Hatikvah

Everyone else is already in the water, but I’m still on shore. I stand on a stretch of cool beach watching dozens of other people—some whom I know, some whom I don’t—writhe and splash and shout and struggle to come to terms with the fact that they don’t need to paddle to keep their heads above water.

It’s our third full day in Israel. That morning we’d hiked a mountain, toured an ancient fortress, descended the mountain (much to the dismay of my trembling inner thighs), and gorged ourselves on a buffet lunch as only those who’ve gone without breakfast can. Then we’d driven here, changed, and shuffled into the water. Well, everyone else had. I’d hung back, nervous.

“Come on,” Alex shouts, floating by on his back like an otter. Tanya has already waded in. I’ve lost track of Julia. My sister is in up to her neck. “Get in, Claire!” she hollers.

Fine.

When we were younger, 12 and 9, she was the one who dove into the deep end of our backyard pool while I took the stairs on the opposite side. I enter the Dead Sea in a similar fashion, mincing step after mincing step, wincing when my foot scrapes a salt rock, shuddering at the cold.

“Come on, Claire!” The call comes from Isaac this time—he bobs in front of me, hands held out in encouragement as though I’m a toddler in floaties. Slowly, painfully, I creep along the sea floor until the water rises to my navel.

***

When my sister, Eleanor, first asked me to come to Israel with her, I thought she was joking. Then, I thought she was insane. But she wore me down with the usual little-sister pleas of, “I really want you to be there,” and in the end the thought of her spending Christmas in Israel by herself (well, with a bunch of strangers) was too much for my older sister’s conscience to bear. I paid the deposit and reserved my spot on the trip.

Then, I panicked. I cried. I called my mom. I cried some more. I didn’t want to jet off to a foreign country—a war-torn one at that—over the holidays. I didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of horrible college-age kids for ten days without respite. I didn’t want to risk getting lost or stolen or having an awful time or my parents disowning me because I wasn’t home for Christmas. (They both encouraged me to go on the trip, but I had my suspicions.) There’s a tenacity to my doubts. They seep in like water and take root like seeds, each one sprouting in the space of a few seconds: The ultimate chain reaction.

But by that time it was too late. I’d promised Eleanor, I’d paid the fee, and my relatives had preemptively forgiven me. I was going. I packed The Fellowship of the Ring to distract me from my misery.

***

Isaac is talking about a brick. He’s telling us all about the time freshman year he got so drunk that he smashed a full handle, pulled a brick out of a wall, and woke up cuddling said brick in his regulation twin bed. Julia almost falls off her own bed, she’s laughing so hard.

She, Tanya, Isaac, and I are sitting in our cottage-like room in a kibbutz in Gonen, just north of the Sea of Galilee. We’re about to attend Shabbat services—Isaac wears a button-down, and the rest of us are in dresses. It’s the first time I’ve looked marginally presentable all trip. We’re biding the time before dinner telling stories that should be way too personal to share with people we’ve known only five days. Somehow, though, they’re not.

By the time Isaac finishes I’m in hysterics, tears free-flowing down my face. I feel a dull, unfamiliar ache in my stomach: My abdominal muscles are on fire.

Then Tanya starts in with a similar story, and I convulse all over again. Soon it’s my turn, and I gasp my way through my own tale. I try to remember the last time I laughed this hard. I can’t.

***

“The Western Wall feels like cold soap,” I write in my journal on December 29. “Touching it is like touching time. The currents coursing through it also run through human fingers; we can jump right in without breaking the connection.”

I’m not sure if the jolt in my fingers when I touch the wall is real or imagined, but as soon as it happens everything else melts away. My surroundings blur out like fogged-up glasses until the wall and I stand there, alone, holding each other up. I trace a dozen of the thousands of tiny bits of paper shoved into its cracks, each one representing someone else’s blind hope. I press my cheek up against it. Without warning, I begin to cry.

I walk backward away from the wall (no turning your back on God in his country) still crying, and that’s when Eleanor finds me. I lean into her shoulder and she envelops me in arms and long red hair, some of which lands in my mouth. When I stop crying, we walk backward the rest of the way holding hands.

