In which I return to Latin America: South Florida and Mexico

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 22:54

My new home: Cambridge, MA

Argentina couldn’t feel more miles away, to borrow a Train refrain. It didn’t take me long to feel at ease back in the US, though my English seriously remains questionable (convinced “Can you recommend me a restaurant?” is okay). Summer in the northeast was fabulous. It was then time for the next phase: business school. I’m not going to write much about school. Everything people say is true: it’s demanding, social, exciting, different, door-opening. But very left-brained. When I found myself hand-painting Christmas wrapping paper to procrastinate before my Finance final, I realized I needed a bit more balance.

So I’ve returned to (and renamed) the blog, at least for today or for things I feel like writing about. One great part about being in Cambridge is that I’m so much closer to so many people who mean a lot to me. That’s huge. The expat life is exciting and so, so good for your perspective, but like anything else except for impulse chocolate purchases, it’s better at some times than others. I do spend more time being cold, but Boston is a nice town. I don’t plan to stay forever, but there’s something to be said for a place that respects sundresses more than yoga pants.

One thing people justifiably love to hate about business school students is how much time we have, how much social pressure there is to travel, and therefore what a fun time is had. Over winter break I returned to Latin America.

What struck me was how much the region felt like a second home. Obviously I’d have learned nothing if I thought the pampas were no different from the Andes, but there was a familiar vibrancy and warmth.

In South Florida, where Steve and I started out, Latin radio is far better than in SF or New York. People love the sun and the beach and since my family’s got their own Latin roots, there’s nothing we love more than a beach cookout with down-home food and plenty of drink. Here’s a bunch of us, my mom and her sisters stealing the show as deserved.


Of course, it wouldn’t be Latin America without the gringos getting confused upon setting foot in Mexico. We spent forever waiting for our bags only to find there was another claim around the corner where our bags had just spent forever waiting for us. Mexico City is exhilarating and exasperating. It’s full of chic people, top-notch museums, and great eating and drinking (mezcal and champagne, anyone? volatile mix, consider yourself warned). It’s also full of traffic and smog, surrounded by shanty towns that show how quickly it’s absorbed millions of rural Mexicans seeking a better life. Stark testament to how mixed Mexico’s fortunes have been lately.

I’d been to Mexico City with an archaeology study trip in college, but this time took it in in more leisurely fashion. We enjoyed Polanco’s chic restaurants and bars, saw our dear friend Monica, and saw a good amount of Pre-Columbian art and ruins. We also found some seriously hot design, such as this convent-turned-restaurant in the Roma neighborhood:

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From Mexico City we headed to the Yucatan, home of America’s favorite party, Cancun. The furthest you can get from Cancun on the Yucatan is Tulum to the south, so we went there – or actually to Akumal, a no-shirt-no-shoes-no-problem town nearby, which supplied bountiful sunshine and palm trees. For Christmas dinner, we feasted on creative Mexican cuisine such as cold avocado soup and shrimp mole at the charming El Tábano, which has no print menus (cute, but impractical when people crowd around and block your view of the chalkboard).

I’d never used AirBnB before, but it worked out. Cp. the view from the patio; turn right for your morning beach jog.

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While the Yucatan wasn’t the steepest cultural immersion, it was a taste of the slow life with large dollops of local flavor: great seafood, colorful handicrafts, Mayan ruins. Some of the sites, such as Coba, are actually just being excavated now, and you can see hills covered in jungle overgrowth — those are ruins as well. You can climb the temples, but word has it that this won’t last as Mexico starts worrying about liability or sites being damaged.


Tulum ruins

My high school Spanish teacher, Sister Josephine, taught us an essential turn of phrase: Hispanics are not slaves to time. Despite repeatedly being the first to arrive at anything in LatAm, I’ll never really learn. We did a kayak tour through Sian Ka’an bioreserve, an estuary south of Tulum which features canals made by the Mayans (the floors are a light color from the limestone they laid there). We set out around 3:30 for a 3:00 tour. No big deal.

I’d understood that we’d end around 5:30, so when the sun started setting a wild fiery orange behind us, after a good couple hours of paddling, I figured we were making a loop that would lead back to our dock shortly. Soon, we were paddling to only the full moon, but we turned around and backtracked for about an hour. The seclusion and beauty outweighed my apprehension about finding the narrow canal back at nighttime… and as we arrived at the dock, I was amused to find our guide had returned us to dry land over an hour late. It’s a treat not to be a slave to time.

