Email 2: Buenos Buenos Aires

Hello Everyone!

I’m lucky enough to not only have family in Buenos Aires, but I have the warmest, most welcoming and intelligent and interesting cousins in all of Buenos Aires I’m pretty sure. Maya, Tom and Talya have been absolutely the best hosts Az and I could ever hope for, and we’re grateful.

During lunch yesterday I turned to Azure and said, in all seriousness, “We live such a luxurious life!” Well, it felt luxurious anyway. I looked down at the table and the four of us were eating/drinking/stealing bites of coffee, sparkling water, croissants, a slice of pie, an orange juice and a strawberry smoothie. It was under $3 per person, actually, nothing luxurious about it, except for all the different tastes.

An hour before we were walking through the San Telmo flea market. San Telmo is near the president’s home in downtown BA and it’s this market crammed into a narrow street with leather and antiques and books and art on both sidewalks, sometimes in the middle of the pedestrian-only street. There’s plenty of stimulation, tons of tourists and locals alike gawking at the goods and at each other or the buildings or street performers. About half way through the market we saw a couple guys holding signs that said, “free hugs,” (in Spanish) so Maya and I went and got our hugs. It wasn’t a crap hug, either. The guy held on for a while and he clearly meant it. It was really a great feeling. I wasn’t sure how to end the hug, though. When you have an intimate hug with a stranger do you pull away and smile or give a high-five or say something or just walk on? When it was over he looked at me and said, “Gracias” and I realized almost immediately how important it was to say thank you – almost as important as the hug itself. I’m still not sure why it felt that way, but I know it’s right.

The value of an experience can have nothing to do with its price.

We walked further up the narrow street and came to a tango orchestra consisting of four violins, three bandoneons (accordions), an upright bass and a piano making some wonderful noise for the tourists. Notice anything missing? My favorite instrument in the world? No, there were no drums. And after hearing the music they put out, I could see why. It was beautiful, rich and fluid, I could see how a drum would have changed it. Drums are structure and without drums the rest of the instruments created a sound that was more of the beauty and less of the measurement. The solo seemed to be communal, as if it flowed from one player to another, in and out of the listener’s perception. I was really moved by this music, and it seemed the rest of the crowd loved it, too.

The tango orchestra.
(this is someone else’s video)

When I turned around to find Az & Tom & Maya again, there was another free hug girl so I went up and hugged her. This time I made sure I said, “Gracias.” She said, “Gracias a te!” and something else in Spanish that I didn’t catch. I felt so good after those hugs, just giddy-happy. I have no clue why 95% of the people on the street walk right past them.

At that lunch, the one where I felt we lived luxuriously, Maya pointed out that when they lived in Mexico they didn’t have the variety of food we were enjoying now, but they had plenty of time, which might be the most important luxury. It makes up for most bad conditions.

Long-term travel takes me from my home and strips me of my possessions and challenges me, “Now, what do you really enjoy?” Not only does the barrage of experiences (including boredom) teach me about my values, but also the experiences are stimulating in the present tense, rewards in themselves. When travel forces me to shed the the things and responsibilities of home, I’m left with only the good stuff… I think that’s why I felt that luxury yesterday: family, food, people, music, food, time.

In “Guns, Germs and Steel,” Jared Diamond wrote, “We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations for success. For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding many separate possible causes of failure.” What is your definition of success?

Love you all,

Mike (& Azure)


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