Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Buenos Aires...finalmente

So it is about time that I should post my trip to Argentina: Three months later.

The trip was one of relative short notice. I was to be joining a friend for a little over a week in Buenos Aires. Said friend would be in Buenos Aires for a month studying Spanish. For me it was just an excuse to go have fun (and of course hang out with my friend in Buenos Aires...but that should go without saying)!  My Spanish was already pretty decent, and I had been living (and working/studying) in Miami for six months so I was comfortable using it. I was looking forward to it! I decided to book Delta because (yet again) I was traveling out of Atlanta and they had the best fare AND a nonstop. Why bother with a stop when the nonstop is cheaper?? I was actually able to save enough versus connecting that I got a chance to try out Economy Comfort. All in all I was excited.

10 June 2011
STD: 2050
ATD: 2145
Due to the eruption of a volcano in Chile, I was on pins and needles the entire week before worrying about my trip. How considerate...So I ended up checking every day's flight, and a few days were cancelled, while some days the flight went out as scheduled. The irregularity did not ease my anxiety! The day of the trip finally arrived and I was checking the status every half hour it seemed: On Time. So I made the trek to the airport. I checked in and dropped my bag. I remember it weighed 37 lbs. No heavy bag fee for me! I've gotten pretty good at packing! I remember being incredibly annoyed as the two people in front of me were both traveling to Brazil (ok ok Brasil) and they each had about five bags. The Delta agents were moving, but definitely at their own beginning-of-shift pace. Because I'm that inconsiderate of the rules, and unappreciative of novice travelers, I usually use the South Security Check Point. They have it advertised as for SkyPriority passengers mainly, but in fine print, there is an allowance for "expert travelers." I consider myself well-traveled and always have all of my possessions off my person in about fifteen seconds. This line is usually much faster as its users typically know what they're doing--usually.

I got through security and proceeded to look for something to eat. My departure gate, A21, meant that I would not be able to enjoy the better food offerings of the T-Gates or Concourse E. I needed a little bit to eat as invariably on international flights they board very early, and ATL during the late-evening hour is a ramp zoo, so I figured it would be at least two hours from the time we boarded until we were given food (it turned out to be almost three). I grabbed some nuggets at Chik-fil-A. We boarded almost an hour prior to departure. I found my seat in the Economy Comfort Section. The seats are distinguished by their red seat numbers and grey upholstery. The seats themselves are standard-fare Delta economy seats, but they recline more (a plus!) and offer more legroom (another plus!). I was happier about the legroom, as I'm 6'1, and 4 feet of me is leg. Being able to cross my legs and get out of the window seat without disturbing my neighbor is huge on a ten hour flight. I also had two windows all to myself, so you folks in BusinessElite can get bent!!

Yes I was wearing jeans in June because it was going to be in the 40's F when I landed in Buenos Aires. I was really looking forward to cold weather. I missed W09-10 other than two weeks at Christmas because I was in Dominica, and I missed W10-11 other than Christmas because I was in Dominica before, and Miami after New Years. And it was even hotter when I moved back to Atlanta at the beginning of June. I desperately needed some cold weather! Snow would've been a bonus...but alas, no.

As predicted, it took at least an hour to board the aircraft, and then we sat at various places on ramp/tarmac/taxiway for almost another hour. Ordinarily watching the ground traffic would not have bothered me, but I was on the opposite side of the aircraft from the runway, and it was otherwise dark. Le sigh.