Most of the areas we visited in Mexico didn’t feel so removed. Driving west from Tulum to the Coba ruins, I really started feeling we were in a totally different world, where you can stop at the side of the road for pollos recién matados (just-killed chickens) or a whole coconut from a guy who will cut it open for you with a machete and when you’re done drinking the water, will carve out the meat. Aptly, this was soon before heading deeper into Latin America: Peru.

In which I decide what I miss about Argentina

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2012 at 13:48

… the sweet architecture (this is Salta)

I’ve been back in America for two weeks. I’ve returned to my dear alma mater; enjoyed NYC; narrowly avoided a rattlesnake at the Water Gap; found a home for my next two years in “Boston” (ok ok! Cambridge), hiked in New Hampshire; watched too much Big Bang Theory; marveled at our local Shop Rite, which has an entire corner of the store with fifty different kinds of chips.

Not having time to blog has at least allowed me to reflect on what I miss about Argentina.

The problem with only 10 months is that you’re just figuring stuff out when you leave. It took me a while to learn how to put together an Argentine picada (tapas spread), and only with a little help from my friends (those bold enough to buy meat and dulce de membrillo, this gelatinous dessert). To warm up, in this video I poke fun at the overwrought, ostensibly innuendoed notes on the label of Santa Julia Extra Brut, during a wine tasting we hosted. Because Santa Julia was our house wine, in a way it’s true that Santa Julia es el principio de muchos finales. 

Things I miss about Argentina.

1. Speaking Spanish. I’ve noticed which phrases I miss the most. Top of the list by far is onda (see slang post). I stand by my translation of “vibes” but I find it more exact to say someone is buena onda than to use English. I’d have expected to miss quilombo, but turns out, there are fewer quilombos here so I find myself needing that one less. I also miss Spanish because my English is often very bad, and unlike in Argentina I am expected to speak well here. I’ve forgotten certain words – I can get costanera but not waterfront. Direct and indirect object constructions are tough; I’ve been informed that the restaurant she recommended me is not proper English. Intellectually, I believe this, but it still sounds fine to me. And my syntax. Turns out word order is much more fluid in Spanish. “The route you use, how long is it?” “It’s expensive, the flight!” “When is the return of the dogsitter?” None of these are made up. I’m surprised by the extent to which Spanish changed how I formulate thoughts.

2. The social life. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. In Buenos Aires, if you go out at 9 pm, chances are the Argentines are still catching up over coffee. At 1 am on a Monday, the Plaza Armenia will be decently lively. Pretty sure they don’t have the concept “school night.” I love an early morning hike just as much as – probably more than, in fact – the next person, but it was refreshing to live in a place where there’s just less need to check your watch. Or to wear your watch. I still haven’t gotten back in the habit of that one.

3. Peruvian-Asian cuisine, dulce de leche, and Argentine ice cream. Don’t tell my carnivorous half-Peruvian amiga who posts pictures of pan-fried turkey every Sunday – she admonished me to have a “last steak” in Argentina, and I didn’t do it – but I don’t miss the steak much, delicious though it was. I miss other Argentine vices. Ice cream is an obvious one that I’ve addressed in past entries. The dulce de leche – well, I’m glad to have a stash of La Pataia and Cachafaz alfajores here. And I miss Sipán and Osaka, my two Peruvian-Asian standbys. In America it’s harder to order a perfect salmon tiradito (essentially sashimi) alongside a huge arroz con mariscos. And they don’t drink as many pisco sours here. This is a mistake.

4. My nickname. Both the Spaniards and the Argentines – without consulting each other, as far as I can tell – have shortened my name to Eli. Argentina is huge on nicknames – everyone has a moniker that fits in two syllables or less. Nicolás = Nico, Facundo = Facu, Agustina = Agus, Belén = Belu, Patricia/Patricio = Pato, Maximiliano = Maxi (yep), and so on. Americans, too, shorten Elizabeth without permission, but I don’t like the US nicknames as much, at least for me. Eli is pronounced much like Ellie. I kind of enjoyed its spunky cuteness.

