Liberté

Tango at Luna Red

My intent wasn’t to to sit fireside at a Spanish tapas restaurant

on a day that commemorates Mexico’s triumph over France.

It wasn’t to sink sweetly into Argentine nostalgia,

while pulling salt from the rim with a light touch of tongue.

But when a couple on the patio excused itself from the only set table

to tango under suspended lights,

I dissolved into inky darkness

and watched, invisible, as they traced the outlines of their kingdom.

Reina, his only subject.

Rey, her every move.

 

a Lesson in odd pairings

Typically, the Baroque Period nauseates me. The harpsichord bouncing about in lively jubilation, the echoed runs leaping from left to right hand — it’s a dizzying party at which I’ve never belonged.

But something weird happened today as I drove down to Santa Barbara: I enjoyed Bach. Somewhere near Los Olivos, strands of mist highlighted shaded mountains, and like a Kauai landscape, the heavy grey sky invited me closer. The miles moved quickly; I tore at them steadily as the opus grew like a giant flower in my mind. What I saw was strangely misaligned with what I heard, and ordinarily, I’d never put the two together. But for those brief moments, they exposed an unusual, beautiful partnership.

When the piece was over I shut off the radio.

In silence and the slow lane, I preserved a feeling and wound through Los Padres National Forest until I hit Cold Spring Tavern. That’s where we agreed to meet, the friends I made in Argentina and I. It was a halfway point, excluding Caitlin’s trek from Michigan, and it held its distance from palm trees and oversized TVs.

It was the first time we’d all been in the same place in over two years and it was a biker bar.

By the fire we drank our beers and began to buy and sell stories for the price of laughter. There was so much to share but we effectively shrunk the years we spent apart. One by one, all at once, over the blues band that played in the corner, we talked. As men with tobacco stained mustaches ate their tri-tip sandwiches, we reminisced. As deer heads watched over us, and wooden planks supported us, we caught up.  There, our South American conversations were out of context. What we heard was so different than the sights that surrounded us, but they fit and all was cozy and right.
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The two together

American photographer, Diane Arbus, captured deviant and marginal people whose normality seemed ugly or surreal. Her favorite subjects were dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, and circus performers.

Swedish-Argentine specimen of perfection, José González, created this addictive listen with side-project-band, Junip.

His lyrics fold into her photographs like flour overlapping eggs beaten and sugar stirred.

Play. Scroll. Wonder.

No one else around you
No one to understand you
No one to hear your calls
Look through all your dark corners
You’re backed up against the wall
Step back from the line of fire

 

 

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give or take a year

Nostalgia frequently gets the best of me. Its magnetic pull sends me flipping back through my journals to brush off moments of time covered in a year’s worth of hustle and dust. This time last year, I was weighted down by 40 pounds of camping and survival gear, coexisting with the elements to trek 60 miles through unearthly terrain. The thought of it makes my blood rush with adrenaline.

About a month ago, I was talking with a coworker about this habit of mine to compare my days to their 2011 equivalent. She confessed a striking likeness, although instead of peering backwards she is marching forwards. In her journal she describes where she’ll be in exactly one year. What she’ll be doing, saying, eating, wearing. Which tea she’ll choose in the morning, the circuit she’ll take Kenneth, her St. Bernard, on for an evening stroll. She gets absurdly nitty gritty with the detail. And then forgets about it. For a year. Only to check-in and see how close or how far her now is to her then.

I have a tendency to look back. She to look forward. What connects us, though, is our current. The fragment of time that stands directly between one year past and one year future.  It’s the anchor, it’s the root. It’s the only moment of its kind, yet we all have it in common.

This is where I was one year ago. But it’s not where I am today. I’m grateful for that, as odd as it may seem.

 

unexpected connections

 

A strange thing happened twice tonight.

I was sitting under the ivy of my favorite coffee shop with my Argentine lady-friend. Fragments of light from the string bulbs above us reflected off of our glasses and shone over our tazas de te like spotlights. We chatted for our usual hour or so – catching up, exchanging stories, and wiping away the rust from my Spanish speaking vocabulary one verb conjugation at a time. Animated as ever, and in true Argentine fashion, we spoke with both our voices and hands. The relationship was weighted more heavily towards gesticulations, though, so much so that a random passer-by, Finnigan, thought it only right to interject into our conversation, breaking the ice with a clever:

“I like you guys. You talk with your hands.”

