Archive for the 'Celebrations/Holidays' Category
Sunday, March 1, 2009
When we arrived in Ollantaytambo, an ancient village nestled in the Sacred Valley that’s been continuously inhabited since Inca times, we noticed a white station wagon ambling down the road. Its windshield was crusted in flowers, and it left a plume of toilet paper and colorful confetti in its wake. Later that afternoon we stumbled upon the village church, a white adobe beauty with old church bells. As we creeped through the massive front doors we stepped upon a blanket of confetti littering the courtyard. Inside, the pews were lined with fresh flowers that had been affixed to the ends of each aisle, with enough tape to withstand hurricane-force winds. We continued down the cobbled streets, watching in amazement as two men cradled an enormous pot of something. Then we saw the arch of pink and white balloons gracing a crowded doorway. All the signs were there: a wedding reception was in progress.
We curiously ducked our heads in the doorway, and within seconds were greeted by a man with deep pink eyes where the whites should have been. He looked as if was having a very good time. “Is it a wedding?” we asked. “Yes, please, come in, come in,” he encouraged. We looked nervously back and forth between one another, debating as to whether we should continue, but before we had a chance to respond, we were being passed through the crush of villagers to the front of the packed room. Rows of men, women, and children sat shoulder to shoulder on simple benches wearing everyday clothes in the dimly lit reception hall, and by the time we arrived to the clearing in the front of the room, all eyes were on us. Nearly the entire population of Ollantaytambo must have been there. We were officially Peruvian Wedding Crashers.
We found ourselves standing squarely in front of the head table, the bride and groom seated directly before us. I noticed that the couple was older. The bride was wearing a simple white wedding dress, with a veil and confetti sprinkling her coal hair, which was pulled back from her smooth, round, solemn face. Her husband was dressed in a simple navy suit and he sat to her right, looking equally serious. Two more men and women flanked their sides, dressed in casual business attire. What appeared to be the couple’s family sat in benches to the immediate left and right of the head table, and before someone offered us their seats, we ducked into the nearest doorway.
That doorway turned out to be the service entrance, and we watched wait staff clad in jeans and cozy sweaters parade enormous platters of drinks and dreamy pink wafer cookies through the opening. First came the chicha, a classic Peruvian firewater, served in tiny plastic Dixie cups; the servers insisted we each take one, which we happily accepted. A band played in the background, four men dressed a la Jefferson Starship in bright blue, sparkly tops and pants with silver cuffs. They were playing rousing renditions of nouveau Andean music, but the crowd sat completely still, in total silence, never clapping after the songs. It was a very strange paradox.
After a few enthusiastic songs, champagne glasses filled to the brim with agolden chica were served to the head table, and the speeches began. During one of the speeches we learned the couple already had two girls – they must have been the ones running around in frilly white dresses. No one clapped after the speeches. A round of pisco sours were served, and the wait staff coaxed us once again to drink up. I could swear that the groom made direct eye contact with me; I smiled and raised my glass to him. He did the same.
Next came the bouquet toss, and the band called for all the single girls to come to the front of the reception hall. Only one girl, dressed in a pink T-shirt and jeans, reluctantly made her way to the empty circle in front of the head table. The band leader called again for all the single girls, and she was eventually joined by a small clutch of young women. The bride stood with her back to the girls, limply holding the bouquet in her hand. “Uno,” called the band leader, the trill of a drumroll in the background. “Dooooooos,” he said, in his most high-pitched voice. “Dos y media. Trrrrrrrrres!” She didn’t throw the bouquet. It was a psych out bouquet toss that the band leader and the bride had worked out in advance. Nobody laughed. They went through the motions again, and when the bouquet was finally tossed, there was no mad dash and screaming as would have transpired in the United States. Instead, it silently bounced off the girl in the pink shirt and landed at her feet. Everyone stared blankly at it. No one would pick it up, so the band leader staged a redo. The bouquet landed once again at pink shirt’s feet, which she reluctantly picked up and shyly showed to the crowd. Nobody clapped.
