Thursday, April 10, 2014

Most Annoying Things About Argentina

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about my blog readers! I just am expanding my projects and trying something new! New writing coming soon. Thanks for staying tuned my fellow travel lovers!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Argentina Street Music and Public Awkward Dancing

Check out my newest video on YouTube, back on the video bandwagon. And this time it is about travel in Buenos Aires, and the street music. Don't worry I'm as awkward as always in it, but there's some cool info there too!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Argentine Road Tripping Part II: Tilcara, Humahuaca, and Dreadlocks

This is Part II of my experience on an epic Argentine Road Trip. To read Part I click here.

The journey lasted hours on end. Night fell and I dozed in and out of a fitful sleep. Potholes, honking horns, and sudden high speeds would jolt me awake. Cold air whipped my hair and stung my face as the other people in the car decided to keep their windows down. Perhaps to help them stay awake. Or perhaps since they were all born and raised in the confines of the Buenos Aires metropolis, the mountain air was a welcome change from city smoke. I wrapped the brown fleece blanket tighter around me.

When I awoke again we were there, after 20 hours of driving. Cloaked in a yellow dusty light was the pueblo of Tilcara. The road into town was flanked by single story buildings. Sat a good distance from the road, the buildings were adobe with covered front areas like food stalls. At the top of the hill we turned right and made our way along a dirt road to our camp site. All I will say for now about camping in Tilcara during Carnaval is this: Don’t do it.

The morning brought with it the sun and a welcome dry heat. It was Friday, the day before Carnaval would really kick off, so we decided to hop on a bus and visit Humahuaca.

Located in the Jujuy Province of Argentina, Humahuaca. It is situated in the Quebrada de Humahuaca valley bordered by the Andean Plateau and lower hills of the Andes. At 9,882 feet it’s possible to lose your breath due to the high altitude. Humahuaca is a traditional pueblo built around a central church. Adobe houses line the cobblestone roads. In the heat of the summer, the air is thick with dust and the bright sun will quickly burn your eyes.

Next to Humahuaca’s main square is a long set of stairs leading up Santa Barbara Hill. Towering over the rest of the town is the Heroes of the Independence Monument. During the National Independence War, 14 battles happened on Humahuaca soil. The graphic and multidimensional sculpture immortalizes the Northern Argentinian Army and the fight for independence.

We met Carlos while climbing the steps to the monument. Carlos was sitting in the shade, below a blanket he had strewn across the rock walls of a side set of stairs. He called out to us and drew us to him with his jovial smile. After chatting in Espanol to us all, very little of which I understood. He began trying to sell his wares. He dreaded hair and braided threaded “dreads” into people’s hair,

Hailing from Santiago del Estero, Carlos was a true nomad. Working his way around the country from Florida Street in Buenos Aires to the Andean Mountains. He claimed that his wandering had taken him to Brasil in the past, a claim the guys didn’t quite believe. I looked at the threaded “dreads” and decided on a whim to let this spiritual nomad decorate my hair.

He spoke about spirituality, energy, and the many gods of the world. For 20 pesos (less than $2 USD) he braided the fabric wrap into my hair. Then he put his hand on his heart and asked if “for the heart” he could put a small dreadlock in my hair.

He was so open and was emitting an aura of genuine good will. So I said yes. I sat there nervously wondering if I would regret letting this stranger add one tiny dreadlock to the underside of my long hair. A friend of his joined him at his stoop and pulled out a guitar. As we left the two of them smiled, strummed, and sang. Sheltered from the burning sun by that inventive blanket roof.

When he finished he hugged me and gave me the classic Argentine cheek to cheek beso, “You are so very beautiful.”

After we left Carlos we continued the climb up to the monument. By the time we were there the altitude had gotten to me and my asthma was kicking in. I tried to ignore it, taking shorter and slower steps. The monument was imposing and awkwardly huge. It was worth the climb for the view, and for the incredible cemetery that lay behind it.

On the other side of the monument was the town’s cemetery. Surrounded by adobe walls it was the most colorful burial place I had ever seen. It wasn’t near as grand as La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. The colors were brighter and the sky was more open. The tombs were smaller but felt more personal.

