The Return

<from September 2014>

I feel like I’m on my third or fourth life of this dream as I’m arriving back in Argentina once again to make a go at writing my book here. Each time I’ve been able to come back I’ve learned so much in the process and have had new challenges and surprises awaiting me…what will it be this time?

I walk out of the airport to find my friend Jose waiting there for me with a cab and it feels more like home every time I come back. We talk excitedly, firing questions back and forth, filling each other in on what’s been going on in our lives lately. We’ve both been navigating a transition from Corporate America to trying to start new careers around our passions. I have this satisfied feeling in me, a deep longing has been quenched, to be back to my passion project.

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Carolina, Jose’s roommate, practically knocks me over with a hug and smiles and I feel a connection as if we’ve already had the inspiring conversations we proceed to have over the next week, the three of us holed up in the tiny kitchen, sitting on the counters, passing around maté and sharing stories and ideas about living a meaningful life. It feels good, no, priceless to have a tiny community of like-minded people to interact with and exchange support.

I quickly get to know the people at the fruit and vegetable shop around the corner and can never resist going into the bakery next door to get some hot chipá (little balls of chewy cheesy bread, made from tapioca flour and naturally gluten free). I love shopping for food in this way, each little shop specializing in their one thing; the conversations and relationships formed with the locals; everything whole, fresh, in season and homemade.

We turned the living room into a board room (a very cute boardroom), having brainstorming sessions and building websites. The brainstorming…I love, ping ponging questions and ideas back and forth and I’m reminded of my skill set and the parts of consulting that I loved. It feels so energizing to generate ideas and get creative, to help someone get clearer on their vision and be one step closer to manifesting it. The hardest part of building a personal business for me though is the business and technology part…hoping the challenge and frustrations will pay off if I can stick to it. Pretty soon my 5 year old nephew will likely be better at this than I am.

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We take a break to meet up with Lucho and head over to the feria de matadores…a traditional market where you are a minority as a tourist. I stand out with my blond hair and light skin, but I feel at home with the melodic castellano being spoken around me, the scents of choripan (a chorizo sausage and chimichurri sandwich) and locals strolling around the art stalls with their thermos of agua caliente (hot water) tucked under their arms.

We follow the crowds to the main stage where folkloric music is being played and everyone is dancing. Couples are circling each other, hands in the air, snapping their fingers to the rhythm of the music. Lucho and I try to join in which provides a great laugh to each other and everyone around us as we do.

photo credit - Jose Gastaldi
photo credit – Jose Gastaldi

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I get waves of feeling like we had been at the market a while, feeling it is surely time to leave, until I’m reminded of a quality I love about Argentina…busy-ness and rushing about just isn’t glorified in the least. It is the exact opposite. We won’t eat dinner till midnight anyway, we have loads of time. We end up staying for hours watching as the dance progressed to one where they twirl scarves about and caress each other with them.

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I stand there watching and smiling and feeling in my whole body that it was the right decision to come back to Argentina. It just feels so right to be here and I feel energized and motivated to accomplish what I came here to do.

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Besos y La Finca

If you find yourself in Mendoza and hear the words ‘la finca’ mentioned in what sounds like an invitation, immediately say “Yes!” or beg your way into an invitation. This is how I found myself taking buses and doing a little hitch hiking with my dear Canadian friend, la artista Carmen and our amigos argentinos, Jorge y Mariel on a glorious Mendocino Sunday. La finca technically means, the farm. In Mendoza this can often be used to refer to ‘wine farms’, read: vineyards. But it also pretty much guarantees a trip out of the city closer to nature, a cultural experience and a mountain backdrop to top it off. I didn’t know what I was getting into, only that la finca was involved and I was to meet my friends at the bus station at 9:00am.

