Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I may have found my soulmate

"I enjoy shopping at Whole Foods nearly as much as I enjoy browsing a good bookstore, which, come to think of it, is probably no accident: Shopping at Whole Foods is a literary experience, too. That's not to take anything away from the food, which is generally of high quality, much of it "certified organic" or "humanely raised" or "free range". But right there, that's the point: It's the evocative prose as much as anything else that makes this food really special, elevating an egg or chicken breast or bag of arugula from the realm of ordinary protein and carbohydrates into a much headier experience, one with complex aesthetic, emotional, and even political dimensions."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Stay tuned for more pics.

Atop a towering pyramid in the ruins of Tikal, Guatemala.

Pretty adorable.

Music video of the week goes to... She & Him.

Yeah right, like there's going to be a weekly music video, I barely have the time to write a little blurb here and there. Enjoy while it lasts.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A bit of Bolivia and Chile

These are Nikki's shots. Mine are coming soon-- some day when I'm not working, which actually, on second thought, might be never. So I guess I better just get myself to Starbucks with my laptop and be one of those people.
In San Pedro de Atacama, there is a fantastic bakery. Great food, great vibe. Veggie empanadas, I miss you.
Pretty excited about the Bolivian salt flats. Rightfully so, rightfully so. (This goofy look on my face in the last two shots? Totally influenced by the one and only Sara Moncivais.)

Taking a walk by a laguna in Bolivian desert. This is the land of Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and Salvador Dali. I'm on the left.
Sometimes this happens when you're attempting a self-portrait.
Bolivian Salt Flats. I think Nikki is winning this fight.

Living the life in amazingly cheap Bolivia. I was pretty happy about that umbrella in my drink.
Oh, Emma and the Nikster. Reunited in Bolivia.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Six Black Lines

During my last winter at BYU, a friend, Kevin Snow, wrote and directed his first feature-length film, Six Black Lines. It was also my first feature-length film. It stirred up a bit of controversy in the BYU arts building, but I responded to some beautiful, important ideas in the piece, and when I was cast as Sister Young, I was excited to be part of the project. Now, about 4 years later, the film has received some interest from Circus Road Films, and the film should be seeing some action from a few film festivals. Check out the film's website, where you can also watch the trailer.

A lot has changed since then, we'll just put it that way. It was one of my first experiences on camera, vs. onstage, and I wish I could tackle this role again. I had more innocence back then, but I have more layers now.

In conclusion, I would just like to leave you the words of the writer/director. Kevin and I have been friends for years, and I was not only privileged to collaborate with him on Six Black Lines, but also to star in his production of Alas, Babel, another original work. He crafts words and ideas beautifully.

"This film is a study about questioning faith. The characters in the film are entirely fictitious, and the situations are, too. The setting is specific: a group of Latter-day Saint missionaries. The time is an arbitrary 24-hour lapse in these six missionaries' histories. What is real is the logic behind the character's thoughts and dialogue. The conversations by the characters in "Six Black Lines" are meant to reflect common contradictions and frustrations faced by people who are ambivalent towards one's religious practices and one's individual identity. Both are seen as truth, but both come in conflict with one another. What is not suggested by my film is an evolution of politics or dogma. The roots of this conflict are more human and quiet, lying deep within the psyche of perception, cognitive processing, and observation of human nature. By listening and watching, we come closer to a full understanding of our own individual spiritual state and draw together as peoples and communities. My hope is that the conversations in the film will inspire young people to empower themselves with ethical moral intelligence.

Please, enjoy."

-Kevin Snow

Pachyderms on parade

This is where I was at 1 in the morning tonight. No, not with Jim Carrey. But witnessing elephants parading through Manhattan at 1 in the morning (elephants apparently can't keep to a schedule, as they were expected at 12:20).

All of my friends let the rain dampen their sense of adventure. But I have conquered Latin America, a little rain does not keep me from experiencing one of NYC's secrets: the fact that when the circus comes into town, the elephants are too big to use the elevator at Penn Station, so they have to march through the Midtown Tunnel and down 34th street to get to Madison Square Gardens. In the middle of the night.

In fact, the rain kind of added to the strange atmosphere, as the tops of skyscrapers disappeared into cloud, and clown-packed cars careened through carless streets.

After wrapping up a workout after a supremely stressful day of work (first day on a new job, my boss got fired so I ran THE ENTIRE SPA by myself til close! Untrained!) I burned some time reading magazines in a 24-hour CVS. Then a couple of kindly boys-- med school students-- sheltered me under their umbrellas as we waited for the grand arrival.

The elephants did not disappoint, they even held each other's tails with their trunks. SO CUTE! I wouldn't monetarily support the circus, through fear of animal mistreatment. But it's fun to just happen to see elephants amble down Manhattan streets.

I apologize for the interruption in posts. My first week back home has been filled to the max (delightfully so), and I will get back to regular programming shortly!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Adventures in Solitude

''Balancing on one wounded wing
Circling the edge of the never ending
The best of the vanished marvels
Have gathered inside your door''
--Adventures in Solitude, by The New Pornographers

I think I may be ready to go home.

