summer reading #3

Haven’t updated for awhile, and I am moving very slowly in some books, but I also read very quickly some others. What else is there to do but read when you are stuck in bed with the flu? Now, of course, I am better and off on adventures, but here are the latest books I’ve finished.

I have not read books that I expected to read, due again to the fact that I did not expect to be sick with so much free time. So I’ve been a bit disappointed in things. But such is life.

1. Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham. So disappointing! This woman, who also writes as Sophie Kinsella, has always impressed me, because while she writes chick lit, which basically means dumb, she writes it in a way that makes you want to read it, because both she and her characters have clearly read other books before. This one, however, was utter crap and made me really, really angry. Pregnant women being alcoholics, women being stupid, and just stupid, stupid, stupid. Don’t read it. That is all.

2. Social Justice: A Jewish Perspective by Bernardo Kliksberg. This was lent to me by a friend at Hillel after I was told to stay in bed for three days, and it’s a very good and pretty easy read. Since this is a vaguely religious trip that I’m on (or was on, since now I’m just vacationing and traveling), it was nice to kind of get in touch with my Judaism a bit and remember that there are ways I identify with my religion, even if for me it’s not about being completely stuck in the past or really Orthodox or keeping kosher. Even if you’re not Jewish, this book has a good outline of what social justice is and why it’s important that it exist. It didn’t exactly tell me things I didn’t believe in before, but it was nice to have them outlined well.

3. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn’t want to read this book, but my friend lent it to me and I figured I’d at least look at it, and then I finished it in a day. Whoops. I guess part of my reasoning for not wanting to read it was my resentment for Americans who do “spiritual” things to be trendy, and also because I generally feel kind of icky when talking about it. For me, religion is very personal, and while I’m glad I have my beliefs, I don’t particularly care if anyone knows them or not and I don’t really enjoy evangelicals who are constantly trying to tell me what they believe and why I should believe it, too. Maybe that’s mean of me, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. But this book, even when it got borderline sappy, was a great read simply because Gilbert was a really great storyteller. I haven’t felt like writing lately, and in the middle of the book I just had to run upstairs and journal. And it reminded me how much I enjoy traveling, even when I don’t, and how much I like to write personal essays. So I would recommend the book above all. Plus, who wouldn’t want to read about living in Italy?

So that makes 10 books thus far through the summer, and I’m well into the middle of two/three others (a García Márquez book that I’m reading simultaneously in Spanish and in translation and a book of poems). We’ll see if I make it to my goal of thirty, though. And hopefully the rest of the books I read will be better.

Stuff about my latest adventures later.

el viento y el duermo

The wind is so loud here. I think it’s just our room, though, like there’s something about being on the tenth floor and about facing whatever cardinal direction it is we’re facing that makes it really loud. Because our room has definitely had some strange noises to it. But this wind sounds like the cyclone sounds in “The Wizard of Oz.”

I love to be woken up in the middle of the night, as long as it’s actually the middle of the night. It’s very disappointing to be woken up just before your alarm goes off and realize that you don’t have time to go back to sleep. However, if I am just woken up because the wind is blowing or because a light has been turned on, I really don’t mind. I will mind if someone actively tries to keep me up, but otherwise, even if it’s people having a conversation, I almost never have a problem with it. I’m not sure why that is, but part of it is that I really, really enjoy the process of falling asleep. I love to daydream, I love to fall asleep and listen to music, I love to plan out stories that I’m going to write. And there’s something delicious about being awake when the rest of the world is just spinning away and being asleep (except the wind or the rain or the motion light in the carport) and knowing that you have all the time in the world to pick up where you left off and begin daydreaming again.

I also have a lot of distinct memories of being conscious of the fact that I am asleep and dreaming. Is that possible?

a cold summer in montevideo

It’s funny, because I love to learn languages and meet interesting people and experience new things, but I’m learning that I am really not a good traveler. Like, I really don’t like to be away from home. Who knew that after spending my entire childhood and adolescence begging for boarding school, for my mother to accept a job working abroad, for college out of state, that I would end up a homebody who loves spending time with her family? This is some weird sort of karma.