I wandered ahead of everyone. Each tomb was personalized, some with small but colorful sculptures. Some were adorned with piles of flowers. Others were small and unimposing; their white paint chipping away. The colors brought emulated the souls of the dead. My legs were shaky and the words of the dead whispered through the air. Their lives became real and I felt the heaviness of death. For an instant I lost my breath and was relieved when my boyfriend called to me, it was time to leave.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Argentine Road Tripping to the Andean Northwest

This past week I was gone in the Andean Northwest. Along with my boyfriend and two of our amigos, I experienced an intense Carnaval under Tilcara's bright sun, saw Incan ruins, ate llama, camped in the cold Andes, and viewed the Hill of Seven Colors. There is much to tell, to start off I'll share my experience of the beginning of our 20 hour car ride.

We drive through the flat Argentine countryside and the air smells fresh and clean. There are no hills, only farmland and vast stretches of grassy pasture. It doesn't look particularly lush. The greens are faded; light greens mixed with hints of brown and a slight yellow tinge. The road is two lanes only, but the drivers speed as if on the expressway. Swerving out from behind the car they want to pass, and often jerking the car right back upon seeing the headlights of another vehicle coming at them.

The way people swerve their cars and drive at top speed as if they are in a race frightens me. I do not have as much faith in life as them. They think that if it has never happened to them before, it will never happen. I thought most people outgrew that theory after their early twenties. I think the Argentine people never do.

It's difficult to find a car in Buenos Aires that doesn't have damage from a collision. Accidents are so commonplace you can back into a car and if you don't do anything major it is perfectly normal to take off without leaving a note. I have seen a man on a motorcycle get hit by a car and after a quick and vocal exchange of unpleasantries, the guilty party just drove off. No one, not even the victim, was bothered by the aftermath of the hit and run.

Swampy mud ponds line the road. Every now and again a small metal windmill pops up next to a rickety fence. Mainly all you see is wide open plains until the horizon, along with the never ending abandoned power line poles, short wooden and bent, with no electric lines to be had. As it gets flatter, the trees disappear in the distance and look like a mirage fading in and out of view.

We stopped at a Parrilla for lunch. Then guys chatted away in Castellano while I viewed the world through the lens of my camera. I glanced at the menu as Alejandro held it.

"You tell me what I can have," I waved my options away. Not to give up power but to stave off the temptation to indulge in something that was strictly against the doctor’s orders.

"Chori? Dos chorizo? Babe?" Alejandro looked at me as I looked at him through my camera.

"Yeah. And potatoes or something, oh they have puré. That." I aimed the camera up and snapped a shot of the sign "Parrilla" brightly painted next to the flag of Argentina. The flag was caught at the end and awkwardly flapping in the wind like the balloon of a sail.

I tried to avoid eye contact with anyone at the table. I wasn't trying to avoid interacting, I just felt guilty for still not being able to speak Spanish, so I shrink into the background and let their culture take center stage.

I quietly and slowly ate my instant mashed potatoes and butterflied chorizo. I only munched through two-thirds of it. It was my first attempt at eating small meals. More doctor’s orders.

After spending the better part of 20 minutes swatting away flies and quietly giggling at the trip of puppies begging for scraps, we piled back into the car. Another leg of the journey began.

When the landscape changes it is subtle upon first glance. The plants are ever so slightly greener, the air wetter. Looking far into the distance it becomes apparent that there are mountains. These mountains descend from heavy clouds, matching the darkest blue shade of the clustered cloud formations which disguise the mountain peaks.

As we get closer and begin to gradually climb the foothills, there are more trees. The trees come in shapes and sizes I've only seen in books and on television. They remind me of the Joshua tree in the desert, only greener and gathered together in luscious forests. The road starts to become less straight with more extreme bends in the road. Fewer clear spots to pass at, but less cars to pass. The mountains then turn green, distinguishing themselves from the clouds that still hover above them.

When we stopped for gas, I tried to rouse myself from my Dramamine induced exhaustion. It doesn't matter where I am, my eyes will always droop when I'm in a vehicle. Even worse when I've taken a motion sickness pill.

When I got to the bathroom a woman was standing outside it washing clothes by hand. I've done that, but only in Argentina and India. The bathroom was hardly finished, it looked like it was supposed to have a shower. The sky was visible through large cracks that separated the tin roof and the tiled wall. At least the bathroom was clean, although it lacked any soap or toilet paper.

Again I wished I could speak Spanish, there are so many questions I had about that woman's life. Not out of strange curiosity, but because people are interesting. I like to hear people's stories.

Once in the car again, Alejandro fills our mate gourd with mate. Santiago adds sugar and hot water. Everyone shares the drink, refill after refill. 