***

Elad and I race each other up the stairs of our hotel in Jerusalem. We don’t know it at the time, but there are only seven floors—we stop at the sixth, winded. We climb slowly the rest of the way and laugh when it’s only one flight. It’s freezing out on the roof; I cinch the hood of my thin sweatshirt tight around my ears. In front of us stretches New Jerusalem, modern and boxy. Old Jerusalem lies behind. I turn and look at it. “That’s what I thought it would look like,” I say Elad laughs.

He’s always laughing. He laughs at my horrible Hebrew accent and at my funny way of describing things. He also laughs when he tells me about the time his father visited Jerusalem. Orthodox men there hand out strings of red thread in exchange for a few Shekel. If you pay them, they tie a string around your wrist—a blessing of sorts. Elad tells me that when he was drafted in the army (a commander in charge of his own unit), his father came to Jerusalem to pray. “He got one,” Elad says, gesturing to the men handing out strings. “He still wears it. When your son goes to the army, you do everything.”

He tells me that his friend died in front of him. He tells me that he doesn’t care what happens between Israel and Palestine, who controls which pieces of the country, as long as the fighting stops. He tells me about the time an explosion in the field lodged a piece of shrapnel in his right thigh. He tells me about calling his mom, who was frantic, from the hospital. He tells me he’s killed someone, and then asks me if he’s still a good person.

“Of course,” I say, and I believe it.

He says that a shadow hangs over Israel—there’s a feeling among the people who live there that something big is about to happen. He thinks it will happen soon.

***

The water is up to my chest and I’m still creeping along the seafloor, afraid to trust it with my weight. My friends churn around me, beckoning, backstroking farther out, then swimming back to where I still stand in the relative shallows. “Lift up your feet,” Isaac says. “Just lean back.”

I can’t lean back. All around me is proof I’ll be fine if I do, but I doubt my own eyes.

“I’m scared!”

“You’ll be fine,” Isaac says. “Trust me.”

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

“Okay.” I inhale sharply and lift my eyes to the surrounding mountains. I remove my feet from the seafloor a single toe at a time. My legs feel weightless; they rise up to meet the water’s surface like helium balloons.

They were right—I’m floating.

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Hatikvah

You can cry for me a little bit I guess, Argentina

She was jealous.

I could see it in the way her forehead was furrowed, hear the bitterness in her voice… until I took my headphones out.

My sister’s mouth kept moving on my phone screen, berating me for not enjoying myself beyond all reason in a foreign country while she was stuck at home in the states. “How can you possibly want to come home? Why are you not having the time of your life? Do more! See more! Go out more! Have more fun, dammit!” 

Or something along those lines. Having removed my headphones, I’m paraphrasing. My point, though, is that hers is a common reaction. Should I mention anything about missing home, the sun, my friends, etc., I am immediately rebuffed. How could I miss summer in the states when my current living situation is so thrilling? The nerve.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Argentina. I like the city, its architecture, and its incredibly friendly people. I like the wide-eyed looks of pleased surprise I receive when someone I meet here realizes I speak fluent Spanish. I like the public transportation, the food, and (strange as it sounds) falling asleep to street noise. I hear other people around me living their lives and I feel in good company.

But I didn’t have to. I could’ve hated it, and that would have been my choice. You are not obligated to fall in love with a city in South America, no more than you are obligated to follow a regular sleep schedule or take milk with your coffee.

And I’m not in love with Buenos Aires, no more than I’m in love with beautiful strangers I see in passing. It’s lovely, it’s here and now, and it will soon be over.

In four days I’ll leave Buenos Aires, and who knows if I’ll ever be back. My experiences here will travel with me, though. Maybe they’re not the experiences that everyone back home thinks I ought to have had — wild, crazy parties every night and galavanting around with a trendy porteño crowd. But that’s not what I wanted out of Buenos Aires in the first place.

My time here has been good enough for me, which in turn should be good enough for anyone who asks me about it. Studying abroad is what you make of it, and I’ve made the time here my own.

