Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

Let's pretend I had a paragraph here apologizing for the long gap in entries. Let's imagine it was heartfelt and thorough and not only answered for absences but made you, the reader, feel better about yourself and your own life path. Now let's smile at the thought of such a moving paragraph, and let go of all irritation and disinterest associated with this blog.

Good. Very good. Namaste.

Basically, as my mother would (very confusingly) say, I've been busier than a one-armed paper hanger. February/March are my most overloaded times at work, and this year was no exception. However, let's face it, I still found time to be an undisputed boss at Candy Crush, so I've obviously still got my priorities skewed.

Y'know, 2014 is shaping up to be a strange little year. I don't know what to think of it at all. It started out pretty blah, what with continued illness and neverending winter and vague sense of disappointment in many aspects of my life. But as the buds turn to blossoms (or, I assume they will after another month of snow squalls), so has life turned to "huh. that could be fun." But just as I start to lift my head up, something else comes back down to crush it. If nothing else, I'm keeping humble, which is a good thing. I'm choosing to see it as such.

Frankly, I'm worried Buenos Aires
is running out of buildings.
I live with a very real fear of jinxing things so I didn't mention anything here (or, really, to anyone other than my family) until I was on a plane, but I got a really awesome opportunity to go to Paraguay and Argentina last month. My work sometimes involves travel, but it rarely involves travel that isn't an accompaniment of a larger delegation or a "tag along" to a fact-finding trip or some such. I was incredibly lucky and got to go there just to attend meetings with my coworker that were relevant to my work. It was amazing. Besides the opportunity to meet and (ohgodI'mactuallyusingthisword) network with contacts I'd either never met or had only encountered virtually, the trip was a chance to soak in a little culture and warm weather during a bitterly dull winter.

I'm not really what you'd call a "seasoned" traveller, so any chance I get to go anywhere is met with a sort of giddy enchantment coupled with a tummy-roiling nervousness; this trip was no exception.

Slightly different skyline in Asuncion
I'll confess something kind of embarrassing: I used to be really afraid of flying. I didn't take my first "grown up" flight (i.e.: one I remembered) until I was 24, and even then only because it was pretty much the sole way to get from Oregon to Ontario without taking a fortnight off work. I still am not a great flyer and I continue to loathe overnight flights (I never sleep on planes which always makes for a hilarious first day of travelling). I don't whimper any more, but for me, travelling is never about the journey- it's all destination, baby. So after 17 hours of waiting in airports, boarding planes, removing and repacking luggage, I was so so ready to just *be* somewhere.

Somewhere lovely. Somewhere like this:

Ugh. I can't believe it snowed again this week. Gross.

I'd been to South America only once before - in Venezuela about 3 years ago- and I jumped at the chance to go again. Latin American politics is actually pretty interesting, even if you're not well-versed in that kind of thing. There's a passion and an unpredictability that makes it engaging, almost like a tele-novella at times and I genuinely enjoy working on a lot of the issues I'm responsible for. You couldn't find two capital cities more close in geography but different in appearance than Buenos Aires and Asuncion, I think. But I fell for them both all the same.

It's a brick... house.
But enough about my nerdiness - let's get to the trip itself.

The main focus of my travels was on Paraguay. Little kind-people-having, land-locked, great food-serving Paraguay. While most of my work brought me to the capital, Asuncion, I also had a chance to visit some of the smaller communities which was amazing on its own.

In Buenos Aires I got to meet first hand with a bunch of my colleagues who were just voices on phone lines, but also got to see the city a bit.
In between the meetings and the taxis and the note takings, I managed to squeeze in a few amazing steaks, some killer wines, some sightseeing, some shopping (duh) and spent a few glorious moments just basking in the sun's rays on little benches here and there. Which doesn't sound like much, but after the winter we've had? Well, let's just say a butterfly landed near my foot and I almost burst into tears.

Hall of Heroes in Paraguay
Don't let the cloudy sky fool you - it felt like 45 degrees in Asuncion that day.
Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires - is it creepy I went here three times? 

Casa Rosada - Buenos Aires' answer to the "White House" I suppose

An awesome little bar in Buenos Aires that's hidden in the basement of a flower shop.

There are these moments, in this weird little life, and I don't care if it's in an opera house halfway around the world or in pub around the corner from your house, or at a friend's cottage, or even in your own backyard, where you just think "Holy crap. I can't believe this is my life." Instances when your heart is so full and your mouth is agape just a little and you think of how completely bizarre it is that everything you've done has somehow led you to this. Like the "you" from 10 years ago would never believe you'd end up here. If you're lucky, those moments are mostly positive ones. I am lucky. This trip was full of those moments.

I went to a concert one night in Paraguay, as part of a public affairs event that had been organized, and I was astounded at the standing room only crowd surrounding me. As a former arts major, I was thinking that you could never get a crowd like this to come to a free concert in French back home, even though it was much more likely to find Francophones there than in the middle of Paraguay. The night was memorable, full of lovely moments. Hearing this spitfire powerhouse of a singer belt Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf with such fervour, such passion that after the first song, the crowd was shouting, whistling, applauding for more. Hearing that same singer charmingly banter back and forth with the crowd, who instantly forgave her her broken Spanish as quickly as she egged them on in easy French. Saying to myself, "I am sitting in a Brazillian cultural centre, in the middle of Paraguay, with a Quebecois singer, singing songs by a Parisian and a Belgian for a Canadian celebration". Drinking wine and eating steak with that same singer, and a bunch of people you don't know and just laughing and talking and daring the Canadians to eat the meat that looks like intestines (it was intestines.)

Life is so wonderfully weird, sometimes, you guys. Not always nice, and not always kind, and certainly not always fair. But man, when it's good to you, it can be so so good. 

El Ateneo, a bookstore built into an old theatre. So basically, the closest thing to church for me.
I won't be such a stranger in the future. Promise.

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