To read Part II click here


Monday, February 24, 2014

Listverse Reject: 10 People Who Risked Their Life for Art

I write a lot of articles but not every one makes the cut. That's the thing about being a writer, you can put all your energy into an article only to find out it doesn't quite fit into the venue you were going to publish it in. That's when it's time to get creative. When my most recent piece was rejected by my beloved Listverse I thought, "Aha, I have a blog! Self-publishing for the win!"

Art is perhaps one of the truest forms of expression. Especially when it defies all convention. Throughout the ages artists have oft become embroiled in controversy for their creations. This has occurred for thousands of years and continues on today. Continuing to create art despite death treats requires great courage. Read on to learn about 10 people who have done just that - risked their lives for art.

10. Ovid

We all know that Roman lore is full of sex, conspiracy, and violence. It only seems fitting that the life of the first emperor of Rome be intertwined with a controversial artist. In the year 8 AD, the Latin poet Ovid is exiled. Scholars have attempted to unravel the mystery of Ovid’s exile. His exile was personally ordered by Augustus but an official reason for Ovid’s banishment was never declared.

Ovid was born in 43 BC in central Italy. When he was older, he began studying for a career in Rome but dropped it all to become a poet. He was the author of the narrative poem composed of more than 250 myths and fifteen books, “The Metamorphoses.” In the year 18 BC, Rome made adultery a crime and made strict regulations on marriage. Ovid was never a fan of the legislation and published poetry for women about love and sex. He denied that these poems supported adultery; but they certainly did not fit into Augustus’s conservative stance on marriage. Ovid lived a bohemian life outside of societal rules and regulations, and Augustus felt that his presence in the Empire was a threat. Ovid died in 17 AD while exiled in Romania.

9. Konstantin Altunin

Russia is not fond of protests and doesn’t take kindly to people who use their art to express social commentary. This is a truth Konstantin Altunin has experienced first-hand. Altunin is a painter from Arkhangelsk, Russia. In 2013, a painting he did entitled “Travesty” went on display at St. Petersburg’s Museum of Authority. Travesty depicted President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wearing ladies’ lingerie. It depicts Putin playing with Medvedev’s hair while both men look straight ahead. Another canvas was of a rainbow and Vitalay Milonov in the foreground. Milonov became well known for being the head proponent of the anti-gay propaganda law. Just as quickly as Altunin’s exhibit went up, armed forces stormed the museum and confiscated four of his paintings.

Authorities shut down the museum and were accompanied by Milonov when they went to take the paintings. Prior to its closure, the museum had been giving free entry to people who would secretly say that they were LGBT. To abide by the law, the museum founder Alexander Donskoi had forbidden minors from attending. Donskoi had also taken precautions to warn visitors of the political nature of the exhibition. 

Fearing arrest, Altunin fled to Paris on August 27, 2013. He is seeking permanent asylum in France because he says he wants “to live and work in an atmosphere of freedom.”

8. Osip Mandelstam

Stalin was not fond of many people. He rules the Soviet Union for a terrifying 30 years. He would exile, torture, and kill anyone who he deemed a threat to his absolute power. He was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 20-60 million people - that is between 1,830 and 4,479 people a day. His horrifying tactics to eliminate anyone and everyone included artificial famines, labor camps, executions, torture, and disappearances. Stalin was an obsessive psychopath and self-conscious angry man who hated when anyone depicted him in an unflattering manner. He weeded out artists who would dare defy him.

Osip Mandelstam recited a short poem to a group of friends in Moscow in 1933. The poem, which Mandelstam had not written down, was critical of Stalin. Months later, in May 1934, his apartment was ransacked by security forces looking for the poem. (The surviving quote from the poem comes from an anonymous source).

He forges decrees like horseshoes—decrees and decrees:

This one gets it in the balls, that one in the forehead, him right
     between the eyes. 

Whenever he’s got a victim, he glows like a broad chested

Georgian munching a raspberry.

Even though there was no copy of the poem to be found, Mandelstam was arrested. He was interrogated and kept in jail until authorities decided to exile him and his wife. After living in desperate conditions in exile, authorities forced him to move onto a work camp in Siberia. In 1938 he died in that work camp, the official cause was written off as “exhaustion.” Scholars argue that Mandelstam knew the risks he faced when he composed and shared his poem. It was his deep connection to the art of poetic expression that forced him to expose the darker side of humanity, even though doing so was to put his life in jeopardy.

