yell at kids to get off my lawn someday, too?

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Refreshing is the Air of Bariloche!

December 6th, 2009 No comments

I mean I know I just came from a city whose name literally translates to “Good Airs”,

But man, somehow the lake-laden and mountain-surrounded environs of this next town have a lot over the well-trafficked city streets when it comes to air quality.

A few wrap up notes from the big city!  Turns out I enjoyed a more proper Thanksgiving dinner after all (thank you to all who expressed concern over my well-being regarding the sushi/hot dog/ice cream combo described earlier).  Liz and Julia put on a fantastic meal for 7 last Saturday, and though turkeys and pumpkins are hard to find in these parts, two well appointed chickens with rosemary rub and a smartly spiced butternut squash pie really narrowed the gap between my experience and the traditional fare (especially relative to the aforementioned sushi/hot dog/ice cream).  Add culinary moxie to the stack of my gratitudes.

Last Tuesday I had a man date with Christian, the fruitteria guy who works at Roberto’s stand.  The fellows there all seemed to think it was cute that I liked beer when they noticed my being muey tranquilo: I guess the Japanese Asahi beer that I’d enjoyed with sushi just before really brings out the mellow in me.  Christian said we should go for a beer sometime, so we made a plan for me to come back at 10pm and do just that.

There’s something magical about two people coming together to shoot the breeze over beers and with a language barrier.  We talked and toasted liberally to the things in life that matter: our respective loves, family, beauty, good beer, and what a neat thing it is to be able to kick it over good beer and connect with another in spite of language differences and vastly different cultural backgrounds.  Christian has a wife and a four year old son (whom I was invited to come by to meet the following day after yoga–super cute).  He’s from Peru and his whole family is still there.  His plan is to return there in 2 years, and I’m heartily invited to come visit and meet his family and be shown around.  Peru 2012 sounds like a great option to me.  We agreed that if he and I were able to communicate this well now with my current level of Spanish immersion, it should be fantastic by then!

Now Tracy and I are in Bariloche.  The chocolate shops here are as fantastic as they are abundant.  First recommendation from the trusty Lonely Planet is Mamushka, a Russian-themed chocolate shop complete with those cool nested dolls everywhere.  Most note-worthy was the tiramisu chocolates modeled after the famed Italian dessert.  My literal first words to Tracy after the first bite: “oh my God, it’s like Italy just made love to my mouth.”  Even in retrospect, them’s about the most fitting words I can think on in my clumsy efforts to convey such flavor bliss.

I’ve learned that I really love architecture that prominently features wood: big, oft gnarly and imperfect logs that convey cozy and quaint like little else can.  The other night we ate at a restaurant that looks as though pulled straight from the hobbit village of the Lord of the Rings universe: finely finished cypress logs, ascending stumps of a staircase, and a big rounded wooden door that swings lightly on it’s hinge despite being 5 feet wide.  With food and wine fit to match the grandeur of the space I might’ve surmised I’d been thrown into a fan-fic plot where Frodo settles down after that whole ring nonsense and makes it big as a restaurateur.

Yesterday Tracy and I spent some quality time on the lawn of the town square enjoying the live music juxtaposed against a “Jesus es el camino” parade and a passing through motorcycle rally.  I gained the title of “dog whisperer” for having a troupe of 4 of them hanging out beside and being petted by me for like an hour.  I believe I asked the phrase “who’s a good doggie” (and “quién es un buen perro”) about 80 or so times.

Ole!
John

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