Archive for August, 2012

Aug 29 2012

Good Air! (Buenos Aires, Part 1)

Published by under Argentina,Buenos Aires,Travel

One day, my husband Ben decided to go to law school. Then he decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer so he got a job instead.* The point of this saga being: Ben had a two and a half week period between end-of-law-school and start-of-new-job and I had as many vacation days, so in July 2011, we found ourselves in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was the first time we’d traveled internationally since THE BIG TRIP (excepting a honeymoon at a Mexican resort, which doesn’t really count) and within two hours of landing in Buenos Aires we realized two things:

  1. We are rusty, and
  2. OH YEAH this is what I lived and felt for 8 months and oh my god I’ve missed it.

You see, being a “good” traveler takes practice. You need to develop a rhythm, a comfort with your surroundings, a general knowledge of how to do the essentials: get lodging, food, money. Ben and I had a rhythm on our Big Trip. It wasn’t ever spoken, but we got comfortable landing in a foreign place and knowing pretty well how to get sh*t done.

But we lost that rhythm. So when we took the overnight flight to BA from Miami, negotiated a taxi into the city from the airport and found ourselves standing in a nice but modest hostel in the Palermo neighborhood, we stood there blinking at each other. What now?

First order of business: money. Can’t buy food without money and we’re hungry. Where’s the bank? Ask the hostel proprietor. Between his broken English/our broken Spanish get a pretty good idea of bank location. Start walking. Get lost. Turn around. So hungry. Is that a bank? I don’t know. Definitely not a bank. Keep walking. Is that a bank? Yes! How do we get money? Our card won’t work in this ATM. We have to talk to people? Why is that security guard staring at me? OK, I think he’s laughing at us. Do we wait in line here? What’s the exchange rate? Do you know how to ask for that in Spanish?

…Surprisingly, we did eventually get money AND specifically requested small bills, as we’d read that in Argentina no one will cash large ones. Ben was proud of that maneuver.

We stopped in a small, busy cafe in the same neighborhood as our hostel (the only lodging we’d booked prior to the trip). The neighborhood, Palermo, has a hip but comfortable vibe. Boutiques and bars and art galleries cluster together amongst narrow, old homes. There were a lot of young folks, but it was quiet at night on the side streets. Very European.

I ordered the one sandwich I could reasonably translate off the chalkboard menu above the counter, and we sat down at a bistro table to try and formulate a plan for the day.

The problem with Palermo is that it isn’t close to the metro (subte in BA). It’s very accessible to the busline, but as any seasoned traveler will attest, while metros are relatively easy to navigate, public bus systems are very difficult for newbies. And, after traveling so far and long, we didn’t have the energy to figure it out. So, after lunch, we hiked about a mile to the closest subte to ride to the city center.

We managed to exit the subte near Plaza de Mayo. It was the first of many plazas we would encounter on this trip — it seems that any city in South America, no matter how small, has a plaza. If there’s three straw huts on a Bolivian mountain where the llamas outnumber the humans, they build a friggin’ “plaza.”

BA’s Plaza de Mayo is the city’s political center. This is mostly because it’s home to the Casa Rosada, the Argentine presidential mansion and office. What’s awesome is that “Casa Rosada” = “Pink House” which I think we can all agree is objectively better than our version of the same building, the White House. How dull.

Well, you think this is awesome until you realize that the reason it’s pink is because it was originally painted with a mixture including ox blood. Not awesome. But then it becomes awesome again at night when neon pink spotlights shine on the building making you and your husband, who’ve become really lost, mistake it for a casino that you resolve to come back and find the next day.

And now, A Play, in Three Acts:

Setting: The lawn in front of Casa Rosada
Cast: Unnamed hero
Circumstance: The first attempted activity of hero’s trip to Argentina


I knew I only had a few good hours left in Ben, so I forced him to his feet so I could at least see a bit more of the city before he crashed for good. He’s a sleeper, that one.

There are several other important buildings in Plaza de Mayo, but I can’t remember them. There was a beautiful cathedral at the opposite end of the square from the Casa Rosada, but I only remember thinking (for the dozenth time in BA), “this could be in Rome.”

Given that I hadn’t researched too much about the city prior to arriving (surprise!), my single-minded mission for the day became to walk around until our legs were too exhausted to keep walking. I’ll ruin the ending for you now to say that I was successful in my mission, much to Ben’s chagrin.

As we started our death march through Buenos Aires, we rounded around the back of Plaza de Maya to discover a building with a sign in Spanish out front that we couldn’t read, and a long line of people waiting to get in the door. We decided to stand in this line to see what would happen. We were whisked through a metal detector (which strangely did not deter us) and found ourselves inside.