7. Federico García Locra

During the Spanish Civil War, the author Federico García Locra was executed by firing squad. Locra is considered to be one of the finest writers in the history of Spain. He was born on June 5, 1898. In 1919 he took up residence in Madrid where he joined a house of other intellectuals. Salvador Dali is counted among the friends Locra made in Madrid. A poet and playwright, Locra was known for pushing societal boundaries in his writing. Much of his work played with ideas of sex, a topic he was intimately familiar with as a young gay artist in an intolerant society.

Locra was an explorer who (when the rest of the world was staying put at home) traveling the world and living in places such as Madrid, Argentina, Cuba, and New York City. He was a forward thinker and steered clear of associating himself with one political leaning. His ideals were non-traditional and label-less. Locra’s father was in politics and he opposed the rightwing extremists. The Roldán family, powerful rightwingers, challenged Locra’s father’s political opinions. To hurt Locra’s family and to silence the rebellious poet, the Roldáns had the 38-year-old writer arrested. Then, without trial, Locra was assassinated by one of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s firing squads.

Attempts to silence Locra’s voice did not end there. For decades after his murder, his posthumous publications were censored to hide his homosexuality. His immediate family and his country, struggled to admit that Spain’s best poet was not straight.

6. Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo are an artistic couple from China. Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. The award angered Chinese authorities who arrested him for subversion of state power and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. His crime was to help write Charter 08, a manifesto originally signed by over 350 Chinese calling for greater freedoms and governmental changes. Xiaobo’s wife, Xia, was placed under house arrest in 2010. However, Xia was never even charged with a crime.

She has become creative to combat her depression, loneliness, and voice her political ideals. Prior to house arrest, Xia wasn’t political. She was an artist who wrote, painted, and took photographs. She suffers from coronary heart disease and isn’t even granted an hour to walk in the park. Her lack of fresh air and exercise is leading to deteriorating health. Even hospitals have been intimidated by authorities and would only allow her to stay one night when she was supposed to undergo multiple tests. The Chinese authorities have isolated her to keep her silent. Yet, no one can keep Xia silent. She continues to write her poetry in isolation. Recordings of her poetry have been shared around the world.  

5. Liao Yiwu

Liao Yiwu was born in Sichuan, China in 1958. He is a dissident of the Chinese government and a world renowned author. As he grew up, the Cultural Revolution was happening all around him. He expressed his emotions about the world he was living in through poetry. When he was younger, Liao’s father taught him the art of traditional Chinese poetry. Liao was inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s poetry and found his own poetic voice.

The Tiananmen Square massacre happened on June 4, 1989. The tragedy shook Liao to the core. The strong emotions it elicited in him came out through powerful poetry. He wrote the poem “Massacre” to criticize Chinese leadership. His work circulated through a network of activists and dissidents. Eventually the government caught wind of his political leanings and threw him in jail for four years. While in jail, he met an 84-year-old monk who taught Liao how to play the flute and use music to find inner peace. His life changed when he started conversing with his fellow inmates, later telling their stories in the book “The Corpse Walker.”

After prison, authorities continued to watch him and harass him. Liao was giving a voice to the people the government wanted silenced. When other people were scared into submission after being released from prison, Liao kept writing and speaking out. He fled the country to protect his life and freedom. First he made his way to Vietnam and has been living in exile in Germany since 2011. He speaks all over the world and tells the stories of the people on the lowest rungs of society.

4. Malina Suliman

Kabul Project

When Malina Suliman was a little girl, she never imagined that her love for art would lead to house arrest, death threats, and exile. In 2010, the young artist was finishing up her art degree in Realism at the Art Council Karachi of Fine Arts. Before she could complete the course, her parents made her come home and kept her under house arrest. 

While kept at home, the rebellious young woman began covering the walls of her home town in graffiti. Armed with paint cans and dressed in a burka, she endured being harassed and abused while carrying out her public art. The most controversial of her graffiti pieces (which she painted over and over) was the image of “an ordinary Afghan entangled between an American tie knotted to a turban worn by the Taliban” (BBC). She also painted a burka-clad skeleton. Suliman’s art work challenged conservative extremism and angered the Taliban. She was rebelling against the status quo in a powerful, public, and visual way.

