...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Friday, January 27, 2006

One of us must know (sooner or later)

I've been back in the US for fifteen days, and to tell you the truth, I'm a little surprised at how easy the transition has been. There are moments when making that six-minute walk down from the apartment to Howard in the morning feels like the most natural thing in the world--passing by scores of other kids, the skinny boys in their tight hipster jeans, the IA students with the newspaper tucked under their arms, the hippie girls with their long skirts and carefully tangled hair, the athletes returning to their dorms after an early practice. Three weeks ago I was on my own in the mid-summer thunderstorms, ascensores, mercados, and milongas of the Southern Cone; now it's all dinner parties and late nights and early morning rain and the The New York Times. And yet, there are moments when the absurdity and wonder of it hits me like a bag of doorknobs, and I ache to be back in South America.

Mostly, though, I'm settling back into the rhythms of Lewis & Clark. The apartment is pretty nice, although living with the boys (Chris L., Clay, and Ryan) has turned out to be very different than how I expected. It's been especially nice getting to know Clay a little better, since often he and I are the only ones home, or the only ones hanging out in the common room--"el living," as a Chilean would say. Meeting people has been difficult, and I’ve pretty much accepted that people I don’t know by this weekend or the end of next week by the very latest, I probably will never get to know. I mean, not to be too fatalistic or deterministic about it, but you know how there’s like that two week period at the beginning of the year when everyone’s trying to figure out who their friends are going to be? Yeah. I missed that because I was going through the same thing in Chile, and I ended up with some wonderful, life-long (I sure hope) friends down there: Carla, Mariah, Kristin, Julia, Jon, Jake…(not to mention Daniela, Ronald, and Juan Carlos). And of course, friends who stayed at LC for the semester went through that period here.

To misapply Marx’s dialectic philosophy, it’s like I had my friends at Lewis & Clark before I left, and that was the thesis. And then while I was gone, those friends made their own new friends, to whom they bonded like so many tongues on frozen lamp posts, and that’s the antithesis. We haven’t reached Marx’s third and final synthesis stage, in which we all become friends and braid each others’ hair and skip through fields picking daisies and paint each other’s toe nails, and I’m not sure if we ever will. I know that I would like to (I mean, the braiding and flower-picking and toe-nail-painting is optional), but it’s…hard. I mean, I know we're adults, and it's not elementary school. Not everyone has to send a valentine to everyone else. But it’s something that I’m really struggling with, the feeling of being eclipsed and replaced by my old friends’ new friends.

I keep coming back to something Marcia (the CIEE director, and surely one of the most amazing, caring people I’ve ever met) told us during the taller de re-entry (re-entry workshop) we had the last week of November. She told us not to assume, returning from our life-changing semesters abroad, that our friends back home did not pass through similarly life-changing semesters back in the US. She told us not to assume that our friends were waiting for us, static and unchanged, back home. And I understood then, and understand now, or at least I think I do. But some friends change in congruent ways that facilitate an easy synthesis, and we end up as better friends than we were before I went away. I mean, I feel as though that’s the case with Amy, for instance. (Shout out!) But sometimes…I mean, growth isn’t always congruent. I don’t think that’s the case with any of my friends at Lewis & Clark. I desperately hope not. But it’s something that I’m trying to keep in mind.

That ended up going a different direction than I thought it would. I’ll try to post again over the weekend; until then, let me end on a lighter note:

Ryan: “I’m going to a linguistics study session…to learn about voiceless velar splosives.”
Me: “Wow, I don’t even know what two of those three words means.”
Ryan: “Well, voiceless means…”

I didn’t mean to treat you so bad
You shouldn’t take it so personal
I didn’t mean to make you so sad
You just happened to be there, that’s all.

When I saw you say goodbye to your friend and smile
I thought that it was well understood
That you’d be coming back in a little while
I didn’t know that you were saying goodbye for good.

Oh, sooner or later, one of us must know
That you just did what you were supposed to do.
Sooner or later, one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you.


-Bob Dylan, "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)"

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Back in the 503

Okay, so...wow.

