Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mis Piernas

I know you’ve had a lot of my men stories here in BA, but I had such an odd male encounter the other day that I just have to share it with you.

This past weekend, I ended up having a fun filled night with a new friend who was a hoot. So much of a hoot that the next day when I was going to meet her for a late lunch, I was a certified disaster. My muscles ached from laughing, my throat was sore from yelling and my head still throbbed from the wine, beer and lord knows what other concoctions I had ingested well into the morning.

A mess.

And of course, a kind of late to meet her mess. And of course not knowing where the hell I was going and of course not able to find two brain cells to rub together to actually look at a map kind of mess. So I grabbed a taxi and told the driver my destination in Spanish. He soon asked me where I am from, the usual banter I am forced to engage in with the taxistas of Buenos Aires.

But this one is different.

He starts pouring on the flirt with a heavy hand. I have been living here long enough that I am used to a charming Argentine man who hands out compliments like a man handing out dollar bills in Vegas. So I just play along as best I can, operating on whatever intellectual fumes I have left from the night before. It wasn’t easy, my Spanish sputtering like the Ladas I had seen in Cuba the week before.

He loved it.

Then he started talking to me about my legs. "Tus piernas!" he exclaimed. At every stoplight, he turned around and directed his comments about my body, my face, my everything to my legs. Now don’t get me wrong, I run, I bike and all that crap. I have nice legs. But talking to my legs? Over the top.

We arrive at my destination and as I am rummaging through my bag looking for my 20-peso note, he turns and asks me if I would have coffee with him. There is a pleading in his eyes that I am not sure I have ever seen in a man before.

Do you just shoot a wounded man or leave him dying?

If you’re Jill, you just let him die a slow death. I took his number.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Primer Mundo Blanca Chica

At the core of being a first world white girl is having freedom. The life I am living right now is the embodiment of this idea. I am free to live in another country, go wherever I want, talk to whoever I want, and say just about anything I want. I have all of these liberties because of where I was born as well as some other socio-economic things that stem from where I come from. I am not the only one lucky enough to have this… chances are if you are reading this you probably are too.

Part of my adventures has been traveling in Latin America, so I recently went on a trip to one of the only places in the world the US government forbids me to go (well not directly, but they cut off my ability to legally spend money there so that basically makes it very difficult), Cuba.

First off, Cuba is beautiful. The weather is fantastic, the beaches are stunning and the people are incredibly friendly. I met tons of Cubans who opened their hearts and homes to me, fed me and plied me with beer while they told me about their lives and their dreams. For many of them, they feel trapped. Trapped on a beautiful island in the middle of the sea, left to only dream about the places they see in movies.

Juan, a taxi driver I met, asked me, “Is New York City like the movies or better?” “Oh Juan,” I responded, “Even better.” I explained to him about the rhythm of the people, the giant buildings everywhere, the smells of the food in the streets, the sounds of the cars and the voices and the never-ending streets of stores with anything and everything you could dream of. It made me miss New York, to miss America, and to feel bad that this 35 year-old man did not have the choice to go and see with his own eyes the myths and realities of a piece of my home.

Juan wasn’t the only one. I met a group of Cuban guys who wanted to take me out to lunch and when we tried, we were turned away at a restaurant in La Habana Vieja. The owner of the place yelled at my newfound friend, “No, I won’t have a foreigner in here… I don’t want trouble from the police.”

So we ended up in the countryside, taking an old dusty enclosed pickup truck with the rest of the locals to a relaxed place away from the prying eyes of the police. Giovanni, Jose and Yohan all told me about their lives, about how they dreamed and hoped for a better life. I tried to explain to them, just as I had tried to explain to Victoria in Peru about the price you pay for the other life. “Yes,” Giovanni responded, “But at least you have the choice.”

He was right on that one.

As sad as I am about their lack of freedom, there is something to appreciate about their lives. The people stop and chat, they have the time to hear your story, to ask questions about where you have been, to stop and talk to a neighbor. Life is about the most basic of elements, since there is not really anything else. I can’t really make a judgment though, since I am free to choose my life and most Cubans are not.

Not everyone in Cuba was critical of life under the regime. Many supported the Revolution and the Castros. I spent one afternoon talking to a beautifully talented musician, Julian, who say it best, “En tu mente eres libre” … in your mind you are free.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Being A Foreigner

The other day I went to look at an apartment (my roommate is moving South, which sadly means that I have to move too). Before I went to look, I emailed and spoke with a guy about the place. All of our interactions were in Spanish and when we met, he asked, "Where are you from? I can tell you are a foreigner because of your accent."

That comment about my damn accent (which I am told is cute, although I don’t believe it all) reminded me how obvious it is to others that I am a foreigner.

I know it. Looking at that apartment, there was just something I could not fully understand about the situation, the place, the people. Conversation would not bring me answers. I decided I couldn’t take the place because I couldn’t get the situation or the people… it was like trying to read a book in Russian to me.

This happens when you are a foreigner. Things and cues that may be obvious in your home country are just not available to you when you are in the middle of something. Sometimes its the language sometimes its the onda. Look, there is an entire tense in Spanish to talk about things you want but may never get and this impacts how people interrelate.

At the end of the day, soy una extranjera.

With this label comes the ignorance of not always realizing how deaf, dumb and blind I am to local customs and sometimes utterly failing to know when I have contorted them to their outermost limits and offended someone. If you know me and know even a morsel about Latin America, you know I have done this.

For example, there is my brazen indifference to my femaleness that is a regular feature of my blog and my life in Latin America. Here’s another example of it: I have a friend, a Brazilian woman. She is in her late 20’s and still lives with her parents and she is deathly terrified of walking to and from the gym at night alone in her neighborhood. Mind you, she is not living in the Buenos Aires equivalent of the Bronx, it’s probably closer to Long Island City.

I, of course, find this completely nuts. Is this because I have no idea really how safe or unsafe it is? Or is this because my definition of sketchy is worlds apart from a Brazilian one? Or maybe it is because I wouldn’t even know Latin American sketchy til’ it stabbed my gringa ass?

I’ll take option number three.

The good thing about being a foreigner is that people will just forgive and forget most of your transgressions. Aside from my femaleness, my other issues seem to be my punctuality (although I am learning how to be a half hour late to EVERYTHING, it’s great), my inability to stay up until 5 am and live on four hours of sleep and my severe resistance to underwear that is the size of an eye patch.

At least I have that accent to charm them, right?