Argentina (Part 3) Despair and Joy

My friend who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, made this lovely short video about her experience and it fits right into the conversation I’ve been having with myself about trips versus vacations. In the video, J_ talks about how people think of a long hike as “an extended vacation in the mountains surrounded by the awesome vistas and beauty. But she says that while there are moments of this, that

“… really it is filled with long dusty miles and sore muscles, and truly, the greatest gifts from taking a long walk are not the landscape, but the lessons learns while oscillating between despair and joy.”

I doubt I’ll ever be brave enough to set out on a months-long hike, but my recent journey did offer up moments of “despair and joy.” 

For example, a Friday in Buenos Aires: 

Because our original plans to visit another city hadn’t been workable in the end, we’d decided to stay extra days in the Buenos Aires neighborhood we’d begun in, Palermo. Because our first AirB&B apartment wasn’t available for the weekend, it had seemed easiest to moved across the street to another apartment, owned by the same people. Despite choosing this for convenience, the move was stressful and rushed. We’d stayed up late with our Argentinian friend, M_, who was staying with us for a few days.  We woke late, disorganized, and up against an early checkout time. A_felt sick, and M_ and I had to navigate our substantial language barriers on our own as we worked out our plans.

While the apartments on both sides of the street were fine in terms of actual space, they shared one flaw which was becoming more apparent by the moment: Each came with only only one key — which was also necessary not only for the apartment, but also to get both in and out of the building itself. So if one person wanted to leave the building—to take a suitcase or even to take out some trash —another person had to take them downstairs to the lobby and let them out if they wanted to keep the key, or had to be trapped inside. This necessity made the move more chaotic than it needed to be, and throughout the trip made normal things, like running to the store, more difficult.

By early Friday afternoon, A_ was sick in bed, and M_ was out shopping. I was home, in charge of the key,  banging away on the old, dodgy laptop I had brought and battling the spotty internet and my spottier Spanish to figure out how to comply with the new Covid travel rule that had just gone into effect. We needed to show proof of negative tests taken one day before our departure. Our flight was on Sunday, in the evening. Did one day mean 24 hours or one calendar day? If it was a calendar day, I could find a place open on Saturday. But if it was 24 hours, I needed to find a place on a Sunday morning that would get the results back in time. The internet sputtered and stalled as I attempted to compare lab locations on maps and to navigate vague online appointment systems. I dialed phone numbers but no one answered.

Then, directly below our window a jack-hammer began to hammer, and in a nearby apartment, a dog began barking and didn’t stop, no doubt feeling as trapped and anxious as I was. 

As my anxiety mounted, I decided to give up on technology and physically go find one of the labs. Every place said they didn’t take walk-in appointments, but surely I could just talk to someone, face-to-face, who could answer my questions and reassure me that we’d be able to leave the country, after which I knew I’d feel much better. Choosing what seemed to be the closest lab, I set out on foot. The street was busier, dirtier and much longer than I’d anticipated, but I finally arrived at the address.

The lab was nowhere to be found. No one I asked seemed to know about it, and of course when I called, no one answered. I hailed a cab and directed it to a second lab address, but traffic was bad and I was running out of time to meet M_ and let him in, so I returned to the apartment, defeated. The jackhammer was still hammering, the dog was still barking, A_ was still sleeping, and I had failed to make us a Covid test plan that would allow us to board our plane in two days. And also, I had no real career, was a failure as a writer, there was a new pandemic variant descending and, oh yeah… I had cancer! What had I been thinking taking this trip at all?!


But then M_ returned. He was so sweet and supportive, offering to delay taking a bus with a five-hour ride back to his city in order to take a cab with me to a lab and work it out. This pushed me to look at my research one last time, and finally I found a web-article that gave me enough confidence to book a Saturday test, which I did, figuring If it’s wrong, we’ll figure it out tomorrow.  M_ left to catch his bus. The despair started to dissipate. 

