Lore and I returned to yoga a couple of weeks ago after a hiatus of several years. There’s a downtown studio that offers a two-week trial period, so I have been trying the different classes at a flat rate.
The difference between the different styles of yoga are imperceptible to me sometimes. When I lived in Mississippi I practiced Ashtanga yoga, a structured and vigorous style that I really liked. Even though yoga is wildly popular here in Iowa City Ashtanga instructors are scarce.
The instructors are all very nice—the usual buoyant females one expects to find at the head of a yoga class. The class I attended yesterday morning was pretty crowded, about twenty people in a room half the size of a tennis court. There was one other man in the room.
I’m not in kindergarten and don’t need to hang everything I draw on the refrigerator (so to speak), but Lore thought this one was worth posting. The model kept moving her left arm while I was trying to draw it, which is why its incomplete. Staying still for forty minutes is not easy.
Neither of us can remember when we last went out for burgers, so we went in search of some tonight.
I happen to not like Iowa City’s most renowned burger place, Hamburg Inn No. 2. Their burgers aren’t very good, and the place suffers from the same apathetic student-employee service that plagues many businesses in this community. The most redeeming thing about the Hamburg Inn is the memorabilia on the wall. It’s a popular schmoozing stop for politicians during the Iowa caucuses. Both Reagan and Clinton ate and campaigned there (it’s at least the second place I’ve been to that Clinton had also; I bet he had a favorite restaurant in every town). Ironically, the falafel place two doors down has excellent food and service but gets no campaigning politicians, I guess because real Americans don’t eat falafel.
Anyway, around the corner from both these places there’s a little neighborhood bar that I heard has good burgers and that’s where we went. There is no menu; our waitress informed us they just have burgers and nuts. No plates, either. The burgers arrived wrapped in paper. We shrugged and opened them up. They were really good for all that. “Yes, they are good” said the waitress, “sometimes.”
My name is Nick. I work in New York and rent a house on the North Shore of Long Island. My rich next door neighbor throws these huge parties every week and I went once just to satisfy my curiosity. He didn’t seem like a very interesting person. Man, what a boring summer.
Adam’s artificial habitat was way overdue for some restyling. For almost a year, it looked barely different from the default theme. Now it’s less barely, but I like the grays with the colorful header photo. I still have a number of things I want to change, but this will do for now.
We went sketching again; same model as last week. We got there late and, not having our pick of seats, received a preponderance of posterior angles. Since I’ve pretty much mastered drawing rear ends, I practiced hands and feet with improved results.
I need a new raincoat so I’ve purchased an orange one. As a very little kid, orange was my favorite color. Lots of stuff was orange in the seventies. When we moved to Long Island, the walls of our new house were painted orange. We had orange dinnerware. I think we even had orange furniture. Then it went out of fashion for a very long time. My new raincoat is not bright international orange, but what Crayola might call burnt orange. The raincoat’s manufacturer calls it “Copper Canyon”.
It’s probably been a good six months since I’ve attended the drawing group. Here are the results. I’m out of practice and had particular trouble with the extremities and face as usual. I didn’t even attempt the face on the first couple of tries. This model had an interesting face that I couldn’t quite capture but I can’t figure out what I’m missing.
I’ve always maintained that the human brain is not meant for modern international travel. On Monday morning, for example, at about eleven o’clock I was shopping with my wife and sister-in-law in sultry Córdoba, Argentina. Twenty-four hours later, my wife and I were 9,000 miles away at home in our apartment in freezing Iowa. The abrupt change in scenery made two weeks in South America seem like a receding dream.
In between we were sealed up in jet planes and airports. Sometimes I wonder if the we ever leave the ground. Maybe it’s elaborate hoax, like a machine blows some fake clouds around the plane while some people shake it for nine hours. Then they let us out and tell us we’re in another airport. Meanwhile, they rearrange the signs and shops in the airport, and re-cast the local population with new actors.
Actually, they don’t have to rearrange much in the airport. We had layovers in Santiago, Chile, and even though we were quarter of a world away from home, we could still eat at Dunkin Donuts, Ruby Tuesday, or Starbucks. Yuck. I mean, what a waste to fly all that way to eat food I could eat at the Coralville Mall.