We finally took off and we all got comfortable. The flight was booked in all cabins. Being in Economy Comfort, naturally we were served first, and offered complimentary beverages. I had a Bloody Mary and a gin and tonic, at separate times. I was attempting to make as much of the flight pass unconsciously as possible, but more on that in a moment. The food was standard-fare economy food, so in other words warm matter that tasted something like pasta. I find it's really hard to screw up pasta, it's carbs and cheese, with some canned tomato sauce, so I typically get the pasta dish on airplanes, regardless of the airline I'm flying. One look at the chicken option confirmed my choice. Accompanying the meal was a roll that could have been bowled at the next Ashes, a decent salad and a very good brownie. After dinner I brushed my teeth, took out my contacts, and downed two melatonin. I don't remember much after getting back to my seat. I woke up with about three hours left in the flight, and decided to do a little reading. I pulled out my Kindle and read The Fall of Apartheid. I thought it was really detailed and fairly objective. Obviously I can't ascertain that as I have never been to South Africa, much less during Apartheid! About the time I finished that book the flight attendants began serving breakfast. It was the standard fare breakfast of a banana and a granola bar, with some water and orange juice. In the words of Linda Richman, no big whoop. I had to wait a few minutes to get into the lav, and noticed that there was a large group of Japanese tourists on this flight. The tour director was going from seat to seat making sure that everyone had their immigration cards filled out properly. I remember thinking that some of the translations were almost too literal, and as such a bit funny. But unfortunately I cannot recall any specific examples.

We flew over what I presume is Northern Argentina and Uruguay in the morning hours as the sun was rising. We landed about thirty minutes early at Ezeiza, along with 777s from Alitalia and American, and 767s from Continental, United, and American, and several A320s from LAN. In short it was a LONG trip through immigration and baggage claim. I had to stand in line for an entrance visa, $140, then stand in line to get it stamped...because having that done all at once just makes too much sense. I then waited forty-five minutes for my bag to finally make the twenty feet from the aircraft to the belt. From the baggage claim I was standing at, I could literally look up through a window and see the aircraft as it was being unloaded. I was starting to get tired and a bit cranky, so I just wanted my bloody bag. It finally came. THEN came a twenty minute wait for customs. Pure delight! It would have been longer if I didn't do as the locals and assume that a giant gap in the line was an invitation to join it in the same locale. Finally I got through customs and my bag is scanned, and I made my way to the taxi counter. I elected against taking a bus because I hadn't the foggiest clue where my apartment was located. The ride was interesting. Ezeiza Airport is about an hour outside of Buenos Aires. During the ride I chatted  a little with my taxi driver, but he spoke no English, and having not slept my Spanish was turning into Spanish-German-French. Every word I had ever learned in a language besides English was coming to my head, despite the fact that I knew I knew the correct Spanish response. I'm going to chalk it up to a lack of sleep and being a bit overwhelmed. I was content to look out the window. The outlying areas of the city are not nearly as well off as the central areas of the city. Every few miles there was either a bus or several cars (some of them quite old) parked or sitting on the side of the road. The area the driver exited the expressway was not an area I would call overly desirable--in fact it was downright sketchy--and I was nervous for a few moments. Remember I had no clue where I was going! My concerns were allayed when we pulled up to my building.

I rented an apartment for the duration of my stay in Buenos Aires as for less money I could get a studio apartment in a good neighborhood, and I could eat a little cheaper. A quick trip to the grocery store and I had yoghurt, granola, and orange juice for the week for less than ten dollars :). Everything I read about Buenos Aires told me that many of the best restaurants and shopping were in or near the Palermo Soho neighborhood, so I started my search there. I also wanted an apartment that was less than five blocks from public transportation. I scored! The apartment was in a newly renovated building that was nicely modern. Since it took longer than anticipated to get through the airport, I phoned the representative of the leasing agent and she waited for me. She gave me a very good map and a good set of directions.