I had an arranged friend-date in the evening, and turned my attention to preparing. I took a shower, put on my one kind-of-dressy outfit. At some point, the hammers finally stop hammering and the dog stops barking. A_ woke up, feeling better. 

When A_ , let me out of the building and I stepped onto the street, the air felt airier — the way it sometimes does on summer evenings. I met V_ , a friend of a mutual friend, at a seafood restaurant called La Pescadorita. It had good sidewalk eating areas with some tenting between the tables and the traffic on the road, and hanging out with V_ was a true pleasure. She was so honest and open about her life, I felt like I was hanging out with a friend. After dinner, we walked along the brick sidewalks and cobble roads to La Viruta Tango,  a club where people go to dance. V_ says they although they don’t publicize, that pre-pandemic, there would be lines of tourists there to watch the dancers, just from word of mouth. 

La Viruta reminded me of the masonic lodges and social halls where I used to go swing-dancing back in the day. But whereas those places could feel temporary and rented for an event, La Viruta felt a true place for dancers. It was dark, with a bar at the back and a stage in the front and tables with table clothes around the dance area.

We arrived around 10pm, when the less experienced dancers were still practicing after a lesson and the more advanced dancers were just beginning to arrive. Having been a dancer in the past, the ritual was familiar to me, but the dance itself was complex and unfamiliar. 

Around 11, there was the unexpected surprise of a live band! Called Otros Aires, they played tango, but the singer had a laptop and the tango was fused with other beats, like cumbia, maybe salsa — I loved it. Watching the dancers and the band, I felt my heart swell. I was struck with a sense of wonder and gratitude at being alive. Joy.

Around round midnight, the band ended, and the DJ unexpectedly took a break from Tango to play some salsa. A young man invited some of the dancers at the next table to dance. When they refused, V_  pushed me to volunteer. O_ was very happy to be asked, and we danced a couple of salsas, and then a 50s era East Coast swing and had a lot of fun. An older gentleman named M_ then invited me to dance just as they started playing a song that was unfamiliar.

I found myself in a group dance comprised of multiple sets of partners. I did my best to copy the steps of my partner and another woman in the group. Everyone was patient and laughing. After the dance, V_ told me it was a form of Argentine folklorico. It was similar to, but not exactly like this:

Then the tango music resumed, and a rejoined V_ at our table. Sitting at the table, a little sweaty and out of breath, with a new friend, watching the dancers whose lives might be hard or easy, coming together and celebrating with music and movement, I felt a surge of happiness—of gratitude that I get to be part of this, that I get to be a human living on earth, that I get a life with moments like this.

I felt joy.

More crappy pictures:

Selfie before meeting V_ at La Pescadorita.
The club (where photographing the dancers is discouraged. This is the bands first song, and apparently it is polite that no one dance during the first song, everyone just listens.)
On the sidewalk outside La Viruta, there is this paving stone…where you can practice your Tango step, like this:

Argentina (Part 2) – Birthday in Bahia Blanca


Once A and I arrived in Buenos Aires, we needed to get to my ASR “magical birthday spot,” Bahia Blanca, a small city south of Buenos Aires. It takes about eight-hours to travel to Bahia Blanca by car, or just over an hour by plane. We chose the plane. Planes from the smaller local airport in Buenos Aires to Bahia Blanca depart twice a day— in the morning and in the afternoon. Bahia Blanca is the kind of place, where, when you tell Argentinians you need to go there, they look at you perplexed, and ask “Why?” We only had a week in Argentina, and since I really only needed to be in Bahia Blanca at 1:29pm (local time) on my birthday, I considered flying in the morning, hanging out in the airport, and returning in the afternoon. But this plan contained some risk: If anything went wrong with the morning flight, there wouldn’t be any other options and I would have traveled all the way to Argentina only to fail in my mission! In the end, we decided to play it safe and take an afternoon flight on the previous day to make double-sure I was in the right place at the right time.

