Tag Archives: City Life

My New York Bucklist: Top 40 Must-Dos in the Big Apple

In no particular order, a girlfriend and I have amassed a gigantic list of all the top things to do in New York City, some of them popular, some of them less known about. This list of best New York attractions is based on information I have been given by locals and other city transplants such as myself. Those crossed out have been completed!

1. Eat artichoke pizza at Artichoke Pizza, walk the Chelsea High Line, go to the Chelsea Market

2. Go to a Yankees and/or Mets game (I heard if you take the water taxi sometime the captains let the girls drive the boats).

Chelsea High Line

3. Run Brooklyn Bridge back and forth

4. Have a picnic at the Bronx Botanical Garden

5. Climb the 354 stairs to the top of the Statue of Liberty

6. Have drinks at the rooftop bar at The Met

7. Go to an open air concert at Central Park

8. Go to a concert at Madison Square Garden (Saw Prince and Simbad)

9. Attend a church service in Harlem on Sunday and photograph all the women in their beautiful hats.

10. Take a “free” wine and art tour of all the Chelsea galleries

11. See the secret subway station off the 6 local uptown.

12. Run the perimeter of Central Park

13. Shove my face at Shake Shack

14. Get into the Boom Boom Room at The Standard Hotel

15. Take a trapeze class

16. Go to the Fulton fish market early in the morning and meet the legendary fish mongers

17. Take the gondola to Roosevelt Island

18. Visit the China Town ice cream factory

19. Tour the Chrysler and Empire State buildings

The Chrysler Building

20. Take a dance class at Broadway Dance Center

21. Go to a charity ball.

22. Kayak the Hudson River

23. See a freak show at Coney Island, then ride the roller coaster and eat a hot dog at Nathan’s

24. Get waited on by transvestites at Lucky Cheng’s restaurant

25. Find out about New York’s connection to the bagel and write a story about it

26. Get pampered at the Spa Castle and then visit a Hindu Temple in Flushing, Queens

27. Take singing lessons with someone who trains for Broadway

28. Tour the real Little Italy in the Bronx, stroll Arthur Avenue

29. Do a jazz tour in Harlem

30. Have summertime fun at a water taxi beach

31. Eat at the Latin American food trucks in Red Hook, watch a soccer game

32. Rent a row boat in Central Park and ride across the river

33. Live it up in the Hamptons

34. Gamble in Atlantic City

35. Participate in an Improv Everywhere stunt

36. Volunteer to help replant oysters in New York waterways

37. Participate in at least 10 New York Caresprojects

Coney Island

38. Photograph hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

39. Take a Bollywood dancing class then eat Indian food in Curry Hill

40. Dance salsa under the stars in front of Lincoln Center during the Midsummer Night Swing series. Visit http://midsummernightswing.org/ to see the line up.

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Just Keep on Tangoing … Tina Ferrari on Being an International Nomad

Self-described world nomad Tina Ferrari: tango dance instructor, DJ, English-Italian translator, citizen of the world. She has created for herself a lifestyle that suits her peripatetic soul just right — living in Italy, as well as other countries, and covering just as many miles as her popularized racecar last name, though she actually bears no relation Enzo Ferrari. Except, perhaps, a desire to be on the road. And the fruition of all these great things took only one bold decision: to just go… and then in the end, feeling at home in the world and with herself.

By Tina Ferrari

All my life I wanted to be one of those people who lived abroad. When my father and I watched movies filmed elsewhere in the world, he would get out the globe and we would find the city or country where the film was set. I guess you could say I got an early start in understanding that the world is small enough to navigate. As I grew up, the occasional friend would return from a year in France or Italy, and I would be so envious. I finally decided to stop being envious, create an opportunity for myself, and just go. Now, I’ve lived in Switzerland working as an au pair, Italy twice, as well as Argentina.

I can imagine people will wonder what kind of life I live. I’ve had people say interesting things to me on the subject, particularly, “Oh, must be nice!  Do you come from money?” And it couldn’t be farther from the truth. For most people, at least those I know, being an expat involves stressing out about money approximately 90% of the time. We are compelled to live elsewhere for so many reasons that have nothing to do with money. Me, I’m just a natural nomad, and I would be so sad if I couldn’t allow myself to do this.  But am I rich? No way, at least not economically.