Suliman was honored by the government of Afghanistan, but scorned by the Taliban. She made a sculpture that depicted a disabled child and it drew the wrath of the Taliban who began sending intimidating letters. Opponents claimed that she was encouraging the worship of idols and that her messages were against Islam. When her father’s leg was broken in an attack, the family sought refuge in Mumbai, India. Her family was fearful and didn’t show Suliman much support in her artistic pursuits. However, she has yet to be deterred and told Flaunt Magazine that she will always “fight for [her] art.”

3. Ai Weiwei

© Gao Yuan 高远, 2009

Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing on May 18, 1957. His father was Ai Qing, a Chinese poet and activist. When Ai Qing showed support for the rightist Ding Ling during the Anti-Rightest Movement, Communist authorities didn’t respond well. Ai Weiwei was only a toddler when his family was forced to a labor camp. Ai was born to rebel. He grew up to become an influential artist. In 2008 he was hired on as an art consultant for the Beijing Summer Olympics’ Birds Nest Stadium. His good relationship with the government didn’t last long. Only a year later, a police officer is alleged to have punched Ai in the face so hard that he had to have to surgery. Then in 2001 he was arrested for 81 days, the government claimed it was for tax evasion.

In 2011, the government prevented him from flying to Hong Kong. His studio was ransacked by Chinese officials who claimed to find criminal activity. They attempted to discredit Ai in the eyes of his supporters by leaking the details of his supposed crimes. In May 2013, Ai created a provocative art exhibit in Hong Kong. It was an 80-square-meter (861-square-foot) map of Chine comprised entirely of baby formula cans. The art project was shining light on corruption in the dairy industry and food safety controversies. In the past he’s used art to bring other social issues to the forefront. He painted images to portray the deaths of school children from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

2. Afghan Women and Poetry

In Afghanistan there is an entire movement of women who refuse to be stifled. Meet the women of Mirman Baheer, a Kabul poetry club. They call to each other in secret to arrange their weekly rendezvous. The location of these poetry meetings is always in a private location. These women would face terrible consequences if their poetry was to be discovered. They play with words to bring their feelings to life in a tangible medium. 

The women come from diverse backgrounds but nearly all who write publically use a penname. Some are professional women in high power business jobs. Many are chaperoned to each gathering, with the men sitting on the other side of the room. Others come from extremely conservative families and must hide their writing from prying eyes. In this subcategory, attendance is only by telephone. There are poetry clubs like this all over the country. Women who defy convention and continue to write and recite their emotional poems have been killed. Most of these women live outside of urban centers, such as a young woman named Zarmina. She would call into the Kabul club once a month. Her calls would last only a matter of minutes and her poetry was heart wrenching. The mystery of Zarmina’s death goes on, as her family claims she burned to death in an accident and didn’t like to write. Others say she committed suicide because she wasn’t allowed to be with the man she loved. Either way, her tormented soul was calling out for help through her poetry. The female poets of Afghanistan must practice an immense courage just to speak verse.

1. Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot has shot to international fame for their powerful feminist musical style and artistic activism. They are an intense example of using art to challenge authority. The world is most familiar with Maria Alyokhina (Masha), Yekaterina Samutsevich (Katya), and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadia). The punk rock bank actually has more than 10 members. The infamous February 2012 performance that lambasted President Vladimir Putin’s ties to the Russian Orthodox Church had five performers. The ongoing trials and tribulations of the arrested trio has been well covered by international media. The women who weren’t arrested waited in hiding for impending arrest, and then began to speak out. Pussy Riot is “meant to be anonymous, indivisible, representative…they’re not individuals, they’re an idea.”

Pussy Riot can’t be silenced even after being held in isolated detention and facing immense pressure from Russian authorities. They are continuing to speak out against the Kremlin and against prison conditions in Russia. Simply walking around is enough for Pussy Riot to get arrested. During the Sochi Winter Olympics, members of the band were walking around when Cossacks grabbed them and beat them. Two members were later arrested for theft but released shortly after without charge. After the beatings they released a new music video, criticizing the surveillance state and human rights abuses.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Traveling in Time: Jacuzzis Make Good Time Machines

Instead of the usual travel story, this Friday I'm flashing back and traveling in time. 

Dear Uncle Andy,

Do you remember the time machine?

I wish I knew how to work it. I’d go get you if I did, but you were the captain and I never learned the controls.

I painted a picture of you. Actually, I painted three. One for my mom and one for your mom. I sent the last one to your wife and your golden headed newborn that she took with her to her mother’s after it happened. The acrylic layers have a lot of you in them and a bit of where I hope you went. It was only supposed to be about you, you and whoever got the painting. It was an accident on my part, a careless fingerprint, but I mixed a part of me in with blue hues of you. It was still easier than writing this, I didn’t have to backspace every time I dropped an ugly “I miss you” on the canvas.