Upon arriving in Bahia Blanca, we took a cab from the airport into town and found it about as it had been described to us, which is to say, very average. If I was to pick an Argentinian version of the town I grew up in, it might be this. Probably a pretty nice place to go to work, have a family, pay rent, go to the grocery story… but not exactly a cultural or aesthetic mecca. Which was not really a disappointment. We were still dealing with jet-lag and happy enough not to feel obligated to rush to any famous museums, etc.

We did, however, accomplish a rite of passage for Argentina, in that we found a place that would exchange our money at the “blue market rate.” The blue market rate is almost double the official exchange rate. Swapping bills at this rate is not illegal, but not exactly legal either, so you need to find a partner and a place either by going to someplace like the reputed exchange hotspot of Calle Florida back in Buenos Aires, or by “asking around,” and finding someone trustworthy. After a couple of misses, we lucked out asking a staffer at our hotel. It probably didn’t hurt that A_ tipped him generously in American cash when he helped with our bags.  He gave us the address of a small shop whose primary business was something other than a money exchange. Discreetly counting out our bills at the counter felt, as A_, put it, “a little shady,” but it was safer and nicer than Calle Florida would have been, and much less time-consuming. It felt like a victory as it helped me stretch my travel funds for the rest of the trip!

The next day was my birthday, and also “Immaculate Conception Day” or “Day of the Virgin.” I’d read about this before our trip and and had wondered if the day might be occasion for a festival or a parade or something. I can say that, at least in Bahia Blanca, it is not. As we were exchanging our money the previous day, I’d asked the shop-owner what happened on this holiday and she described it as a day where, if you are religious, you can go to church, or you stay home or hang out with family. Nobody goes to work and pretty much all businesses are closed. Kind of like Christmas Day without the decorations. A_ and I enjoyed the fact that we had our hotel to ourselves, went to the little hotel gym, and used the time to figure some travel plans that were changing.

By the magical hour of 1:29pm, we were back at the airport, preparing to board our plane. I felt a little worldlier and wealthier. I wasn’t sure if I felt immediately luckier, but, but that’s mostly a matter of mindset, so I decided I did!

A reader has asked for some pictures. It’s hard to convey how badly I failed as a photographer on this trip, but these will start to give you some idea!

View from our hotel window
Our waiting plane at the Bahia Blanca Airport
Me and A_ at the airport at the magical moment of 1:29pm on my birthday.


Argentina – (Part 1) It Was a Trip

I’ve been remiss in reporting about my Argentina trip.

Upon my return, a friend, S, (who also does an annual ASR trip) asked me how it was. I replied, “Good, but not relaxing.”

She responded, “It’s an ASR trip. It’s not really the point for it to be relaxing.”

Her response made me think.

Other people had asked the same question, and I had been giving versions the same answer, “Good, but not relaxing,” a touch humorously, maybe a tinge apologetically— as if the expectation would be that if I went on this big trip, I should return rested and renewed. Or healed in some way. And since I couldn’t say that, I felt my answer was low-key disappointing. This expectation was, of course, something I projected on the people who asked. The only person I can say with certainty might have actually felt that way… is me. But when S said what she did, I quickly recognized there had been a gap in my thinking—

— because a “trip” and a “vacation” are different things. Maybe because we take “vacation time” from normal work to travel, “taking a vacation” has certain connotations. Like a good, successful vacation should be relaxing and fun and easy. I’ve never taken a luxury cruise, or been to an all inclusive resort, but these might seem like the ideal that other people with less time and resources should aspire to match—a complete escape from one’s daily life and freedom from the worries and decisions. And maybe you also learn about other cultures secondarily, but it’s not the primary impetus.