I’m a 33 year-old citizen of the world currently living in Italy in the beautiful region of Puglia, Italy where I split my time between cities Lecce and Bari. If you look at the boot-shaped map of Italy, I’m in the heel. I’m a tango dancer, teacher, DJ, and a freelance translator.

I left Seattle “for good” in 2006 to study in Perugia, Italy. Eventually, I became an Italian citizen due to a direct bloodline (my great-grandfather came to the States, never renounced his citizenship, and it was thus passed down to my grandfather and my father, and then to me.) At this time, I was still waiting for my Italian citizenship to go through, so initially I went on a study visa. I had visited Italy so many times before, including a short stint when I studied in Siena, and I knew I just had to live there. I already spoke Italian after having been exposed to it through my family and studying it extensively, but I wanted to improve, and I dreamed of becoming a translator. So, I enrolled in a program at the University for Foreigners of Perugia that involved linguistics and translation. I wound up staying there only six months because I felt a sudden, profound longing to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I went for a month or so with a boyfriend before heading back to Seattle, where I stayed for eight months and finally took the leap into the world of full-time freelance translation, so I could maintain my nomadic life without quitting jobs all the time.

After an initial visit to Argentina, I ended up going back to live there for about a year and a half. Buenos Aires is one of those cities that just takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s hard to put into words what my experience in Buenos Aires entailed, though you can imagine there was a lot of tango! I had already been dancing tango since 2003. But while living in Buenos Aires, I took lessons here and there, danced a couple of times a week, and in the afternoon helped out a milonguero named Pedro Sanchez with his students. I did more than just dance tango of course, but it played an important role in my experience. I loved it so much that I felt at home. I remember sitting at my computer one day and looking out the window at the sunny sky and saying, “this is my home. I’m here now. I’m immigrating. This is it. This is really it.” Famous last words?

Unfortunately, with the global economic crisis, my translation work slowed down to a very sad halt. Not to mention the apartment I was sharing with others began to fall apart: my bedroom door fell off, there wasn’t gas in the apartment for 21 days, our faucet ran even when off, and the apartment manager didn’t have the funds to fix anything. In addition to some other personal matters I won’t mention, life suddenly turned not-so-pretty in every way. Except for one thing: while all of this was going on, my Italian citizenship came through! As much as the decision killed me, I had to leave Argentina to tie up loose ends in America and finally move to Italy. At this juncture, it made sense to be in Italy and reestablish my career as a translator as all my clients were there. While I would have preferred to stay in Argentina, I had to think about my survival.

Those transitional six months I passed in Seattle were horrible. I felt so sad – like a failure. Here I was, the fabulous nomad who was supposed to be conquering the world and had nothing to show for it. I wound up broken hearted and without a penny in my pocket. People around me at least had homes, jobs, spouses. Me, I had nothing. Just a newly obtained Italian passport and hope that I could turn things around. It was a bad time. Not having any money is not a nice feeling – and I’m saying that I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee. I know there are probably a lot of people who have felt similar in recent years; it’s not an easy time for the world.

Since I had been teaching tango with Pedro in Buenos Aires, I decided that I would continue teaching tango in Seattle and Italy, and get more into DJing at milongas, or tango dance salons. I loved it so much, and I must say it really did save me while my translation business healed. Tango in itself is therapeutic because it is based on a loving embrace. The income it brought me, while not a lot, enabled me to eat and live.

I continued giving tango dance lessons after I moved to Italy and tried to resuscitate my translation business. I wound up living in Lecce and teaching with a partner, who has since left. I’m now traveling quite a bit to DJ at milongas around Italy, and now my translation work is coming in almost too quickly, one after the other. I’m a very, very busy girl with little free time!

Sometimes I have to remember to stop for a few minutes and look back at all that has happened. I’m thankful that things have turned out for the better, and thankful that I can go back to Buenos Aires when I want. My quality of life in Italy is high, and I’m healthy. I have finally accomplished my dream of living internationally and doing work that I love. And, I can save up.

Looking back, I must confess that I sometimes miss that transition period in Seattle. It was hard and depressing, but the growth I went through was incredible. I struggled every day, looking forward with the simple goal of being happy. I learned a lot during that time and deepened some very important friendships.

The lesson I have learned from all of this: there is no straightforward path to your dreams. And that’s not a bad thing. We get so impatient sometimes and forget to consider the journey; I know I have in the past. But just when you think it’s all going wrong, just when you think it’s hopeless and you feel like giving up, that’s precisely the moment in which you should take a deep breath, and just relax and wait. Either the situation will take a turn for the better or you’ll suddenly have the idea of the century on what to do next! And that is a beautiful moment.

