Monday, June 22, 2009

Nomadic Ways of Being

I am in DC this week and feeling a little bit nomad-like. My apartment that I own here is rented through the summer and I am relying on the kindness of friends and family along the eastern seaboard for shelter. A friend of mine and I decided that to call myself homeless was too flippant, so now I am using the moniker “domicially challenged” as to not offend the real homeless that wander around without the option of a home.

While meetings, social engagements and baseball have all been eating up my time, I haven’t had a ton of time to unwind. But when I push myself to the brink of exhaustion and need to unplug for a bit, I have been watching the amazing series by Ewan MacGregor called Long Way Round, which chronicles the story of Ewan and his buddy driving 20,000 miles across Europe, Asia and the US on motorcycles. It came out about 3 or 4 years ago and the moto crowd just dug it. I am not a motorcycle person, but can appreciate the idea of traveling exposed to the elements and the people (a la a bicycle) in a way that a car cannot even pretend to give you.

The other night in my mobile living room (aka my computer), Ewan and Charlie were schlepping through Mongolia. And I mean schlepping. Shitty roads no more than a jagged path of boulders with puddles bigger than a circus fat lady, accidents, and other scary stuff filled their days. When they were getting near the end of Mongolia, Ewan commented about how being nomadic was part of the culture in Mongolia and how there was something really nice about that freedom.

As a nomad, I can say it has its ups and downs. I enjoy the simplicity and variety of locations, something that I think Ewan was appreciating too. But sometimes you just wish for your own kitchen, your own routine and your own bed. I think this come from conditioning, however, since in the first world we are not raised to put our clothes and our houses on our back every few weeks to find the next bit of food or avoid a tribal skirmish.

The Mongolians are not alone as nomads. Throughout the third world, in the Middle East and parts of Africa people live in a constant state of movement often for reasons of food or environment. In most first world cultures, a nomadic lifestyle is not embraced or impossible. How could you possibly live as a nomad if you go shop at Macy’s every week? Economist Juliet Schor estimates that in 2004, Americans purchased an average of fifty-seven garments per year. Where are you possibly going to carry all that stuff you keep buying if you needed to pack it up and move on out?

And of course, since I am not buying this stuff, someone is buying my share too. Ouch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Good Air

Well, I woke up today missing Buenos Aires just terribly. Missing my friends, missing the onda of the city, missing wading into the chaos of a place that is mine and not mine all in an instant. Funny how a place looks from thousands of miles away...

Buenos Aires

Yellow taxis,
yellow walls,
yellow skin.

Damp crisp winter bites my bones.
Chunky crosswalks of thick white lines line the path home.

The glow of green lights goes up the boulevard as we barrel north.
The clatter on the radio calling cars to Chacarita, Cordoba, Corrientes.

Streets the span of a redwood tree
Cars shooting through the intersection like a rocket into space
Motorcycles flying like a shooting star through the cloudy nighttime sky.

Trees line the avenues,
Silent sentinels in bursts of dusty green and gold.
Collectivos screaming down the street
Every corner is a suicide mission to the other side.
The chaos of the city has its own rhythm and rhyme.
Heavy air tinged with the toxic waste exhaust of the cars
that clunk and fume into my open window.

The roaring of the motorcycles
The barking of the dogs
The crying of the children.

La gente, la gente, la gente there.
Living in the good air.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back to the Roots

I am in Florida this week, South Florida to be exact. Part of me feels like I am in Latin America here in Florida, which is sort of nice. There’s tons of Spanish everywhere and not just the service personnel, which is all too common up north.

Yesterday I went to the clubhouse where my mom lives to run on the treadmill. I briefly considered running outside but the hot, sticky air was clinging to me like a size 4 dress – even at 9am. I knew breathing outside and trying to run was going to be virtually impossible so I retreated indoors to the clubhouse of a development reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional Del Boca Vista, replete with old Jewish ladies from whatever northeast city you’d like to name.

They were lovely, these girls with grey hair all pumping iron just as hard as Ar-nald. Delray Beach became Venice Beach right before my eyes. These girls of steel were not alone in their quest for physical perfection – they had a fearless leader, a tiny woman who ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove, pushing the Jewesses to keep it moving to keep their heart rates up. She was one of those beautiful women who had aged gracefully, retaining the body of her youth in tight spandex with a faced lined with just a few tributaries of her true age.

I chatted with the gals and was quickly invited into the inner circle of exercise culture in Del Boca Vista. They asked about what I was doing and when I told them I was wandering around South America, they looked at me with a bit of shock. One asked, “You did that all by yourself? Is that safe?” I responded, “Yes and yes.”

I continued to talk about how I loved South America, how wonderful the people were and that I had about the same amount of fear wandering around Boca Raton on a dark night as I did wandering around most cities in Latin America. Velvet glove, who it turned out was from Venezuela, grinned at me. As we were walking out, she said to me, “You know, I am 55 years old and I have traveled all around the world, Europe, Asia and the US doing the same kind of thing you are doing.” She also explained how her family had come from everywhere to end up in Venezuela, so she grew up understanding just how big the world was and always wanted to know it all.

Most of our families ended up wherever they are today as immigrants, but before too long we all seem to forget where we came from. In the US, within just a few generations we are assimilated as full-blooded North Americans, leaving our curiosity about where we came from back with our great grandmas. In Latin America, all of my friends knew where their families came from and were still connected to it through culture and custom. Is this because they lack a singular national identity? I don’t think it is that simple, but I just recall how every Argentine I met would tell me about where their families came from while I have some friends here in the US who I have known for years that I have no idea where their families come from. What is it about North American culture that makes us forget our roots?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New York, New York

The tour of the north continues. This week I am staying in Brooklyn and dodging into the city here and there, but mostly camping out in the borough because it is generally so much more livable. The amazing thing about New York (and something it shares with Buenos Aires) is the range of possibilities that are available in one city.

A friend of a friend has loaned me her bike and I rode all over Brooklyn yesterday. It was an inadvertent adventure that unfolded while going from friend to friend to home last night. I rode through Prospect Park after 9 pm, the chill of spring still clinging to the trees and hovering around the lakes and ponds and assorted bodies of water that dot the park. I took joy in the ride home, downhill to the end, even crying out a “yeaaah” as I flew down the other end of the slope that would spit me towards Coney Island on the other side of the park. Ah, my idea of zen.

I even took a bike tour of Brooklyn on Sunday with some friends. We weaved in a line from the Hasidic Jews of Kensington to the Asian in Sunset Park and through the little ghettos of Latins and African Americans sprinkled throughout Brooklyn. Then we hit Red Hook, a hipster enclave laced with projects to stop for a view of the State of Liberty and a snack. A friend remarked how we had been on a world tour in an hour or two and all without an airplane.

There are other New Yorks too… for example I went out on Friday night and was introduced to some new friends, a couple from Uruguay. I immediately loved their accents (reminded me of Buenos Aires) and their warm, fun and highly social manner. These lovely, colorful butterflies and I flitted all about the Lower East Side until the wee hours of the morning, drinking cocktails, chatting in Spanish, and just reveling in the glow of the NYC nightlife. We snaked our way into bars that were in buildings two layers back from the street, speakeasy style that served drinks in teacups and beers in paper bags. We ran into an Argentine friend of mine on the street outside another, all chatting in Spanish as we made introductions and shared some drinks at the next bar.

It is only the greatest cities in the world that can allow you such extremes- to go from being a hippie girl on her bike, hair fluttering in the breeze as she rolls through the park to glam bar hopping in Spanish. While New York doesn’t make me miss BsAs, it reminds me how much I love the city life pretty much everywhere in the world.