It’s not that I don’t like being in Montevideo. On the contrary, I was actually really happy yesterday to return after a weekend in Buenos Aires (beautiful, beautiful city, but snooty people and lots of dirt and a somewhat unpleasant hostel experience). I’m sad that I haven’t gotten to take full advantage of my classes or internship, having missed more than a week due to my flu, but I really like working at NGOs, and working at a Latin American NGO is twice the experience, because it’s work experience and language practice. But traveling in a group is just not my thing, and I feel very off-balance not being at home. I’m too accustomed to being settled. Apparently I don’t like change. Apparently I actually like my life in Tucson. Interesting.

Something that has always astonished me is that I can’t really write when I’m on vacation, even though being in another country (or just another state–pretty much everything is different from the desert) gives me a lot of inspiration and generally feels exhilarating, at least for awhile. But I don’t feel compelled to pick up my journal, I think partly because there is so much to say that I don’t know where to begin. All of a sudden there is a new climate, new streets to learn, a new culture of people, new stores and restaurants and foods, new phrases, and now a language that I’m starting to think in. It’s like there’s so much to say just superficially, just to establish my new place in a new world, that I can’t actually get to the point of talking about my feelings or new friends or specific experiences. It’s a daunting task, and I simply can’t say anything without spending two hours just writing in a journal. And there’s no time for that, because I’m on vacation on a specific program and I have things I need to be doing. And on days like today, when I spend my afternoon alone in my hotel room on my computer (though I was actually looking up important information for the rest of my trip, like hostels and bus fares and things), I feel like a failure on both parts, because why should I be in my hotel room when I’m neither experiencing the country I’m in nor doing something I would do at home, like work on my writing? I don’t have all the things I need to feel at home, but I also feel a bit overwhelmed always being here.

So while I can’t bring myself to be totally me, neither can I stop myself. I really want to be writing. I want to be working on my novel, and I want to be working on my essay for Ann’s book, and I want to be working on that other novel I started, and I want to start developing some really good short pieces, because it’s about time I started submitting stuff and making money off my writing, and it would be prudent to start publishing in the genre I want to have a career in, rather than in all the others that I just do for fun. But I can’t work on things here, because I’m very materialistic and high-maintenance, and I don’t have all my drafts or my big old desk or my things. Things, things, things. This is why I’m a bad traveler. I can’t pack light. Physically, mentally, or emotionally. I have lots of baggage.

It’s not all that bad. I’m learning, and that’s really all I care about. This is probably the first summer experience that doesn’t feel like summer (which it shouldn’t, because I’m in the southern hemisphere and it’s freezing). What I mean by that is this is the first summer experience where I’ve gone away to a program and have not felt like it’s completely magical or that I’ve made friends for life. In fact, the only person I see myself really remaining friends with is the one person I knew before coming, though I really did not know her very well. That’s totally fine, I guess. I am a huge cynic, and since college I have become a lot more particular about the people I make friends with. I know lots and lots of people, and I really like it, but I also really like just having a handful of really, really good friends, not a bunch of friendships that are all high-maintenance. There are people I have a deep necessity for, and they generally make me happy. The rest make me happy, but they’re not necessary. And that’s the way life goes. In this group of people, I feel very, very old and stuffy, and I guess I kind of am, but it’s also just how I’ve developed within this group of people who are not very much like me. And it’s fine. I am enjoying my learning experiences, and I am very excited for my two weeks of travel with my friend.

I am all over the place. And where I’d really like to be is home, but I know if I were there, I would be complaining about how I never go anywhere. There is definitely more to traveling than just appreciating where you come from, and I hope I am doing that. I think I am more meant for individual and small-group travel experiences than strict programs with boisterous personalities. I am slowly drawing into a shell, and I really shouldn’t do that.

BUT planning for my traveling is so exciting! Another three days in Buenos Aires by myself, this time to meet my grandmother’s cousin and to go to museums and experience traveling the way I like to do it, then a bus ride to Iguazu, a stay at a hostel for a day or two, bus ride back, boat back to Uruguay, perhaps a day in Montevideo, then travel to the hot springs! It’s going to be a packed two weeks, but it’s going to be great.

things that suck

It sucks to be sick. It sucks to be sick in a foreign country when there are lots of things to be doing. It sucks to hear that every time I go away for a long period of time, someone dies in a car crash. It sucks not to be there to hold her goddaughter’s hand at the funeral. It sucks to have to hear about the funeral over an e-mail. It sucks to have a cell phone that only half works. It sucks to think that the baby may not completely recognize me when I get back because she won’t have seen me for six weeks. Sometimes vacation sucks. This is why I prefer to be a homebody.

montevideo 1

Now I know I am acclimating to being in Latin America, because it does not feel at all like 4:30 in the morning. I just got back to the hotel, and most people are still out at another club. I was with Caryn and Danny and two uruguayas, Melu and Lili, and when we left the club El Pony Pisador, we decided against paying a cover charge for an overcrowded club, so we went to McDonald’s (elegant and gorgeous and really nice here!) and hung out, speaking in Spanglish.