You can read more about Tina on her blog, or if you speak Italian, you can also visit her tango site at www.tinaferraritango.com.

Think you might be eligible for Italian citizenship? Tina recommends www.expatsinitaly.com as a helpful resource to learn more.

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Starting a Business in Sao Paulo, Brazil: Pipedream or Reality?

In this edition of Real World Meets Girl, small-business owner Sam DeMello recounts how he opened his own English school in one of the world’s travel hot spots: Sao Paulo, Brazil. You go boy! Enter Sam …


I woke up the other day and realized that I am the owner of my own company, doing business in a language that I didn’t speak a year ago, and teaching English in a country that I used to dream about. What a revelation! I moved to Brazil with no connections and very little Portuguese, and after six months I had better friends here than I had in my life back home. It’s the most receptive, warm, happy place I’ve ever been; I feel at home here.

Brazilians can’t understand why a kid from the United States, let alone from California, would want to leave paradise behind to live in the Third World. But I guess there are really two questions here that have very different answers: why did I leave the States in the first place, and why did I decide to stay here?
The first question is easy to answer. I wanted to do something different, to see the world. I continued to travel as much as I could through high school and college, but every time I traveled I felt rushed, as if I had to do as much as possible every day, as if I were always missing out on something, always on the outside looking in. I wanted to really experience a place, spend some time there, get to know the culture, the people, the language, and immerse myself completely. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I decided to teach English — it seemed like a good way to get my foot in the door and, being on a tight budget, it would let me pay my own way. I took a four-week TEFL course at UC Santa Barbara after I completed my undergrad there, and two months later I found myself stepping off a plane into the chaotic traffic of Sao Paulo. Population wise, Sao Paulo Brazil is the seventh largest city in the world behind top three leaders Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; and Mexico City, Mexico.

To be honest, I have no idea how I ended up living in Brazil. Moving to South America seemed cool, I love soccer and Brazilian music, and I figured it was cheap enough that I could live for a while in Sao Paulo on the meager $1,000 in my bank account. There were, of course, a couple small things that I had overlooked in my eagerness to be on my way. I didn’t know anyone in Brazil, my basic Portuguese language skills were apt enough to help me find the bathroom or ask for a check, but not much more than that. Above all of this, I found myself in a city of over 18 million people with neither a place to live nor a job; as the saying goes: God protects fools and drunks. My first week in Brazil, I was definitely both of those.

I got incredibly lucky when I found a blog online by an American guy teaching English in the same city. I managed to track him down during my first week here, and he helped me a ton. He introduced me not only to his boss at a local school, which is where I got my first job teaching English, but also to his landlord, which is how I got my first “apartment” (well, really it was a closet with a mattress on the ground, but it was a start). The first couple of weeks were rough. I didn’t have any friends, I couldn’t communicate with people, I got lost everywhere, and I was working way too much. It was pretty lonely, but at the same time it was the freest I ever felt.

So, how did I end up running my own English school? I wish I could say that I always wanted to be a businessman or that I had some super complex plan with what I was going to do with my life, but the truth is I had no idea what I was doing; in fact, I still have no idea what I’m doing. I just found myself rolling with the punches, and trying to make the best of my situation. As an American citizen, a visa is necessary just to visit Brazil, and work visas are almost impossible to come by. Originally, I entered the country on a tourist visa, which allowed me to stay there legally for six months (as a tourist you can stay three months, and then extend for another three months. At that point, you have to leave the country for six months without return before applying for a new visa). By the end of that term, I could speak Portuguese, had lots of friends, and really didn’t want to leave. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine who was a lawyer he suggested we open a company in his name where he would hire me as an employee and therefore I would be granted the necessary work visa. So, we decided to start an English school — not that either of us had any experience operating a company.

We figured it would just be a joke allowing me to continue teaching and living in Brazil legally and for him to put something good on his resume. Hence, Pinnacle English School was born. We opened the company on paper in October 2009, and legal council told me that I would have my visa by Christmas.