I will miss this crazy city, but it’s time to go home.

Title reference: everyone who’s ever heard of Argentina or Eva Perón knows this song.

You can cry for me a little bit I guess, Argentina

There and back again: Three days in Uruguay

Well, more like a half-day, a day, and another half-day. That’s two days, for those as mathematically challenged as myself. Why spend two days in another seemingly-random South American country? Why not.

We left for the airport at 1 p.m. Buenos Aires time and, after waiting longer to board the flight than the flight actually lasted (two hours vs. 45 minutes), touched down in Uruguay around 6 p.m. Here’s a synopsis-by-category of what I observed in Montevideo, the capital city.

The landscape

Breathtaking. Beachy. Strangely reminiscent of Los Angeles (at least according to one member of our group, who kept up a rousing chorus of “I’m in Miami, bitch!” during our drive into the city). I can’t imagine the sort of tropical paradise the coastline becomes during the summer.

Sadly it was a) not summer, b) windy and c) freezing. We piled out of the van for a photo op at Plaza de la Armada — cue touristy sunset pictures.

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Plaza de la Armada, overlooking the bay. Montevideo, Uruguay. July 8, 2013.
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A view of Montevideo across the water. July 8, 2013.

The food

Sad to say, our first dinner was at a McDonalds. But It was a McDonalds in Uruguay… a unique cultural experience. Upon arrival we discovered a wonderful Montevideo-an invention: the Toblerone McFlurry. I highly suggest bringing this creation to the states. The McFlurry itself cost $75 Uruguayan pesos, since inflation there is actually ridiculous. Factor in the bright colors of each bill and we felt like players in an extended game of Monopoly.

Ice cream in Uruguay (real ice cream, not McDonalds’) is much like ice cream in Argentina, since ice cream comparison is a huge concern to the general population. The italian food is delicious. Hotel breakfast? A-plus. And that’s all I have to say about that.

The people

don’t stare as much. At least, that was the main difference noted by myself and by my two redheaded companions at said first-night McDonalds dinner. The few I actually spoke with were painfully nice. Go-out-of-their-way-to-help-you nice. Here-take-my-first-born-I-don’t-need-him nice.

The lodging

Hotel, sweet hotel. After some months in Argentinian apartments with questionable mattresses (mine is filled with a strange foam substance and has a gash down the center), a feather bed with multiple pillows and extra blankets was oh, so welcome. I know, first world pains. Get over it.

Aside from the beds, the “Four Points by Sheraton” was a lovely place — multi-storied, marble-bar’ed, with aforementioned delightful breakfast, swimming pool, sauna, and a small selection of TV channels in English. Heaven.

The media

Okay, so “why not” wasn’t the sole purpose of our trip to Uruguay. While there we toured three different media outlets: Radio Montecarlo, Canal 10 and El Pais — a radio station, TV station and newspaper, respectively.

Radio Montecarlo was my favorite. The offices were on the fourth level of a building in downtown Montevideo. They were small, wood-paneled, and in some ways right out of the 1970s. Radio Montecarlo has been around for 89 years and attracts an older audience, though its new FM station is an attempt to capture younger folks.

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An operating room at Radio Montecarlo. I asked, and the record player still works. July 9, 2013

We ended up spending too much time at the radio station and showed up late for our tour at Canal 10. Our guide, Rossana Angelone, took us through the enormous, warehouse-like building. We toured studios, sets and even the break room.

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We watched part of the filming of this show, “Con Sentidas.” Apparently it’s quite popular in Uruguay. Canal 10 studios, July 9, 2013.
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We were allowed to pose for pictures on the newscast set. Here’s two of our number hamming it up. July 9, 2013.

Then came El Pais, the largest newspaper in Uruguay. The newsroom consists of row upon row of desks atop parquet flooring, but our meeting with the paper’s director took place in an upper-level office. There the director told us his plans for social media and digital outlets and showed us physical archives of El Pais dating back to 1824 or something ridiculous like that (actual date may vary). It was wonderful and I know there’s always a paper in Uruguay to try for, should U.S. publications fail to satisfy.

