Friday, December 10, 2010

On The Despedida (not mine)

...or An Ode to Those Who Couldn't Stay

The first time I noticed, it was because of Katsu.

He was a quiet charmer. When I went to Monte Hermoso, it was clear that the entire Ultimate league adored the guy. When he asked about becoming the first "new addition" to Big Red, the reaction was unanimous: "He's exactly the kind of person we are looking for!" Katsu was a superb teammate, helping me keep my temper in check and always carrying with him positive spirit. What comes back to me nowadays are a lot of small moments in practice or games, or at the choripan afterwards. We talked about the different cultures around the world, how the Columbians complained about the Argentines being "cold." I contrasted that idea with the way Americans tend to talk about work and careers, but avoid more personal topics like family. Katsu noted, "Yeah, really personal in Japan is to talk about the weather." Everybody laughed. Once, after asking what we call love handles in English, he complimented me by saying mine were impressive. Katsu was just an excellent person to be around. And then quite suddenly he announced that his company was moving him to Peru.When someone is leaving for good, it is customary that they have a party called a despedida. The verb despedir means a lot of things - to emit, to fire an employee, to be ejected from a moving car... you get the picture. But in this case, we're talking about despedirse which means, simply, "to say goodbye." I suppose they're meant to celebrate the time you've spent with the person and hope that you'll cross paths again in the future. The thing is, Argentina is so far away from the rest of the world. And everyone is going back to so many different places, there will be no getting the band back together. So these parties are inherently bittersweet.

This is the life of an extranjero. You tend to meet other foreigners, and eventually, most of them leave. And once they're gone, you're left with the lament that you didn't spend enough time with them when they were here. That you could have talked about a lot more than the weather. Katsu's still in Peru, and I sincerely hope that we'll see him again soon.The first time I met Josh, he was wearing a Michigan shirt. We talked very briefly in our broken Spanish (his better than mine). He seemed like a good kid, and well, he had already won me over with the shirt and all. Upon arrival in Monte Hermoso, I really didn't know anyone, and the organization was pretty loose about where to bunk. So I just wandered into one of the apartments we had rented. I didn't realize I would be in an American-only house, but that's how things turned out. It was Josh and his girlfriend Julia, two Nicks, and me. I felt like the kid who had just moved to a new school and needed to make friends. Josh and Julia had recently graduated college and decided that instead of the standard issue job search, they would be taking their talents to South America. But neither was your typical American short-timer. They realized what an opportunity they had living in Argentina. They could have easily gone the banal route embracing the party scene and little else. We see those kinds of people come and go all the time. But they actively sought out an Argentine life, living with locals, selling their homemade baked goods at the San Telmo market to help make the rent. Over many months, Josh and I battled to see who could go longer without a haircut. He won. By a lot. Julia began with the thickest American accent I've ever heard and ended up fluent, able to communicate perfectly with anyone except the drunkest of hobos.It was amazing to me, being the old dude, to see them change and grow during their time here. They may not have realized it at the time, but it's clear to me that their Buenos Aires experience, though short in the great scheme of things will have a long-lasting impact on their lives. They avoided the beaten path, even after they chose the uncommon direction. Clearly the same goes for me and everybody else who's truly living here. It seemed so abrupt, but probably not to them, when they eventually decided it was time to return to the US and get on with it. But not before they meandered their way across South America. These kids know how to do it. Like Katsu, I wish I would have found more time for them. Now they're in Philadelphia, surely giving the city all it can handle.

