Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prescription Movie

The cinema is my personal remedy for the blues. You know those moments—when you’re feeling sad, or nervous, or homesick. Everyone has their own way to fend off the cold pricklies: some turn to the bottle; some turn to the fridge; I turn to the big screen.

The movie theater is a two hour long escape.  I can voyeuristically dive into whatever story I choose. Moreover, once I’m sitting in that squishy seat, popcorn and smuggled beverage in hand, I could really be anywhere in the world. A cinema looks the same on the inside everywhere: dark. You get to forget where you are and who you are even it it’s just for the afternoon.

I am perhaps lucky in that I’m from the states and Hollywood movies have a global reach. I might be seeing it a few months later, but watching movies while abroad I feel like I could easily be in my hometown brushing popcorn off my shirt.

I don’t often feel homesick. Over the past ten years, I have lived outside of the house that I still claim as my “permanent residence” due to my constantly impermanent location. It’s now been well over a year since I’ve been back to the states. Technology like Skype allows me to talk to—and see—my family about once a week. Now that a hemisphere separates us, I speak with them more than I did when I was only a three hour drive away. Although I’m still very “connected,” I’ve started feeling those telltale pangs of homesickness in the past few weeks or so. This is maybe fueled by the knowledge that my trip back is impending, so I’m now homesick in anticipation of my return.

Endings are bittersweet—especially when it’s the end of something that you’ve enjoyed so much. I’m ready to bring this chapter of my life to a close. Ready to start all over again yet again. I’m a little nervous for my return but looking forward to being back and seeing everyone. I’m excited to start a more permanent life. To not worry about fitting it all in two suitcases. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t still hard to say “good-bye.”

So with these ambivalent feelings about the end to my two-year-and-four-month adventure in Argentina, I’m turning to my own prescription: a trip to the movies. I get to sit back and relax, and I don’t have to worry about fitting two years in two suitcases for a few hours.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


When it comes to general smack talking, your country is like your family. You're allowed to complain and highlight faults; however, as soon as anyone else mutters a word against it, that patriotic gland in your brain explodes and you rush to its defense. Both are flawed. Both sometimes do things that embarrass you. Both helped weave the fabric from which you were cut. You can bitch about your family or your nation. But God help others who attempt this within earshot. You have the same intrinsic unconditional love for your country that you do for your family. Each person has different feelings towards their country: some relationships are close; some are estranged. Even in a strained relationship, that basic tie is undeniable.
I have been living as an expat outside of my country—the states—for over two years now. The label "expatriate" alone implies a distinct detachment from the mother ship. From this detachment, I have gained a unique perspective and ability to look at my home sweet home through different lenses. Watching major events happening in the states from another place, such as the elections of 2008, gave me a different (and perhaps more complete) view of the place that I'm from. Being an American abroad, you expect a certain level of comments. The shift in anti-American (or really, I should say North American) sentiments after the election was tangible. Even with the greatly improved reception after Obama's election, people still have very nasty things to say about the place I call home. Although the world has been infiltrated by Hollywood and Levis, not many people admit to being a fan of the states. After time, you learn when you should step in and when you should just roll your eyes and continue with your day.
As far as treating your country as your family, Argentines take the metaphor to the extreme. Many constantly complain about the corrupt government or how things never work or run well amongst themselves. No one likes Kirchner. No one likes to wait in the long lines. No one likes doing paperwork. However, to any extranjeros, or when visiting other places, Argentines tend to be incredibly proud, extolling on the wonders of the beef, football, and women of their country. Everywhere has its pros and its cons, and hearing about the positive aspects of the place you call home is great. No one wants to hear a visitor bitching about their house.

I'm not exactly sure when or where my slow evolution from tourist to something in-between began, but I have started becoming defensive about Argentina to non-native travelers. I visibly cringe when I overhear tourists loudly complaining about lousy service or how laughably "third world" everything is. I am amazed at things that come out of people's mouths...especially the freshly arrived. Is this some sort of superior-tourist complex that I have? As an extranjera, I don’t want to be represented by the mobs screaming in English and talking about what a great deal everything is in pesos. I work hard to learn the language and learn about the culture, but whenever I walk into a new restaurant or kiosko, I’m automatically put in the “turista” category with all the rest.
Although at times I also cringe when I spot noisy, drunk groups of Americans while out, I can’t listen to people complain about the states…especially people who have never been there or made an effort to get to know anyone from there. The actions of one person or one government do not represent an entire nation. There’s nothing that makes my blood boil like listening to a stream of America-bashing from people who have little contact with the states. Living abroad has made me realize some of the things that make my home country special and that there will always be things that I love about my home. And no one talks smack about my home…