5. My people. Is it really necessary to specify that the people you meet during this sort of adventure are what make the adventure? From the buena onda of Endeavor and our little telepathic Search & Selection team; to my fantastic roomie whose recent gchat status was – unironically – “golpe de estado” (coup d’etat), indicating her location in Paraguay while they were ousting their president; to fellow consultants who collaborated on the economic theory of expat transience (“diminishing marginal excitement versus increasing accumulated frustration”) or strategized for the best shoes ever well into the night over margaritas; to the gringa chicas who were always up for photo shoots and chamuyo war stories (definition #2 on this page); to the local kids crazy and welcoming enough to befriend someone they knew would be leaving before long; to the Endeavorites and entrepreneurs from around the globe, even the ones who left me flying solo during a cappella “New York, New York” in Cartagena; to the North Americans who braved the insanity to reconnect on various parts of the continent – putting up with me in exchange for glacial hikes and mud banks in Patagonia, acai smoothies in Rio, steak and Malbec in Buenos Aires, or dusty rides through northern Argentina.

So yes, it’s wonderful to be home, but I couldn’t have asked for a better year away. It’s a fantastic place, Argentina. Muy buena onda, che.

In which I have an awesome day in the suburbs

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2012 at 12:10

Villa Ocampo in San Isidro

[Note: I’ve gotten inquiries about the “What I Will Miss about Argentina” entry. I promise it will happen, but have a couple other things to cover first.]

A couple of my friends are from Zona Norte (the northern but not-that-far-away suburbs of Buenos Aires) and we usually hang out in Capital (central BA), so on Saturday I finally went out to where they are. Martínez is about a half hour north of the city and has a cute little shopping district. It’s been quite cold here, but the air is so much more refreshing outside the city that I forgot my envy of US summer.

We started at the brand-new Süss Cupcake Café, a gem of a place run by friends of my friends. The brunch was abundant and tasty – more European style (scones, smoked salmon crepes, etc.) than porteño (porteños don’t eat breakfast – they drink coffee and sometimes have toast).

We loved the teacup pendant lamps!

I’ve chosen to call cities my home since college – it’s just what one does I guess – but I do love a good leafy suburb. It’s always refreshing to be around “real” houses with yards and gardens, to see people puttering over to the cafe or kids hanging out after sports practice, and to let time move a little more slowly (though I’ll say, I have no problem allowing time to move slowly anywhere in Argentina). We lingered over brunch for two hours…

… and then we went shopping. I’ve succumbed to the siren call of far too many store windows already, but the one thing I still lacked was a pair of boots. This season – which, lest we forget, is winter – the hot style is mid-calf length, kind of slouchy, and flat. My informal survey of exactly one subway car suggests that 50%+ of Argentine women under age 40 are wearing these boots (they’re great with skinny jeans or leggings). It’s a super functional, comfortable style, but I hadn’t found a pair that really resonated. Until these:

I’ll admit that my amiga Nicole paved the way by buying a similar pair when she visited, but this means we’ll have to traipse around the Village in the fall looking for Scott Schuman. I bought them using the excuse I didn’t have anything in this color. Then I realized those little oxfords I once featured on here are a similar hue. The excuse of not having boots this length still stands.

Another reason I was excited to go up to Martínez/San Isidro was Villa Ocampo, a house-museum I’ve been meaning to visit all year. My friend Patricia, who had interned at this house one summer, had come along and she gave me the insider’s tour.

Villa Ocampo, now run by UNESCO, belonged to Argentine intellectual Victoria Ocampo (1890-1979), the oldest of five sisters in a prominent Argentine family. She published the literary magazine Sur and generally, as Patricia put it, “brought the world to Argentina and Argentina to the world.” She was a big supporter of Borges’ work (despite some personal differences), hosted Stravinsky, Saint-Exupery, Graham Greene, and others at Villa Ocampo, etc. Commissioned Le Corbusier for her house in central BA. That kind of person. She was the platonic ideal of a porteña – Spanish and Italian roots, French-educated. While she certainly did much to advance South American intellectualism – not easy for a woman in her time, either – Patricia wryly pointed out that she also had scads of guita to work with, which helped.

The house itself was on the whole very airy (with the exception of a somewhat ponderous wood-dominated dining room), with very high ceilings and nice plasterwork, felt largely French in its contours but far less fussy in its decor. (No hall of mirrors or Fragonards here…) The exterior was a little more syncretic, fabulous Mediterranean colors but slightly unusual architecture that seemed to have French, English and Belgian influence as well (see first photo – but qué sé yo as the Argentines say).

The area has since become more developed, but the grounds used to provide an unadulterated view of the Rio de la Plata. From the second floor balcony, you can just barely see the water behind the trees:

Even though I’m leaving in a week and will have all the suburbs I want when I’m based in NJ for the next couple of months, it was a super refreshing day.