We later discovered it was some sort of museum built in 2010 for the bicentennial of Argentina’s independence. At the time, we knew it was an exhibit of some sort in which all the signage exceeded Ben’s Spanish 201 abilities. However, this anecdote should be a revealing peak into the way Ben and I travel: we have no idea what we’re doing. And we are sheep.

BA is not a particularly beautiful city. It’s not un-beautiful, and it has lovely buildings and squares, but like any major and historical metropolis, it’s dirty and rough around the edges. We discovered this as we moseyed through city blocks for (what felt like) hours. Eventually, we landed in Puerto Madero, a waterfront neighborhood and BA’s historical port. It was easy to tell this area of the city, once a decaying warehouse district, has been reclaimed by yuppies. There are factories-turned-luxury condominiums, high rises, expensive waterfront restaurants. We stopped at cafe to rest our legs and ordered our first South American cafes con leche.

Puerto Madero

We took a final walk on the other side of the port, along the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve. While it was too late to go into the reserve, we enjoyed strolling along the water, watching the roadside parrillos pop up to serve their standard Argentine steaks.

So many mayonnaises at the roadside steak stand!

I hadn’t slept in 36 hours; my leg muscles were screaming. Given my pitiful condition, BA’s legendary nightlife would have to wait. I knew Ben felt the same way when I suggested finding our way back to the hostel and he ran off towards a bus stop with a kind of energy I hadn’t seen from him all day. Well, the phrase running “toward the bus stop” gives the impression that the journey back to our hostel was easy. It was not. It was an hour and a half not-easy. When we (finally) found a bus stop, we had to determine if the stop was on the correct route and running in the right direction and which bus number went to Palermo and at which stop to disembark. It was a long process, and only successful thanks to the kindness of English-speaking strangers and a complete lack of pride on our part.

I don’t even remember how I managed to stumble from bus to bed, but I do remember curling up next to Ben (we’d splurged on our own room), and falling asleep to the happy chatter of young backpackers in the common area starting their night. I cursed their stamina before passing out until noon the following day. Ta da!

* If you ever need 1/3 of a lawyer, email us!

3 responses so far

Aug 01 2012


Published by under Personal

It’s strange, our preoccupation with round numbers. I mean, 20 years of marriage is no more of an accomplishment than 19. The 76th anniversary of the founding of an institution is as impressive as the 75th. But, for a culture that’s surprisingly lacking in any formal rites of passage, I guess we use these opportunities to celebrate and reflect.

I turned 30 recently. And, yes, I know, rationally, that it’s just another day, another year. But, still. I’m nostalgic.

At first, I wanted to record my reflections carefully, in a thoughtful essay that I could look back on, 30 years from now, and realize both how wise I was and how much I had to learn. But my brain isn’t working that way. Maybe it’s because I’m old.

So, here we go: 30 things on my 30th.