The end

ImageUntil next time, Uruguay.

Literary reference for the title of this post brought to you by J.R.R. Tolkien.

There and back again: Three days in Uruguay

The dark side of El Sol

So many El Sol de San Telmo puns, so little time remaining… Okay, a month. Plenty of time for additional ridiculous blog titles.

But working for El Sol differs from working for Vox in more ways than clever titular options (have you ever tried to make a pun with Vox? No easy feat). Reporting for Vox and for The Missourian was nowhere near easy, but reporting for El Sol carries a whole new set of challenges.

For a start, no matter how you spin it, there’s a language barrier. I count myself lucky that I’m pretty proficient in Spanish. In Texas they start you young; I’ve had a Spanish teacher since kindergarten and have continued lessons to this day. As such I can understand about 90% of what my sources are saying, but sometimes it’s that extra (missing) 10% that gives a story its depth. As a reporter, one of the worst feelings is reading over interview notes and hearing a voice in the back of your head that hints you’ve fallen short. Sigh.

Then there’s the cultural gulf — the difference between how reporters are recieved in the states and how we’re recieved in Buenos Aires. Here’s how it works in Columbia:

  • You send an email and leave a voicemail.
  • You wait 1-2 days, max.
  • You recieve a reply to your email or a phonecall.
  • The potential interviewee clearly expresses whether he/she wishes to speak to you or not.
  • You make a date or try again.
  • If a date is made, it is kept, barring exceptional circumstances.

Here’s how it works in Buenos Aires:

  • You send an email and leave a voicemail.
  • You wait, sometimes for a week or more.
  • Perhaps the person or persons will get back to you. Perhaps you’ll never hear from him/her/them. Perhaps they will contact you three months later. It’s all up in the air.
  • You make a date or try again.
  • If a date is made, it may or may not be kept. Variations include showing up on time, showing up hours later, not showing up at all.

I discovered these differences, to my displeasure, working on my first story for El Sol about cultural centers in San Telmo. The first interview was a sinch — I showed up at El Centro de Difusión Cultural de Rosa de Luxemburgo on a Wednesday afternoon. The director was sitting at a desk in the front. We talked for a good 30 minutes, I got all the information I needed, and she was delighted to discuss a subject about which she was passionate.

The second interview, though scheduled, never actually happened. I showed up at El Centro Cultural de la Plaza Defensa on Saturday, after calling down to make sure it was opened. I walked in and ask to speak to a director. He came out, introduced himself (cooly), and told me to come back the next day. We scheduled an interview for 3 p.m. and I departed.

On Sunday I returned at 2:45 and was told the director wasn’t expected until circa 5 p.m. I waited in the area for two hours (luckily there was a lively market in San Telmo that day) and came back. The director pulled up on a bike, greeted me, and went inside to complete some task or other… I told him I’d wait out front. Fifteen minutes later I went looking for him. “Oh, him?” replied one woman when I inquired after his location, “He left.” “When will he be back?” “No idea.” 

Late to Spanish class, I left.

Thus, to all aspiring reporters in foreign countries: beware. Standards are different, people are different, and “timeliness” carries a loose interpretation.

The dark side of El Sol

10 ways to become a porteño

Inspired by my granmother’s impending visit, here are ten ways to look and act like you belong in Argentina.

Disclaimer: These tips apply specifically to Buenos Aires, and may not be applicable in other provinces.

1. Wear more black.

Maybe it’s the winter weather, but these days most porteños dress in muted colors. Trying to blend in wearing brights is a no-go, so disguise your foreign-ness with as dark a wardrobe as possible. The more foreign you look, the more black you should be wearing. (Result: I’m usually dressed like a ninja, with the occasional colorful sweater or scarf.) It also helps to pretend to think it’s as freezing cold as the Argentinians do. You might even start to believe it.

2. Platform shoes.

Yes, you read that correctly. Everyone here (with the possible exception of children and the elderly) wears platforms, the higher the trendier. This is especially relevant for fashionable women ages 16-25 and, once adhered to, is foolproof — when I wear my platforms, people ask me for directions. Sometimes I can even answer them. It’s all in the shoes.

