Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yo estoy enferma.

My body is rebelling against me. It seems that whenever I travel, especially to a different climate, I end up with some sort of cold, flu, sinus congestion thingy. It starts with the sniffles and ends up a hacking, congested cough and sore throat. Miserable.

Since my condition has been putting a damper on my tango activities, I decided it was time to seek a doctor before I feel any worse.

I was teensy bit concerned about getting medical treatment. You never know what the facilities and staff are going to be like in a foreign country. Hordes of sick people crowded into a dank, smelly waiting room. Quack doctors speaking broken English, prescribing unnecessary testing to cheat the unsuspecting foreigner. Impatient nurses with unwashed hands reusing thermometers without sanitizing first. Who knows. Argentina is a pretty modern city, but their economy is bad; so too may be their health care system.

I needn't have worried. Hospital Alemán (to us English speakers, that translates to German Hospital) came highly recommended by Sallycat in my favorite Buenos Aires guidebook Happy Tango. I also contacted my traveler's medical insurance carrier to see if they had any suggestions for health care providers. They, too, recommended Alemán. A third recommendation came from a friend on Facebook (thanks again Van), and Fernanda, mi profesora de español, confirmed this hospital was "muy bien." Score. I was going to the German Hospital. (Uh, the one in Argentina.)

Excellent choice. Alemán was located a few blocks from a Subte (subway) line that I could easily access from school. When I arrived, I was quickly signed in by a gentleman who spoke just enough English and was patient with my broken Spanish. We understood each other well enough to get me registered. My time spent in the bright waiting area was only a few minutes. 

The doctor looked just like my brother-in-law, Mike, who is also a doctor. This doctor, however, spoke English with an Argentine accent, not a mild southern drawl like Dr. Mike, or even a German accent for that matter. He prescribed meds for my symptoms, recommended lots of rest and fluids and sent me on my way. The whole experience took about a half-hour and only cost 148 pesos (about $37 U.S.).

OK, so this excursion turned out to be a not-so-exciting-adventure, but, hopefully, it will help get me to a milonga tomorrow night.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Enjoy your adventure. Intrepid tanguera.

Saturday is date night in Buenos Aires, I've been told. A single girl at a milonga stands little chance of dancing. The Argentines only dance with their own ladies on date night, which means no wandering eyes to embrace others.

It is strange to not dance on Saturday night since that is the only night to tango in Orlando. Every Saturday, almost without fail, Matthew and I dress up and head to El Patio de la Morocha for the weekly milonga.

Last night, Matthew Skyped me as he was getting ready to go to the Patio solo and expressed regret that I wouldn't be with him. It made our hearts heavy, but I encouraged him to go and enjoy the dancing. It's the least I could do since he has been so supportive of me.

In June, just over a year ago, I started getting emails from an acquaintance I knew only casually from dancing at the Patio. Would I like to practice with him, he wondered. It made me nervous. I was still in the process of divorce and just getting over a dance partnership gone bad. He persisted and we became sort of pen pals.

In the midst of my chaotic life, I booked a three-day trip to New York City to dance tango with strangers. (If you can't get to Buenos Aires to tango, the next best place is NYC.) It was the first time I traveled alone to a destination that didn't have family or friends on the other end.

When I detailed the plan to my pen pal, Matthew, he expressed admiration and encouragement for my bravery in pursuing the NYC tango scene. "Enjoy your adventure. Intrepid tanguera," he wrote.

His words throughout my trip, and then after I returned home, gave me comfort and courage during one of the most difficult times in my life. That support continued as our relationship blossomed from pen pals to dance partners to committed couple.

Matthew breathed life into the dreams that I had in my head and helped create more aspirations for me than I thought possible. He spoke passionately about traveling the world. Of going to Buenos Aires to live. To learn Castellano. To tango any time of the day or night. To learn tango from the masters of our art. To dance with the milongueros whose hearts beat to the rhythms of Gardel and Di Sarli.