The same routine transpired with the single men, but instead of a garter, a sprig of white flowers was thrown; the men were slightly less reluctant than the women. Afterwards, the bride and groom danced with the young man and woman who had caught the bouquet and flowers. It was not unlike something you might see at a junior high school dance. The couples awkwardly shifted to and fro across the dance floor, staring vacantly over the shoulder of one another at some far away point on the ceiling that only they could see, never making eye contact.
After the dancing, frosty Cusquena beers in amber bottles were produced from plastic crates and passed amongst the crowd. Now the head table had a tidy row of chica, pisco sours, and beer placed in front of them. Mr. Jefferson Starship announced something, which caused a group of young women to race towards the wedding cake, a fluffy white thing sitting below an ancient sign framed by two swans which read, Nuestra Boda. Our wedding. It was then that I noticed the decorations, or lack thereof. Some flowers were taped to the walls of the hall within an inch of their life (clearly, whoever was responsible for the décor at the church had continued their rein here). A few streamers clung to railings. The cake was topped with a western bride and groom, but a golden llama eclipsed the plastic couple in the foreground. There was no photographer. In fact, hardly any of the guests had cameras. This was no Martha Stewart extravaganza. More than anything, it seemed to be a community affair, a gathering of people assembled to wish this newlywed couple well. Everyone was invited. Even us.
To the crowd’s delight, some sort of a string was pulled from the cake. Then, the cake was cut, yielding massive slices for the bride and groom, who promptly proceeded to smear icing all over each other’s faces. Some things are universal. Just then, the now-bulging crowd parted, as four men supporting massive trays that cradled giant bowls snaked their way towards the head table. It was soup: this was what was inside that giant pot that those men had been parading through the streets earlier in the afternoon. Soon, bowls were passed to everyone in the hall, containing the most delicious creamy corn soup I had ever laid eyes upon. Bowls were passed to us, but we politely declined. The feast was just beginning, and we couldn’t impose any longer.
As we pushed our way back through the masses, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible (impossible), we were greeted by our “friend”, his eyes looking more red than ever. He encouraged us to stay, but we thanked him for letting us be a part of this experience, the kindness of strangers never failing to amaze. There is a time in my life, in the not-too-distant past, where going blindly into an experience like this would have completely terrified me. But I found myself saying “yes,” walking happily into the unknown, glad to be invited to be part of something very simple and very sweet.4 comments
Saturday, February 14, 2009
We didn’t notice Valentine’s Day was upon us until yesterday, when someone reminded us it was Friday the 13th, the latter being a far more significant day when you’re traveling around the world (because I am highly superstitious, I made sure to generously tip the guy whose arduous job it is to tag my luggage and transfer it two feet onto the bus’s baggage hold). “Tomorrow must be Valentine’s Day,” I said, having completely forgotten without the help of my friends at Hallmark to give me an insistently polite tap on the shoulder every day for the last two months. (We are, ironically, in the chocolate capital of South America, and I spotted just one heart-shaped box in the store windows.) “What are you going to get me,” I purred to Maikael. “A trip across the Chilean border,” he responded.
Today won’t be filled with cloying cards, mounds of hearts, romantic dinners, or poetic declarations of love. Instead, we’ll load a crowded bus bound for Chile, our forth and final crossing between the two countries, leaving behind the steak dinners, malbec, tango, and poor service for good. Tomorrow will entail another bus ride and two flights bound for Lima, Peru. The next day will bring another flight to Cusco, bringing our days-in-a-row traveled to four. The closest we’ll come to celebrating will be the dinner we enjoyed last night with our Canadian friends, Yvonne, Nira, and Nicole, who we met on the bus from Bariloche and have enjoyed spending the last five days with. As we scooped up decadent spoonfuls of dessert just after midnight, Nira noted that it was officially Valentine’s Day, and we commemorated the moment with this photo. We’re nothing if not jaded.