Today marks the one-week anniversary of my triumphant (okay...jet-lagged, sore, and greasy) return to the United States of America. Exactly seven days ago, my dad and I were just arriving at my mom's office in Eugene, having driven down from Portland after he met me at the airport around 1pm. When I think of where I was last week, and where I am now, and everything that's happened in between....mindboggling, weones. (And Riana was right: I'm now totally accustomed to South American keyboards, and I keep reaching down to the lower-right with my pinky to make a hyphen, and trying to do that funky key combination to make the @ sign, and I've forgotten how to make accent marks on a Mac, and there's no ñ key at all.) (The trade-off is that it's easier to italicize things and make quotation marks, and I have my precious semicolon back.) The last few days in Valparaíso went predictably fast and I crammed just about as much into them as I possibly could: a boat ride with Ronald in the harbor, then up Ascensor Artillería and a walk around Paseo 21 de Mayo, Plaza Anibal Pinto, Cerros Bellavista and San Juan de Dios, a visit to the Case Museo la Sebastiana; onces (afternoon tea and snacks) with some expatriates from my Chilean German Lutheran Church; a long conversation with Ambar and Carlos about the semester, my time in Chile, and a lot of other stuff; tea with the Acunas, an older couple from the church who became Kristin's and my defacto Chilean grandparents; hanging out with Daniela and going up Ascensores Lecheros, Polanco, and el Peral; talking with María and playing with my host sisters. Any one of those activities could be and deserves to be its own full-length blog post, but I doubt that I'll write them; regardless, those last days are some of my most precious memories of my time in Chile. I started crying as I said goodbye to Mey, Lisu, and María, calmed down, then started crying again on the bus from Viña to the airport in Santiago de Chile. As I scoured the apartment for my things, my stomach was in knots; I made myself so nervous that I almost threw up, no joke. It's just...even rereading what I just wrote, I can't believe it; its as if the past six months happened to a different person. I mean, was I really the person who did all of that? Who not only survived, but flourished in a foreign country, in a foreign language and under a foreign culture? Who read complex, dense books in Spanish then analyzed them according to Bakhtin's theories of the carnivalesque? Who debated the merits of the Chilean presidential candidates and defended the US against charges of imperialism and immorality? Who stayed out all night watching Padre Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean national religious hero, be canonized into sainthood, and who sang and prayed with Chileans at four in the morning? Who bummed her way around South America, usually with friends but often on her own?

I mean, yes, of course. But at the same time, it feels like some wonderful dream. Not that I enjoyed every minute of the experience; far from it. Often I felt resentful of and/or frustrated with people and situations, both in the US and in Chile, or lonely, or bored, or angry at Chilean culture and Chilean men in particular, or despairing of my Spanish and the fact that my blond (according to Chileans) hair and blue eyes immediately marked me as a foreigner. But now, looking back, those complaints seem so trivial.

At some point during the past week, I made a decision: after graduate school, I'm going to move back to South America (Argentina or Uruguay, ideally) to live for at least a year or two. I could probably get a job teaching English pretty easily, and the ideal situation would be to be able to develop a dissertation thesis (and get it accepted by a PhD program; I'm not sure exactly how the whole process works) that I could research down there, like, I don't know...popular religiosity in Latin America and how it relates to the canonization of modern-day saints like Padre Hurtado, or something related to the continuing development of theologies of liberation in South America.

Okay, switching gears. Dilemma!! I don't know what classes to take this semester. Currently, I'm in US Foreign Policy, New Testament, Buddhism, Seminar in Biblical Studies (about Hellenistic Jews in Ptolomaic Egypt, and Spanish 450 (about poetry and theater in Franquist Spain). BUT, I really, really, really want to take Gender Studies 300: Gender in Aesthetic Expression. It seems to be a focus on gender expression in the film media and pop culture in general, which is right up my alley and something that I love to talk and argue and learn about; and it would be a shame if I graduated from Lewis & Clark without ever taking any sort of feminist theory. Plus, it would be fun to have a class (especially such an interesting one) with Carla and Amy, and I currently have no classes taught by women, and I like to try to balance things out gender-wise every semester. So, I initially thougth that I could audit that course and stick with the rest of my schedule...until I thought it through a little more and realized that, although I might not write the papers for a class that I'd be auditing, I would still feel obligated to do all the readings, which would take a minimum of two hours per class session. (Ryan, after I asked his advice: ''People like you and I don't audit courses. We just take courses and don't get credit for them.'') I'm already at 20 credits, four more than they recommend; adding four more defacto credits to that isn't a feasible option, time-, stress-, and mental health-wise. (Ryan, again: ''I have no doubt that you could take 24 credits. I just 100% think that you shouldn't.