Now that our hearts and lives are so intertwined, my living this dream is bittersweet for both Matthew and me. Everyday I wish he was here, but the timing wasn’t right for him, and I needed to stop putting off what I should have done years ago. But he still encourages me everyday to enjoy the adventure.

My first week in Buenos Aires was in no way void of snags. I struggle with day-to-day communication with the locals. I lost my ATM card. I've been fighting the cold I always get when I travel to a new climate. I've confronted loneliness on a level I have never felt before. 

But in spite of these obstacles, maybe because of these burdens, I have also experienced moments of sincere joy and happiness. I have been invited to dance by the dreamed-of Argentine milongueros. I am learning (slowly) to speak their language. I have been encouraged in my 
dancing abilities by teachers I admire. I have been inspired by the city itself—its people, its beauty, its spirit.

My happiest moment of the week, however, would have come whether I was in Buenos Aires or not. I became an aunt again. Mariella Joon was born on Monday morning to my brother, Richie and his wife, Stephanie. And in spite of being almost 5000 miles away, I was thrilled to be able to see her in action for the first time via Skype yesterday. She is beautiful.

My wish for her is that she will have big dreams for herself. That she will always know that she has people in her life that love and support her. That she will never underestimate what she is capable of. I hope she is able to pursue whatever passions and dreams she fancies.

Enjoy your adventure. Sweet baby girl.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hola, Argentina. No hablo español.

Living your dream comes with a huge dose of reality. And reality is not always a nice bubble gum flavored sugary syrup that makes you feel better instantly with its wonderful placebo effect. Instead, reality tastes like the battery acid liquid you have to drink before a colonoscopy and has unspeakable side effects. (If you've never had one, trust me, it's not pretty.) And, just like that nasty stuff, you have no choice but to drink the whole gallon.

I have traveled to many non-English speaking countries in the past. Goodness, I've even been to Buenos Aires before, so I am a bit familiar with the way things tick around here. But it's a completely new dynamic when you're not with someone else to share the experience. A companion that you can look at, shrug your shoulders and giggle with when the taxi driver keeps talking to you in Castellano even though you have told him, "No hablo español." It's nice to have someone in the same boat with you. Already, I miss commiserating. Commiserating, like breath, is a natural human function, I think. It validates.

Since I arrived in Buenos Aires a little over 12 hours ago, I've also realized how much I take basic communication for granted in everyday life. The smallest bits of information are so difficult to convey. Like asking for matches at the grocery store so you can light your gas stove and make dinner. Or trying to explain to the apartment manager over the phone that there is a beeping sound coming from somewhere in the apartment like a smoke detector battery dying, but the smoke detector is too high to reach and you don't have a ladder to check it out. (Come to find out it was actually a carbon monoxide censor with a bad battery that was easier to get to. And for your own future reference, I think I have discovered that the translation for carbon monoxide to Spanish is carbon monoxide.)

It's all so exhausting. Especially when you're functioning on only five hours of restless, red-eye flight sleep. (And when I say "you," I really mean me.) This was my day.

Not to mention I had to drag two seasons worth of provisions (a.k.a. three heavy suitcases and a backback full of clothes, toiletries and a laptop) through the street to a café to wait 30 minutes for the owner of my apartment to arrive and let me in. Then I couldn't get a clear call to a client on Skype today so after four attempts I finally called her on my cell phone, which probably cost me a million dollars. (She was very chatty.) I stepped in a mystery puddle (the skies are blue, no rain in sight) on my way to my Spanish school and got sticky mud (I hope it was mud) all over the cuffs of my only pair of jeans (I packed light, really I did). And the grocery store nearest me has scary dairy (past expiration dates on the yogurt) and seems a little creepy. Yep, still my day.