First, Finn, neither of us females are guys. Second, you’re absolutely right. We, of Mediterranean influence talk with our hands with nothing shy of theatrical dedication. Why you have now chosen to segway your observation into a twenty minute conversation about fish and foreign films from the ’60s is entirely beyond me, but I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to share. I’m glad you saw us as two agreeable guys who were all about your kind and cooky conversation.

Finnigin First, Troy Second.

After tea with Silvia, I headed to Cal Poly to board myself in a broom closet of a practice room. Just me and a baby grand for an hour. Halfway through a Chopin piece, I see a head glide into view. It does not glide out, and an eager brow raise communicates, “Can I come in?”  I nod and lose my place in the score only to find out that Troy here hadn’t reserved the room like I had originally suspected. He hadn’t come to kick me out. He just popped in to introduce himself and drop a line of praise, commending me on my fancy finger work from a nervous distance.

Pleasant surprise.

I got to thinking, tonight my hands brought me two unexpected connections, and were solely responsible for pushing my view of the norm. They reminded me that people are passionate, people are courageous, people are kind hearted. People want to talk, share, and relate. My hands collided our worlds tonight – my world and Finnigan’s, my world and Troy’s.  What a treat to know that people are apt to act on an impulse.

I wonder what the next thing to catch your eye and pique your interest will be. Will it be initiated by a stranger? Will you go up and talk to them?

After poking around for visual support, I couldn’t help but relate a hand to a word. If you stare at it long enough, it makes less and less sense. Suddenly you can’t equate a part of speech or meaning to it, and in an instant, you don’t even understand how you know to read. Is that right, you wonder? Is that really how it’s spelled?

It’s a mad, mad world.

 

Violeta Lopiz

Unsure of my motivations for loving Violeta Lopiz’ illustration…

Option 1: Her leading man’s caricatured features all too perfectly resemble my father’s younger years, before the Y2K robbed stores across America of canned goods, batteries, bottled water, and him of the greatest stache of all time. Or Option 2: She’s from Ibiza. She speaks spanish and illustrates for children’s books in Spanish. All while my heart inflates with nostalgia and I grow more and more ‘home’sick for Argentina.

the meaning of words

I love words. I love them in English, I love them in Spanish, I love them in Greek. I love them when I don’t understand them, when they’re terrifyingly complex, when they roll of the tongue, when they’re perfectly simple and succinct. When they’re strung together, when they’re alone – hopelessly, or happily, I love them.

On my weekly lunch date with my Argentine lady friend today (go ahead, call me a Golden Girl), we deviated from our usual topics of family, embarrassing memories and daily stressors, and dove in to the linguistic pool. We started and ended our conversation with the spanish words ocupar – to be busy, and preocupar – to worry.

Silvia dissected the latter into two parts: 1. pre and 2. ocupar. 1. Before and 2. to be busy.

A lightening rod of enlightenment electrified my body – its tissues, nerves, synapses.  To worry, preocupar, is nothing more than to busy yourself, ocupar,  before it’s necessary to. It is nothing more than wasting precious mental energy centralizing thoughts on an event before it even happens, if it even happens at all! It was there in Luna Red restaurant, sitting across from Silvia, and at a table next to a woman in her late fifties whose breasts noticeably defied the natural pull of gravity, that I realized how much time I’ve been wasting busying myself with thoughts that don’t even deserve the time it takes to be thought up. No more.

…30

The average number of alfajores (per month) that made their way into my digestive tract and subsequently onto my thighs between the months of September and December….

The average age of the fleet of men clad in business casual who stood at a welcomed but obnoxiously close distance during rush hour on the subte….

The average number of times a day I spent considering selling all my belongings and some of my non vital organs to support my addiction to Argentina….

The number of times Gloria called me a chancha for spilling (otra vez, Nicole?!) on her tablecloth….

