Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Equinox

Yesterday I celebrated spring equinox (unlike those of you in the Northern hemisphere who rang in the fall) by going to my first official Argentinean asado, or barbecue. I felt a pang of regret on the subte (metro) ride home as I realized I’d brought my camera and neglected to take even one photo to commemorate the experience, but it was a memorable day nonetheless. Not that there was anything out of the ordinary about it, but that’s just what made it unique, for me at least.

After an underground and a bus ride that combined took 2 pesos and 45 minutes past flower stands and mausoleum-capped cemeteries, I arrived in the outskirts of Buenos Aires in Villa Puerreydon to a new friend’s house. We sat in the backyard under the overcast sky and chatted about local and U.S. culture as two porteños (the name for BsAs natives), cigarettes dangling, faithfully stoked the coals under the various cuts of meat piled on the grill above. We drank wine and beer and coca-cola. I ate blood sausage for the first time – the consistency threw me for a loop, and while it was not that apetizing on its own it was delicious spread on bread like pâté. After the meal we drank sweet coffee as the rest of the group participated in riotous imitations of their favorite and least favorite commercials and quips from television, which naturally evolved into a lively conversation about favorite shows to which, due to the high rate of U.S. importation, I was able to contribute.

From there the sky threatened to dump so we moved inside to the cluttered, long-lived-in house, windows shuttered and cigarette smoke spiraling through the dusty air, to watch an important tennis match from which Argentina advanced to the finals against Spain in the Davis cup. Round after round of mate (mah-tey) was poured and distributed, one after another, in local tradition of sharing a single cup among a group of friends and refilling it constantly, for hours on end, recycling the same mate leaves. Each small cup goes down in a few pulls from the metallic straw, which is then returned to the mate maestro, as I called him, to add hot water and pass it to the next in line. It’s a simple, common custom here, and I was able to share it with locals, like a local. No one drew particular attention to me. No one thought it odd that a yanqui was invading their Sunday traditions. I felt comfortable, and welcome, and despite the cigarette smoke, enormously content. I understood the jokes and made a few of my own. I commandeered the remote control and participated in poking fun at whatever and whoever came on screen. I explained Thanksgiving at their request and one girl giddily offered me the use of her house if I would host a real “Turkey Day” (their words, not mine!) for them to experience. I was, in an incredibly short time, assimilated, yet appreciated for the very differences I was ostracized for in their neighboring country.

It took me four months in Chile to arrive at a point of integration with a very small group of friends that took less than four hours in Argentina. My Chilean woes were all but erased from memory until two nights ago at my friend's hostel, when I picked out two Chilean girls by their accents and phrases. I called attention to a chilensimo I always liked and commented that I had lived in Chile before. Rather than opening a dialogue like it would have in the majority of such situations, it bought me two snide, sideways looks. The one retorted that I had misheard her, they both turned back to each other and snickered, and that was the end of our interaction. I was suddenly and violently reminded of that horrible, small feeling I had escaped with my decision to live here instead. What did they have against me? What threat did I possibly pose? I was reminded of the many times I was intentionally made to feel uncomfortable in Chile, unwelcome, unwanted.

With the perspective Argentina has given me, I have that oft-cited hindsight and it is definitely 20/20. This short yet markedly unpleasant exchange made me much more aware of just how depressed and insecure I had become while living in Chile, two otherwise unfamiliar states of mind. Perhaps not being used to these sensations is why it took me so long to recognize them, or maybe it was a defensive reaction to my hostile environment: after all, who wants to feel depressed and insecure? Whatever the case, coming to Argentina has taught me way more about my life in Chile than simply going back to the U.S. would have, and for that alone I would be grateful to be here. But life here has far surpassed gratitude, and although I am in awe at how normal it seems to be here, I am in no way taking it for granted.

At the very least, it was an equinox to remember.


Casey said...


Momma Archer said...

Double woot!

Renée said...

I've been having a hard month in Chile and your last two paragraphs really struck me in the heart. I don't know if I'm staying here as long as I thought.

Pienso en seguir tus pasos.

Sara said...

I'm glad you are enjoying it there. It is really hard to make friends here, and about 95% of my friends are from the US or have lived in the US and are very well aquainted with our culture.
Actually, sometimes I include my students are friends. That might be a bad thing.

carrola29 said...

I was feeling optimistic about chile until very recently- making excuses for all the stink eye I get, the very closed nature of most Chileans, the flakiness, etc. HOWEVER, now I'm feeling less hopeful that anything will dramatically improve and find myself downright pissed at and irritated by people here. I didn't quite get it before, but now TOTALLY relate to what feelings that lead you to BA. As far as the bitchy chilenas. . . I dont know what to say. I have bi-weekly experiences like that- not always such slaps in the face but very obvious and unnecesarily RUDE. Renee says it best: "chile has some growing up to do" I'm so happy you're loving your new home!

Sunshine said...

U touched my heart... I had had bad experiences overseas and it makes u feel so so sad, homesick, powerless...
I'm glad you're here now, I'm glad we met, I'm glad you came to my place today for your second asado :-P
Next Friday, we'll be going to your first Argentinean beach!
Have a great week!

luli said...

Eli! I loved your post. Thanx for all the nice words. All I can tell you is that i am sure you have found friends in us! Don't forget!
And yes like "sunshine" said...
Your first "playa weekend" will be awesome!!
ps: I love your blog!

I LOVE YOU said...
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日月神教-任我行 said...