Dos Años

2007.Jul.02 Monday · 6 comments

in Life, Popular Posts

Buenos Aires – I was all set to spend a little time catching up on some of the reviews I’ve been wanting to do when I happened to glance at the calendar and something about the date reminded me of my time here in Buenos Aires. I’ve been thinking that I’d arrived in early June, but realized that I actually got here on July 2nd, 2005 for my planned 2-3 month stay… and here I still am two years later. Some days it seems like that two years has passed awfully fast, and other days it seems like I’ve been here for far longer – especially when I start looking at all the writing I’ve done, especially restaurant reviews – how did I fit this many restaurant meals in, especially when I also cook here at home a fair amount??? I thought I’d take a few moments out to just sort of evaluate life and where it’s gotten to over the last two years…

I get reminded, regularly, of what life was like in New York when I meet visitors, or relatively new transplants, who can’t quite seem to get the slow paced rhythm of the city. They want to go, go, go, and get things done, and have things happen, and see everything, and do it all, and can’t someone please get out of the way… and I know that when I got here, and it’s obvious just looking back at the types of postings I was doing at that time, that I was much the same way. That’s changed, and it’s an amazingly less stressful way to live, when you just relax and “go with the flow”. Things happen here when they happen – you can sometimes force things to happen faster, but in general, you end up with an unsatisfactory experience for everyone involved. You can worry about when and how… I get requests for reservations sometimes as much as 8 months in advance now, and talking to some of these people I find that they’ve scheduled their breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and the time periods in between, all that far in advance. What kind of vacation is that?

I haven’t worn a watch in two years, as of today. I took it off when I arrived and haven’t put it on since.

I get asked regularly what are the differences I find in living here, do I miss New York, what attracts me about this place. It’s a complicated answer, and much of it might not make sense to someone who’s not living it. Standing in line used to drive me crazy, and it’s something one simply has to do here. I’ve learned to bring something to read, or I talk to other people in line.

In New York, probably in the U.S. in general, red tape is as much a fact of life as it is anywhere. But it’s also very proscribed – this is what you do, where you do it, and how you do it. Here, red tape is a more of something vaguely hinted at… yes, there are processes, trámites, for everything, but they’re, well, fungible, flexible. Most of the time it’s near impossible to even find out what the official version of the process is, let alone the remote possibility that anyone will actually follow it. Things get done here by a mix of patience and conversation – you work things out with the folks who are processing things. A smile, a handshake, a kiss on the cheek, a casual chat, a cup of coffee, some homemade cookies, knowing the right person, sometimes, yes, even a small bribe, and things get worked out. Try to insist on the process and you just find yourself inundated with more process. I like this way of doing things. I never know when I’m going to do just the right thing or talk to just the right person, and suddenly it all works out. But it does… I’ve learned to have faith.

I always wanted to live in another country for awhile. I admit, I never thought it would be Argentina, I never thought it would be South America, I never thought it would involve having to learn another language. I mean, I studied several languages over the years, and at various points in my past I’ve been conversationally fluent in French, Italian, Hebrew, Russian, Mandarin, and Esperanto. Somehow or other, Spanish never got into the mix. I arrived two years ago, as I like to joke with people, knowing taco, burrito, enchilada (not one of which is useful in Argentina) and probably three other Spanish words. I’m now pleasantly surprised, no, elated, that I’m actually able to wander about, conversing with people, and not really thinking about just how the hell I’m going to communicate with them. I’m by no means fluent, and while I may know the theories of using things like subjunctive and imperative cases, I rarely remember to actually do so, except in hindsight – but I manage to talk, back and forth, with a grammatical level that’s probably about equal to a fourth grader here, though, perhaps with a better vocabulary – at best I know that locals tend to be surprised that I’ve only been here two years – and less and less often they pick me out as a norteamericano automatically from my speech.

Perhaps the biggest gift has been the opportunity to explore a new culture. Make that two new cultures, as not only am I surrounded geographically by Argentina and more specifically Buenos Aires, but my life with Henry has immersed me in the world of Peruvian culture as well. I’ve learned things about the world, good and bad – and not just here, but gaining an outsider’s point of view at our own country. I’ve learned to appreciate, and even find humor in, the bizarre arrogance that accompanies the proud porteño culture… and just as quickly, see how bizarrely arrogant the culture of New York was – something that I probably hadn’t really paid any attention to in 15-20 years, having lived there for 23 years. I’ve come to truly enjoy meeting people from all over – one of the biggest pluses for me of Casa SaltShaker – sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s always, in some way, rewarding.

I’ve rediscovered love. It’s been a rocky relationship, with plenty of ups and downs, with personal, cultural and, socio-economic differences and clashes, but Henry and I somehow or other have managed to work through them, time and time again – something that I’d guess, in New York, I wouldn’t have invested the time and effort into. Part of it is no doubt the difference in lifestyle, and also the associated not working 60-80 hours a week as I was used to. A big part of it is no doubt being in love.