 It was a studio, but I was only going to sleep there, and it had a wireless internet connection! I was very pleased. In the picture to the left my apartment is in the middle building, the floor below the balcony, to the right. It was small, but perfectly adequate. The heater/AC worked to keep it perfect. My friend and her roommates were a bit jealous of my surroundings--namely that I had it to myself. The company was great and I would definitely recommend them to anybody considering a trip to Buenos Aires:   http://www.bairesapartments.com/

After getting everything situated the very first thing I did was to take a nice hot shower to wake up and feel clean. I figured that going straight to sleep, even though I was a bit tired, was a very bad idea. I showered and changed and started exploring! According to the original plan Redd was to already be in Buenos Aires, and we would meet up and explore. She would have had a night's sleep, but I'm used to dealing with jet lag, so I would've enjoyed it regardless. Alas, that was not to be. I figured, since it was a Saturday, that I would do the typically tourist things. I started by finding the nearest "Subte" station. Mine was Scalabrini Ortiz on the D-Line. I also busied myself finding an ATM, as I needed a little cash! I started at the Plaza de Mayo, the location of the Casa Rosada. I wandered around there and Calle Florida for a bit. I quickly found that Calle Florida would be one of the LAST places I wanted to spend much time. Tourist much? With very little orientation to the city, other than that provided by a very good guide book and a map, I decided to hop on one of the double decker buses. It was a GREAT tour. I got a very good sense of what was to be seen where, and a feel for the various neighborhoods. I took note of the main sites, and other things to see or do that Redd and I would return to do or see. Everywhere we went Portenos were very friendly toward us, frequently waving at us. I even got a thumbs up and a huge smile from a kid on his bicycle. I also came across this:

I can't say my brother and I didn't come up with our own variation of skateboard-behind-a-bike with a golf cart and a pair of roller blades, however, we did not do it on a seven-lane highway!!

The tour lasted over three hours, and ended just before dark. I was tired, but figured I would stay up a little longer and find myself a steak. After all, Argentina has an entire ministry devoted to cattle! Or at least that's what I was told on the tour... I wandered up a few blocks from my apartment to the Plaza Armenia and took note of my surroudnings. There are a lot of shops on Calle Armenia, and it is a very pleasant area to walk.

The next day I had several hours to kill before I knew I could see Redd (her flight was due to arrive that morning). I had been monitoring Redd's flight. As it turns out she was rebooked on the Delta nonstop...grrrr for group tickets! We were both due to attend a Boca Juniors game that night, but as her plans were delayed and she was understandably exhausted from all the happenings and stress, she decided she'd be better off sleeping. Hard to argue with that!  We met up and had a cup of coffee and then I headed back. But I still went and had a fantastic time!

I purchased my tickets through an internet vendor and they picked me up at my apartment. We then met in La Boca, the neighborhood where La Bombanera (or Boca Juniors stadium) is located. I had been through the neighborhood on the bus tour the day before. I associated a little with my group mates, most of whom were Spanish speakers, trying hard not to make a complete fool out of myself, with varying degrees of success. I later made my way toward a group of Aussies and  Brits, who also happened to be my seat mates. We got to know each other pretty well. It turns out that all of them were on extended MONTHS-long tours of South America. It sounded great, but I cringed a little inwardly when one of them told me she quit her job (in this economy!) to do a four month tour of South America. Priorities, eh?

We were at the front row of the very top section.The picture to the right shows the section of seats that is blocked off between the Home (Boca Juniors) and Visiting (Banfield) teams. Apparently much of the reputation many South Americans futbol fans is grounded in reality. Both sides of the section were patrolled by a line of security and lined with barbed wire, and there were indeed fights. You could see a fight manifest in the waves of people that would just randomly start moving across the stadium. All this for a soccer match! I felt it wise to keep that thought to myself! Indeed, the fans were passionate! Incredibly entertaining. I must say that although I
did enjoy watching the game, my understanding of the tactics and plays of the game leaves a lot to be desired, and I was primarily enjoying the experience. I spent just as much time watching the Home (Boca Juniors) fans in the tier below me. The team apparently has songs, that all the fans knew. Suffice it to say I joined in the perpetual, rhythmic screams of "Dale!" but little else. Some fans, somewhere unseen to me, had GIANT drums that could be heard all over the place. The crowd would also start jumping, all at once, and the stands would start to shake. Keep in mind this stadium seats upwards of 50,000 people--all of them jumping at once!!! I'm trying to remember the physical phenomenon and wave theory etc etc, but yeah, that was so 2007. I saw what I'm sure were happens hundreds of times every game--a dad bringing his son to the match, standing just a few seats from me. The boy couldn't have been more than eight years old, and there he was, bundled up (La Boca is right on the water and it was quite cold and windy) and on his dad's shoulders cheering for Boca, shouting Burro! (literally "donkey" but more appropriately "ass!") at the Banfield team, and I couldn't help but smile. The match was an incredible experience, and ended close to 11pm. Getting out of the stadium and back to transportation was in a word: chaotic. Remember all those tens of thousands of people? Yeah, we all left at once. Fifty thousand people, in the dirty, narrow streets of La Boca. If it hadn't been for our guide I would 