Monday, April 19, 2010

A few of my favorites

After four very fast months living in Bariloche, I'm heading back to Buenos Aires in a few days. Thought I'd close my southern adventure with a list of some of my favorites:

My favorite...
  • Cerveceria: La Cruz, Nilpi y Pioneros: They make great beer; it's not as commercialized and crowded as some of the others; and best of all, I live a half a block away!
  • Chocolate: Mamushka, Mitre y Rolando: It's the most famous and most touristy, but that's for a reason: their chocolate is incredible. Stop in for a cafe and medialuna while you're stocking up. They make the best medialunas I've ever had.
  • Beach: Mi roca privada (a little rocky outlook near my house, around km 4.5); after that, the beaches on Lago Moreno
  • Refugio: Jakob (It's hard to choose just one though...Meiling and Frey are also favorites)
  • Hostel: Green House: It has a great onda and is run by three brothers who are really helpful and knowledgable about the area....and a lot of fun :)
  • Day hike: up to and around Refugio Lopez
  • Tea House: Bellevue: They have amazing cakes and cappuccinos. The setting is perfect as well...tucked in a little garden with great views
  • Shopping: Kaia, Diseno Independiente, Moreno 69: features a lot of Argentine designers and has a lot of great hidden gems
If you ever find yourself in Bariloche, be sure to take advantage of these great spots!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shifting Tastes

Since moving abroad, I have gradually evolved and changed in ways that I cannot yet identify. My own personal attachments have dropped off after time. Certain comforts that I always lived with suddenly weren't an option, but after my long stretch here I no longer notice most of the things I found myself missing when I first arrived. One of the most distinct and clear shifts that I have experienced is the change in my tastebuds. Those who have visited Argentina know that they have a few food items that they do fantastically: beef, empanadas, ice cream, pasta, milanesa, and a few others. However, other than their 'specialties,' Argentine cuisine tends to lack in flavor. Nothing is spicy, but even more than that, the spectrum of tastes is very narrow. They have a few restaurants that offer alternative cuisine, but their versions of "Mexican" or "Indian" are so watered down that it only really acts as a tease.

I was a hot-sauce fanatic in the states. I prided my ability to throw down with the best of them, drowning most everything I ate in hot sauce to the point where everything just tasted like hot sauce. Yes, I was even one of those who carried around a mini bottle of tabasco in her purse. My parents came to visit me in Buenos Aires for the first time in late May of 2008, a mere five months into my adventure. I, of course, intructed them to bring me one of my favorite hot sauces: sriracha chili sauce ("rooster sauce" mmmmm). I blissfully poured said sauce all over my food as I would have back home: PAIN. I started sweating and tearing up, my face turned bright red, and I couldn't really taste much for the next day and a half. The tastebuds just can't take it anymore.

On the flip side, I have actually begun tasting all of my food. I now use what I previously considered a "wimpy portion" of spice on my food and can still enjoy the flavor of the actual food. I've started really liking things that have much subtler flavors than before, such as flan or other creamy/custardy treats. I tend to cook for myself frequently. One common complaint in Argentina is that they don't serve many vegetables, but if you're cooking for yourself that's easy to remedy. Your neighborhood fruit and veggie vendor is always a good person to get to know. He'll let you know what fruit is in season and which vegetables are freshest.

The most telling food preference--my hangover cure--has now changed to the uber-Argie milanesa a la napolitana. I believe this one is perhaps the most important switch. That food that you turn to to comfort you, make everything better, and absorb the evilness churning in your stomach is perhaps truly the closest to your heart. A milanesa is a thin slice of breaded meat that is either fried or baked. The "a la Napolitana" means that it's covered in a thin slice of ham, cheese, and marinara sauce. A big hug for the tummy. As a side note, it's also amazing how many dishes ham and boiled eggs sneak in to here. Even when not listed on the menu, both sneak their way in.

The states has a huge variety of food that Argentina just doesn't carry. We are a flavor explosion. An endless smörgåsbord of sauces. I still have the occasional nostalgic twang for good Indian takeout or peanut butter, but overall my food cravings have switched to the food here. I am in my final weeks here in Argentina and talking to all my family and friends about coming back. My mom has asked me a few times what I want my first meal back to be. Strangely enough, I can't even begin to decide. I no longer have my top ten list of food I miss from the states. I know there are things that I still miss--a good sandwich, asian cuisine--but I'm at a loss to choose anything. I'm looking forward to the surprise when I get back.