The number of days I’ve been away from the place that challenged me, cultivated my spirit, and fostered my sense of adventure and creativity….

…30.

It’s been a month, 30 days, that these size nine feet of mine have been planted on US soil, and truth be told, not a day has gone by where they don’t ache to be skipping down those Buenos Aires sidewalks, dodging dog-poop bombs and cracked pavement once again. For the one-month anniversary of my departure, I’m going to take you del otro lado de la nocheand share one of my favorite poems by Francisco X. Alarcón. This  bilingual book of poems is currently my nightstand companion, and since I value both the status of your bed-side table and your poetic mind, I implore you to at least entertain the idea of upping the stanzas and muting the static in your life.

I. Orden en la casa                                                                                     I. Order in the home

me reclamas                                                                                                    you complain

porque dejo                                                                                                     because I leave

toallas húmedas                                                                                             damp towels

sobre la cama                                                                                                  on the bed

 

todas las cosas                                                                                               all things

tienen su lugar                                                                                                have their place

me aleccionas                                                                                                 you lecture me

recogiendo                                                                                                      gathering

 

los libros                                                                                                          the pile

amontonados                                                                                                  of books

en la mesa                                                                                                        off the kitchen

de la cocina                                                                                                      table

 

yo me apresuro                                                                                               I hurry

y cubro                                                                                                             and cover

con mi cuerpo                                                                                                 with my body

los calzones                                                                                                    the underwear

 

que relucen                                                                                                     that gleams

como sonrisa                                                                                                  like a smile

sobre el sofá                                                                                                   on the red

rojo de la sala                                                                                                 living room sofa

no hay igual

Brought to you in an extremely, no, overwhelmingly amateur state, from the comfort of my newly painted (dad, you rock!) and newly decorated (coffee, thanks for the energy boost!) bedroom in CALIFORNIA, here is a little video montage of just a few moments from my trip abroad. I admittedly didn’t think to take video until 75% of my program was over, so enjoy these here little glimpses of what I did between late November and mid December. En realidad, no hay igual, Argentina. You will forever be my fondest memory.

Do you ever hate yourself for knowing that your poor brain, that only lives up to, what, 10% of its potential, will soon forget things you want to save forever?

On my run through Belgrano yesterday, I kept finding myself wishing I could take panoramic screen shots of my surroundings and store them deep within a fold of an uninhibited cortex to pull out whenever I wanted. I realized too, though, that it’s not just still moments in time I crave to keep, but sensations, feelings, and moments. I hate myself for knowing that I’ll forget what it feels like to run through a downpour in San Telmo. I hate myself for knowing that I’ll forget the way dogs walk themselves within the borders of cross walks here, what it feels like to be thrown around like a limp rag doll when the home team scores during the last ten minutes of a soccer game, or the way people here still say ‘buenos tardes‘ at 8pm because God knows they’re not eating dinner until at least 10.

I hate myself for knowing that I’ll forget the route that my trusty 93 takes, or the tone in Gloria’s voice as she says (without fail or any sort of deviation) “Chicaaaaas, a comer!” when it’s time for dinner with a side of crema. I hate myself for knowing that I’ll forget the feeling of gliding on the B Line, or the taste of dulce de leche. I hate myself for knowing that I’ll forget how many steps it is to get to la lavanderia, or the way my hands feel stickier after I wipe them with the wax-paper napkins the restaurants here swear by and shamelessly offer chanchas like me. I hate myself for knowing that I will forget the conversations I’ve had with taxi drivers, with perfect strangers, with peers, and with Gloria. I hate myself for knowing that I will forget the normalcy of splitting a bottle of wine until 3am and dancing until 8, only to do it again without fail or reservation.

All I want is to keep every moment in time. Every smile, touch, spoken word, movement, giggle, moment of embarrassment – every sound, every square inch of chipping paint, every whistling man, every honking bus — everything. My heart is breaking today as I pack my suitcases (which feel mysteriously and mischievously lighter than when I arrived) to the tune of steady rain on Heredia y Alvarez Tomas.

Here’s what I have on repeat – which very well could be at least 45% responsible for this hopelessly reflective and all-too-personal word vomit of a blog post:

Lock it up, Nicole!

slow down, time!