Grams told me that you had a picture of me on your desk. I read and reread her email. I scanned each line looking for what you might have seen in the girl in the picture, why you were proud of her. Maybe it wasn’t the picture; it could have been the frame. I imagine it would have been clean and wooden, the kind of wood you frame a diploma with, a picture of a wedding, a snapshot of a newborn. A frame that holds memories. If there had been a mirror where my picture had been, I think you could have been proud of the face in the reflection. Proud enough of yourself to stay.

I still can’t imagine it because the last time I saw you I was 18 and you were smiling and holding your baby and your wife was holding your hand. I lost the pictures from that trip that I had wanted to frame.

Sometimes a framed bit of past just isn’t enough of a reminder. My picture on your desk couldn’t bring you back to the time machine, to the laughter, to me. You avoided your reflection just long enough to forget you were the one I was proud of.

I don’t know how old Megan and I were when we traveled in time with you. Looking back I can’t see what shoes I wore. I don’t remember waking up. I think it was sunny outside but it could have been raining. Time travel is funny like that - your memory gets fuzzy. Grams had a black jacuzzi bathtub downstairs, she still does actually. Back then I had to climb into it using both arms to hoist me over the edge.

“You see that over there? That’s a time machine,” you told us in strict confidentiality.

It was a top-secret time machine. The government didn’t know about it. They’d been trying for years to figure out how to make one of their own. This one was discretely hidden in that little Oregon neighborhood. Miles of evergreen forest, wild blackberry bushes, a cul-de-sac; it was perfect. I remember now that you were closing the blinds as you swore us to secrecy. It was easy for you to latch the shutter on the high window because you were so tall.

You said that if we used the machine we would go to the other side of the bathroom mirror. That was really exciting because I had friends who lived through there. I saw a movie once where a girl put her arm through a mirror and then walked through it into another world. Everything on the other side was different and backwards. I used the round towel holders in the bathroom as knockers. I’d climb up on the counter and rap them against the wall, summoning my fantasy world to come out and play.

Agreeing to an oath of silence, Megan and I squealed with joy.

After we clamored in, you captained the ship and we followed orders. I remember not knowing what I was doing, but feeling completely confident in my confusion. Megan sat on her knees in front of me, one hand rotating a silver jet nozzle and the other wildly slapping the wall. I frantically rotated two nozzles in the back and you warned us not to press the green or blue buttons on the control panel, because they were for emergency use only. Before we left you became worried about how prepared we were for the voyage so you jumped out to check the supplies and we guarded the ship.

“Uncle Andy!” Megan screamed after you’d been gone a little while. “The ship is about to take off!”

Appearing from around the corner you hopped in and gave us more orders as you entered in the coordinates. I stopped turning the nozzles and pushed my pointer finger into the middle of the one on my left because I wasn’t sure turning them was making a difference. Watching you jerk forward, I collapsed to my knees and held onto the side. We were moving fast and the curtain was shaking from the speed. It was the first time I realized how long time travel actually takes. It wasn’t immediate like looking at a picture. I guess that’s moving to a different place in time, backwards, not forward.

I didn’t realize we had landed when you jumped out of the ship. I shrieked at you to get back in. I didn’t want some unknown time to take you away and leave us stranded. We moved through the house and Megan the skeptic wanted to know where we had “really” gone because everything looked the same. You jumped up and down and I followed close behind your darting steps. There was a knocked over chair and a couch cushion out of place.

“I didn’t have time to move stuff around. None of this has happened yet.” You convinced me.

Upstairs Grams was writing on her typewriter. Following the sound of typing, we leapt up the stairs to find her. We couldn’t ask her if we really went through the mirror, after so many conversations with my mirror friends I knew that the people of mirror world weren’t happen when strangers showed up. Megan tried some Nancy Drew interrogation. We needed to know if we really traveled in time. Looking up from a page, Grams slid her reading classes halfway down her nose. She pursed her lips and looked at us with what I remember as a really mirror-like expression.

“Your mom is going to be here soon, you girls better get ready.”  There was something weird about how she said it. The glasses weren’t right, brown instead of black, and her hair curled down instead of up. Everything was all backwards; Grams’ voice was definitely the voice of a mirror person. I compared her to the friends from my mirror and knew that you told us the truth.