“Traveling” on the other hand, is like living your life in a different place. Though we usually hope for life to be easy, I don’t know that we generally expect it to be, and of course maybe it’s better for ones growth as a person to deal with some things that are hard. Maybe a main point of traveling is discovery; to learn about where and how other people live and navigate the unfamiliar, and then maybe, to imagine what one’s life would be in this different place, once the unfamiliar things had become familiar. Maybe the point of taking a trip—and maybe particular an ASR trip —is to be forced (or given the opportunity) to examine ones perspective. Such examination often leads to change, I guess. And change, as they say, it hard.

So Argentina was trip. It was traveling. Some plans fell through. Some plans came scarily close to falling through, but then didn’t. There were logistical issues, language mishaps, a minor injury. But having come out on the other side of things, I look back and feel like like dealing with those things was ultimately rewarding—an important reminder that I am always learning and can and will deal with whatever comes my way.


Why I’m Writing This on a Plane to Argentina

Dec 5, 2021

Wait, you’re probably thinking, Is she “literally” on a plan to Argentina, or is this going to be one of those posts where “flying to Argentina” is some weird metaphor? The answer is I am typing this on an American Airlines flight that just took off from Dallas Fort Worth, and in nine and a half hours will land in Buenos Aires.

The plane is full, it’s dimly lit. Some folks —including my traveling companion—have already taken their in-flight drugs and are sleeping, chins to chests. Glowing screens on the walls show our flight path, and more glowing screens on the seat backs silently play commercials, episodes of Ted Lasso, and movies with car chases and fight scenes. One contented baby is sleeping in the seat in front of me, while one discontented (and incredibly strong-lunged) baby cries across the aisle. It’s okay. I’m wearing earplugs.

But you don’t care about any of this – you’re wondering why I don’t get to the point and tell you why I’m on my way to Argentina. I’m procrastinating because the answer is a little embarrassing.

It’s because an astrologist told me to.

Some background:

A few years ago, a friend (who’d been having some good luck in love, career, etc,) told Paul that she had been consulting an astrologist, K, who specialized in Solar Returns. The idea has something to do with looking at the position of the stars when and where you were born and somehow using that information to calculate where your “best stars” are for any given year. The astrologist then recommends where on the globe you should spend her birthday, in order to mitigate transits that might be unlucky, and optimize what can be optimized.

That was the first year that, for our anniversary, Paul got us readings from K. I can’t say I exactly believe in the astrology, but I do believe in affirmations, and it seemed like taking a trip with one’s goals in mind is a strong affirming action. And it could also be fun. At the same time, it always feels a little “out there” to spend a lot of time effort and resources on an astrology trip… at least for me, if something feels too frivolous it becomes more stressful than fun. Paul is someone who takes big swings more in stride. He sometimes enjoys something more because it verges on the ridiculous!

For the last few years, things worked out in terms of our personalities. The first year I had the option of making a road trip to Eureka, California, while Paul went to Japan. The next year, I took a two hour flight on Southwest to Loreto, Mexico, while Paul journeyed to a small town in Italy. Last year, because of the pandemic, we told the astrologist to just give her best shot within driving distance. I got Goleta, California (near Santa Barbara) while Paul took a longer trip to Arizona.

But this year, when our recommendations arrived, the tables had turned. K noted that that even if Paul stayed in Los Angeles, it would be “neutral,” though he might improve his horoscope with a fairly easy trip to Hawaii.

But after that she said:

For Barrington the choice is much more difficult. She will have very bad transit trends for health this year (Saturn for about 4 months puts health at risk), so we need to do ASR possibly very protective for health and without dangerous values! In view of the heavy transits, I would like to offer you the best possible horoscope for health protection and throughout the US there are NO places that are completely safe! This means that I could NEVER make the positive prediction with birthday 2021 in the US (too bad stars).

Then she offered up my BEST options, which she said would be “VERY protective for health, with success in all kinds of projects and extraordinary benefits for human relationships and love, money and carrier.”

They were specific cities in:

Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Guyana.

