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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New-to-you blog

Hello all! Hola a todos! Please visit my new blog project:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chronicles from the South

I taught my first class in over a year earlier this week. Suddenly, after months away—comfortably sheltered between parentheses—I stood once again before 27 pairs of eyes, stressing the importance of proper pronunciation and the position of accent marks. “No one gets out of doing their homework, and everyone should do their best to participate,” I heard myself saying. In the span of an instant, I felt a world away from Uruguay.

However, what I hope to teach my students over the course of this semester (and all those yet to come) is to look through the cracks in this grand structure we call language—just one of the metaphorical dividing lines between us and them, here and there—to find what unites their lives with the world around them.

I will tell them, for example, that my time in South America has actually resembled my experience in the southern part of America. I will reiterate what they already know: My wanderings through the South have taught me that sometimes the simplest things in life are the finest, and that even if you don’t earn much, humility and respect always pay big. I’ll introduce them to something new: Life—like sweet tea and mate—is always better when taken slowly and with friends. Most importantly, though, I hope to convey what may be the best lesson of all: Even the most far-off places are intrinsically connected by a common journey we must all undertake—the pursuit of life.

So, the position of accent marks may never be relative, but our position in the world is, since the path we choose to create is always more significant than our final destination.

Thank you for joining me on this phase of my journey, and may the chronicles of your life lead you to the South.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Old Life

I recently read Nando Parrado´s Miracle in the Andes, a first-person account of the 1972 plane crash that took the lives of 29 Uruguayan rugby players, and launched the remaining 16 into reluctant stardom. You might remember the 1993 film "Alive." It was fact, not fiction.

Anyway, for lack of a better term, I devoured the book, hanging on every word, every harrowing moment, every attempt to stay alive. Parrado´s perspective transported me directly to the crash site, where I tried to imagine my role had I been trapped in the Andes for 72 days.

It was a futile attempt; I will never know how I would´ve reacted in that exact situation. Be that as it may, aspects of Parrado´s story resonated with me. At the time of the crash, he considered himself a dreamer: a wanderer in constant, restless search of new challenges and adventures.

As he and his childhood friends clung precariously to life—merely existing from one breath to the next—Parrado mentions a revelation, one that ultimately saved his life. It went something like this: Love is the only force worth living for and the only real adventure. His account turned the “tragedy in the Andes,” as it often referred to here, into a miracle, proving that love—the kind we feel for our family, friends, lovers, and life—is the only thing powerful enough to move us over mountains.
I´d like to think I know what Parrado is talking about and that, in some small way, I´ve united my biggest adventures and challenges with the love I feel for others. The circumstances of my life may have led me far from the place I was born, but they have´t led me away from the people I love and who love me, since I seem to find both everywhere I go.

So, as 2008 transitioned seamlessly to 2009, I remembered it doesn´t take being trapped in the Andes to realize such an important lesson. It doesn´t take being far from home, and it certainly doesn´t take a new year. Each day gives us the opportunity to build a new life based on the old, in which we construct who we are and the path before us on one foundation alone: love and miracles.

My first sunrise of 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Uruguayan Christmas, recounted in reverse

I can’t recall when exactly Christmas began in the Southern Hemisphere. Intuition would tell me that it started on the morning of the 25th, but like my friend Christina (very eloquently) observed in her blog, among the distance, sun, and sand, my internal compass has sent me off course more than once recently.

Although, I do have the distinct impression that Christmas actually began in the waning hours of the 24th, as my Uruguayan family and I launched wrapping paper and fireworks towards the sky, watching with wonder as each shot through the air with a dull roar--suspended briefly on our breath—and quickly descended back to Earth.

Maybe Christmas started earlier that evening, as I took just one more pull from the yerba mate my friend handed to me on his rooftop terrace—overlooking the city that’s taken me under its care this year--, where I held my breath and tried to suspend reality for just one more instant.

Or maybe it started earlier that afternoon at the Mercado del Puerto, where I joined the masses as we drenched one another in cider and excitement, where young men suspended themselves from fountains and monuments—new targets for the jeers and bottles circulating among the crowd—and where I sighed a breath of relief for having toughed it out: filthy, but alive.

But maybe—just maybe—Christmas started earlier that morning, as I opened my eyes and drew in my first conscious breath of the day, suddenly unsure what to expect from what would have been the most familiar of days.

If ever I intuited that this life would be normal, I’m glad my compass has led me so far off course.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A reluctant idealist

Fernanda says she is a misanthrope. That’s what I understood, at least, when she confessed recently to not liking most people. In fact, I heard echoes of Holden Caulfield as she deconstructed her disappointment in humanity, chiding herself for having once had high expectations.

Fernanda says she is a misanthrope, but I’m not sure I believe her. If anything, she is a reluctant idealist.

This is how I know why:

We met about a month ago, at a tango bar in the heart of Montevideo. I was with a friend. So was she. At some point in the night—although, I can’t remember when exactly—we exchanged a friendly glace, toasted our wine, and began a conversation that flowed with as much ease and grace as the couples dancing around us. Talking to her was exciting and felt, in a way, like a transgression.

She told me about the place where she was born—Tigre, a small town near Buenos Aires—and the origin of her family, which unites the Old World with the New. She referred to America as a concept, a fantasy—a verb conjugated in the future tense—, and admitted to having learned German for a man she once loved. She recounted her adventures as an archeologist in training and traced the circumstances that led her from the northernmost point of Argentina, where Chile and Bolivia share a contested frontier, to the tranquil coast of Uruguay.

In the story of her life, I saw reflections of my own.

And for all of her misgivings about the world—which she confessed to me in secret—I discovered a woman brimming with life, whose heart still beats to the rhythm of new opportunities. Whose eyes focus on the possibility of what is yet to come. Whose arms embrace new friends with love.

Fernanda still swears she is a misanthrope, but reassures that, for me, she’ll make an exception.

Fernanda, another friend, and I spent last weekend in Cabo Polonio, a national park and beach community to the East of Montevideo. There's no running water or electricity, and it is, by far, the most "tranquilo" place in Uruguay.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cumplimos años

My tattoo turned a decade old today.

I got it in Spain, near the red-light district in Madrid, at a vintage clothing store that also served, to my delight, as a tattoo parlor. I spent weeks sizing up the place, returning with some frequency to revise racks of clothing and thumb through pages of designs, trying to appear as non-committal as possible.

After months of this silent, one-sided courtship, an employee finally approached me and reassured that they could have me pinned down, inked up, and ready for a family lunch in under an hour. I muttered a few unintelligible phrases in Spanish and quickly backed out of the store, just as my fear was giving way to a complete loss of self-control and proper bodily function. It was clear to me: she who hates needles would need more time. So, I considered more designs.

I contemplated a Japanese fish and even glanced at an Egyptian eye.

Finally, though, I settled on a sun. Just a sun. Although, really, it’s a sun people often mistake for a wheel, which is just as good, in my opinion. It reminds me of Apollo in his chariot, dragging a huge, fiery disk across the sky, and thus giving rise and rest to the day. It reminds me of the word revolution: change and continuity.

I can’t attribute my tattoo to any famous artist, or some raucous night of partying. Rather, it was born of the imagination and intuition of a 17-year-old girl who knew that no matter how far she wandered from home—and, at times, it would be far—the sun would always shine on her back as her head and heart faced the future. It marks the decision I made to become a part of the world—the kind of birth I could control.

My tattoo turned ten today. The canvass it graces turned 27.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I pass by this stand on the way to the gym.

For this, and many other things, I am thankful.
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