probably have been there until the next morning, trying to figure out, where in the sea of people I 
was supposed to be, hoping not to get my pockets snatched from me. This area of town has a less-than-stellar reputation to begin with (and yes I just ended a sentence in a preposition). We eventually made it back to our van, and were driven to our various locales. I was one of the few staying so far out of the center. I must say I'm glad I did, as after the dinner hour the center of the city is mostly deserted, and that can be a bit unsettling. Forget walking back to your hostel at four in the morning. NOT.happening.

My initial perceptions of the language were a bit mixed. I was thrilled that I was able to be understood with very little difficulty. The other way around was a horse of a different color. There are some characteristics of Argentine Spanish that I had never been exposed to before. For instance, the pronunciation of "ll." I was taught Spanish by a Costa Rican, and there, and many other places as well, that sound is pronounced with a "j" or a "dg." Obviously most people associate that with a "y." I learned both and sometimes intertwined them. In Argentina, it is pronounced "sh." After a day or two I actually found this tripped off my tongue much easier than the other two. What I did not ever get my head wrapped around was "vos." I would like to be able to explain the conjugation and appropriate usage, but I cannot! I can say that if they say "vos" they are talking to you as a singular person, and that's about as far out on to the branch I am willing to step! I guess that means I must go back :P

My routine consisted mostly of sleeping until I wanted to, eating breakfast, and then making a loose plan of what, where and when. After I had a rough list of places, I would head downtown to wait for Redd to get out of class. I would peruse some shops while I waited. Sometimes she would get out early, more often than not a bit later. We literally went all over the city.  The various neighborhoods are called barrios. And in many cases it is quite obvious where one starts and another ends just by crossing the street. Like every city there were some good parts and some not so good parts. But I absolutely love to see the entirety of a city, and I literally start walking that way. One morning while I was waiting for Redd to get out of class I walked through the residential barrio, Almagro. It was very different from the upscale Recoleta, which is great. I love seeing all sides of life. I stopped at a small cafe, and got the usual less-than-stellar service, but absolutely fantastic empanadas. I would never be able to find this place again. All I know is that it is on Avenida Corrientes, at least I think that's where I remember it being. I am 90% positive it ran on that road because the Subte Red Line runs along the same street. After lunch I continued down Corrientes until I was pushing time a little close. But it was nice to see how people lived, without the eyes or influences of tourists. The buildings were less glamorous, but more authentic. 

What I must point out, and what I am kicking myself for not getting a picture of, were the hoards of posters and fliers scattered about in this part of town that had Eva Peron's picture on it. Even more, and in my humble opinion a bit creepy, were the comparison's between Eva (better known as Evita) and Argentina's current president Christina Kirchner. I'm going to have to chalk my reservations, curiosity, and amusement to a cultural difference that I am not likely to fully understand, even if it were explained well to me. Most of my "knowledge" of Eva Peron has not been acquired via discourse with Argentinians. Rather, it has been through more critical sources. So I guess I need to read up a little more on her and the situation before making my own call. I had a very hard time explaining what little I knew about Eva Peron and her importance to my friends. I've read enough to know that she was/is a prominent figure in Argentine history and politics. The facts get muddled a bit after that, I think, and the interpretation of the facts depends entirely upon whose account one is reading. I did, however, go to the Eva Peron museum. Her speaking voice...totally not sexy. And she was downright short. But I thought it did a good job of explaining what she meant to Argentines, both positive and negative, without commenting on her work, or deifying her more than she already has been.