3. Become a carnivore.

Here, vegetarianism is more or less a moot point. I have friends who came to this country vegetarians and left semi-guilt-ridden-yet-extremely-satisfied meat-eaters; the red meat here is just that good. With some effort you can opt out, but rest assured you are missing out. Yield to peer pressure on this one, trust me.

4. Let your hair down.

Right now my hair is the healthiest it’s ever been. Why? Because I do nothing to it. The most common hairstyle in Buenos Aires is waist-length, natural, slightly frizzy, with enormous numbers of split ends. Occasionally a small clip is used to pull hair back from the temples, or a quick bun is twisted atop the head for transit. Other than that it’s wash-and-wear, and I’m not complaining.

5. Shop around.

Walmart is definitely not a thing here. Quite the opposite — there is a specialty store for everything. I once walked by a storefront filled exclusively with umbrellas… nothing else. Just umbrellas. The same goes for food. If you want meat, go to a carnicería. Bread? Panadería. Fish? Vegetables? Pastries? Pescadería, vedulería and pastelería, respectively. While you can’t actually cook anything without visiting 6 different stores, the upside is that the quality of each component will be infinitely better.

6. Pick up some slang.

Or, as it’s called here, “Lunfardo.” Argentinian spanish isn’t academic spanish. You’ll hear words like che,” “boludo,” “pebe” and quilombo floating around (dude, butthead, kid, and clusterfuck, respectively). The more slang you can recognize and use, the better chance you have of being mistaken for a native, and sounding like a cool kid in the process.

7. Use public transportation.

Virtually everyone does — it’s here for a reason. The bus and subway systems take a bit of practice to figure out, but once you get the hang of it you’ll have access to every corner of the city. Of course a whole set of bus-and-subway (mostly bus) etiquette accompanies this step, but some careful observation should tell you all you need to know.

8. Get a manicure.

This may sound ridiculous, but on that same bus or subway you may notice everyone’s hands clutching bars or rails to remain upright. You may also notice that on virtually all of these hands are clean, well-groomed fingernails. Invest in some nail polish remover, a good pair of clippers and a file, and keep them handy. This includes men — I’ve spotted several male-folk with fingernails trimmed and, yes, polished.

9. Eat late, snack often.

In the states breakfast is as soon as you get up. Lunch is at noon and dinner is at six, possibly with a small snack in between if you’re feeling desperate. Not so in Buenos Aires. Breakfast is late — 10 or 11 a.m. Lunch happens around 1 or 2 p.m., and then comes a novel invention dubbed merienda,” or snack. An altered version of British tea time, this meal takes place at 5 or 6 p.m. and involves pastries and coffee, usually. (The lines at Starbucks around this time are insane.) Because of merienda, Argentinians eat dinner at 9:30 or 10 p.m. and go to bed even later. This also ties into the fact that in Argentina it’s uncool to be at a bar or club before 1 a.m., but that’s another subject.

10. Chillax.

In the U.S., everyone is over-scheduled and frantic for 87% of the day. In Argentina, people regularly arrive 20 minutes to an hour late to every event/meeting/occasion. It’s just a thing that happens. Deadlines are more lax, meetings involve more gossiping, and tasks take longer to complete. When I first arrived this freaked me out to no end — the deadline is there for a reason, people. Now, though, it’s growing on me.

10 ways to become a porteño

How to disappear completely and never be found

The title, yes, is another literary reference. The subject, surprisingly, is not.

Usually, when I feel overwhelmed, I take refuge between printed pages. The Song of Ice and Fire series is my current escape (I’m on book three, A Storm of Swords, and going strong). But Thursday morning I awoke knowing words weren’t going to cut it.

If you’ve never spent an extended amount of time in a city, let me summarize: “Beep. BEEP. Honk. Mmmmmmmm ZOOM!” “Screeeeech!” No less noisy are the people. They wander around at all hours telling so-hilarious-I’ll-laugh-like-a-bullhorn-for-ten-straight-minutes stories and shrieking across lanes.