So, I considered dropping Foreign Policy. There would be many good reasons, actually: Clay said that the reading load is very heavy, like 500 pages a week, and Kugler's Seminar is already going to be a back-breaking amount of very dense, theoretical readings about people and places whose names I'm not even sure how to pronounce (case in point: the Herakleopolite nome. Uh, yeah), plus I've been out of the country for the past six months and have no idea of what's been going on in the world. Seriously, Carla and I were walking around the Dallas/Fort Worth airport last week and I was like, ''Did something happen to Ariel Sharon?'' And then, I know Cyrus has high expectations of me in particular, and I don't want to disappoint him. On the other hand, this is the first semester that I've been able to fit Fo Po into my schedule, and if I wait until next year to take it, I'm worried that it will conflict with other classes that I absolutely have to take for my majors (Methods in the Study of Religion, Spanish 410, etc). On the other hand, I went to the first class today and it was really interesting and I was even able to contribute something to the discussion.

So, what's a girl to do? I'm pretty married to New Testament, Buddhism, and the Seminar, but I absolutely can't take 24 credits. Kugler (my Religious Studies advisor) already thinks I'm sort of crazy for insisting on taking 20 every semester. I'm seriously considering dropping Spanish. I kind of hate to, because I want to keep up speaking Spanish, but then again, you don't really learn that much actual Spanishin the literature courses, and the concepts, while interesting to me, are possibly not as interesting as the concepts would be next year in 450, if Wendy teaches her Latin American testimonial literature class again. Dropping Spanish would free up some time in the afternoons on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays that would allow me to volunteer in Portland with the Latino community, which would probably ultimately help my Spanish much more than reading Miguel de Unamumba or whatever's poetry. But in a way, dropping Spanish wouldn't help much time- or stress-wise, since Spanish has always been my easiest and least time-consuming course.

HELP!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mischief managed

Back in Chile after a week of soloing it around the Southern Cone. I really hate to cut this post so short, buti f I don´t leave the PIEE office (international student center at the university--who knew it was still open?!) within the next few minutes, I´ll never leave. Depending on how much pocket change I have on me I might write something from the airport tomorrow, but if not here are some snapshots from the past week: dancing at two milongas in Buenos Aires; open-air tango in the plaza in Montevideo; sitting for hours reading and people-watching in traditional stain-glass-ceilinged cafes in BA; dangly copper earrings bought from a fería artesenal; subtropical climates and incredible mugginess; surprise thunderstorms and dramatic lightning in Uruguay; green Quaker parrots flying wild in the plazas; lots of red wine, gnocchi, and steak; stumbling into Mass on the 6th in the country´s oldest church in Colonia, Uruguay, and tearing up because I had forgotten it was a holiday (Epiphany); golden sunsets over the Rio de la Plata; grapefruit juice and strawberry milkshakes; taxi-poaching; being mistaken several times for Argentinian.

Carla´s and my plane leaves tomorrow (that´s the eleventh of January) at 11:40pm for Dallas-Fort Worth. We leave Texas around 9:40 to arrive in Portland, with the time change, around 11:50am. My dad´s meeting me at the airport to take me back home to Eugene for a few days. My parents are driving me back up to Portland on Sunday the fifteenth, and I´ll probably be checking in to Lewis & Clark sometime in the mid or late afternoon.

This has been an incredible, life-changing experience in every way and I´m sure I´ll reflect on it here more later, after I get back to the US, but for now suffice it to say that coming to Chile at this time in my life was the best decision I´ve ever made. I can´t believe it´s almost over, but on the other hand I´m happy to be coming home to my family, my friends, my school, my city, my state, and my country. I love you all and can´t wait to see you soon!!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

I´ve got a lot of stuff to say here, so I´ll take a page out of Ryan´s book (or a webpage out of his blog, whatever) and separate it into sections for your reading enjoyment.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Patagonia
I don´t want to sound like a broken record here, but Patagonia was gives Rapa Nui a run for its money for the title of Most Beautiful Place I´ve Ever Been. On the 26th I headed up to Puerto Natales and, inspired by the Rough Guide to South America and Julia´s blog, realized: why limit myself to exploring Chilean Patagonia? So, the 27th I signed up for a tour to Glacier Perito Moreno in Argentina´s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Perito Moreno is one of the world´s most important glaciers, and one of the few advancing glaciers left in the world. It´s huge, of course: the ice walls extend something like 150 meters below the surface of the water, and 50 meters above. The glacier is an eery, electric ice-blue color, and huge chunks of it are continously breaking off, hitting the iced-over water below with thunderous booms. More than anything, the sound reminded me of those fireworks that, after the initial firework boom, have a kind of static-y crinkling of lights. Chunks of ice dozens of meters high would break off of the front of the glacier with that boom, then thousands of littler pieces of ice would create that crinkling static sound as they tumbled down the ice and cracked the surface of the river below. The most amazing thing happened while I was there: a huge, jagged piece of the ice wall broke off--it must have been at least 30 meters high--and fell into the water below. When it fell, it dislodged a mammoth part of the glacier below the water, which emerged from the river like Ursula the Sea Witch at the end of The Little Mermaid, sea-monster huge and so blue that you´d swear someone took a few gallons of blue food-coloring to it. It was incredible, one of the most amazing things I´ve ever seen.