I admit, tears have been shed, some physically and some just on the inside. Some from loneliness. From aggravation and frustration. Sleep deprivation. A couple times from relief and the kindness of strangers. Like when the café owner saw me struggling outside with my suitcases and lugged them up the steps for me without hesitation. And when another customer at the scary grocery store found me outside to give me directions (in Spanish and a lot of hand gestures) to a better grocery store. (Which I found later.) And the taxi driver that drove me from the airport this morning, rambling on and on with advice I couldn't understand. I think he wanted me to know that I should never give large bills to taxi drivers because they will cheat me. (Or he was confessing that he had cheated a lot of people?) Either way, he seemed genuinely concerned about my well-being, and he was very kind to me.

After this exhausting morning and afternoon, my brain told me to go to bed and start over tomorrow. I completely ignored that, of course. I didn't come here to lie in bed and feel sorry for myself now, did I? Nope.

I've been nervous for the past month about my first milonga. The "códigos" of tango have been haunting me. The ingrained rules of etiquette surrounding the Buenos Aires milongas leave a foreigner like myself susceptible to many faux pas. I've been here before, and I saw how brutal the scene is when you don't have a partner. Fortunately, I did have a partner with me on my last trip so I was protected from being one of the downhearted women I saw leaving milongas early because they never got asked to dance. But what if this time I don't get asked to dance? I'm not used to having to rely on the cabeceo to attract dance partners. What if I haven't mastered that yet?

Determined to tango, I put on a simple black dress, layered on a sweater and leather jacket (because this ain't Florida, it's still winter here in Argentina), grabbed a pair of tango shoes, (sent a little request into the universe for Carlos Gardel to watch over me) and headed to Confitería Ideal (coincidently, the first venue Matthew and I went to on our trip last year).

I was anxious the entire way. What if only the creepy guys with the worst leads (the ones even Matthew couldn't protect me from) preyed on me? Would I have the guts to turn them down? My thoughts were rampant. What if I tripped? Worse, what if I kicked someone? Or worse than that, what if I didn't dance at all? Anticipation of the unknown is so intimidating. Daunting.

My heart was racing from my overactive brain activity, and the six-block walk I made in haste. But when I drifted through the doorway of that familiar venue, felt the marble beneath my feet and heard a tango playing up the staircase, I surrendered. 

In this little space of Buenos Aires, for just a couple of hours I am not a foreigner. These people are not strangers to me. I don't know their names or their faces, but I speak their language. I speak tango. And when that reality passes through my head, the taste is not so bitter. It's pretty sweet, actually. Like the dulce de leche I am eating as I share this adventure with you. (I'll share my adventure, but I'm not sharing my dulce.)

P.S. I must acknowledge Sally Blake who wrote the brilliant book "Happy Tango: Sallycat's Guide to Dancing in Buenos Aires,"  and published it just in time for my trip. With Sally's advice, I knew that Confitería Ideal would be my best choice for a Friday afternoon milonga, a venue I would not have considered without her direction because I had a terrible time there last year with "bottom feeders," as Sally calls them. Sally gave me the determined confidence to decline verbal offers from at least a dozen of these men, something I did not have the courage to do last year. Instead of frustrating myself by dancing with them, I was able to give a simple, "No, gracias," with little recourse. What a relief! I was able to choose my partners through the cabeceo, and truly found my own "happy tango." Muchas gracias y besos, Sally!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Tag-A-Long Traveler

I almost forgot that I am within days of Buenos Aires. By this time next week, I will be settled into my apartment in a foreign land and will have already experienced my first “sola” milonga. (I get a little flutter when I think about it.)

I’ve been easily distracted from my upcoming big adventure by the Pacific Northwest at my doorstep for the past 11 days. I am getting pretty proficient at being a tag-a-long traveler. It’s been my good fortune to be able to adventure with Matthew on many of his work trips this past year—Curaçao, Jamaica, Quebec—and, this week, the islands of Puget Sound.

 We had a week of down time with Matthew’s family in the burbs of Seattle before heading out to the islands for his grueling travel writer itinerary. (OK, it’s not that grueling, but his job really is much harder than it sounds.)

 Last Saturday night we found a milonga called Tango Underground in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. “This is our last milonga together before you leave,” Matthew pointed out before our last tanda. I gave him my weepy-frowny face—a common expression lately as my big trip draws near.