I cracked GOT but still heard Buenos Aires in the background. To the Google! Desperate, I scrolled through the names of more green spaces in Buenos Aires. “Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays” caught my eye — a 9-minute bus ride. The book was tossed unceremoniously into a tote and I was gone.

It was a good choice. Walking through the gate of Carlos Thays, the city melted into oblivion behind me. Traffic and voices faded and I was left with green. And cats. Lots of cats.

I sat on a bench in the sun and the nearest one climbed into my lap, purring. He made himself at home while I scratched his ears. We are friends to this day.

In all seriousness, this Jardín Botánico was a gorgeous and much-needed escape. It opened its leafy, green arms to me as it does, I’m sure, for so many city-sick porteños.

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Random children’s library that looks like a castle. Thursday June 20, 2013.
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Greenhouse. I’ve been obsessed with these since reading “The Night Strangers” by Chris Bohjalian. Thursday June 20, 2013.
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Fairyland. Thursday June 20, 2013.
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My friend, on the bench we shared. Ah, memories. Thursday June 20, 2013.

 

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There were about 87 of these gazing pools, all lovely. Thursday June 20, 2013.

 

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More of Fairyland. Thursday June 20, 2013.
How to disappear completely and never be found

There she was just a-walkin’ down the street: My personal experience with public harassment

I walk three blocks to a bus stop. Wait. Climb onto the 59 bus. Wait. Dismount at 9 de Julio and La Avenida de Mayo. Walk three blocks straight and two to the right. Take the elevator to piso 3, and I’m at work.

This morning was different.

That is, it was the same until the “walk three blocks straight and two to the right” bit. Disembarking from the trusty 59, I heard drum beats. Loud ones. I made to cross the street and found my progress impeeded by a tide of people.

Daily construction takes place on 9 de Julio — the city government is installing new subte stations every few blocks. This morning the hundreds of workers involved in the project had abandoned their posts. Dressed in scuffed boots, navy work suits, hardhats, and neon orange vests, wave upon wave of them marched with flags and banners down the street, forming a human roadblock.

The only way forward was through, and I knew what that meant. Shoulders hunched, headphones in, I plunged into their midst, moving perpendicular to them at as fast a pace as possible.

Ingrid Michaelson’s latest album wasn’t enough to block out the shouts. “Hola chica, que bonita, que linda…” they called. “¡Un beso, rubia!” “Oh, que frío esta mujer, mira!” From the shy ones, a simple “Hola, buendía.” Some wolf whistled. Others leered as their eyes raked me over. Each one had something to say.

I threaded my way through them, fighting tears.

Catcalls in Buenos Aires aren’t a novelty. Local women are called out often, but the combination of my blonde hair and blue eyes makes me stand out. Foreign, they say. Vulnerable.

In some cases this is an advantage — trying to get a drink at a crowded bar, for example. Usually, though, it invites unwanted attention. I leaned early-on to take public transportation as often as possible. Walking down the street was apparently an indication to the male population of Buenos Aires that I was putting myself out there, asking for their opinions of me.

I wasn’t, and I’m not. Unsolicited “compliments” (if you can call them that) aren’t flattering. I do not owe these men my time, approval or conversation. I was having a lovely morning — made banana pancakes and was running ahead of schedule — until, without warning, I was reduced to a piece of meat.

Because that’s what it feels like. Being dissected by these men, drawing their attention because of my sex and my coloring, is demeaning. This morning, it reduced me to tears.

I can’t help but wonder, in a country with a female president, how street harassment can still be so deeply engrained in the culture. Without a doubt it’s seen as acceptable — a rite of passage, even. And maybe these men mean no harm. It may even be that they’re sincere in their misguided compliments. Even so, they have no idea how it feels to be on the receiving end. A lack of education is to blame, as much as any cultural norm.

On my way home from work four hours later they were still there, camped out along 9 de Julio. They beat the drum in shifts and took turns buying sandwiches and cokes.

