Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Ghosted Beach Town of San Bernardo

Journal Entry 11-20-2008 3:34pm

For the first time in many months I am sitting and writing before the ocean blue. It's actually more brown than blue here but the endless waves are calming to the soul nonetheless. This time ocean is the Atlantic, which seems in my mind slightly less romantic than its Pacific counterpart I used to live next to, but that argument holds up for only a few seconds. It is crushed by all of the places my mind wanders to when I gaze out past the waves towards the Eastern horizon.

I am not home. Far from it. I couldn't tell you where I am from a non-geographic standpoint, and I guess for what it's worth that is something special in itself. If we were to look on a map the name of the place we find ourselves is San Bernardo, Argentina. It resides on the Atlantic Coast, a 6 hour bus ride south of Buenos Aires.

It's been almost three months since we've ventured out of the Buenos Aires. As the months compile without us having left the city's borders the idea that something actually exists beyond all the concrete and cobblestone seems less and less plausible. The shear immensity of the city is apparent whenever I climb to roof of our apartment 25 stories up and gaze at the endless sea of buildings that extends as far as the eye can see. Grasping the view up there is one thing, but riding the energy below is a whole other, thus our necessary sojourn. With money tight right now as we try to figure out what exactly it is we are doing here in Argentina, our options for escaping the city for awhile were somewhat limited. Thankfully we were fortunate to have a friend offer us the keys to his family's beach house here for a few days, while it sits empty before the big summer rental season that steadily approaches.

San Bernardo is an interesting place. In my eyes it stands as a ghost town on the Southern Atlantic whose layers of paint flake and crack in the faded sun of its soul. With it's lifeblood only really flowing during the two peak summer months of January and February, it stands as an old weathered amusement park that's seems like it's been lying dormant for years. Apartment buildings rise up everywhere on the city's three mile stretch of beach front, yet it is a task to find one with shutters open. Nearly all are vacant rental properties. Of the dozens of restaurants we pass, only a few that are open for business. A handful of people walk the streets, most of whom seem to be business owners preparing for the tourist season. Fresh coats of paint waft up from nearly every block. In ratio to the amount of people, we see just as many, if not more, stray dogs wandering, lying and gimping around. Most of the dogs, as friendly as they are, have seen better days. They remind me of the ghosts of lost children who forever haunt the streets and beaches in longing for the golden years of this amusement park town, in hopes of maybe scrounging up one more peso out of their parents pocket for an ice cream cone or another shot in the arcade. Like a handful of orange trees haphazardly planted with an apple orchard, old concrete structures stand erected with no facade amidst the newer apartments, sometimes 15 stories high, abandoned as skeletons before they were ever finished. In other places rebar grows from crumbled concrete like ancient, petrified, rust seedlings, frozen by weather, time and circumstance. It is unclear how 'golden' the golden years might have been here. The town has had to weather not only mother nature but the turbulent times of its country's past as well. Like looking at rings on tree, it's clear some years here were more nurturing that others.

The old warped boards of these sun-dried stairs I sit on along the beach seem to long to know their place here in this South American world just the same as the shifting shadow that follows me. The footsteps that brought me here across the sand have already blown away as the relentless ocean wind howls it's persistent tune. These are not the easiest of times, but they are beautiful in all of their unconventional ways, beautiful just like this empty little beach town. I can say with certainty that I think I would like this town less if its streets were buzzing with tourists and the fading remnants of yesterday were absent from its framework. It has character and that is something time has not taken away.

I am thankful to be here walking amongst the humble ghosts of this old amusement town, breathing its fresh clean ocean air and having one of my biggest worries be how much its sand I collect in my shoes.


The old stairs on the beach where I sat and wrote.

Saying a long overdue 'hello' to the ocean.

Annie walks with her new friend.

One of the many old neon signs found up and down the street.

Abandoned and newly constructed buildings
are woven together in the fabric of the town.

Remnants on the thoroughfare of another time.

Sunrise on San Bernardo.

Peering at new apartments through the remnants of an old store front.

More neon.

Much like an amusement park, the city is accented
with color everywhere. It was a welcome change
to the grays of the big city.

One of the old empty amusement lots on the city's main street.

An empty amusement park quietly waiting for the summer months.

An old out of commission go-kart track on the ocean's edge.

Annie makes 3 more friends as we wait for the bus back to the city.