So while you’re passing a lazy Valentine’s Day with your sweetie, think of us on the bus to Chile. At least we’ll spend the day together. Oh, wait, that’s every day. Just eat a chocolate for me, okay?4 comments
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
After the frenzied pace of Bariloche we decided to head south and chill out for a few days in El Bolson, a hippy dippy hangout set against a backdrop of sweeping mountains and dusty farmland. El Bolson translates as “The Big Bag,” so named for the towering valley walls that surround the town. But El Bolson also means big bags of artisan beer (nearly 75% of the country’s hops are produced here). Big bags of jewel-like berries, which are made into concoctions ranging from beer and conserves to pies and shakes. Big bags of the iconic and inventive Jauja ice cream, whose modest, flagship storefront boast flavors like dulce de leche with blackberry, calafate with goat’s milk, mate, local raspberry with marscapone, and rose hips. And big bags of South American backpackers. Lots and lots of bum backpackers.
My dad wrote me a brief email about El Bolson, stating that the town was a hippy hangout in the 60s. As far as I can tell, nothing’s really changed in 50 years. Gangs of backpackers maraud about the town, sporting “I Dream of Jeanie” pants, untamed dreadlocks, disheveled clothes, filthy feet, beaded jewelry, and tattoos. They set up camp in the town plaza, shanty towns of tents and drum circles. “I’ve never seen so many mullets and rat tails in my life,” observed Yvonne, one of the three Canadian women we met on the bus from Bariloche who served as our companions during our time in El Bolson.
Maikael and I spent an entire morning on a green park bench lining the plaza, making bets as to who were the real bum backpackers and who were the rich kids pretending to be bum backpackers. As we were doing so, a gangly hipster backpacker, wearing a too-tight T-shirt and a dingy hoodie, walked briskly towards us, looking slightly strung out. He said something too fast, something I couldn’t understand, and was gone as quickly as he had come. I asked Maikael to translate. “I think he asked me if we had any nuts,” responded Maikael, perplexed. “Like, as in walnuts?” I asked. “Yeah, I think so,” said Maikael. Our immediate thought was that “nuts” must be an Argentine bum backpacker code word for drugs. We watched to see if he asked anyone else for “nuts,” but he breezed by the couple with three kids and kept speed walking (no pun intended) through the plaza. Yeah, “nuts” definitely weren’t nuts.
Within minutes, a cute, petite young backpacker skipped up to us, and in her sweetest voice asked, “Hola, chicos, would you like to buy some nuts?” “No, thank you!” we responded cheerily. We exchanged a look of genuine surprise, beginning to wonder if there was a nut conspiracy in town, and watched her make her way around the plaza, heading straight for a family having a picnic in the corner. We craned our necks to see the transaction. She zipped open her backpack, producing plastic baggies of…nuts.
In order to make money, bum backpackers engage in all manner of money-making activities, from hocking handmade jewelry to, apparently, selling nuts. There is a great deal of chocolate produced in the area, requiring, I suppose, vast quantities of fresh nuts. (Later that afternoon, we noticed a sign in a chocolate shop that stated, “We buy nuts.”) It’s the perfect bum backpacker job, requiring zero overhead and 100% profit. Bum backpackers also have a penchant for earning a living as street performers. In other words, there are a lot of clowns in El Bolson, some better than others. A tightrope was constructed in the town plaza, and a garage band played on the sidewalk, all the members donning red clown noses. One guy was pretty talented, carrying out his clown act in front of Jauja and garnering a bulging crowd (I’m not sure how much money he netted, but it was enough to buy an ice cream cone when the show was over). Another bum backpacker, who was considerably older, decided to earn some pesos by contorting his body into yoga-esque shapes. Looks of horror washed across the faces of the crowd as he hitched up his soiled sweatpants, the elastic long gone, between poses.