 So many "last things" have happened in the past few weeks and it makes my heart a little heavy. It’s not that I don’t want to go, but every new adventure means giving up the familiar and comfortable in exchange for the unknown. Will my pets be OK while I am gone? Did I pick the right apartment? The right Spanish school? Will the locals dance with me? I have no answers to these questions yet.

 My trip last year to Buenos Aires was wonderful, but I had a definite advantage—Matthew. I had a dance partner for every milonga. He speaks Spanish. He had been to BsAs twice before. He already knew the best tango schools and milongas, the layout of the city, the quirks of the taxi drivers, where to find an apartment. I just happily followed along. I like being the tag-a-long traveler. It’s a pretty easy gig.

 So why have I decided to go to Buenos Aires alone? It’s not the most convenient time. I will be a bit lost without Matthew. I didn’t retain the Spanish I learned in high school and college. I will miss my dog and cats. It may be difficult to run my business from Argentina. (OK, these aren't the answers, these were my excuses not to go.)

 So why am I going? My heart told me to. That’s the only answer I can think of. I just need to go. For me. Now.

 On Thursday, I will be brave. I will get on that plane by myself. On Friday morning, after my red-eye flight, I will go through customs, get a cab from Ezeiza Airport and head to my new apartment. I will get my keys and ask about the nearest grocery store and laundry services. I will walk to my language school and take a little tour of the facilities. And then...

I will find a milonga, and (hopefully) I will dance.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Follow your bliss.

About this time, two years ago, I was sobbing in my therapist's office requesting meds and searching for answers. Donna seemed not to have any answers.

Instead, a script was written to give me temporary relief from my anxiety and malaise, but with it came an assignment: "Make a list of 100 things that make you happy," Donna requested. "Don't over think it, just make a list, even if you repeat the same thing 100 times."

What did make me happy? My house? The things in it? The success of my businesses? The comfortable lifestyle my "success" afforded me? My marriage? The prospect of having a family? None of these things made the list.

Instead, my list was mostly a mix of people and food that I loved (my niece and nephews, banana cream pie); places I wanted to go (Argentina, Greece, Egypt); adventures desired (learn a foreign language); and many things tango. TANGO! (The embrace, the connection, the movement, the shoes.)

Within days of making that list, I realized that my marriage didn't jive with my happy list. Within a year, I realized that I no longer needed to be medicated to be happy. Today, as I turned the keys to my apartment over to my landlord, I realized I am happy even homeless. (Possibly happier homeless?)

My yearbook quote my senior year of high school was “Follow your bliss.” (It was my second choice, but they wouldn’t print my favorite Paul Simon lyric, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”)

At some point since those innocent days, I got off track and started following other peoples' bliss. I made choices based on what I thought should make me happy, rather than my heart’s desire.

I went the traditional route. Got married. Nested in a big, beautiful home. Prepared to have babies. Drove my career. It seems blissful, right? I should have been really, really happy.

But here’s the truth about me. I was not a great wife. I hated the big mortgage and the stifling confinement that came with the beautiful house. I don’t want to have babies, but I love being an aunt. And I don’t want my sole identity to be about how I make my income. It took my happy list to figure a lot of this out. (My happy list, a divorce, hours of therapy and an extremely open minded boyfriend.)

Tomorrow, I am hopping on a plane with my sweetheart Matthew to take a little pre-adventure to my big adventure. (A Seattle/Puget Sound Island appetizer before my Buenos Aires main course.) When we return in two weeks, I will have just enough time to grab my overflowing suitcases (six pairs of tango shoes are already packed), kiss my Matthew goodbye (until he comes to me in November), and head south for 3 ½ months. Very far south.

Am I scared? Yes. Terrified. Do I speak Spanish? No. But I will learn. Do I know anyone one there? Not really. But I will make friends. Do I know what I am doing? (No.) Yes! I can tango. I am following my bliss.