Another thing I realized when Peron's sister was describing her embalmed body is that Spanish speakers and English speakers are programmed to think very differently of equivalent words and phrases. It's completely cultural, and as a result sounds downright corny even when translated properly. Certain words like "intimate" and "passion" and "romance" have completely different meanings to a speaker of English versus a Spanish speaker. Balancing the two can be a bit of a head trip.

At this point I should also admit that despite my attempts to explore Buenos Aires' many aspects, in pure touristic fashion I was usually singing one of the songs from the musical Evita to myself as I walked. How much cheesier could I get??

And now is the part where I start talking about THE FOOD. After my frist experience with the ojo de bife, or ribeye steak, I was hooked, and will probably never be able to enjoy steak anywhere else again in the world. The steak was just outstanding. Tender, juicy, delicious, good lord. I must marry an Argentine just so I can eat beef like that (insert really bad joke *here* go ahead, I know you want to). The picture below doesn't really do the thing justice. It was literally bigger than my hand, and almost an inch thick...for twelve bucks. Smith & Wollenski quality for Sizzler prices. How hard is that to beat!! I'll answer it for you...you cannot! The meal
was always accompanied by some really good bread, and some pickled something or another that I never could figure out what it was. Part of me did not want to know what it was, because it looked like it could have been eggplant or something that resembled fatback. Pickled fatback, now doesn't that sound scrumptious? Ignorance is bliss in this case. It tasted good, however. The steak was also accompanied by what I can only call a churasco, though whether that's correct and what was in it besides tomato I have no clue. It was simply delicious though, and I didn't ask many questions beyond that! I just enjoyed my meals knowing that when I returned 
to the states such indulgence would come with a much heftier price. A steak, salad, side dish, and WINE for $25. And speaking of the wine...it was simply amazing. Malbecs everywhere as far as the eye can see. And they were delicious. Light, fruity, and tasty! And cheap! I had at least one glass of wine with every meal :P We would usually not eat until at least 8:30. The first night we went for dinner we waited until 7:00 to leave, and go to the restaurant we were looking to try, Don Julio's in Palermo, on Calle Nicaragua. We arrived about ten minutes later, to notice that the waiters were just beginning to take the chairs off the tables and set up for the dinner rush. We decided we would walk around and explore the neighborhood a little. Everybody in the area was just starting to come out and do their evening routine. The shops were still open, but many of them had staff-activated doors for security purposes. Comforting, no? We figured out why once we entered them...thousand peso purses and boots and other leather works!
We returned to the restaurant around 8:15 and it was starting to get busy. Even when we left around 10:00 there were still families with their children eating, and the kids were wide awake. We noticed someone close to our age eating alone, and we invited him to join us if he so chose. He was an Australian in his early thirties waiting for a flight. The Volcano had caused him problems as well. It turns out he was heading to London to visit friends after having spent almost four months in South America, on his own. He would then return to Australia where he had a job waiting. I wasn't sure if he was going to want to join us, but I have eaten alone, and when traveling it's always fun to meet new people. I figured what's the worst that could happen, he would say no? Ok, no big deal. But he did join us, and even though I don't remember his name the three of us had a nice dinner and a good conversation. It should go without saying a bottle of Malbec was involved.

She will not like that I've posted it here...but it shows the meal pretty well! This was the night we had dinner with her roommates. We had an amazing dinner consisting of four steaks, a big Caesar salad, mashed potatoes, and a bottle of Malbec, which was outstanding. The cost for the four of us? Less than $100, and this was at a very good restaurant. Not five star mind you, but the quality was amazing.