Currently Reading:
The Old Patagonia Express:
By Train Through the Americas
by Paul Theroux

Currently Listening To:
Song: Nightblindness
Artist: David Gray

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Adventurous Path of Uncertainty

I never cease to be amazed at how quickly things change for us here. If there is one constant I can count on 'change' is it, and almost daily.

When we first arrived in Buenos Aires our plan seemed so clear. We were going to start a yoga and art studio. When the life of acclimation got confusing, that plan was always where we fell back too. "This is what we're here to do and we're going to do it" seemed to be our philosophy. We were not stubborn, but we were (and are) determined.

However now, as recent weeks have played out in the global economy, our entrepreneurial plans are in flux and we have begun to adopt a plan, that when broken down to it's most basic level, is more about survival. I have to admit that hasn't been the easiest pill to swallow. It is an interesting thing to walk through the course of a day and not know whether the assets you thought you had still exist or not, or knowing there won't be immediate answers available regarding their existence, and then further beginning to plan in case they don't.

I have never been one to walk with fear, although I have met up with it from time to time for brief conversations, many of which seem to have taken place this year. Having reconstructive knee surgery. Moving to another country. Betting everything on a dream. Fear is an interesting thing. Even as I write this it drives people to the banks here to withdraw their money because they believe the Argentine economy could collapse in just a couple of months. (Read more about that here) Dorothy Thompson said, "Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live." For me, I think that is what I've had to get over once again this past week. I've had to have one of the those conversations with 'fear' and decide where I'm gonna stand with it. It made me think back to a time in my life about 9 years ago. In a span of two weeks I had broken off a wedding engagement, lost my job, and learned that I would soon be without a place to live. I remember a friend asking me back then why I was still able to hold onto a smile despite the fact that the world I knew was crumbling around me. I told her that I had come to a realization. I said, "You can take all those things away from me and I'll still be me. I am not my fiancee. I am not my job. I am not the house I live in. Hell, take my car too. You can take all those things away from me and ultimately I am still me and that no one and no circumstances can change. No matter what happens, somehow, someway I will survive." I remembered feeling empowered by those thoughts and I have carried them and the belief in myself with me ever since.

The truth is we don't know yet what's going to happen here in Argentina, with our assets back in the States, or with the economy of the world. We hope for the best but we don't rule out the worst. There are certain things we can control in life and there are others that we can't. I can control though whether or not I keep wearing a smile. Or what colors to paint the background on the next painting. Or how much ketchup I put on my fries. I can control what chords I strum on my guitar. In other words you have to keep moving forward, even though what moving forward means isn't always clear. I've found that growth most often does not derive from comfort and ease, and life to be more interesting when walking the never boring, and always adventurous path of uncertainty.

Currently Reading:
"Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand." - Mark Twain

Currently Listening To:
Robb Deez

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Turning Point In History

Sometime after 3am last night here in Buenos Aires we watched live over the internet Barack Obama give his acceptance speech for President of the United States of America. After a measly 4 hours of sleep I'm still trying to take in all that happened. We as a nation elected our first black president. Regardless what anyone's political views are, we have all together as a nation walked through a door in history and passed yet another milestone in overcoming the racial injustices that have haunted our country's shadow for so long. And that alone is something to celebrate. And celebrate we did (and are).

We've crossed over into another time. From today on our nation will never be the same. Not only have we taken a step further beyond color, but we have emphatically said 'no more' to what the current administration has done to our country. It's been so long, and as I take a deep breathe and exhale, it is my old friend 'optimism' that refills my lungs.

I can say first hand living abroad here in Argentina that it was not just US citizens that were pulling for Obama over these last few months. We have taken an enormous step forward with redeeming ourselves in the international community. When I walked these South American streets today, being an American meant something different than it did 24 hours ago. And that put a smile on my face.

I bid you farewell George Bush. You are my President no more...

The newspapers today in Buenos Aires.

We hosted an Election Party last night. It was an awesome time. There is nothing like walking through history with a group of 30 or 40 friends. In attendance was not just Americans living abroad, but Peru, Australia, Canada, Argentina, and England were all represented as well. All were curious. Throughout the night people could be found huddled around the TV broadcasting live in Spanish, or the computer streaming live in English. No point seemed more moving though then when Obama gave his acceptance speech. The diehards that had lasted until three thirty in the moring all stood huddled around the computer in complete silence, entrenched in our new President's every word.

I made it to bed some time after 4:30am and awoke 4 hours later to a blazing sun and a monumental collection of wine and bear bottles. A night to celebrate indeed.

Currently Listening To:
The collective voice of America.