Megan and I grabbed hands and turned around, hollering for you. We weren’t ready to go home, especially with a mirror mom. Panic-stricken and still squealing with nervous laughter, we hurried back to the machine and set our destination to an hour ago. When we returned the chair was upright, the cushion in place and Grams was pouring us juice.

I forget a lot of things but I could never ever forget that day. I suppose it means you’re not gone. You’re there, traveling back and forth between an hour. It’s the memory I frame and keep on my desk. The glass is shiny, and I can see my face too, it’s enough for me. That hour is where I go to know you still exist.


Kristance, First Mate

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Scared Traveler, My Dirty Secret

I write for a living. I write about myself and about the world. The façade I put on is that I do not fear self-analysis. I seem to be a person unafraid of being intimate with myself. That is my dirty secret. I continue to move and flee to all ends of the earth mostly because I am afraid of becoming intimate with myself. I want to write my own story, I have to write my own story.

Staying in one place means committing to life. I would have to let people know me. They will know more than the story I tell. My contradictory spirit would have to face criticism. I would lose control over what part of myself I show the world. Others will know that I choose to go out or not to go out. They will judge me for my visible choices. For my strange behavior that one day joyously welcomes social interactions and the next day shuns it. When you stay in one location, the responsibilities to others are greater. You are supposed to become a member of the community, a contributing life force doing something…anything.

When you aren’t moving all the time, friendships either become solidified or their foundations crack. I’d rather they fade because of distance, not because we clashed. I’ve been there and that is painful. I am much more comfortable to just be the long distance friend who comes and goes. That way being ignored or forgotten isn’t personal (even when it is). I can brush it off as being a side-effect of the nomadic life. Even in foreign lands, I shy away from developing deep friendships. They are sticky and complicated.

There are a few people in this world that I let see me in all my unabashed glory. The good, the bad, and the really ugly. There are very few people who know me on the days I am crippled by past hurts and internal fears. I am not so naïve to think I am the only one who experiences ups and downs in life. I am not the only one who lives in slow motion on days where just getting out of bed is a struggle. Crippling loss is not something I get to lay personal claim to. I am blessed beyond reason in the grand scheme of the world. Our lives are defined by the scars of our worst burns, we grow in strength each time we rise from those ashes as the phoenix.

Yet, I do not travel the world on those ash grown wings. I travel because it is what I know. I suppose I don’t travel with the joy I ought to. I am not going to lie, I am afraid of the world. I do fear what could become of me. I am most afraid of consistency, but I think it is something I wish I could happily achieve.

It is romantic to imagine the traveler as a carefree spirit. A restless nomad guided by an open heart. Flying around the world, lifted up and empowered by the winds of change. The traveling soul is supposed to be one that rebels against strict societal boundaries. Diverse experiences mold the traveler into an open minded soul who embraces the world, instead of fearing it. I am willing to move around the world because of my open-minded perspective, traveling didn’t give it to me.

I am not in the business of lying. I am careful and calculated in what mask I am willing to show others, but I don’t like to lie about what traveling is like. In many ways I am taken care of better than ever these days. I have the most wonderful partner I could imagine, someone who sees all the parts of me and loves each and every contradiction. I am seeing my dream career come to life before my eyes. My passion and my skills complement each other and I am actually making a living by being a writer.

I sadly am not comforted by idea of being normal, healthy, and happy. I fear that when I become too comfortable the rug will be torn out from under me. I am afraid of the walls caving in, but the walls can’t cave in in if I don’t live within them.

I will continue to live as the restless nomad. The contradictory character who lives on leaps of faith, afraid of the world but more afraid of not jumping. I love the thrill that comes before hitting the ground.

Winter 2013, Photo by Ale Bonzo

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Personal Renewal at Posada Itaca

I feel an odd half-death in the city, the only life to interact with is other people. The wind is tainted with the exhaust of a million vehicles. Each one taking the road signs and stop lights as mere suggestions, impatiently honking their horns as they pass on all sides at frightening speeds.

Concrete boxes of all shapes and sizes define the shape and landscape of this place. A whiff of something sweet comes from strategically planted trees. Miniature manicured gardens attempt to disguise the protective gates that keep out strangers. The dirtiness of the sidewalk competes with the gardeners, with its haphazard trash strewn about and the droppings from dogs that careless owners refuse to pick up.