So what does the future hold? I’m not sure, any more than I was of where I was headed when I arrived here 730 days ago. Is Argentina a permanent home? Nothing’s permanent, but who knows? I simply haven’t looked that far into the future to even predict. If I, we, were to decide to leave, where to? Again, who knows, I sometimes speculate, but have certainly come to no conclusions. I know I’ve concentrated my focus on the city of Buenos Aires itself over that time – with only a few sidetrips. People are constantly amazed that after two years I haven’t seen some of Argentina’s most famous sites – Iguazu Falls, Mendoza, Bariloche, various parts of Patagonia – so I know that I plan to make time for as many of those as I can work out this year. I know I want to expand the world of what I’m writing – so if you’re an editor out there, start thinking about how you’re going to respond when you get my query letter…

And, you know what? When it comes down to it, I simply don’t know what’s next. I’m open to a world of possibilities and ready to go, go, go… though I think first, I’ll go meet some friends for a café and watch the tourists walk by…

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Pip July 3, 2007 at 00:43

First of all, congratulations! It must have been a rocky road for sure to make such a change, but it seems like you are taking it all in and enjoying it.
It´s surprising to see that you consider Buenos Aires to have a relaxed pace, I can only imagine what NYC is like then! But either way, it´s always good to stop and smell the roses, to use an original phrase, of course.

ksternberg July 3, 2007 at 01:05

As a native New Yorker (no longer there) who has visited you in BA, I think I have a grasp on what you mean about the relaxed pace there. This is a really good, moving and well-written entry. Fate has certainly been kind to you, although I think it was Ben Franklin who said “I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get,” so various factors are in play. Certainly, no matter what’s next, your life in BA will influence you in whatever you do, wherever you are. Personally, I think where you are is wonderful: A beautiful city with great food and wine, a nice apartment, a good relationship, and an economy where the currency is on a 3:1 ration with the dollar. I kind of like the open a restaurant in the U.S. idea (because I’d like to be closer to your cooking), but please don’t let that affect your decision-making.

doctorevie July 3, 2007 at 09:36

Wonderful entry, Dan. I celebrated my 2nd expat anniversary this past April. Last night, I was sitting with Marcelo in our dining room, and I thought, “Damn. Here I am sitting with Marcelo in an apartment in Buenos Aires. How trippy is this?” I still can’t believe it that the winds of fate have carried me down here. It’s been completely frustrating, exhilarating, surprising, and damn scary at times, but I’m glad I had the balls to make the move. It’s still disconcerting to think that ALL my stuff is here, that I have nothing to go back to in the States. Well, not nothing, but my life and all my committments are here now. I totally related to the part about love and relationships. Talk about the clash of the cultures, generations, psychologies. I have been close to calling it a day many, MANY times, because why fight with someone in another language when you can fight with someone in your own language and on familiar territory?! Still, you know, love keeps me here, and, I know that the good outweighs the bad. So, I, too, rediscovered love. Love is an amazing, maddening thing, and I’m so grateful for the experience (even though it just sucks sometimes). I don’t know if I would have chosen this place to live if it had not been for Marcelo. I would have chosen Italy or my homestate of California. But this continues to be a big adventure. Best of luck to you, and keep cooking!

dan July 3, 2007 at 11:55

I’ve gotten a couple of e-mails on this post as well – thought I’d post a couple of snippets:

i just read your column on being in argentina two years as of July 2 – congratulations are in order – i think you ve made a great change and done a hell of a lot – and entertained me many times with your musings – it should make you proud that 208 people from around the world signed on and read your post in the last 24 hours – i am in east hampton at this moment with company from joliette, outside of montreal canada for dinner – i brought up foam in cooking at dinner and they brought up some chef from barcelona – and now im sending them your column on foam etc – as far as relationships go, if youre still together and talking, you’ve doing better than most – that’s another major accomplishment – keep trying – i just wanted to say thanks and again, congratulations on two years – D.M. I’m taking the time out to write because I was thinking of you the other day and I sort of had a mini-dream if you will where I saw you going to the next level of your expertise in Argentina when you open a small restaurant, where you become more defined in “branding” yourself if you will – what I saw specifically was you giving out “wine awards” or “medals” that you see given to premium wines annually for their quality – but in this case it would be the “Casa Saltshaker” Gold, Silver, Copper and Bronze metals to the wines indigenous to where you are at in South America (so you could be inclusive of Chile, Brazil and Uruguay as well as Argentina) as to which wines best paired overall with your ethnic meals, etc., which you chose over and over to cook with again, etc. I mean, it would be something rather novel and new, no, but don’t all traditions have to have a starting point? Anyway it made enough of an impression on me that I thought I would write and tell you – perhap soon I’ll see you anyway on ultilissima (they carry the channel here in Miami) with your own (well deserved) show. – R.B.

Thanks to everyone above for the good wishes and thoughts!

Frank Almeida July 5, 2007 at 13:08

Congratulations Dan! Happy belated two years. I am currently in an expo and should actually be doing some work, but I wanted to take a couple of minutes to read a couple of blogs and catch up on some that I have not been to for a while. So I wish you a very happy two year anniversary and look forward to seeing you here many more years.

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