The next day, the 28th, I went on a one-day tour of Parque Nacional las Torres del Paine, Chile´s most famous national park. The day was a little cloudy so we couldn´t fully appreciate the views of the peaks of the mountains, but what we did see was incredible and otherwordly. I think the Rough Guide to Chile describes the park as being made up of something like ´´witches´ caves and dragons´lairs,´´ and while that might be a little too flowery, I see the reasoning: the mountains really did look like something out of a fairytale or fantasy--Narnia, or something like that. When I come back to Chile (I don´t know when, but I know I´m coming back), I´m going to make it a priority to do the park up right and spend several days there.

Doing Everything One Last Time
My last few days are going by incredibly quickly, and I feel like I have to squeeze everything in one last time: tea with the Acuñas, hanging out with Daniela, lunch at Ronald´s house, hanging out with a book and a cup of hot chocolate at Color Cafe, taking my favorite micro through the hills of Valparaíso and Viña, and of course spending time with my host family and especially my little host sisters. The good part of all that is that it means my days are filled with people, places, and things I care about--I can´t let myself sleep ´til 11:30 when there´s so much to do. Friday, for instance, was a great day: I called my family and wished my little brother a happy birthday (he´s 18 now; I can´t believe it), then met Ronald and walked with him to his house for lunch. Daniela and I met in Viña and walked around for a little, then went back into Valparaíso for a tango and modern dance performance that was being given as a part of Carnaval Cultural, Valparaíso´s annual end-of-year cultural festival. She gave me a beautiful good-bye gift: a poem that she wrote, matted and framed. I know I´ll always keep it.

Jessica´s Last Excellent Adventure
After leaving the theater Friday evening, I went to the bus terminal in Valparaíso to buy my bus tickets for my last hurrah: a solo trip through Argentina and Uruguay, starting tomorrow. I´m heading to Mendoza, spending a day there, catching a night bus to Buenos Aires, spending two days there, then taking the ferry to Montevideo, Uruguay, spending two days there, then ferrying it back across the Rio de la Plata to catch a bus from Buenos Aires back to Valparaíso. It´ll be whirlwind and comprises about 50 hours of bus travel in 8 days, but I´m really excited. Tentative plans are to sit in plazas and cafes and read a lot, tour some wineries, go to the park, watch some tango dancing, eat a lot of good steak and Italian food, and drink a lot of good wine. In other words, pasarlo la raja no más po.

Ringing in the New Year
Every New Year, Valparaíso and, recently, Viña del Mar put on a huge fireworks display that´s broadcast all over Latin America. Thousands of people from Santiago and the surrounding areas have flooded into Valpo and Viña in the last few days. People started staking out their viewing spots a week in advance--Avenida España, the main artery between the two cities, is lined with pitched tents. Luckily, we had a great view from our apartmente balcony and didn´t have to go anywhere. Ambar, Carlos, Ambar´s dad Antonio and her uncle Moy San and I had a nice midnight dinner and shared multiple champagne toasts as we watched the fireworks from the balcony. Walking around Valpo this morning, the streets are littered with popped balloons, streamers, confetti, and broken glass.

It´s a Small World, After All
After church, I usually go to Color Cafe up on Cerro Concepción to read over a cup of hot chocolate. The Cafe was closed this morning since it was New Years, so I went to Cafe Riquet, an older place in Plaza Anibal Pinto. While I was there, I ran into Celia, a girl from Lewis & Clark! She´s an international student and/or TCK, and she came out to Valparaíso for New Year´s from Santiago, where she lives. What a coincidence!

Okay, that´s all for now. I hope everyone had a good New Year´s and Christmas, and is enjoying winter break!