Speaking of wasting money: during our return layover in Santiago we were sitting across from a young American woman in an Oregon State sweatshirt complaining to a stranger about her trip to Chile. She couldn’t understand why Chileans were so proud of their polluted, impoverished country. She couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just pull themselves together and clean up the trash in their city. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t think being like us would be better.
She wasted her money on that trip. Is it really that hard to imagine that other people don’t share your exact same outlook? Is it just as hard to find what we have in common with people in other countries? What’s the point of traveling all that way if you don’t want to learn something?
Ugly Americans aside, our flights and layovers went smoothly without delays or incident. Mostly. The descent into Córdoba was rocky, like I thought the plane was going to shake apart. I nearly got sick—well, I was sick but I didn’t throw up. I haven’t been so sick on a plane in a long time.
Which reminded me: on trans-Andean flights, the safety orientations should include tips on survival cannibalism in case the plane crashes on a mountainside. Like which parts are the richest in fat and protein and not just empty carbs.
Córdoba’s airport is small for such a big city, and it was overwhelmed with Christmas travelers. Besides the long line at the passport control, there was barely enough room for all the people in the international baggage claim waiting to bring their stuff through customs. About a dozen people from our flight were missing bags; an equal number of unclaimed bags waited by the conveyor belt.
We lucked out and recovered all of our bags filled with Christmas gifts. Because we brought Christmas stockings, we also brought hooked weights to hang them on. The customs agent was intrigued and asked Lore a lot of questions. I didn’t pay much attention, for a couple of reasons. I was having trouble following the conversation in Spanish. And for a women who spends much of her day bending over looking through people’s luggage she sure was showing a lot of cleavage. We had arrived in Argentina.
On the way home, the airline agents wouldn’t let us gate-check our carry-on luggage for the flight back to Santiago. It was a small plane and our carry-ons are at the upper end of the size limit. On the way to Argentina they were fine but flying back the to United States we couldn’t gate check them. Which defeats the purpose of bring a carry-on, right? That pretty much settles it: I’m going back to using my little L.L. Bean rucksack as a carry-on. As I’m fond of reminding Lore, I once traveled to the U.K. for a week with only what I could fit in that little bag. But those were simpler days.
Christmas in Argentina is celebrated on December 24, but things don’t really get started until late at night. Christmas stockings are not traditional here, so for fun Lore and I brought some for her family. We hung them from the counter in the dining room.
At midnight the adults all brought the gifts to the tabletop tree. Then we brought Lore’s five-year old nephew in and told him that Papa Noel (Santa Claus) had come. Lore’s youngest sister even dressed up as Papa Noel and pretended to be caught leaving the house. Oddly, even in the subtropical summer heat he still dresses for the North Pole. For a nineteen year old girl my sister-in-law made a pretty good Papa Noel.
After midnight we exchanged gifts. Outside the entire city erupted in fireworks—another benefit of summertime Christmas. Argentina doesn’t bother with the exercise of outlawing or discouraging fireworks in the name of safety, and they are everywhere. Some people lit globos, paper hot-air balloons that sail glowing overhead.
Driving Lore’s grandmother and aunt home, we passed a club where some celebrating was to happen. It was still empty, as it was only around 2 a.m. and much too early to start partying. Lore’s younger siblings went out later but we took a pass on the all-night dancing this time.
Saturday, December 25 was more of a take-it-easy day. We actually swam in a backyard swimming pool on Christmas. It was a hot day, but the pool was pleasant in the late afternoon. We shared mate in the shade afterward. Taking mate is a nice, easy-going ritual of conversation and passing around tea that we sip from a common straw.
All this swimming and hanging out in the yard reminds me that Argentina is not “Chrismassy” from an American point of view. Of course the weather is not Christmas-like, but the decorations are pretty minimal and the gift-giving is modest. I think Argentina’s Christmas lacks the excess I’ve come to despise, and that is okay with me.
It was hot. The dryness made the heat tolerable, especially indoors, but the heat sort of crept up on us and wore us down. I think humidity, for all the discomfort it causes, is a gift in the sense that it alerts you to unpleasantly hot weather sooner rather than later.
We’d wait for it to cool off before going downtown. On Sunday we went to the Paseo de los Artesanos—also known locally as “los hippies”—a popular weekly street fair. The vendors aren’t so much hippies as independent designers and crafters. In the U.S. these fairs are common enough that it’s hard to find the good stuff among all the junk, but this fair was pretty good. Lore says the same is happening with this fair, though; it has outgrown the plaza and many vendors have opened permanent shops on the adjacent streets.