The second best choice was in Barbados, which she said was protective for health, projects and relationships but with some stress for money with extra expenses throughout the year, (apparently because of Mars in the 2nd House—something astrologers will understand but not me). A third option was Guam. Lastly, she included Boston, although she described this as “NOT a completely safe horoscope. I can only propose it as a ‘less worse’ emergency solution.”

None of these were the kind of easy, inexpensive trip I was hoping for. Distracted by other things happening that evening— like watching our Creepshow episode for the first time and doing fun prep for a morning colonoscopy—I put it out of my mind.

Until, twelve hours later, I received the completely-out-of-the-blue cancer diagnosis.

Which certainly felt like a coincidence right after the big health warning. In several years, K has never been quite so specific or adamant about health. I figured it couldn’t hurt to explore the options. And, of course, planning a trip is more fun than planning a cancer journey…

Our friend Brazil didn’t have time for a road trip to the recommended city of Curitiba, and said he wouldn’t recommend trying to drive there from Sao Paulo during monsoon season.

Guyana—just a hop from Miami—was the closest and cheapest, but it had big red travel advisories for both Covid and a huge recent crime surge.

But then my friend, A, said, “I’ve been thinking about going to Argentina.” She speaks much better Spanish than me, and has a friend in Argentina who wants to show us around his city, which is midway between Buenos Aires and my “magic birthday destination” of Bahia Blanca. We’ve been friends for a long time, but have never traveled together and the idea started to seem more fun. Clearly, I’m at a place where the future is feeling uncertain, so… why not?

I’ll say again that I probably don’t believe in astrology, specifically. But from experience, I have to acknowledge that sometimes the universe gives you enough little pushes.

And that’s why I’m writing this post on a plane to Argentina!

Americanish Premieres at CAAM

A notable moment I want to record it before it passes too far into the past: AMERICANISH, a film that Paul produced, had its debut in San Francisco last weekend at CAAMFEST where it won the audience award!

In an only-barely post-Covid-vaccine world, the viewing was both virtual geo-locked to California, and live, at a drive-in at Fort Mason Center.

This felt especially sweet as last year was chock full of disappointments when the film was rejected from a number of top festivals. The producing team went through the additional time, effort and expense of “re-opening” the cut and do more edits, as well as take a hard look at where their film “fits in.” A fun, sweet comedy about Muslim women following their dreams in New York can be a “one of these things is not like the others” situation at film festivals that tend to have a more serious-minded curatorial bent. The movie still has an uphill climb to find love and distribution, but now there are some good reviews coming in, the pandemic easing up, and people in general wanting to feel more optimistic and have fun, it may have found its stride! Here’s hoping!

And here’s a trailer:

A little background, since I don’t think I’ve talked much about this project here on this blog. AMERICANISH has been in the works for about five years. When Paul came on board four years ago, the working title was still “My Cousin Sister’s Wedding.” Paul’s role as a producer began when his friend, Iman, from film school approached him about doing a rewrite pass on a feature she was going to be directing. She and her co-writer were applying for some funding and the script needed a little push to get it in shape. He did the pass, then ended up mentoring and helping her on set, since this was her first feature. (He directed his first feature in 2011-12). During post, he spent months working with a first-time feature editor here in LA. And throughout, he has been involved in the gazillion little decisions and frustrations that go into making a film: which edits, which music, what posters, what trailers, what colors, what name, what fonts where to spend money, what to do then there is no money, what festivals to enter, what to do when festivals say “no,”— and more. This small victory is well-earned by everyone involved.

When Paul or I get some kind of award or a good thing, we joke/not joke, saying, “I’m proud of you everyday, but today you got an award.” This week the film achieved a benchmark, but I’m proud of Paul for the things he does every day. For mentoring and helping people—not just his friends, and not just people in a position to “pay him back”—from where he is now — even when he’s dealing with a disappointments or losses in his own life or career, he is generous with his skills, his time, his advice and his presence and unique energy. There were many examples of this during the course of making this film. (I can say all this, because he does not read this blog!)