Kyla was ready for something new. So she decided to come south, and brought her boyfriend Mike along. She's the best kind of extrovert - someone who is profoundly happy to see everyone all the time. When she hugs people she really means it. She seems too sweet to be making double-entendres, yet she drops hilarious ones at the best unexpected moments. I don't think I know anyone in the world who is a better fit for their profession than Kyla. She teaches kindergarten and even did so here in Buenos Aires - in Spanish. I got to see her around little kids a few times, and it was amazing to watch. She taught my friend's eight year old daughter how to play poker. Her positive spirit embodied the fledgling ultimate league perfectly. She always rooted for everybody.At first blush, Mike struck me as an incredibly nice guy and one of the best Ultimate players I'd ever seen. As I got to know him better, it was quickly clear that such a description sells him short. Mike and Kyla were two of the central figures in starting up a third team (a required element if you actually want to have a league). When they asked me if that sounded like a cool idea and if I wanted to join in, I was honored and excited. Thus Big Red was born almost exactly two years ago in an official meeting outside of the Recoleta Cemetary. If Kyla has the perfect profession for her, Mike Foster has the perfect apellido. Webster's defines foster as "affording, receiving, or sharing nurture or parental care though not related by blood or legal ties." And that describes exactly what he gave a league that was poised to grow from toddling to running all over the neighborhood.I've been playing Ultimate for a long time now, but I never thought I would become this good a player. We don't exactly hold rigorous practices in the Chicago rec league. I can't begin to explain how much Mike taught me about this game. Ever since my knee injury, I have had to accept certain physical limitations on the field, but with Mike's training, the rest of my game has surpassed my wildest expectations. Far more importantly, Mike embodies the Spirit of the Game like nobody I've ever met, so much so that it infects teammates and opponents alike.Thanks in great part to his efforts and presence, we not only have a thriving league, we sent a national team to compete in Colombia. He is a man who left an indelible mark here. The despedida for Mike and Kyla was especially hard. I think everybody knew it was the end of an era for all of us. It was an era that mattered, but more importantly, it was fun as hell.There are more despedidas all the time. Roxi's already gone. Steve's about to close the book on over a decade in Argentina. My old roommate Josh is about to head back to LA. A whole slew of Ultimate players are heading back to their respective colleges or other parts of the world.

Sometimes I have trouble understanding. Why would these people leave? But I arrived under very different circumstances. I had a job and a contract. Before too long, I found a wife. Don't get me wrong, I can't be angry at them for leaving. I just miss them.

Still I know that one day this will happen to me. That's going to be a million times harder. It will be like having a despedida for everyone - all my coworkers, the entire Ultimate league, friends, Belu's family - all at once. It's a good reminder to get busy aprovechando all the time I may have left.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Europe Trip, Part 2: What We Saw

The last update went into detail about what Belu and I did in Europe. Today will be largely photos, the prettiest ones I could scrounge up. Click on any photo to embiggen, and I think most of 'em are worth it. Please enjoy!
Puerta del Sol in Madrid

Getting ready to start the day in Plaza Real, Madrid

Roman viaduct in Segovia

Main plaza in Segovia

Segovian street, approaching the viaduct

Cathedral in Segovia

View of the Alhambra in Toledo

Park Güell in Barcelona

A Barcelonan woman awaiting her meat

The interior of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona

Our last night in Barcelona featured a better view than we expected, at least for a little while.

Belu in a bustling market in Barcelona

Talking politics at a cafe in the middle of the market

Feeding the birds outside of Notre Dame

Le Trocadero as viewed from the Eiffel Tower

Hospital des Invalides and a lot more of Paris

Street dedicated to Edward VII in Paris

Paris from the Sacré-Cœur

Another bird aficionado in Paris


Playing chess in Geneva

The Grand Canal in Venice

Piazza San Marco in Venice


More Venice

A different view from the gondola

Venice was overrun by short, Asian ladies with sharp elbows and quick camera trigger fingers. But these two seemed nice.

A small canal in Venice

The Arno in Florence

A hazy day in Florence

The cat guarding the staircase to Piazza Michaelangelo

Some amazing clouds rolled through during a stroll through the gardens at Palazio Pitti

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

Some old friends in Pincio Park.

The Coliseum

The Roman Forum with Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II in the background

A large-scale take on the Roman Forum

All those travels sure made us tired. This guy, too, apparently. Sweet dreams, everyone!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Europe Trip, Part 1: What We Did

At the end of September, Belu and I flew to Europe for three weeks of racing around. We hit seven cities with side trips to a couple others. Here are the photos of the places we saw. Click on any of them to see in larger format.

Belu in front of the Templo de Debob in Madrid

Fuente de Cibeles in Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid

Belu in the park. Madrid had only so much to offer. It's a big city and the country's capital, but two days is probably plenty, especially compared to what you have in the rest of Spain. So we took some side trips.

We spent a day in the old city of Toledo. It's like walking into a time machine. Here's Belu risking her life on one of the tiny streets. I say risking her life because if a car would have come, there would be no place to run for cover. The other city we visited was Segovia which we'll see in part 2...

Belu up in La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Me doing same. The Sagrada Familia will be done in 2030. We hope to come back then to see the finished product!

Belu in Park Güell

I took us on a ridiculous hike all around Park Güell. Unfortunately, it got more ridiculous when we found ourselves outside the park and nowhere near the entrance. Eventually, we finally found a way back in. Here we are resting for just a bit.