I was still waking up as I made the mistake of buying coffee from one of the little carts in the bus station. Think of it more as sugar water with a hint of instant coffee flavoring. Yikes. My wake up call would have to wait. Luckily our first stop was Mariel’s family house. We were dropped off by the bus in the middle of a road and within 5 minutes managed to hitch a ride with a friendly local. A day of Argentino traditions started. First, it was kisses all around. Mother, father, and then brother after brother appeared from no where to give each of us a kiss on the cheek, just one in Argentina. We shared maté, which is a loose leaf tea that you drink from a gourd through a straw. There is a lengthy tradition around this custom, but basically it involves one person pouring hot water into the tea filled gourd and passing it around. When it is your turn, without touching the straw, you drink all of the tea and pass it back to the pourer who will refill it and continue with the next person. On any given morning, afternoon, evening with a stroll through a neighborhood, plaza, or park you can see many a group of friends or family ‘taking the maté’ together. It is thought to be quite energizing as well, so we shared some maté and woke up to the day.

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From here it was a walk through the neighborhood to catch another bus. But not before a round of goodbye kisses and a run in with the neighbors who we exchanged kisses with, talked to for about 3 1/2 minutes, and then exchanged kisses all around again before taking our leave. Carmen and I looked at each other as if we thought our first round of kisses was sufficient to last at least 5 minutes, but quickly realized by the look on grandma’s face and her extended arm that we were meant to kiss hello and goodbye with even a 10 second conversation. I love this tradition. It seems so strange to me to hold out my hand for a handshake now.

Our next bus took us to another neighborhood where we walked to a friend’s house for another round of kisses and maté. We then piled into their car and headed to la finca where there would be a birthday celebration. If I only celebrate my birthdays in this Argentine fashion from now on, I won’t remotely mind raking in the years. It turns out la finca that we were visiting is owned by two brothers and one of them was turning 60. There was a vineyard/mountain backdrop just as I had imagined when I begged for my invitation. The brothers themselves had an orchard of peaches and cherries and they grow other produce as well. They host ‘woofers’, which is short for those who are traveling around by working on organic farms in exchange for room and board. There were roughly 60 people there of all ages and countries who, you guessed it!, each came over to give us kisses and welcome us to the party.

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Now it was time for perhaps the greatest of all Argentinian traditions though. As people played chess, ping pong, bocce ball, futbol or wandered the vineyard, several caballeros (gentlemen) were hard at work tending to the coals of la parilla…the grill of course. Some things are universal! Everyone had brought different cuts of meat and wine and there were also empanadas and vegetables roasting in the dome clay oven. When it was time, all 60+ of us sat around tables that had been lined up into one great table in the shade. And then the food and meat just started coming and coming and coming. In the end, it is tough to say if there was more meat or kisses on this Sunday Funday. We shared many toasts, “salud!” and sang happy birthday and I’m not sure if there has ever been a more content birthday man in history. In my own opinion, sharing a meal like this must be one of the simplest and greatest things you can do in this world. One thing that struck me was how easy it all came together and how everyone was a part of everything. There was this massive meal and not a stress in the world.

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Serendipity stepped in to give me yet another highlight to the day. I spent hours talking to Rudolfo, one of the brothers who owned the place. It turns out he is a published author and has written many books. He was thrilled to learn that I had stopped in Mendoza to write a book. We shared writing styles and process and creative inspiration and stories and laughed about how you need to be just a little bit crazy to be an author. He told me to treat writing a book like a fine wine, and I understood why this is the place that I have stopped to write. It turns out that he and his brother had built this place to be somewhere for gathering people in creativity, nature, and company…an amazing display of a vision en vivo. This all took place in Spanish and it was thrilling to understand everything he said and to be able to have what I call a “soul conversation” in another language. We have an open invitation to come out to la finca and definite friends for life as cliche as that might sound.

And if this wasn’t enough, day moved into night as the reggae band set up to play alongside the table where people continued to feast. The birthday “boy” himself got up to play the guitar (…what I would consider to be another tradition here. There always seems to be a guitar around and someone who knows how to play it.) A storm moved in and Carmen and I snuck away to capture some photos of the lightening striking down in a grand finale.

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This is the sort of cultural experience that I dream of and hope everyone gets a chance to have. I do think it comes from just doing what you love and talking about what you love every chance you get. Connections are formed, invitations are offered, and it all comes together just as it should.