frogg files

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." --Flannery O' Connor

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On Waking Up In A Strange Town Alone

So while I was sampling the cultural (and yes, culinary) delights of Argentina, the editor of my MFA program's alumni newsletter sent me an email asking if I'd do a write-up about my time in Buenos Aires. I emailed her back and said "Sure!" and she replied, "Great, can I have it by July 19?" and I answered back, "Sure!" and then I procrastinated until I had to ask for an extension, then procrastinated some more until the final deadline (yesterday), at which point I cranked it out in about an hour amid lots of last-minute panic.

And yet somehow I continue to persist in believing that I am not a Real Writer. Ha.

But anyway, during a brief interval when "procrastination" took the form of "brainstorming" for the article, I went online looking for cool quotes about travel, because every writer knows the value of starting off an article with a witty and/or insightful observation by someone else who is more famous. (In my case, of course, that's pretty much everyone.) I found a website with the 50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes of All Time, #18 being this:

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark

Which just goes to show you, even people more famous than you can end up veering out of "insightful" and into... well, silly.

Because let's be honest: The first thing that happens when you wake up in a strange town quite alone is, you try to go back to sleep so you don't have to face the fact that it is totally and completely and unavoidably on your own shoulders to figure out the agenda for the day. If by some chance you really just want to stay in bed "to relax", you will have to fight the guilt that will start whispering in your ear about how you are wasting an Amazing Travel Experience and that when you get home you will SO regret that you didn't do a lot of Exciting Tourist Things.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't qualify any of the above as one of the "pleasantest sensations in the world."

But there is this: The sensation of knowing that, even though you're alone, you're somewhere you've never been. You're someplace new, different. And you yourself are different in that place. Or maybe just more yourself. There's none of the usual routine and distraction and same-old that gets in between you and your own soul. And OK, yes, that's actually kind of an uncomfortable sensation, but if you can live with it, (or live through it, as the case may be), you never know, you just might be rewarded.

And I imagine that could actually end up being pretty pleasant.

PS Oh by the way, I didn't end up using an inspiring travel quote for my article. I figured Real Writers should come up with their own, so here's mine, taken from the actual article I finally sent off to the newsletter editor:

Of course, I can’t write about being in Argentina and not mention the food. One word: Amazing. Two more: HUGE portions.

Why I'm not famous yet is beyond me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Inception: A Pseudo-Review

I'm just going to take a quick little break from re-capping Argentina to ask a question: Am I the only person in America who did not in fact think that Inception was totally awesome?

I mean, OK, oodles of props on the mind-bending premise, the exceptional special effects, and the scene-stealing charm of Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (who is frankly adorable even as a grim, all-business... well, I don't actually know what he was, because the film doesn't make it clear, come to think of it). Oh, and not to mention the eye candy that was Tom Hardy (wow). But 2.5 hours is a long time to spend wandering in and out of people's brains and still not really have a good sense of where you want to go, or where you've ended up when the credits (finally) start rolling.

As the movie went on, I had the sense not so much of being taken on an exciting ride as being forced to watch someone else's exciting ride. Namely, Christopher Nolan's, as he tried valiantly to keep control of the wild horse that was his screenplay, eventually beating it into some sort of sullen, but not entirely satisfactory, submission.

Ultimately, I felt that Nolan had this truly amazing, fun, thought-provoking idea but didn't know how to really dig into it, and so he settled for building on his intriguing foundation with a totally pedestrian (and underdeveloped) storyline that dragged on for way longer than I think it had to.

Also, Hans Zimmer's score was a little overly enthusiastic in its pounding dramaticness, if you ask me; especially in the final scene.

So yeah, that's my take. Anyone else see it who'd care to a) correct my Philistine impressions, or b) laud my incisive critiquing skills (aka my cool wild horse metaphor)?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Eating in Argentina; or, How Not To Lose Weight

Here in America, we are often lamenting over the terrible eating and lack-of-exercise habits that have resulted in what we call our "obesity epidemic." One of the things we like to blame a lot for our weight problem is the size of our meal portions, particularly when we go out to restaurants. Anyone who has ever been to Claim Jumper knows exactly what I'm talking about, and if you haven't been, don't start now! You could gain a few pounds just by looking at their ridiculously gooey, six-layer Chocolate Motherlode Cake. (For the record, this dessert is listed on Claim Jumper's menu under the heading "Sweets for Sharing", but honestly folks, it's too big even for two people. Or three. Or five.)

So anyway, I have thought for a long time now that America was the world leader in eating more food at a single sitting than one might think humanly possible. Argentina broadened my understanding of this issue — to say nothing of my waistline.

On one of my first nights in Buenos Aires with the creative writing program, I went out to dinner with a few of the students and one of them ordered a calzone. Here it is:

The guy who ordered it said, "I asked for the small." I nearly choked. And then my food arrived:

Yes, that is a baked potato, and yes, it was roughly the size of my entire head. I mean, it was good, but wow.

From a restaurant outside of Buenos Aires, here's a version of a caprese salad, which a friend of mine ordered in an effort to be somewhat healthy:

As you can see, that is pretty much just a big bowl of cheese, with a few tomatoes and olives thrown in for color. So much for healthy.

I honestly think the only thing that kept me from having to buy a whole new wardrobe when I got home was the fact that I tried to walk everywhere we had to go, instead of taking taxis. Even so, when I got home I had to spend a few days eating nothing but salads, and I couldn't even let myself THINK of the word "empanada." Ugh.

By the way, if you are surprised that I haven't mentioned anything about the one food Argentina is famous for outside of Argentina (i.e., BEEF), well, the truth is, I was kind of surprised myself that it wasn't as big of a deal as I was expecting. Most of the restaurants I went to in Buenos Aires offered cuisine that showed the influence of the region's Italian heritage — milanesa, pastas, calzones (see above!), that kind of thing. There were vegetarians on our trip, and they didn't seem to have any problem finding good stuff to eat, so there's certainly no need to write Buenos Aires off as a destination if you're not carnivorous. (That said, I still managed to eat more meat in the few weeks I spent in Argentina than I have in about a year. Not an exaggeration).

Well, I think I've talked enough about food for one day. Next time, we'll take a look at — I don't know, I haven't decided yet. Something besides eating, though. I promise!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Left My Taste Buds in Argentina

Well, here I am, back from my travels, and yes, I'm late in updating the blog. Who's surprised? I thought so.

Anyway, I had an absolutely fabulous time in Argentina, and over the course of the next week I've planned a series of posts about the trip, including photos. For now, a few highlights:

1) Sampling dulce de leche granizado ice cream from Freddo's. Mmmm.

2) Getting addicted to alfajores (a typical Argentinean treat which consists of two little round cakes joined together by dulce de leche).

3) The delicious flan at Parilla Peña, which was even more incredible with the addition of dulce de leche on the side.

Are you seeing a trend here? Let's just say that if you go to Argentina and manage to NOT have dulce de leche during your sojourn there, I think you actually ended up in another country by mistake. Which is too bad, but I hope you had a good time wherever you were. As for me, I did in fact do other things besides eat dulce de leche (and accidentally hit on museum guards; see previous post), and I'll be talking about those things in the upcoming days. So stay tuned, kids!

In the meantime, I leave you with this revealing quote from the renowned Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who said, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be made of dulce de leche."* Mmmm, Paradise...

* OK, I lied. What he said was, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library"** but that didn't really fit my theme, so.

** Really, Borges? The harps and clouds idea wasn't boring enough for you? I love books and all, but honestly.