A kiss for a greeting but no greeting without an introduction. Finding joy is complex. Individual interactions on the street or in a store are purely transactions amongst strangers, no honest pleasantries are exchanged with the cashier and each person goes their own way in this crowded metropolis. Without extroverted energy you will find yourself alone, even when uncomfortably pressed against dozens of people on an overcrowded bus.

The city forces me to face uncomfortable truths. Truths about myself. Venturing outside means, without fail, encountering hundreds or even thousands of people. Going for a calming stroll requires walking past countless strangers who are going through the motions of their own lives. There is kindness in the hearts of the people, but it is fleeting. Literally, it goes as quickly as it comes as the millions of people continue rushing through the streets.

Instead of taking the opportunity to meet new and interesting people, I find myself needing more and more time for myself. My energy is drained by the constant need to behave extrovertly. I renew myself through solitary swims at night in the pool, but often someone arrives during my rejuvenation process and the presence of another soul halts my inner progress.

My natural introversion has come out in its full form since moving to this gigantic city.

I do not dislike people. I am not a socially anxious individual. I love to laugh and tell stories and have fun with friends. I am not easily embarrassed, my life is an open book. Making new friends is something I’ve always been able to do with ease. I love discovering the threads that connect the fabrics of our shared experiences. I feel protected and joyous knowing that my blanket of connections spreads all over the world.

I am afraid that when I turn down invitations, people take it personally. It is personally my problem.

My need to be alone is not depression, it is not even anxiety, it is exhaustion.

Recently, I was given the chance to discover the true source of my exhaustion. It came at the perfect time, my anxiety was growing and I did not know what could relieve it. I visited Posada Itaca, an oasis of a farm only an hour and a half from Buenos Aires.

Posada Itaca is run by an American expat named Guy and his señora, Claudia.

The farm is comprised of several rustic, quaint, and beautifully decorated cottages of various sizes. A large swimming pool is surrounded by gorgeous landscaping and wide open natural beauty. We rode horses, went on bike rides, and swam in the pool. They raise dogs, sheep, and horses. An adorable friendly kitty befriended me. They grow pecans and all the cottages are warmly painted, eclectically decorated, and simply gorgeous.

Besides when I was on a bike or a horse, I spent the entire time without my shoes on. The grass under my feet brought me home. The noise of the country, with the fast hum of crickets and competing songs of birds, was a slice of heaven.

We were there to celebrate my boyfriend’s mother’s birthday. My energy was dangerously low from the previous months in the city, and I spent more time than I meant to in silence. Those who are used to the city or have an outward disposition find it hard to understand why I would happily choose time alone so often. The silence is not always sorrowful, it's often joyful silence. I did not mean to neglect anyone, but I had to care for my heart.

The night we were there was exactly one year since the house fire that almost took my life occurred. The same fire that my boyfriend saved me from. One year from one of the worst days of my life I was blessed with being in one of the most beautiful places in Argentina.

Unfortunately, I didn't fully appreciate every moment as I was struggling with the nervous energy of the horrible anniversary and an acute homesickness that overcame me.

Even when most of my work is solitary, since I am a writer who works from home, I realize I need time alone simply because there are so many people in this city. The energy of the city is exhausting, even when I’m not in the thick of it.

Escaping to the country reminded me of who I really am and what I need to find joy and energy. I need the feeling of a horse underneath me at sunset, a bike ride on a dirt road where the only visitors are roaming sheep. My energy comes back when I am strolling around a secluded pond with someone I care about. A streetlight and a painted bench next to a pond covered in gorgeous water lilies is just one of the ways this farm is the ideal escape.

The people who work here love what they are doing, it is like being welcomed into a family without the pressure of socializing. Like back in Vermont, walking past someone is a rarity, but when you do everyone greets each other with a wave and a hello (here it's an hola or buenas). The greeting comes from the heart because you aren't around so many people that you're trying to avoid them. You have space and can connect with nature as much as your heart desires.

Then again, if you get tired of the adorable kitten following you around, you can close the door to your private home and watch something on a new flat screen TV. If you need to, free WiFi is available everywhere. I chose to leave my computer on the table and take in the spaciousness, gaining some energy back from the greenery.

I have left pieces of my heart all over the world, but my energy belongs to the countryside.

PS Stay tuned because I’m going to write more about the amazing Posada Itaca, I had the opportunity to interview Guy about his vision and what brought him to build such a unique and serene place, I'll tell you all about it later. Itaca is one my favorite places I have visited in all of Argentina.