I feel very immersed in Spanish already, and I’ve only been here since Monday afternoon. Oh, I guess that’s a week already. I really like it here. I don’t feel entirely comfortable, but I think that’s a good thing. Many of the participants don’t speak much Spanish, so we’ve been divided into two groups. Thankfully, my group doesn’t have to sit around learning grammar, since I feel like every class I take “teaches” me the same thing over and over again. Instead, we are learning about Uruguayan culture, politics, and slang. We’ve learned a few things, like formal phrases for letters, and much more vocabulary, but mostly we just get to practice conversing by talking about things that are actually interesting. I love it. I’m just not a huge fan of having class at 8:30 in the morning, because it lasts for four hours.

After class we eat out, and then I go to my internship at Un Techo Para Mi País. It’s like the Habitat for Humanity of Latin America, except they actually do a whole lot more. Thursday I went to a shanty town, which was a really, really powerful experience. We have poverty in the US, but it does not look like this. Or smell like this. At the risk of sounding really cheesy, I felt extremely humbled. And then afterwards, I left and met everyone at the hotel, and we went to Teatro Solís to see the opera “Nabucco.” So it was a day of highs and lows. The opera was pretty good, and the theatre is absolutely beautiful.

Since I am here on a Jewish program, we are required to go to Shabbat services each Friday. So last night I went with most of the group (there are 9 girls and 2 boys) to the Orthodox synagogue. I did not like it.

More than that. I felt pretty offended by it.

I won’t say that I know everything or even a lot about Judaism. My family has always been more culturally Jewish than religiously so, but it’s not like I don’t know anything. And never having experienced Orthodox Judaism aside from here, I can’t say how common this is. But first of all, this separating men and women thing is a tradition that I think needs to go. Everyone has an equal right to enjoy and participate in a religious activity. After the service, people asked if I liked it, and I wanted to say, “How could I? It wasn’t meant for me to enjoy.” The women were put into a small part of the room, and we had a glass partition up that had lines across it so we couldn’t see much. We were perpendicular to the podium, and we were crammed. The partition was a two-way mirror so that the men just saw themselves. But they were in the main part of the synagogue, and they had room to dance and move around and greet each other.

This, to me, seems like an anti-religious practice. Religion is meant to bring people together, and I didn’t feel like any part of the service was for me.

I will say, though, that the book they used for the service was great. I really appreciate transliterations of Hebrew, because I can’t read it. I do want to learn, so it actually helps to have a transliteration written under the Hebrew, so that you can match the sounds together. And they also had a paragraph on each page explaining the significance and meaning of the prayer, along with the direct translation. That actually feels very Jewish, because I think a lot of what makes this religion wonderful is that you aren’t expected to blindly follow things; instead it is about asking questions and thinking about things and discussing issues. So I really liked that.

After the service we were all assigned Uruguayan families for dinner. Jessica and I went with a man and his 11-year-old son, and when we arrived at their gorgeous penthouse overlooking the Rio de la Plata, we met his older son and wife. They had a daughter who was in Rio de Janeiro for a wedding.

I messed up the ritual of handwashing, and I felt bad, but I tried. We sang songs together which I knew, and then the father said the other prayers for the challah and the wine. The dinner was amazing. So many meals have three courses here; I am going to come back home in five weeks weighing at least 10 pounds more.

There’s so much to say about my experiences that I don’t know how to write it all. That’s the problem with traveling. I have barely been journaling at all, because I just don’t know where to begin. This is why novels written as journals are implausible; it’s impossible to remember your entire day and have time to write it all. When I travel, I like to be drenched with the experience, so I don’t usually remember that I should go get away from it and write it down. It’ll stick in my head, I’m sure. But I’ll also try to write about it here.