Perhaps the greatest draw to this hippy haven is the artisan market, one of the largest and most famous in Argentina. Although the town only numbers 18,000 residents, over 320 registered vendors hock their wares, ranging from organic greens to chess sets depicting battles between the Spanish and Mapuche indians, three times a week under canopies surrounding the plaza. The only stipulation is that all products must be handmade, from the roquefort empanadas to the knitted rastafarian hats. I fawned over leather purses and hand-carved wooden journals and drooled over mammoth wheels of local cheese and the largest Easter lilies I’d ever seen. In the end we settled on homemade Belgian waffles, each square filled with shiny, just-picked berries with a smattering of cream and powdered sugar atop. We washed it down with fresh raspberry juice, the ruby seeds settled at the bottom of the giant glass, for US$1.25. Then we sampled local chocolate, creamy corn empanadas, sweet boysenberries, and a Patagonian lamb sandwich, the delicately spiced meat tucked between soft pillows of homemade bread, reveling in the bounty.
The bum backpackers were in heaven, too, making a killing on their bohemian wares and capturing legions of fans in a poor man’s Battle of the Bands. Everyone was happy in The Big Bag.No comments
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
We knew we would hit Argentina at the peak of tourist season – we just didn’t consider that nearly all the tourists would be Argentine.
While the northern hemisphere is currently dodging snowflakes and bundled in layers of wool, Argentina’s cities are emptying, their residents seeking refuge in places like The Lake District, where cooler climes, verdant forests, and glittering blue lakes provide the perfect getaway for summer’s swan song. There are dozens of resort communities that dot the lakes, the season transforming sleepy hamlets into towns buzzing with activity…and bursting at the seams with masses of humanity.
We began our Lake District adventure in Bariloche, Argentina’s quintessential summer fun center. Originally settled as a German colony, Bavarian-style buildings grace a town ringed by deep woods, looking like a postcard from the Black Forest. At least, that’s how it probably used to look. What’s immediately apparent is that Bariloche has grown too big, too fast. The town’s central avenue is a mile-long strip of shops screaming for your attention, from tacky souvenir kiosks to the upscale chocolatiers that Bariloche is famous for. It’s also clear that the tourists are as diverse as the stores. Well-heeled portenos throw their pesos at decadent steak dinners, flowing heavily with velvety malbec, and cushy boat tours. Hotel Llao Llao, Argentina’s most iconic resort hotel, sits perched on the edge of a glistening lake, offering rooms and food as decadent as the views. Meanwhile, the emaciated, grungy South American backpackers, toting Doite backpacks, Quechua tents and spewing pitchouli in their wake, lounge in various states of repose in any available public space, crafting hemp bracelets, smoking heavily, and sharing vast quantities of mate.
It’s interesting that a town like Bariloche brings these two factions together, like some sort of battleground state. As an international tourist, it was a curious place to be in: we didn’t belong to either group, so we floated between both. During the days we took long, sunny hikes with the backpackers, summiting towering peaks that provided incomparable views of the jewel box lakes below, spread over the land like a collection of sparkling, sapphire rings. We spent our evenings in the midst of the portenos enjoying some of Argetina’s finest cuisine, the usual standbys of steak and pasta executed with exceptional skill, all washed down with regional red wines. Bariloche also offers Northern Patagonian specialties, including local lake trout, grapefruit-colored salmon, and tender lamb (and every shape of ravioli you can imagine stuffed with these succulent meats and fish). German dishes abound, with menus touting goulash with spatzel and buttery kuchen for dessert. After rich fondue and glasses of ruby wine, we groaned heavily as we walked home at midnight after dinner, back on Argentime.