Overtime I developed a roll call of employees, albeit they happened to be friends of mine: one from college who had been fired and wanted to travel; one who was teaching In South Korea, but decided Brazil would be a better fit; his girlfriend; and another friend from back home. Even though the business was growing, things did not always go smoothly, and there were a lot of times when I thought the entire project would fail. My visa, for example, ended up being delayed until May. This rendered me illegal, and therefore meant that I couldn’t rent an apartment, open a bank account, or do lots of other things that I took for granted living in the US. Getting new students was also a slow process.

All of us working at Pinnacle English School lived on about two dollars a day for a couple of months, feeling sometimes like a bunch of poor immigrants eating rice and beans every day, but obviously compared to people living in the Sao Paulo slums we were nowhere close to real poverty. To my teammates’ credit, they stuck with it through the hard times, and now we have a successful company. Currently, we have 85 students.

Moving to Brazil has ended up creating tremendous opportunity for me. I honestly don’t know what I would be doing in the United States if I were still there. Now, I love everything about Brazil: the food, the music, the culture. Everything. I love that you can walk down the street at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday and there are guaranteed to be people out on the sidewalks drinking and laughing. I love that almost every single bar, no matter how small or run-down, in a residential neighborhood has live music almost every night of the week. I love going to the beach where the water is warm, the women are beautiful, and you don’t have to worry about great white sharks. I love the trash in the streets, the favelas, the kids on the sidewalk (not that these things are signs of prosperity and wealth, but they feel like the real world. You’re not in a bubble; you see the other side of life). But most of all I love the people.

I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, or what I’m going to be doing tomorrow, but for now I’m enjoying work, enjoying life, and most importantly, I’m learning something new every day.

If I had one piece of advice it would be this: a lot of times we focus on the big picture way too much; we try to plan and organize and get everything ready before we take the first step. Sometimes the best thing to do is take the first step on your own, start your journey, and most of the time you’ll find that things tend to fall into place. It hasn’t always been fun, it for sure hasn’t been easy, but without a doubt it has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I’ve learned so much about myself, what I need to be happy, what’s important to me, and what I want out of life just from being in Brazil. I still have no idea what the future holds, but I think that everyday I’m much better prepared to face it.

To contact Sam, please see the information below; he is currently accepting applications for teaching positions.


Sam DeMello
Demello.sam@gmail.com
http://www.pinnacleenglish.com

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Sebastian Opens the Door …

At the midnight hour, the front door glides open always with a simple buzz and click. There is no turning of the nob. There is no searching for the key. From a distant podium beyond the glass door, my doorman Sebastian recognizes my face amidst the darkness and simply  pushes a button to let me in. Sebastian reminds me of a slightly older, slightly skinner, slightly balder Orville Redenbocher. Minus the black frame glasses. And when I walk through the door, he rises from his chair, quickly interlocks his hands behind his back, and bows congenially, his red tie slipping out of his plaid black and tan sport coat. Immediately, he reaches for the wayward tie and puts it back in place with a tap and sweeps off the front of his suit. And then, he smiles, though I always notice that he is missing exactly one tooth on the left side. 

When I first arrived to my Buenos Aires apartment in November 2009, my portero, or doorkeeper, thought for a while that I was German. He greeted me with “Guten Tag” and bid me farewell with “Auf Wiedersehen.” I found his mistaken greetings so adorable that I never wanted to correct him. There eventually came a day, however, when he finally asked where I was from. “California,” I said with a sheepish grin, uncomfortably twisting my blue Converse shoe into the ground as if I were putting out a cigarette. But he only smiled and said with a nod, “Very well then, Auf Wiedersehen.” And he walked away whistling.

Sebastian has been, in both metaphoric and literal ways, my key to Buenos Aires life. When I first arrived, my apartment owner presented me with the impossible, ancient golden skeleton key that someone strategically carved out in a labyrinth of sharp metal turns, corners, and edges that would make getting beyond my front door nearly impossible. I tried the gentle jiggle; I attempted the sneak samurai swirl; I even had conversations with the door. But getting that key to work was more difficult than coaxing a crying bride with cold feet out of the bathroom. That would be until I would hear the elevator crank into action and minutes later, Sebastian would peep his head through its doors to find me crying on the ground, begging my door for mercy. Open, open, open…

With the passing weeks, I have returned home routinely from work at Parrilla Buenos Aires restaurant to enjoy midnight chats with Sebastian, everyday him continuing to open doors with insights on Argentine cinema, politics, and cultural norms. This evening, however, I entered the building to find Sebastian with his tie untucked, wiping away tears. With a few passing words, my portero eventually opened a new door for me: the door to his heart. He allowed me to linger on the stoop of his life trials and feel with him the painful rhythm of passing lives: the pulse that reminds us everyday that we are alive while others whom we have loved simply are not.

