The idea of living abroad became a topic of conversation between Joe and I over a year ago. I was encouraged by a friends’ girlfriend, Emily, who lived in Argentina after college. Her experience gave me some confidence, but more than anything, a blueprint to justify the trip. Joe’s excitement about living abroad in the fall of senior year kept me motivated to hatch out a plan. Before we drew up any details, Kelsey and Matt said they were interested in living abroad too. I lobbied for Argentina, and I’m pretty sure my efforts swayed no one. Living in Argentina sold itself.
Commitment is never easy. My college friends couldn’t always commit to the same bar on a Saturday night, let alone a plan to move to a foreign country. After a January weekend at Kelsey’s Vermont house, no promises were made, but a sense of excitement—perhaps possibility is a better word—stayed with us. It wasn’t until last June that we definitely knew the trip was happening. To me, it was our commitment to each other over several months that gave our journey a remarkable beginning.
As I’m writing my last post about Buenos Aires from up in the sky, somewhere over South America, it’s difficult to find the right words to describe the last nine months. I fell in love with a city and its way of life. Many times people asked me if I prefer New York or Buenos Aires, and—perhaps like many city comparisons—I find the question to be unanswerable. You can’t compare them because they are one-of-a-kind cities.
Buenos Aires embraces youth. One night while walking on the huge, Avenida 9 de Julio, I saw a grandfather and his grandson walking hand in hand at 2am. They both seemed so happy just to be going for a walk. The moment symbolized Argentina’s approach towards age: don’t let it affect your bed time. Stay out late, whether you’re 80 or 8, and figure out life and its worries tomorrow. Matt summed up Porteños very well last week. “They don’t live for their jobs,” which he meant in a complimentary way. There’s more to life outside the office. Perhaps it sounds dreamy, and to Americans and tourists it probably is. Unfortunately, it’s a feeling you can only grasp after living in BA for a long time. It’s no myth.
Argentina’s problems aren’t a fantasy either. The list of issues is lengthy and too long to write about here. But despite its flaws, Buenos Aires is a city to dream big. Whether its magnificent, old architecture or a new entrepreneur’s creativity, BA is the lab of big ideas—Los Bosques come to mind. It’s a place where people take risks. I found that out personally.
By mid-November, it was clear teaching wasn’t working well for me. I took an internship at a walking tours company before Thanksgiving, and became a marketing intern. I knew nothing of marketing. My bank account had dwindled considerably by November and I gave up some English classes—my only real income—to take the internship paying $150 pesos a week. The only thing that swayed me to take the internship was a sense of honesty from my boss, Alan. It was a commitment bounded by trust between, frankly, strangers. Alan offered me a full time position at BuenosTours in January and it completely changed my experience in Buenos Aires. Over the months, Alan, my co-workers Isabel and Quincy and I became a great team. I looked forward to work (and the pan de queso/frutigrams). I miss you guys already. Let me know when you hire the next meat correspondent—big expectations!
Aside from one obvious improvement, a salary, my job made life in BA so much more creative. My job beckoned me to explore the city, find interesting things and write about them in a compelling way. I once walked around downtown Buenos Aires just to find the places where Jorge Luis Borges—Argentina’s most famous author and a favorite of mine—worked and lived. It was one of the best days of my time in BA, even with the extreme, January humidity. I left the BuenosTours office with a smile on my face most days, and that’s because Alan, Quincy and Isabel were so upbeat and happy everyday.
A couple weeks ago, I was describing my mixed feelings about coming home to Tere, and she found an ideal metaphor. I told her I didn’t want to leave, that the life I wanted in Buenos Aires seemed to just have started since my trip to Patagonia. Time was flying and I didn’t want to leave. Tere said it was like I made a big sandwich over the past months, and I had been nibbling at the crusts for awhile, and I was just making my way towards the center of the sandwich, packed with all the best stuff. I laughed off her analogy, but in hindsight, she knew exactly how to describe my feelings. Tere and I have had a complicated time together, but I will always appreciate our willingness to tell each other everything, and listen to each other. I’ll miss our walks in the park. The sandwich only got better the longer I lived in Buenos Aires.
I’m partly grateful for my Argentine friends because I know what life was like without them. Frankly, boring. Once you know what life is like without someone or something, you appreciate them or it so much more. That’s true anywhere, but especially in Argentina, where acts of generosity go beyond anything I’ve seen before. In Patagonia, with a rental car company trying to screw us over, our hostel’s owners, Javi and Naty, not only translated between the company’s reps and Matt, Joe and I, but they defended us for over an hour. It was an undeserved act of friendship—we hardly knew them—yet it symbolized the kindness I saw from expats and Argentines. When I needed a place to live after Patagonia, Sylvana offered me her couch—and social plans—for an incredible, New Years week. In February, Juan took about five seconds before saying, “Yes,” to letting me stay with his family for a week. He let me have his room. His family welcomed me like a long-lost cousin. Living with the Rovillard family was a week I’ll never forget. And Tuesday, when our landlord abruptly kicked us out well before we had to leave for the airport, Lucia invited Matt, Kelsey and I, and our copious luggage to her apartment. We ate our favorite empanadas and hilarious/crude/racist Louis CK videos. It was a great, impromptu goodbye. The list of kind acts go on, but they never seized to impress me.
Maybe the best example of the kindness I experienced came from my biggest struggle: Spanish. I never became fluent, and my Spanish-speaking friends knew I was never going to become fluent. But it didn’t stop them from teaching me a word here and there. They never seemed bothered by my Spanish questions or perturbed when I said something incorrectly that they had taught me for weeks. They remained loyal teachers throughout my time, encouraging me even when I sounded like a complete boludo. To Juan, Lali, Sylvana, Lucia, Juanca, Tere, Celu, and many others, I’m grateful for your help and friendship.
Through it all, from pronouncing “Guemes,” at Ezeiza to afternoons in Los Bosques to eating our last milanesas at Palermo Viejo Parrilla, I had Matt, Kelsey, Steph and Joe. They tolerated my clumsiness, unique sense of humor, guitar playing and love of avocados and pesto. Through the best and worst of times, I had you guys to come home to and talk to. It’s tough to part ways after so much time—and so many stories—together, but I know we’ll stay close. You’re all family to me.
I started this post on my flight home and I’m finishing it at home in Connecticut. It’s strange being back. Dinner lasted about 45 minutes last night. Our waitress came to our table at least five times to ask if we needed anything. We finished dinner at 7pm. My parents went to sleep at nine. The Yankees are on TV. The Wifi is great. The water pressure in the shower was amazing.
More importantly, it felt strange because I wasn’t in Buenos Aires. I wasn’t going down to the verduleria to get fruit and veggies, or Caesar’s for albondigas and alfajores. I didn’t pass by Cocu and eat chocolate croissants. I miss the wonderful ladies and sandwiches at La Francisca. I didn’t grab my guitar after work, go up to the terrace and look out over the Bosques and Rio—a view that means much more than a picture. It’s a view of the city that became a home— a home that will remind me of the great people who I will always keep in my mind and heart.