 This was my lunch many days. Muy delicioso.

This putrid little concoction however, was not. I'm sorry, mayonnaise and green olives have no business being slathered on crostini. There was a cafe off Avenida Santa Fe not far from Redd's apartment in Recoleta that served small treats with every cup of coffee. We got in the habit of having a cup of coffee and a small snack between 4:30 and 5:00 to hold us until we could eat a bigger meal, but not usually after 8:00. I got in the habit of waiting at the coffee shop next to her apartment after the lady who owned her apartment wouldn't let me wait in the lobby, nine floors below, even with Redd...and with approval of the security guard. Oh no, not this yente. "Esperamos aca por sus amigas, Senora." We are waiting here for Redd's friends ma'am (who also happened to be this lady's tenants as well). "No se puede! No puede entrar." No, you cannot enter. Very well. I just thought it was odd that it was made plainly obvious I was her friend, made plainly obvious I had no intentions of going anywhere further than the lobby, made plainly obvious that the security guard could see me. Apparently obvious doesn't work for this woman.

The second Saturday of my visit we took the commuter rail to a small town outside of the city, the name of which unfortunately escapes me at the moment. This town is on the Rio de la Plata, and is more or less a retreat for many city dwellers. The town has an amusement park, rowing clubs, and small country houses for miles. We took a sunset cruise up the river, and had a little too much fun with my camera settings! You can see those below. In the first one I wasn't quite sure what was happening, hence the blank look. On the train ride, there and back, people were selling the most random things. They would walk up and down the car showing you whatever product they had come across. It could be some form of potato chip, or chocolate sweet, toilet paper, tissues, or in one case they had razors! I had to laugh to myself at that one! Then they would move on to the next car. 
The same thing would happen on the Subte. For one or two stops men, women, and in many cases children, would put something on your lap like a map of the underground system (identical to the ones freely posted all over the place), a package of Kleenex, or in many cases just a piece of card stock with a message about how hard it is for them to raise their children, or buy groceries, etc, etc, etc and could you please help. The cynic in me wanted to know where they acquired the items they were then selling, but of course your heartstrings are also tugged. I must say I do admire the folks who were at least trying to give you something for the money you gave them. There was one case that I don't think I will forget as long as I live. There was a little girl, she couldn't have been more than nine, and she had a younger sister with her that could not have been two years old. These children just looked poor and they were definitely dealt a BAD hand. They were filthy dirty, though they didn't look malnourished. The older sibling parked the younger near the door of the train, and then proceeded to do her routine. I think I saw one person give her 20 pesos (like $US5), and she didn't even say thank you. She just tucked the money into her back pocket and kept walking. While she was doing her job, the younger child, probably oblivious to what was really going on, poured her charms on a lady sitting near her, and began to play with her and her son, who looked to be of a similar age. When the older sibling came back and saw this she jerked her little sister away from the lady, and then they left the car. I felt so sorry for those kids 1) because they had to spend their childhood in what must have been such an unpleasant existence, and 2) they were either orphaned or more likely being pimped out by their parents to beg for money. That little girl had absolutely zero life in her eyes, and just looked so miserable and unhappy. We saw a lot of very poor people while we were traveling around. When we bought our tickets at the train station there were several people literally parked on the ticket counter just holding out their hands. Most people pretended they were not there, and nobody said anything to them. A few people gave them pocket change. 