I fought through them again, this time with Eminem. His acrid lyrics, cranked up to maximum volume, kept the worst at bay, but the occasional whistle broke through. “¡Déjame in paz!” I wanted to scream at them.

Instead I jammed the headphones further into my skull and quickened my pace. Far from a permanent solution, but it got me home.

There she was just a-walkin’ down the street: My personal experience with public harassment

El Sol also rises

It was dark, and I was lost.

The bus had dropped me at the edge of San Telmo, and all the streets looked the same. I was looking for Carlos Calvo 578 — a nameless, faceless bookstore. (Addresses are written backwards in Argentina, by the way.)

I asked a fruit vendor which street I was on. “Calvo,” he said, and smiled when I answered with “¡Gracias a Dios!” Three more blocks and I was there. I opened the door, and fell in love.

Literary love is a powerful thing. I’m obsessed with bookstores of all shapes and sizes, particularly those independently-owned, paperbacks-piled-higgldy-piggldy types. This one, Fedro Libros, was divine: yellow painted walls, two stories, a rickety spiral stair and an enormous section of classics.

Oh, and there was a cat.

I pet the cat, Maurice, while I browsed the bottom floor and waited for my first meeting with the staff of El Sol de San Telmo to start. Isabel, Diana and Clara were expecting us (Evan and Nick, two other students on the trip, are also working at El Sol), but we didn’t find them until we climbed the stairs.

There were kisses all around, murmurs of “Chau” and “Mucho gusto,” and we settled into chairs. Isabel outlined our jobs for us. I will be published twice this summer, since El Sol is a monthly magazine. Deadlines are strict, and topics pertain to the neighborhood of San Telmo.

The point, said Isabel, is to get to the heart of the neighborhood — to write about issues in a compelling way, but also to cover the neighborhood beyond its surface. Hands flapping emphatically, eyebrows raised, she spoke in earnest about the publication’s role in the community. It serves the neighbors — the vecinos. It gives them a voice and an insider’s look at what’s going on in their unique barrio.

The meeting ended soon after and we made our way back to Recoleta, with instructions to return at the same time on Friday for a meeting of the vecinos. Of course I gave Maurice a goodbye pat.

Friday rolled around and we were upstairs again, this time with cookies and Mate, an herbal, tea-like drink. The vecinos assembled. Most were older. I sat between Norah, a pixie-like woman in her 30s with cropped purple hair, and Diana, one of El Sol‘s staff.

Issues were discussed and pitches assigned. I was surprised at the heated disputes over gates on a local park, uneven paving stones and untimely trash pickup. Voices were raised, arms flailed, and one man even stood up to make his point.

These issues may seem small to us foreigners, but they matter to these people. The vecinos come because they live in San Telmo, and they want to see a change.

When all was said and done (which took a couple hours, what with the shouting), I ended up with an assignment about “Eco-Cuadras,” a green organization that plants trees and flowers in public spaces. I’ll start work on it this week and will turn in the final draft on June 26.

On the 28th there will be another meeting of El Sol. I’ll get to re-visit my one true love: Carlos Calvo 578. Let’s hear it for the books.

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The glorious, glorious view at Fedro Libros from the second floor.
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Second floor browsings. (Evan is to the left and Nick on the right.)
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Yellow walls, artsy collages, plush chairs and Clara with her nose in a book.
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Couldn’t snag a pictures of Maurice, but here’s what he looks like! This is one of Fedro’s “tarjetas de regalo,” or gift cards.
El Sol also rises

Becoming “Clarita:” A week in the life of an intern

Celeste (Moretti, my boss) told me on Friday that they’d had no idea what I would be like. 

The received my “profile” via email along with those of three other students — a profile that (incorrectly) listed my specialty as strategic communication. Hah.

It didn’t list my age, likes/dislikes, Spanish level, or past projects. There was no photo. For all the ladies in the Observatorio de Género office knew, I was a greying, 45-year-old married woman with two kids, a stuffy wardrobe and a nervous tick in one eye. “You walked through the door,” Celeste said, “and you were this big mystery!”