  1. On the morning of my 30th birthday, I plucked three gray hairs from the top of my head.
  2. Here’s the thing that no one tells you: your 20s are hard. Maybe I’d always painted my 20s with these broad brushstrokes of assumed awesomeness. A fulfilling, moderately influential job in a big city would fall into my lap after graduation. I’d have money to spare, would travel with friends, own an amazing wardrobe. I’d get a master’s or doctorate or both. Somehow I’d exude a confidence I’d never been able to harness before in life. None of this happened. Or at least not the way I imagined it would.
  3. Your 20s end up being all about defining who you are and what you want from life. You are forced to define yourself outside of your parents, outside of school and grades. For someone who pinned her self worth on her grade point average, this was hard for me. Am I doing it right? Would I get an A in life?
  4. I fell in love eight years ago. The kind of love that you want to believe is real, but always doubt, until you meet that person. The floodgates open and you’re swept out to sea, the current holds onto you until suddenly there’s no land in sight and you realize, too late, that your life will never be the same.
  5. I am a different person at 30 than I was at 20.
  6. Lately, I don’t get carded as often. This makes me happy and sad.
  7. I traveled in my 20s. A lot, comparatively. I quit my job and country-hopped for eight months. I’ve traveled to a new place every year since, too. I think about these trips every day. They impact the decisions I make, change the way I perceive the world and my place in it, and help me define what’s important.
  8. For my birthday, Ben surprised me with a piano. He is the best giver of gifts — somehow he picks out the one thing you never knew you always wanted.
  9. I never thought about marriage, really. If you asked me when I was 20 if I’d get married, I probably would have shrugged. It was never something by which I wanted to define my life. Even when I was in a serious relationship, I would contend that the title of "marriage" was not important. But, somehow, my marriage has become the best thing I’ve ever done. Also, I used to dislike people that said stuff like that last sentence. 
  10. In high school and college, I was the quiet girl. I never spoke up in class, never expressed strong opinions publicly. Now, I never hesitate to tell people what I think. Ben would say, to a fault. I think maybe in my 30s I’ll land somewhere the middle. Even still, I regret being that quiet girl. I wish I’d embraced my passion sooner. 
  11. I think there are things in life that never change. I hate cake, but love coffee cake, and it’s always been that way. 
  12. Yesterday, Ben said to me: "You realize that we get 80 years of life, if we’re lucky. Maybe 100." It was a moment of clarity. Think about it: 100. Years. That is nothing. Why do I waste moments on silly anxieties? Is it possible to quit my job and go live at the beach? Will you, my family and friends, come with me?
  13. A few days after our birthdays (Ben’s is two days after mine), we were going over to my mom’s house for a celebratory dinner. Instead, standing in her backyard, was a surprise gathering of our closest friends and family. I haven’t had a surprise party since the third grade.
  14. When I saw my family and friends standing in my mom’s backyard yelling "surprise!" I was awash with the warmth of knowing that, no matter what nagging doubts pester my mind, I have friends and family that care enough about me to decorate a backyard with lights and flowers, cater a dinner with my favorite food and drinks, sing happy birthday to me and light sparklers when the sun goes down. Life will never be all that bad.
  15. Should we get a dog? Most days, I keep thinking that I want one, but some days it seems like far too much trouble.
  16. I had one of the best meals of my life on my 30th birthday. Ben took me to Mamma Zu, a local restaurant that we love. It’s the kind of place where you have to stand in a crowded bar for a good 45 minutes to get a table, but you can grab a bottle of wine from the wooden racks and drink it out of old jelly jars while you wait. The waiters are rushed, the exterior is ramshackle, the tables are too close together, the flatware is thrifted, and the food is melt-in-your-mouth died-and-gone-to-heaven is-this-real-life delicious.
  17. I often think that I didn’t meet my potential — whatever that means — by not going to graduate school. I was one of the "smart kids" in school, after all, wasn’t I? Was I meant for academia? But, then, I know that if I’d gone to grad school, it would have been only to fulfill some measure of success as defined by other people. Still, it bugs me.
  18. Also, my present from Ben, the piano, had a giant pink bow on top. I’ve always wanted a present with a giant bow.
  19. On my 30th birthday, my family came over to my house while I was at work and hung streamers throughout. I had to rip my way through them to get inside the door. They know me.
  20. After Ben and I took our 8 month round-the-world trip, we made the decision to build a life in our hometown. This decision was influenced by a new appreciation for the place where we grew up, the realization that being near family is important, and a strong, stubborn urge to never have the course or location of our life be determined by a job. We still battle the urge to pick up and move to a bigger city.
  21. For his 30th birthday, I gave Ben a commissioned piece of art — a pop realism piece featuring an original Nintendo controller. He flipped out, in a good way.
  22. How did an English major end up as a web designer?
  23. I notice, slightly, that my body is aging. Scars take longer to heal. I need a stronger contacts prescription. I have the hint of a wrinkle between my eyes.
  24. I hope I’m able to remember what’s important to me as I get older. I don’t want a lot. I like my small brick rancher. If I have a larger house, I have to fill it with stuff. Stuff that breaks. Stuff that I have to clean. Stuff that distracts me from having fun, spending time with family and friends, and causes me unnecessary worry. I can already tell it’s easy to fall into the lap of wild consumerism when you have a little bit of extra income. Please make note, future Brittany: put that money into your retirement account! Take a trip! Donate it to charity! You do not need more clothes or a dedicated formal living room.
  25. I still care too much about what people think about me. But, I care a lot less than I did at 20. Hopefully this is something that will fade even more in my 30s.
  26. Every year, I realize how dumb I was the previous year. Does this happen forever?
  27. I’ve enjoyed establishing lasting relationships with my siblings as adults. We’re now more than sisters and brother. We’re friends.
  28. It’s so easy to assume that there is one "right" path for us. It’s easy to want to believe that one of the options we’re presented with is the correct one. That we are, in a sense, predestined. All we have to do is find this path. I know this isn’t true. We’re all guessing and hoping and flying by the seat of our pants. The belief that there is only one right path is the source of much regret and anxiety. But, it’s a hard assumption to eradicate from your brain.
  29. If I ever had to imagine when I was 20 what my life would be like at 30, I think my vision would be a whole lot different than it is today. This is a good thing.
  30. On the drive home from work on my 30th birthday, I saw two rainbows.

…and forgive me for that self-indulgent diatribe. It happens when you’re old. I’ll restrain myself from now on.

3 responses so far