Regardless of financial circumstances, Bariloche is one big cream puff, a South American Disneyland that offers escapism from everyday life. It’s a hard town to take too seriously. Between eating and shopping and lounging on the lake shore, every evening erupted into a flurry of activity. The Tren de Alegria, the Happiness Train, rumbled through town, a giant, cheery grin slapped on the face of the engine. People from all walks of life gathered around the impromptu bands that assembled on the sidewalks and squares, as electric tango and homegrown tunes drifted through the night. We giggled as one particularly good band, a group of men donning zany wigs, crazy clothes, and women’s dresses, captured a whole crowd’s attention with their music. A woman with purple butterfly wings weaved through the group blowing bubbles, as a band of kids danced like maniacs. A man with six improvised arms and faded pink leggings skirted the crowd, surprising people from behind. The backpackers were there. The portenos were there. Even we fit in.1 comment
Friday, January 9, 2009
What do you know about Uruguay?
Chances are, not much. I know I certainly didn’t. Cast off in a largely forgotten corner of South America as the continent’s smallest Spanish-speaking country, a thumbnail of land sandwiched between giants Brazil and Argentina, it hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves as a tourist destination. Most visitors, if they make it here at all, head to Colonia for a day trip from Buenos Aires, or hit the souped up beach resort of Punta del Este, which people joke is a suburb of Argentina. Indeed, nearly 50% of all Uruguayan tourists hail from Argentina, but even a brief introduction to the country indicates that Uruguay is one hour but light years away from its tony neighbor.
We began our whirlwind tour of Uruguay in Colonia, opting to stay the night rather than make the typical day trip. A former Portuguese outpost, the town is postcard perfect, offering shady, tree-lined streets; rows of tidy, colorful buildings; stretches of rough-hewn, cobblestone streets that edge towards the water; and total peace and quiet. It was hard to believe that we were only an hour from the honking and buzzing of Buenos Aires.
I immediately noticed that Uruguay is a cultural blend of its neighboring Argentina and Brazil. With Argentina they share their Italian heritage; the gaucho culture, South America’s maverick cowboys; and a curious penchant for mate (pronounced “mah-tay”). This was a custom that I previously associated with Argentina, but its roots seem to run deeper in Uruguay. Mate, a bitter herbal tea, is meant to be shared, a cup often passed between friends, whiling away a lazy afternoon. Uruguayans tote their own mate cups around everywhere, filled to the brim with a bright green concoction of herbs, a thermos loaded with hot water and tucked under their arms to facilitate easy refills throughout the day. Mate cups look like a hollow gourd, a slender metal “straw” resting on the side. Street vendors sell mate accoutrement, from cup holders to metal “tripods” to brushes to clean the straws, and it’s the only place I’ve been in the world where you can purchase new thermos lids on a street corner. Montevideo’s beaches are crammed to the gills with mate-toting locals on a Saturday afternoon, and toy stores sell “My First Mate” sets for kids.
The influence of Brazil is felt in Uruguay’s musical traditions. After the day trippers emptied out of Colonia, we had the town to ourselves for an evening. As we strolled towards dinner in the waning light, bemoaning our recent turn of bad luck, I heard a rhythmic beat pulsing nearby. “Oh god,” I groaned, “not a drum circle.” Suddenly, from around a corner, a flash of red and white appeared, swooping to and fro. A noisy procession of people was making their way down the street, a cadre of energetic samba dancers followed by a clutch of exuberant drummers, led by a young guy waving a gigantic flag. It was a candombe, an informal street dance that erupts in neighborhoods, usually on the weekends.
We watched the mass slowly shimmy their way down the street, and I was most impressed by the elderly man and woman who shook their rumps while wielding canes. This type of procession is something I’ve always associated with carnaval and Brazil, but I’ve had a serious education since arriving in Uruguay. Candombes take place year-round, although things heat up around carnaval as groups intensify their practice sessions in anticipation of the real deal. And while we’ve come to associate carnaval with Brazil, the celebration takes place all over South America, with major events in Bolivia and Colombia. I just had no idea that Montevideo’s carnaval, a 100-plus-year tradition, was so huge.