He had been listening to a local radio show when a man called in, begging God why his little girl was just diagnosed with cancer. There were a number of callers who, thereafter, expressed their sympathy over the radio for this man’s situation. And even though Sebastian did not phone in, he commiserated with this stranger, alone in the hallway, until he opened the door for me. With eyes like reflecting pools, he confessed to me that his own daughter died at age 17. Then, a withdrawn tear escaped, rolling down the steep staircase below his eyes. The other tears, however, he struggled to keep locked up. 

 I didn’t turn the key farther to find out how exactly she had left. I simply shared a quiet, teary eyed moment in the doorway with Sebastian, relating to him quietly  in the same way that he had related to the caller on the radio. I too continue missing someone who left the earth before I thought anyone would show them the exit from this world and give them the key to the next.

Then, he says, “God will never give us reasons for why people come and go. The comings and goings are just cosas de la vida … a part of life.” 

And at the end of our silent memorial, we parted ways with a mutual Auf Wiedersehen. And when I reached my entryway, I was able to open my door without hassle; I know for sure because Sebastian taught me how to use the key.

***Dedicated to Ryan whose spirit continues to walk with me through life’s revolving series of opening and closing doors. Thanks for showing me the way …

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Getting Real: When Life Gives You Too Much Lemonade …

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade … but what do you do when life skips the lemons, hands you three gallons of lemonade, and chants, “Chug it, chug it!” with the enthusiasm of a fraternity initiation? I, personally, could only happily enjoy one glass of lemonade before the power of diminishing returns would begin to take affect. When it comes to life and lemonade, you can have too much of a good thing.

At this point in my life, I am working creatively and optimistically to make opportunities for myself. I believe a lot in the power of positive thinking and the influence of visualization, most likely because this is the coping mechanism I developed after hitting rock bottom about a year ago.

I used to be that person who sat on Craigslist for hours searching for answers, turning in hundreds of online applications without response. One by one, I was rejected from such positions as environmental law office assistant, Amazon jungle cruise operator, gardener, house painter, bartender etc etc.  Even Oscar Mayer Wiener turned me down when I applied to drive their Wiener Mobile around America. I desperately wanted to be a “Hotdogger.” At least I scored the phone interview, but it was a personality screening, so does that say something about me?

From reaching that desperate place, where I literally woke up some mornings feeling without a purpose, I trained myself to make something out of nothing, but no one ever told me what to do when you are suddenly given too many great options to choose from.

Buenos Aires, Better Opportunities

Despite my status as illegal immigrant in Argentina, I at last formed a lifestyle that I am excited about. I began volunteering as grant writer with Mariano’s non-profit, and working as a hostess/translator at a local Argentinean grill. I was content until, along with the fury of the raging sun and blistering city heat, there came rushing in the test to everything I had established.

One morning, Mariano summons me to his office. Using the nickname he chose for me he says, “Che, Super Meg,” and he begins rolling his marble between his palms. Give and receive. “I see ourselves on the edge of something big.” We had just discovered a number of potential funding opportunities, but were moving at a slow pace since I only came into the office three times a week.

“I really want to press forward, so, how about I begin paying you for your work if you come more hours?” I was amazed. I would have offered to come for free, but I couldn’t possibly say no to his generous proposal. Then ….. an email shot into my mailbox …

It was from the director of a program in Argentina called Connecting Schools to the World. For a reasonable fee, participants are sent to live with a family in the countryside and teach English at a local school. After investigating the program from all angles, I can confirm that it is not only legitimate but also a fantastic experience. Earlier, I had written the director to tell her I wouldn’t be participating because I couldn’t afford the tuition.

That afternoon, she wrote me back generously offering a couple small projects, which would more than likely cover the fee. If I accepted her offer, I would start training in a week, and move to Cordoba by the end of the month. This would also mean turning down Mariano’s offer. I needed a tranquil place to consider my options, so I went home.

As I walked in the door, Mabel (the señora that started living with us not too long ago) leaps into my path and shouts, “I’m ready to start English classes with you! How about this Thursday?”

“Ummmm…sure,” I tell her. We had been discussing the idea of doing conversation classes together, but had never set a date. Suddenly, she was ready.