The cool Sunday evening was also an occasion for asado (barbecue) with Lore’s friends. We brought bags of surplus Halloween candy to share. American candy goes down well here, though Lore’s friends didn’t quite know what to make of Tootsie Rolls.
The heat wave intensified on Monday to over 100 degrees Fahrenheir, and the local news announced a “heat alert”. I knew it got hot in Argentina but that was hottest I had experienced in my several trips there. The news announcer said to stay home and take a nap in the afternoon, and we obeyed.
After it cooled off, we walked across town to visit Lore’s grandmother and aunt. On the way we walked through the National University campus. In front of the business school there was a big mess, like an elephant had thrown up on the walk. Lore pointed and said, “That’s what happens when you get your degree.” As if that wasn’t enough of an eyebrow-raising thought, just then a young woman walked past wearing only her underwear, but covered from head to foot in multicolored mess. Lore explained that when you graduate, your friends cut off your clothes and douse you with food, paint, confetti, or whatever they can bring from home. “You have to make sure you wear nice underwear and bring something to sit on so your car doesn’t get dirty,” she said.
The next day the the heat wave broke. We went to a downtown bookstore to buy a Spanish dictionary. I mean a real one, with definitions in Spanish, not a Spanish to English dictionary. My Spanish was very, very rusty on this trip and the dictionary will help with that (and with Scrabble too).
Lore tried to explain peanut butter to her mother. Descriptions of peanut butter always get the same reaction from non-Americans and I could never understand why. It’s so simple and mundane that it hardly merits a mention, but some people find it as exotic as I might find fried grasshoppers. It also turns out our use of fruit as part of any meal (like breakfast) is a bit odd. Fruit, to Argentinians, is thought of as an after-lunch dessert. So my breakfast of fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt stood out as a little bizarre.
For all that, Argentina has never been very shocking to me. I’m always struck by how similar it is to the U.S. And there are I times I can’t tell the difference. We went shopping at Patio Olmos, a downtown shopping mall, and ate lunch in the food court. When I squinted and blurred out the Spanish menus I felt like I could have been anywhere. Lore related to her family my comment that I didn’t think Argentina was a Third World country (more like a Second World country, as I like to joke). That was worth a couple of days of discussion over tea.
At the end of the year the shops were open during the day, but waiters and cab drivers seemed grouchy and in a hurry to go home. We passed New Year’s Eve with a nice chicken dinner with Lore’s family on their patio. They don’t watch television—there is no ball drop like in Times Square—but as expected all hell broke loose at the appointed moment.
The fireworks in the neighborhood were even more intense than on Christmas. The most spectacular thing about these fireworks was their ubiquitousness. Since they go off in all directions you have to pay attention, so as not miss anything but also for your safety.
On New Year’s Day Lore’s mom and stepfather took us up the scenic route to Villa Giardino. We went first through Córdoba’s suburban towns and then by a new highway over the sierras. The sierras were cool and covered in lush green pastures full of horses and cows. The paved highway isn’t complete, so we took a bumpy dirt road that wound its way down the other side of the hills to La Falda, where my mother-in-law grew up. La Falda is a cute summer town but most of the cafes were closed for the holiday.
At night, back in Córdoba, we were looking for something to do. After the rain stopped, we went to Paseo del Buen Pastor for a lomito (like a Philly cheese steak but with much more cholesterol). We also strolled through the Plaza España to see the Christmas decorations. The concrete monuments were wrapped up like giant gift boxes and a tall tree of Christmas lights rose from its center of the plaza.
In our down time, Lore and I flipped through her mom’s old magazines. One biweekly, Caras, is a bit like an Argentinian version of People. I was struck by how many celebrities Argentina has for a country with a medium-sized population; the percentage of whom appear in this magazine seems extremely high. Pretty much anybody wealthy, prominent, or successful who wants their picture taken is a celebrity. My mother-in-law calls them figureti: those who stick their heads into other people’s photos. They are sort of like an volunteer army of Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons, who fill the gaps in the endless celebrity news cycle.
This was not much of a sight-seeing trip, so I don’t have many good photos to share. It was more of a visiting, celebrating, and shopping trip and I was glad to put the camera away for most of it.