The day I was to leave I went with Redd and her crew to the San Telmo market. On Sundays the entire barrio of San Telmo transforms into a street market. I was packed and ready to go before I left the apartment. Getting there took a hitch because the Subte let me off at a different section of the same station, which totally threw me when I made it up to the street. I was turned around for a few minutes. Eventually I met up and we explored the streets. I bought a mate gourd and a CD of tango music. The market literally has EVERYTHING one could want, at least of the boutique variety. There's a junk section, an antique section, a clothing section, and a market that has pretty good produce. It was a nice way to close out my trip. Dr. SS and I seemed to be on the same page the entire day. We were literally finishing each other's sentences in English and Spanish. We had talked a little bit over the course of the trip, and we got along rather well. I enjoyed getting to meet her. So after a nice afternoon and lunch talking with Redd and her friends, who were all sad to see me go, I had to go. I gave everybody a hug and a farewell, and sadly turned around and started my trek back to Palermo. I was sad to be leaving. I walked to the train, and didn't realize that the area of San Telmo I would be walking through would be so deserted! It was kind of shocking that in the middle of the day I would literally be the only one in the street. I eventually found my train station and went back to Scalabrini Ortiz, and walked up Calle Armenia. I made to my apartment, with the intention of waiting for its owner to give me my deposit back. While I was waiting I thought I would clean up and take out the trash. I had everything in a bag and I made my way outside. It was nearing the time he was due to come and I wanted to be ready to leave. After dumping the trash I came back to the apartment. I opened the door and noticed an envelope on the floor. I must have missed it the first time I got back because I had my eye on the door to the building the entire time. In it was my cash deposit and a nice note in broken English from the landlord telling me he hopes I enjoyed my stay. Suffice it to say I did! I made sure all my things were in order and the apartment was as neat as I found it, and locked the door. The note instructed me to leave the keys at the building next door. Great, but I had no way of getting into said building. One must either have a key or do the whole door buzzer thing. Gee that's neat. Thankfully this building had a doorman. In broken Spanish I was trying to relay the situation to him. It was a bit of a challenge, given I didn't know the Spanish phrase for "drop off" and my instructions were in English...BONK! Eventually I was able to tell him that I was a tourist staying in the next building, and here are the keys to the apartment. That did the trick, at least I think it did because the light bulb came on. After thanking the doorman I headed to the corner and hailed a cab. I had been watching the traffic for several days, and knew that barely five minutes went by that a cab did not cross this intersection. I also knew that if I got desperate I could just walk five blocks and be on a main road. Literally the second I reached the corner there was a cab. I hailed it and said "aeropuerto Ezeiza por favor." "Ezeiza Airport please." Off we went! It was a decidedly less slummy drive OUT to the airport, which I thought was very strange.

19 June 2011
Delta DL110 EZE-ATL
STD: 2030
STA: 0555
I arrived at the airport almost three hours early, but I left so early on the advice of many people, as they said that the traffic is very unpredictable. I was one of the first to check in, and then I had 2.5 hours with which to do very little. Grand. I found a pen, and filled out my immigration card. Then I strolled about the airport shops, looking and ooing and ahhing at all the cool-sounding destinations like Lima and Cordoba and Asuncion. Then I went through security. The airport has a very interesting layout, in that it isn't linear or logical in anyway. It's just kinda there, and you keep walking this way and that way  turning left and right and going through some random liquor store until your gate is reached. Naturally mine is one of the last ones. I bought a chocolate snack to keep my stomach happy until we got into the air, while I was buying it I noticed two Delta flight attendants looking for their gate, so I said to them "Ladies you're at 8 tonight." They said "thanks, glad somebody's looking out for us!" I said well hopefully shortly you'll be taking care of me. I'm such a flirt...maybe?

The aircraft was not towed to the gate until about twenty minutes prior to boarding. I noticed that seated in the boarding area was my flight attendant from my flight a week or so prior. I spoke to her once we were boarded. She said that they get a 36 hour break between the two flights, and that she does the flight to Buenos Aires every Friday evening, and returns on Sunday. She does that three times a month and she's done. Sounds rough...