And so it’s begun – my last week in Argentina. I’ll do my best to spare the sob stories and sappy nostalgia for later in the week. As for now, enjoy my latest adventures, including a visit to el circo, La Bomba del Tiempo, The Planetarium to celebrate el dia del Tango, and the best cafe in Palermo – Oui Oui.

A few modest shots of little old me:

(Joking, I’m far too advanced for aerial sports. Here I am, in all my fish face glory, though. I am going to miss these sweet silly things I call roommates)

Nothing like a pool party in December – good food, good music, good thing we had a hose and time to spare to fill this sucker up!

Getting sentimental during Caitlin’s good-bye cake cutting ceremony

Free outdoor tribute to tango in the Palermo woods outside the Planetarium

a universal phrase

Time, I will fight you. Stop passing me by!

 

These coats and this music

With seven days left in Argentina, I’ve been gently reminding myself that shorts will not always be appropriate December attire. In fact, I’ll likely have to ditch the tube tops, sandals, and sun-tan while I’m at it – but until I board that mammoth of a flying machine on December 16, aint nobody raining on my skimpy-clothes-wearing parade.

Though, when I do find myself  in weather that doesn’t require keeping Copper-tone 45 in my purse within the next week, I already know that I’m going to be wishing I had one, or all of these coats from Brics‘ most recent collection. Each one is just so very, very right.

To accompany these winter wears, here’s a little winter-ish mix I put together of songs I’ve been playing non stop around here. Tranquil with a few pops of funk and spice – only the best kind of December music, right? Warning: this mix has nothing to do with eggnog, reindeer, weather outside being frightful, and (hopefully) no where will you hear the words Holly, Jolly, or Christmas. Not that I’m opposed to sleighride jingles, this just isn’t that kind of jam.

1. Wood – Rostam

2. You’re listening to the Worlds – Belleruche

3. Everything is Burning – Ivan & Alyosha

4. Girl from the North Country  – Mina Tindle

5. Holocene – Bon Iver

6. We went wild – Lord Huron

7. The other side of Mt. Heart Attack – Liars

8. Everything in its right place – Radiohead

9.  Diet Mountain Dew – Lana del Rey

10. You and I – Washed Out

11. Backseat – John Bryan Appleby

12. I Hope you Die – Wye Oak

13. Open Season – High Highs

14. Working on a Dream – Wintercoats

Download it here and enjoy! If you like what you hear and are feeling in that holiday giving spirit, support the artists and buy a song, or an album or five. Cheers.

the everlasting yawn.

I am going to be so bold as to say that I have single handedly ruined any shot I had at regaining a normal REM cycle. Although sleeping from 7am – 11am multiple days in a row may be just a regular walk in the park for the argentines, this little portena wanna-be is having a hard time contributing to the personal, social, and intellectual transactions that should occur in real life. As the days go by I can feel my contribution to society diminishing. need. more. coffee.

So, since I only have fourteen (jigga what?!) days left in Buenos Aires, I am rallying like I’ve never rallied before and avprovechando todos los dias igual como las noches. Therefore, instead of sleeping away my days, I’ve been just… not sleeping, and taking myself to yoga, or cafes, or to the Presidente Alvear Theater, for example, to see the Buenos Aires Tango Orquestra perform an hour long concert yesterday for a free matinee. Even though I was heavily distracted by the enormous man sitting to my left who was murmuring under his breath while tapping his giant, likely hairy hand against my seat to the rhythm of the violin, the show was beyond captivating. Truly a wonderful performance.

Here is a moderately blurry, too-far-to-matter photo of the orquestra.

And here are a bunch of little goodies that have rubbed me the right way today:

These crafty little typographic art forms by Luke Beard as part of  his playful project A Lyric a Day.

Realizing that we’re already on day two of Advent Calendar Month. Right about now, I’m wishing I had daily doses of pop-out-chocolates and these fantastically fun-loving cards by the talented Mr. Boddington to tie to all my gifts this year!

These perfect loose locks:

And lastly, my latest girl crush, Mina Tindle. This song, this girl, and this video scream perfection.