Soon to be resolved… I’ve filled Celeste, Veronica, Diana, Cynthia and the rest in on my studies, where I go to school, my hometown, and my caffeine addiction. (When they found out, Veronica ran out to buy me more coffee, bless her.) Now they call me “Clarita” — little Claire.

They, in turn, are the nicest people in the world. We work in a small, bright office on one end of a larger floor. There are about six desks in the room — I have one to myself where I store my very own Observatorio notebook. Celeste, Veronica and Diana Maffía, the director, are always there, but on any given day someone new walks in, kisses me on the cheek (always the right) and introduces him or herself. 

It’s a chat-and-work atmosphere: laid back (Celeste jokes about her bright sweaters and jeans) and open. The ladies gossip in rapid-fire Spanish and I catch most of what they’re saying… Suzanna, who used to work with them, gave one of them the cold shoulder the other day, for instance.

The back cabinets are a coffee-and-cookie junkie’s dream. Stacks of styrofoam cups, a new box of coffee (gracias, Veronica!), chocolate galletitas, creamer, sugars, etc. etc. On Monday I was given a piece of chocolate chip poundcake, on Tuesday a chocolate-and-dulce de leche alfahor and a cappuccino, and on Friday a fresh nectarine. I think they’re trying to fatten me up. Not mad about it.

My work there is fairly straightforward: design a Facebook profile and a Twitter profile. Once the cover pages and logos are ready to be posted, I’ll get the pages up and running and post from them often. 

I’ve been designing the pages (I finished both cover photos on Friday), but Celeste and I had a meeting about what I could do beyond social media. This is when I read my profile. “Specializes in strategic communication, i.e. social media, designing campaigns, designing power points,” it read. I almost laughed out loud.

I explained to Celeste that this wasn’t exactly the case. “Soy una escritora,” I said, “I’m a writer.” I described my articles for The Maneater, Move, Vox and The Missourian. She listened, bemused. 

Then she offered to let me write for the company. “I want to give you something to do that will benefit you as well,” she said, smiling. “Whatever you do is guaranteed to help us.”

Have I mentioned I love the people I work with?

For now I’m to brainstorm what I’d like to do writing-wise after the social media pages are up and running. I’ll present my ideas at a Tuesday meeting some weeks from now.

And so the saga of Clarita continues. 

Becoming “Clarita:” A week in the life of an intern

When life hands you a second internship…

…smile, say thank-you, and try to mask your internal freak-out.

It wasn’t the omnipotent voice of the Universe that informed me of my second internship, but that of our program director, Carolina Escudero.

Blithely unaware of my mounting panic, she casually informed me that I would, in addition to interning at El Sol de San Telmo, also work for the “Poder Judicial de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.” In other words, the judiciary branch of the Argentinian government — no big.

Last year, under the direction of Dra. Diana Maffía, the judicial branch established the “Observatorio de Género,” or the “Gender Observatory.” The purpose of this office is to work to eliminate gender bias in the judiciary, in the administration of justice in Argentina, and in the city/country at large.

Where do I fit into all this? Good question. From what Carolina told me, the Observatorio wants to up its social media presence — Twitter and Facebook and the like. Since it’s a government operation there are certain rules and regulations to follow concerning social media… rules and regulations I’ll no doubt have a blast learning inside and out.

The Observatorio also wants to publish a weekly bulletin to email to subscribers, and needs someone to write press releases to send to news publications.

Confession time: I’m a writer. A magazine writer, to be exact. I have little to no experience moderating social media for a company, much less for a branch of a national government. If they want witty tweets about reading Game of Thrones and crying in public, I’m the one for the job. Beyond that I feel slightly out of my depth.

“Oh, and you’re the first student we’ve ever sent there,” Carolina added. “We want to work with them for years to come, so we want to make a really good impression.” No pressure.

I start work for the Argentinian government on Monday. After Spanish class I’ll try desperately not to get lost on my way to their office on Tacuarí. After that, the real fun begins.

Three cheers for life, and for its little hurdles. Stay tuned for a report on my foray into the field of strategic communications.

When life hands you a second internship…