That evening, I went to work at the Parrilla. When I entered the restaurant, I gave all of the waiters a kiss on the cheek, which is the customary Argentinean greeting. One waiter, Alejandro,  just about breezes by me on the way to a table, but stops to tell me, “Megan, this week you and me, we’re going to start English classes. I want two times a week, one hour each session. We can meet at McDonald’s down the street just before work!”

“Of course!” I say enthusiastically, but as he walks away, I slump over the hostess stand. What to do! The feeling of indecision was tangoing at the base of my stomach.

I saw the positive side in everything I had been offered. Each opportunity to me sounded as adventurous and exciting as the other even though the experiences would be remarkably different. Even if I stayed in Buenos Aires, I wouldn’t have time for it all. What path was mine? And how ever could I say no to anything that’s good? What would I be missing out on by closing doors? I didn’t know how to decide. I’m not the type who draws out charts to weigh pros and cons.

But naturally amidst my state of indecision, there arose a natural, unmistakable intuition. It was an overwhelmingly powerful whisper that told me, even though I couldn’t foresee the outcome, my time in Buenos Aires is not complete. Something is evolving here, be it a challenge or an opportunity. 

So, I made the difficult decision to just go with that feeling and continue forward with what I am currently creating. This feeling couldn’t possibly be misguided if it arose from inside me. It was the same intuition that brought me here originally, and for whatever reason, is the same that keeps me here now as well. 

“Always listen to the little voice.” – A quote from my mother that thus far has proved to be true, whatever the truth may be.

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Getting Real: The Art of Finding Hope and Inspiration in Unlikely Places

I observe with unshakable attention the movement of the clear, large thimble-sized marble as it rolls in circles and passes from one of Mariano’s palms to the other. “Dar y recibir,” he chants, “dar y recibir.” Give and receive, give and receive. Mariano (director of a new, online NGO) and I always begin my days of volunteer work discussing his life philosophies, which oddly have a way of leaving me speechless. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., he frequently says, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” And everyday, Mariano continues to roll the marble between his hands. Give and receive.

Mariano is one of those rare, inspirational geniuses I feel privileged to have met. His desk looks like the ground below a tree during fall on the East Coast which is covered entirely by fallen leaves. Only, in his case, his desk is always blanketed in leaves of white paper where he randomly jots down his thoughts. It’s like those times when you go, “Hey, that would be a great idea!” knowing that you should probably take physical note to remember, but don’t. Mariano, on the other hand, will reach for whatever material and writing utensil is within proximity and get the thought down before it has even a second to escape. 

I found him in the most unlikely of ways. About two months after I arrived in Buenos Aires, I was already having a break down with my friend Stephanie over the fact that I hadn’t yet found a job. And I knew exactly why not.

“My perfectionism makes me suffer in ways that are indescribable,” I wailed. “There’s always that little voice in my head that chants, ‘not good enough Megan, not good enough.’ So,  I turn down jobs I feel are not merit worthy and fail at achieving higher rank jobs because I am uncertain if it’s the ‘right fit’ or perhaps if there just might be something else better waiting.”

“So,” she said. “Do yourself a favor and just say yes to everything and if you don’t like it, then … quit. Who knows where something might lead you next.”

The idea sounded simple, but terrified me because I also hate letting people down, which is exactly what I would be doing by quitting at the drop of a hat. But I decided to go for it. Being broke can be a great motivator when it comes to risk taking. If you’re closer to zero, the less you have to lose as they say.

And that’s when I took a job as a cocktail waitress at a particular bar in Palermo neighborhood that I will leave unnamed for privacy purposes.

My employment only lasted for two weeks, mostly because of the draining work hours, where I lived from sundown to sunup and slept during the day. The night that I quit, I tripped over a table and deeply bruised my shin, got yelled at by customers because no one had come to clean up the broken glass that had been sitting on the floor for about three hours, almost got beat up for not giving someone free drinks, and on top of it all, when I was ready to go home (exhausted) at the hour of my usual departure my boss looks at me, scoffs, and says, “you’re not leaving. You don’t leave until the people leave. Now go clean up those glasses.” One major disadvantage of working under the table is that you have no rights.

At that moment, I decided that I would just live out the night until I got payed. Needless to say, I would not be feeling guilty in the least bit for resigning from this gig.