Sleepy head, but happy besos.

bathing suit for underwear.

Does anyone mind if I play the “I’m speechless” card again? It’s just that after all of these ‘weekend’ getaways, it seems to be perpetually dealt into my hand – leaving me (the rambling, run-on-sentence queen) at a loss for words. One thing I can say, however, is that I don’t know whether I should keep my roommate Meghan in a perpetual embrace for being such a fantastic party planner and arranging all of the major and minor details for the trip while I did nothing but wear a bikini for a uniform for 6 days, or if I should sock her in the solar plex for taking me to paradise for four days, and then ripping it away from me only to  spend a lifetime dreaming about when I will return.

First stop: Montevideo. My only complaint about this small-scale city isn’t directed towards the traditional buildings, the street art fairs, or anything of that nature, but rather towards the three flamboyent men who shared our hostel dorm room with us. If you three pot-bellied argentines are out there, it is time you found out that your snoring symphony not only deprived me from even a second of sleep, but also lead me to resent middle-aged-back sleepers for all of their unaware raucous. May your future partners be very fond of earplugs… or may you all acquire sound-proof sleeping boxes.

beer, beef, and red peppers. don’t mind if we do!

Punta del Diablo: Soft sand, no concept of time, hammocks, beach front yoga, and copious copas de vino.

I don’t even remember if I fully checked-in to the hostel, or unpacked my bag before I was hoisted into this previously shark-attacked wetsuit by overly excited Mark and Casey. Call me crazy, but hanging ten on turkey day beats the average 30 minute meal and 4 day food coma that the typical american endures on that particular Thursday afternoon.

After dinner, I was coerced into singing for the hostel’s open mic night. And then I was encored. Note to self: start learning more than just one verse and one chorus to every song!

As a California girl, born and bred, (do people still say that?) I was all kinds of turned around when the sun rose over the water. Ah, the joys of being on the Atlantic at 5 AM.

normal beach activities.

And now, our new Israeli friends create a makeshift BBQ out of cardboard and rocks and cook up some delicious steaks and vegetables for the gang.

The most heavenly, isolated, gorgeous beach I’ve ever laid my half green eyes on: La Playa Grande.

my constant companions this trip: journal, libro de Gabriel Garcia Marquez, BR flip flops.

… And so it was – the most relaxing, effortless, bronzed moments of my life thus far. With a daily schedule of:

breakfast, beach, siesta, read in a hammock, BBQ with new friends, learn exciting things about fellow travelers hailing from Germany to South Africa, party with said people, rinse, lather, repeat…. I have to say that this little trip to Uruguay was sensational on every level. Big ups to my fellow lady-friends para jugar entre las olas desnudas y libres. Tanned and Tranquil besos.

I am now and always overwhelmed with love and gratitude towards my disturbingly hilarious family. I love you all so much that I think my little corazon is going to just burst out my chest. I wish I could spend Thanksgiving with you but instead – you raised me to take chances and be adventurous, and I am so thankful for you and for that. So, while I’m spontaneously reading and soaking in the uruguay rays on the beach all week, I’ll be thinking of you. Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll. turkey flavored besos.

you know your family is perfect when:

…they wear party visors. to party. and probably on a regular basis in the privacy of their own home, like on a casual Thursday afternoon, perhaps.

… they have their own photo shoots in arboretums.

… they play hard to get

… they adopt the best son ever

… they risk it all for a ‘lil air

… moments like these are captured

… your mom’s hip enough to borrow your scarves and rock them

…. when it all starts from this kind of love.

I may or may not have made myself tear up a bit here. Classic Nicole move.

Lately, I’ve been feeling so tremendously lucky to see the things I’ve seen and to continue to have the world at my fingertips. Truthfully, I have no words to describe my current state of happiness, love, appreciation, and hopefulness. It all stems from the love and support of my family – my crazy, silly, passionate, giving family. So… George, Dina, Stephanie, and miscellaneous relatives ranging from Dublin to San Jose to Oakland to Modesto to Arizona to Chicago to Utah to Greece to Boston to everywhere in between – I love you. May you all tell the people you love how much they mean to you through whichever channel you see fit. Until next week, my friends.