My seatmate was a rather large, but not fat, Israeli man who could not seem to keep his person in just his seat. Thankfully we were seated at a bulkhead, and I had the window seat. So as long as I leaned against the wall, I was fine. I had plenty of room to get out of the seat and was able to get around him without disturbing him. He was a very nice man, headed to San Jose I believe, and he offered to share his computer with me and let me watch movies with him. I told him I appreciated the offer but I had a book that I wanted to read. What the book was about I know people are dying to know: Evita.

Again the drinks came around after our on-time take off. I had a gin and tonic and another Bloody Mary before consuming my melatonin before dinner. Again I chose the pasta. Again it was ok, more warm matter. After that I slipped into la la land for at least four or five hours. But I was wide awake with about four hours to go. I decided to actually watch the in flight entertainment that was contributing to my inability to sleep. As I had the bulkhead seat, there was a screen mounted on the wall in front of me, and the bright light was distracting. I watched some movie with Matt Damon and Emily Blount. It's one of those movies that's good one time. I also watched a pretty interesting documentary about the demolition of Yankee Stadium. After that, the show Parks and Recreation came on, and I have to say, that is without a doubt the dumbest thing I have ever tried to watch. How this show got past test audiences I think reflects on the poor quality of that test audience. Anyway, I couldn't watch another episode of that drivel, so I pulled out my book and turned on my iPod, and read until breakfast. We landed shortly after breakfast, with little muss or fuss, and it was almost a straight shot into the airport, because, after all, it was about 530 in the morning. What insanity. Immigration was the same ole same ole, not too slow, but not hurried. There really isn't much of a point in rushing through immigration as you still have to collect your bags to go through customs. And sure enough it took at least ten minutes for my bags to get to me. Several other flights from South America were mingling in the customs area. After getting my bag and clearing customs, I rechecked, recleared security, and was through to the terminal in less than ten minutes, where my mom was waiting to pick me up. I got home and went back to bed! A great ending for a great trip!

Monday, September 12, 2011

After taking my exam last Thursday, I've been doing a great deal of nothing. I think a week or so of nothing is well deserved, especially since I don't yet have the results of the exam. The summer of 2011 more or less did not exist for me. I spent the vast majority of it in a corner with my nose in a book. If that wasn't the case, the presence of the upcoming exam was continually on my mind.

Speaking of the mind, mine has taken a long, winding journey to Dar es Salaam, or some other place not easily reached, and even less easily left. Holding a linear conversation has been a trial of proportions not seen since OJ or the Menendez brothers. It's a delightful combination of being mentally frazzled, physically stretched from long hours of self-induced stress (yes I'm whining) and studying.

The weather has been very nice and accommodating. I've spent several mornings channeling On Golden Pond and reading my book du jour, Of Human Bondage. I started reading it when I was in Miami, just to have something to do when my ability to focus during lecture disappeared (usually after about thirty minutes of listening to monotonous professors drone on and on and on about Lord only knows what). It's a good book, but took a backseat to my readings about Apartheid and the Berlin Wall (aren't I cool?), and multiple tests. I'm hoping to finish it quickly, because I purchased a stack of used books yesterday. Literally, A STACK.

Amidst all of the insanity I have come up with the brilliant idea of writing a roman à clef about living in Dominica while attending medical school. There was certainly enough drama to gain inspiration from. I'm going to call it Triple Chocolate Muffins at Rituals. I have aspirations of it being Fried Green Tomatoes meets The Devil Wears Prada. But not really. It will start with the last flight OFF the island, and then have my fictitious-but-not-really character recalling when he first arrived in a place completely juxtaposed to his own. Then start rattling off the people he meets, intertwining it with gems about enduring the self-multilatory process called medical school--on a Caribbean island, and of course, triple chocolate muffins. Many of the posts on this blog could be chapters...This topic shall be revisited when my brain returns to a more linear thought process, and a less schizotypal one. Actually, this could actually possibly totally be a potentially good idea...You tell me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why English teachers die young

Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners...
1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.
16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River .
18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a landmine or something.
23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.