Belu with the famous salamander guy statue thingy.

We took a topless tour bus, which I figured wouldn't be a great idea. But Barcelona is the perfect city for this kind of thing. It's not so big, and there isn't too much traffic. Plus, you get cranky old ladies to give you dirty looks from across the aisle.

On a hill overlooking Plaza España

I got a kick out of the outdoor escalator.

Careful not to fall on your head.

I said careful!

That's more like it.

The ol' self-photo from Montjuic.

Belu at that other Arco de Triunfo (in Barcelona)

Eiffel Tower

La Torre Eiffel

Atop said tower

Notre Dame

Belu gettin' saucy with it.

We hiked up to the Sacre Coeur church which reveals a fantastic view of the city (more on that in Part 2).

Outside the Louvre. Because we didn't check things well, we had some bad luck with the museums in Paris. Like some other places in Paris, we came to the Louvre on the day it was closed.

On a mountaintop in Geneva, Switzerland, Belu makes another feline friend. This was one of about a dozen we met along the trip, but easily the most cariñoso.

There's not a ton of tourist stuff to do in Geneva, and we didn't have the best weather, either. But we took a ride on a little train, and this guy tagged along for a bit.

Leaving Geneva for Venice was an utter mess. We were supposed to have first class seats on a train that would get us there in one shot. Instead, we were shuttled in and out of four trains. On one of the longest trips, we had to stand, wedged in with suitcases against the bathroom door. People kept coming to use the bathroom and we had to tell them it was impossible to get the door open. You can imagine how crazy-haired Italian ladies reacted to this information. Fortunately, the others crammed in this tiny space with us happened to be an extremely easygoing and friendly Indian family on vacation. If we had been with a bunch of Italian or French tourists, surely the "mala onda" would have only exacerbated the disaster. But these people made the time pass quickly and kept our spirits high.

On the Ponte di Rialto in Venice

Belu on the same bridge. Venice was kind of crazy. We only spent one day there, and I think that was surely enough. It's totally overrun with tourists, with a new horde delivered by cruise ships daily. Everyone here is continually lost on the ancient streets, but at least we got our first tastes of authentic pizza and gelato. Valio la pena.

Took this photo at night without flash and a long exposure. This is alongside the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

Our gondoleer ducks his head as we cruise under the lowest bridge in town.

Speaking of pizza, this one was far from the best we had, yet still delicious. Plus, you have to appreciate the pizza eaten while walking around Venice.

At the Piazza di Santa Croce in Florence

Palazzo Lenzi in front of Chiesa di Ognissanti in Florence. It really shocked us how loud Florence was for being such a small city. Everywhere we went there was construction, motorcycles, and general hollering. On the last day, we just wanted to sit in a park and relax. We found a somewhat quiet spot, plopped down on a park bench, and decided it would do. 20 seconds later, two guys showed up with a lawn mower. It was like something out of a sitcom.

Belu at the Mirador in Piazza Michealangelo.

Me doing same. Many more Florence pictures in Part 2. We took in more famous museums and churches than we can possibly recall in Florence. The entire place is like one big museum. Perhaps foolishly (for the time we chose), we had to wait in line over two hours to see Michaelangelo's David. But the wait was well worth it. It has to be the most amazing piece of artwork I've laid eyes on. Unfortunately, no picture here because taking photos was banned.

Belu at the most crowded place in the world - aka the Vatican Museum.

In front of Fontana di Trevi

I'm the goofy guy up front.

In the park overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. By the time we reached Rome, we were pretty exhausted. Our goal was just to take it easy and relax. But of course there was so much to see, we just kept on walking all over the city.

The Roman Colosseum. Belu hands down the death sentence. Or is she sparing a life? Nobody seems to be able to answer this question definitively.

It became clear to use during our time in Italy that it is clearly the spiritual fatherland of Argentina. Many of Argentina's character traits, both good and bad, were born here. People talking loudly, crazy traffic, excellent coffee, nobody forming a proper line, arguing until long after the sun goes down, beautiful women, and many more... We owe a lot to Italy here, both credit and blame.

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II

One of our last moments on the trip after our last ridiculously long trek. The Coliseum on the right, the Roman Forum in the background, and Vittorio Emanuele II behind it. We saw as much as we could in those three weeks, and there remains a ton left to see. Come back soon for Part 2 where you'll see my attempts at artistic documentation of the physical world. Uhhh, yeah, fancy fotos...

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