When I turned around, Mariano and his friend saw my grimaced face and waved me over. “What in the world are you doing working here?” They asked surprised, looking at me in absolute consternation as if I were a zebra in lime green boxers trying to play the accordion at a rock concert. Apparently my natural positive, sober energy was undisguisable among the crowd of transvestites and drug-using indy kids that flooded the bar. I shrugged, “I was giving something a chance that I normally never would,” commending my great idea with pride. They looked at each other and agreed amongst themselves that this was not the place for me, which I too had also realized. Mariano and his friend also were not frequenters of this bar, they had merely gotten word of its curious reputation and stopped in to observe the “quilombo,” which is Argentinean slang for chaos or disorder. 

Over a breakfast of facturas, tostados mixtos, and cheese pizza — when I finally left work at that bar for the last time — the three of us laughed and smiled enjoying conversation about the innocent simplicities of life and talking about my future involvement with Mariano’s non-profit, where I knew I undoubtedly would fit in.

It’s still funny to me that I found such a positive light in such a dark place, but I guess it shows that you never know who you will meet when you decide to open the doors completely and give the unlikely a chance. Just don’t expect me to seek employment at another bar any time soon.

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Latin Passion Falling From the Sky

I play a self-invented game here in Buenos Aires, it’s called, “Is it raining or is that just an air conditioner unit dripping on my head?” It happens frequently not only because most of the city’s ACs that don’t have condensation drip pans but also because of the city’s fickle, extreme weather patterns. One minute it’s humid and blistering hot, then the next minute dark clouds roll in and the sky splits open pouring down gallons of water in seconds, letting thunder shake the earth and lightening touch down in waves. Then, 45 minutes pass and its over. Some weeks ago, we had such a storm that it uprooted hundreds of trees, which laid in the streets for days until someone finally came to pick them up. (They’re not too swift here … they didn’t even take down their Christmas decorations until near the end of January) The city even closed the Botanical Gardens in Palermo because it was unsafe.

This morning, I was sitting on my bed enjoying my manzanilla (camomile) tea when I saw drops falling on my balcony. I assumed that my neighbor probably just had the cold air blasting. But as I approached the banaster, I looked out upon Santa Fe Avenue to find soaked side walks and a sea of multi-colored umbrellas. 

The rain today is no comparison to the lightening storm we received on saturday at around 4 a.m. The winds were so strong, I thought my glass doors were going to implode, and the electric strikes were breaking overhead every second and the street gutters were running like rivers. Then there was silence and a still, sticky, stagnant heat. Because I have neither air conditioning nor a fan in my room, I some nights have resorted to sleeping with ice packs. And yes, that is embarrassingly true. So, I ran to the kitchen, grabbed a couple from the freezer, put one on my neck and one at my feet, and began counting sheep.

On wednesday and thursday, the heat was almost intolerable. I resorted to making sense of the complicated bus system to get around town as the subte was making me claustrophobic. One afternoon, I arrived at my volunteer gig flustered and combing back my moist hair trying to make it look decent.  “HACE CALORRRRRRRRR!!!!!!” or “IT’S HOTTTTTT!!!!!!” Mariano, the non-profit director, shouted when he opened the door. “Si,” I gasped in agreement, dabbing my forehead.

“But there’s a storm coming, eh” he said. In Buenos Aires, it is popular to throw an Italian-sounding “Eh” on the end of  sentences to add emphasis. It always make me want to shout Mama Mia!

“Every time it gets this hot, the rains come and cool it back down. I expect that this storm is going to be huge!” And he was right, in some sense. I checked the forecast, and we are suppose to have thunderstorms all weeklong … the temperature, however, is expected to stay in the 90s and high 80s. 

But this is characteristically Buenos Aires. Here, there is a series of movements from one extreme to the other, a coming together and pulling apart of people, things, and conditions, which perhaps is embodied best by the tango and the heat that surrenders to the rain and the rain that  yields to the heat, and the air that falls in between that does not move unless provoked by the prevailing winds. And there are couples passionately kissing in the parks as if today were their last day in love and there are couples in the streets furiously shouting at each other as if finally the end of their love had arrived. Until again sweep each other into an everlasting, passionate embrace. And there are women with breast implants wearing high-heels passing by children and old men who are sleeping on the sidewalk in their underwear. And there are car collisions that could have been easily avoided. And amongst it all, there’s me trying to make sense of these paradoxes, even though I don’t even have an umbrella.

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