My education continued at the Museo del Carnaval in Montevideo, a repository of artifacts and knowledge related to the city’s strong carnaval tradition. We were lucky enough to catch an English-speaking tour, led by the passionate Vicente, which provided strong insight into the carnaval experience. Much like Mardi Gras, carnaval is a grand party that precedes Lent (the only difference being that carnaval lasts 40 days rather than one drunken week). But the first seeds were planted nearly 200 years ago, when Africans from Angola and Congo found their way to Uruguay, typically as slaves. At that time nearly 70% of the population was Black, compared to the 5% of present day. The Spanish didn’t allow the Africans to practice their traditions inside Montevideo’s city walls, so they moved outside to play their music, often shackled at the ankles. It was here that candombe was born, a shuffling wave of song and dance that paraded through the streets.
Eventually, the secular and nonsecular united, the traditions of African celebration combining with the religious ideals brought forth by the Spanish. Candombes were traditionally led not by someone carrying a flag but a broom, used to “sweep away” any evil spirits that might be lurking. Next in the procession came two people, one carrying a moon and the other the sun. Then were the figures of “mother” and “father,” the mother wearing a flouncy, colorful dress and the father bedecked in a stodgy black suit, carrying a doctor’s bag crammed with herbs. Next came the dancers, and finally the drummers.
Vincente showed us the largest drum to ever be carried in a candombe procession. It weighed 10 kilograms, and the drummer propped it on his knees for hours as he paraded through the streets, all for the chance to win a big bottle of wine and a place in the history books. The original drummer returned to the museum last year: his knees are still scarred 30 years later. Vicente proudly showed us some of his own “war wounds.” “This one’s from January sixth,” he told us, pointing to a scarlet gash on the side of his finger. “You get hurt, but it’s a sacrifice. You don’t feel the pain while you’re playing. Not until after.”
Something I didn’t know about carnaval is that the candombe is only one part of the celebration. Murgas are also important, essentially theatrical performance that take place in hundreds of massive, hand-made stages all over town.
Modern day carnavals also place a huge emphasis on floats – but this is no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Vicente complained that carnaval had become increasing commercial over the years, and the city was trying to get back to its roots. There is a huge influence on delivering a social message through carnaval, the result of which placed a significant damper on the event during the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s. Now, the museum is educating people on how to make their own floats out of recycled materials, emphasizing that carnaval is the people’s parade in which imagination trumps money. (For those Seattleites out there, think Fremont Solstice celebration.) The museum displays an amazing variety of hand-made costumes, papier mache figures, and floats, all born out of the human spirit of ingenuity. A Hugo Chavez mask took centerstage. “We like to make fun of political figures,” Vicente said, “including our own. We haven’t made an Obama mask…yet!”
Despite its similarities to its neighbors, Uruguay is just different enough to feel distinct. Milk comes in plastic bags, the mechanics of which baffle us. Chivito sandwiches are all the rage. The people are super friendly and laid-back, and with a capital city of only 1.5 million people, everything feels small and cozy. Rolling into Montevideo a few days ago, I felt like I did when I arrived in Portugal, that I had discovered a unique corner of the world that wasn’t overrun by tourists.
