Thursday, April 01, 2010

First impressions of being "back"


I arrived in NYC after a completely uneventful - dare I say pleasant? - 14 hour-long trip. (Although the 2-day-long heartburn wasn't the greatest.) I highly recommend Avianca to anyone needing to fly from NY to Latin America. I watched four movies, in this order: The Blind Side (fantastic!); Couples Retreat (dumb entertainment); Up in the Air (very good but whoever told me it wasn't predictable was wrong); and The Departed (a movie I at first boycotted but watched since I ran out of other options; it was ok).

The instant we touched down at JFK I began to cry. Although a lot of it had to do with the exhaustion of getting 4 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, I was genuinely confused: I wasn't even enjoying Argentina. But the next day I figured out a reasonable metaphor for why. My being back in the states was the end of an era. For the first time I realized why couples about to get married are so agitated. They've made the choice they want and they're happy about it, but it also involves closing a chapter in one's life, and that is a confusing and emotional process. I knew I was back, to live, for good (unless Evan secures me a diplomat husband), and although it is what I want and I'm thrilled about my future, it's also the end of my living abroad life, something that has helped define me as a person these last few years.

I sat on the plane for a few minutes to calm down and by the time I exited I was feeling much better with each deep breath. But, I am incapable of going through U.S. customs without crying. I walked up to a ridiculously nice young man who greeted me with 'welcome home' and this sent the first few tears on their course toward my chin. His eyes grew wide and he said, what's wrong?? I said it was just emotional to be back. How long were you gone? Seven months. What's wrong with Seattle? Nothing, Seattle is delightful. I don't want to pry but... did you leave love down there? Just like that: did I leave love. I almost wish that were the case; it would be such a tidy answer. But since it wasn't, just a variety of abstracts impossible to explain even to myself, I just cried a little more. At that point I became incapable of answering further questions and he stamped me through.

My first first impression: I always, always forget how genuinely nice and helpful people here are. Upon seeing my wet, pink face people materialized out of the woodworks to offer me assistance. Of course that only made it worse, so I paid $5 for a push-cart and wheeled it to the dark side of baggage claim where I sat and cried with as much self-respect as I could muster before my bags finally came off the carousel, wet from the rain but untampered with, bottles of wine and rich chocolate alfajores fully intact.

My cabbie to Brooklyn was from a central American country and we spoke Spanish the whole way, marveling at the impressive quantity of fried chicken joints on the ride in. Jacob and Keehnan fed me pizza and I fed them alfajores, and then I slept for 12 solid hours.


This return is much different from last December. Last time I was picked up in Seattle by my parents and ushered straight to their insanely comfortable house stocked with delicious food and loved ones, where I was snowed in with no access to the outside world except television and phone calls for a full week. This time I was dropped in the middle of Brooklyn.

I think a certain element of isolation is a good thing; down time as one readjusts. So, I isolated myself in the apartment all day long yesterday, finally leaving to meet Jacob for dinner in Chinatown at about 6:00.

I was oddly distressed trying to choose an outfit since I couldn't find anything that seemed to go together across my two suitcases (despite the fact that I specifically packed items that coordinated into the same suitcases and next to each other within that suitcase to avoid this specific problem) and then once on the street was completely disoriented despite the fact that the subway was literally running overhead. I stopped and asked someone where the nearest stop was and he kindly pointed me in the right direction.

My second first impression: You can wear whatever you want here! No matter what I had thrown together, it would have been totally acceptable. I do not own any combination of clothes that could possibly out-weird what at least 10% of the population of New York City is wearing. I secretly patted myself on the back once again for undertaking a 'descending city' approach to reintigration: swapping one giant international city for another, then moving down in size and diversity to Philadelphia, before finally ending up in bucolic and uniform Seattle.

I met Jacob outside the subway and we proceeded to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant to eat pho (oh how I missed you, beef noodle soup) and loiter over animated conversation. We had two appetizers, a bowl of pho each, and a drink each, and the total was... $24. Awesome.

My third first impression/recollection: FREE WATER! As soon as we sat down to eat, they brought us glasses of water. Just like that. Jacob was cracking up at the genuine thrill I experienced in getting free, bottomless water. I took a sip, they filled it back up. No charge. Who cares if it's from the tap? Many times I would have preferred tap water in Argentina but you don't ever dare to ask for such a thing unless you're prepared for the wrath of a local waiter who can't believe what an idiot tourist you are, no matter how perfect your Spanish when you ask.

We then went to eat cannoli at Ferrara's (double yum) before going to meet my friend Kim from Buenos Aires and her boyfriend Avi who I was so happy to finally meet at his nearby Japanese restaurant, Blue Elm. The drinks were fabulous and we couldn't help but eat a little sushi off Kim's plate and order truffle-dusted french fries as well. HEINZ KETCHUP, don't ever force me to live without you again.

Avi got us a little drunk and by the time we were home it was somehow necessary to go to the local mini market for snacks. I rediscovered Munchi Mix and was sufficiently saturated in the "foods I forgot existed while abroad" category to go to bed afterward.

Side note: March 31, 2010 was my 6 year anniversary with Apex. Crazy!


I woke up surprisingly early, got some work done, but still was unable to muster the energy to leave the house. Hunger finally forced me out at 3, which allowed me to do some hard-core cultural observations. It's impossible not to ascribe meaning or significance to so many things, as well as not to compare them to where I just came from and where I'll be going.

The nice thing about Brooklyn is that it's as international as it gets. Most people here aren't even speaking English - Spanish (I love the beautiful Puerto Rican accent) and Russian actually seem to be the two most prevailing local languages, and even when people are speaking English I often don't realize it right away because of thick foreign or East coast accents.

Fourth first impression: people here have no interest in me, in a good way. I can walk by a group of men sitting on a sidewalk and they might say a polite hello - people smile here! - but they don't make any lewd remarks. The one comment I got all day was "que linda" - from a latino of course. But he said it so nicely I just had to smile.

I went to a Mexican restaurant that Jacob had recommended and it was pretty authentic in that everyone in there spoke Spanish. I communicated with my server exclusively in English. I paused to briefly reflect on why but it's a question I've asked and answered for myself so many times in years past that I just needed a brief reminder before moving on to the chips and salsa.

Fifth first impression: I examine American culture and American citizens much more diligently - and judge it and us much more harshly - than any other culture. I did spend a lot of my lunch hour wondering about the why behind that one as I sat judging a woman who was completely ignoring her screaming 2-year-old in order to chit chat with her friend. She then ordered the baby french fries to shut him up, letting him chase each fry with a sugary sip of soda.

I think it's because this is the culture I come from and belong to, which makes me partially responsible for it. And, as a part of the whole, it reflects back on me as a person. So I hold us to higher standards as a culture because I hold myself to high standards as a person.

Luckily my food coma set in after eating chicken mole and I was able to enjoy the sunshiney walk back to the apartment without many more deep thoughts, just a wistful, watchful eye to the fascinating community that I very randomly happened to be walking through on April Fool's Day 2010, the second-worst non-holiday on the calendar. (Prize to anyone who can guess the worst.)

p.s. No photos labeled yet. Coming soon I promise. As is a dedication post about my friends in Argentina that I would be remiss not to write.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back to the Estados! I look forward to your arrival here on the west coast.

AmberAnda said...

Bienvenidos a los EEUU! I'm so happy to hear that you have been striking a nice balance of seeing friends, resting, working, and eating a lot of delicious food.