We met two older ladies on a sidewalk in Colonia one evening. They had propped themselves up in battered lawn chairs next to their apartment building, a common sight in Uruguay, and before we knew it we were telling them our tales of woe from the past week. The next day we found them in much the same position, as if they had never gone to sleep, and our conversation continued. We covered a variety of topics, from global warming to the ills of texting. I was floored that they had been to Montevideo, nearly three hours away, but had never been to Buenos Aires, visible from the very spot they were sitting. They seemed equally surprised that two young people wanted to take the time to chat with them. “Most young people, they are too busy.” The more talkative of the two summed up Uruguay’s mate culture best. “The most important thing in life is to take it easy and to get to know people.” If we weren’t running late for our bus, I’m pretty sure she would have passed the mate cup right then and there. We bid them a long goodbye, promising to return one day. “We’ll be right here, waiting!” they shouted after us. I hope so.No comments
Thursday, January 1, 2009
With its big city party culture, Buenos Aires promised to be the perfect place to ring in the new year, but our plans for an exciting, action-packed New Year’s Eve fell through at the last minute. “What do people do for New Year’s here?” we asked Betty, our hostess at the Casa de los Angelitos. As it turns out, not much. Most people spend the evening with family or friends at home, which seemed strange to me. Don’t Argentines party at any given opportunity? But that’s just the problem. They are so accustomed to late night revelry – remember, this is a country where the clubs don’t open until 2:30 am – that the idea of staying up until midnight seems a little pedestrian. Without a home to go to for New Year’s, we decided to make our own party. We considered seeing a tango show, but soon discovered that most of them were closed for the holiday, and most restaurants proved to be the same case, too. Finding ourselves still without plans at 5 pm, we decided to celebrate how we normally do: by spending a quiet evening at home over take-out and a bottle of wine.
We made a pilgrimage to the grocery store for wine and little bottle of champagne, then marched around the corner to El Espanol, which has quickly become our neighborhood joint. It’s the kind of place where you see the same people every day at lunch, and where the waiters are quickly beginning to recognize our faces. We’re usually the only foreigners there, a feat at the height of tourist season. All of their pastas, pizzas, and breads are made in-house, behind an expansive window where you can watch the bakers in little red vests feed dough into a complex series of machines like yeasty mad scientists. This was my home away from home in Buenos Aires, so I could think of no better place to order my New Year’s Eve dinner.
I needed some comfort food. I was feeling down, this holiday season having been a big disappointment from beginning to end. I placed a few New Year’s Eve phone calls to friends, which made me feel better. By the time I finished my calls it was 11:30 pm, and we made our way down to the lovely patio, which was emptied of guests who were out at parties of different varieties of crazy. We heated up our pizza and pasta (it would have felt less pathetic if we could have brought it straight home, piping hot, but the restaurant closed at 9 pm, and nobody eats dinner that early in Buenos Aires) and began to discuss the New Year. Usually we hash out some New Year’s resolutions, reflecting on how we’d like our life to be different in the coming months, but this year has been one big resolution, where a conversation like this takes place at least once a day. Instead, we discussed the things were were grateful to be throwing out from 2008, and the things we were looking forward to welcoming in 2009.
Goodbye, 2008. We’re glad that we’re done spending all of our time and money planning an epic journey. We’re glad to be rid of fear and old patterns. Hello, 2009. We’re looking forward to new dreams, new gardens, new challenges, and a new way of being in the world. We’re looking forward to getting back to our everyday lives.
As we were talking quietly amongst ourselves, a girl from a neighboring building dashed out onto her balcony. “Woo, woo!” she yelled. Then, the crash of fireworks began. “It must be New Year’s,” Maikael said. Although my watch said 11:57, it was midnight according to the portenos. What began as a solo performance soon developed into a full-blown symphony of noise. There is no official fireworks show in Buenos Aires, but you’d never know otherwise if you craned your neck skyward. Lights showered from above, as booms and crackles roared through the city. The cacophony was doubled by the portenos throwing open their doors and blasting music from anemic stereos. The show continued until past one, a heavy cloud of spent fireworks having settled over the city. With lax controls, the New Year was ushered in by the loudest firecrackers I’ve ever heard. “Those have to be bigger than M-80s,” Maikael said at one point. The next morning, our hosts assured us this was an unusual year. “Usually the fireworks go until five. But with the economic crisis, I guess people aren’t buying as many.”
We flopped into bed as the last fireworks fizzled out, forgetting to even crack open our bottle of champagne. The next morning we discovered that someone had polished it off, which somehow seemed like a fitting end to this dismal holiday season. Who knows where we’ll ring in 2010, or how the circumstances of our lives will have changed yet again. But I hope I’m surrounded by the people I care about – and I’m banking on the fact that the fireworks won’t be nearly as loud.3 comments