That doesn't mean I am ready to give up this gypsy lifestyle. Or the way backpackers meet new friends every single day. Or the prospect of seeing jaw-droppingly beautiful sights multiple times a week. Or being surprised every day. Or meeting BEAUTIFUL people from absolutely every and anywhere in the world and getting a taste of who they are, how they do. Or speaking a different language. Or hearing beautiful and different languages constantly being spoken around me. Or what a puzzle each new place and transportation system is, and how fun it is to solve them. Or the mountains. Or showing up at a bus station and getting to choose any of those destinations being shouted repetitively by the attendants, and just getting on that bus, and GOING. Or having the beautiful option of being able to do absolutely anything any given day. (I hope this last one isn't actually something I'll have to say goodbye to back in NYC.)

It just means I am ready to see my family and friends again. The people that I know are in my life permanently (though I hope there have been a few additions over the past five months.) I am ready to be in my city. Where I know the public transportation system. Where I have my favorite cafes, bookstores, restaurants, reading spots, people-watching spots, haunts. I am ready to go the gym again. I am ready to look pretty on a regular basis again. I am ready to wear jeans again! To eat pad thai again. To eat The Sandwich again. To use my phone again. To catch up on all the delicious film and television I have missed. To know that a beloved friend is just a phone call or text away. Most of all I am ready to put my arms around all that I have learned in the past five months and shove it into the shape of what my life was. I am ready to move forward. I am ready to pull strings and tie things together. I am ready to carry the vibrancy that has seeped into me back to my beloved grey city, and live my life.

Sometimes I refer to my NY life as my 'real life'. But isn't that misleading?. This is real life. What is more real than traveling? Every experience, emotion, connection, relationship is intensified and concentrated. I have experienced 180 degree turnarounds so frequently it makes my head spin. Travel carries me through places and societies more real than I've ever known. I've experienced several emotions or levels of emotions I have never reached before. I've had so many firsts. I've seen beauty, pain, kindness, poverty, creativity to an exponential degree. Isn't the term 'real life' frequently meant to imply a boring life? Doesn't it often have negative connotations? The daily life. The offices and appointments and paychecks life. I resolve not to have that life. I think I've generally avoided it thus far, and I intend to continue that trend. It's easy to slip into, it's comfortable to slip into, because extraordinary takes a little effort, a little extra energy, a little more drive and ambition. I am recharged, I am reinspired, I am alive with expectation.

My head is flooded with such a deluge of thoughts, here at the close of my journey, that I don't know how to spill them all onto this screen effectively. I am sure I will be concluding and reflecting here for two weeks.

Before I embarked on this journey, I wrote the following:
'So what do I expect from this grand adventure? I expect to come back a different person. I expect to learn. To learn to an exponential degree. I expect to practice self-sufficiency, and to live without modern convenience. I expect to see great sights. I expect to meet so many people. I expect epiphanies. I expect mistakes and mishaps. I expect frustration. I expect laughter, tears, songs, stories, sun, friendship, and spirituality.'

I expected a lot, and this Adventure delivered on absolutely every single point. So how is it that I feel that this trip has turned out completely unexpectedly? I could never have predicted what has happened, how I have felt, what I have thought, what I have learned, how I have grown, what I have done. All I knew for sure, as it turned out, was where I was going.

During the months before I left New York, and I shared my upcoming plans with friends, coworkers, family members, etc, I was asked the same question over and over again: Why? Why leave your job, your city, your people, for 6 months, traveling dangerous 3rd world countries, blowing all of your savings? Why travel? A couple of concerned family members even called me to extensively try to convince me not to come. I was always a little exasperated as the inevitable question popped out, and a little perplexed in how to answer it. I think the obvious answer is, Why not? Why wouldn't I want to go explore the world for myself? Why wouldn't I want to go on an adventure, see beautiful things, meet great people, eat delicious food, stretch my mind and heart over countries and continents? I have traveled before, and I know that I love it. When I travel, I come back a different person. And it has always been, inevitably, a better person. In my opinion. A more educated person, a more compassionate person, a more open, wise, empassioned, vivid young woman. Isn't it evident throughout history's stories and literature that travel is beneficial and desirable? From The Odyssey, to Alice in Wonderland, The Alchemist... this list basically never ends. The hero's journey will include painful challenges, extraordinary, unexpected beauty, a huge amount of learning and self-discovery, and the hero returns, triumphant, to carry on their life's pursuit in a more effective way.

Well. That is a very long-winded way to say that this hero is returning home, triumphant, having slayed a couple of dragons. The woman I am returning, and the life I am returning to, is why.

Things that Latin America has hooked me on:
wine (my Mormon family members are aghast at this point...)
carbonated water
SCUBA diving
fresh juice
avocados (like I wasn't before)
reading (like I wasn't before)
the ocean
Spanish music (after my year in Washington Heights, and all the late nights due to music pounding the streets, who would have thought?)

Ooooh how I am deliciously hooked on travel. If I didn't have it before, (which I did), I am certainly infected with the travel bug now. I am already planning my next trip. Summer of 2011, visiting the European friends I have made on this trip. Countries I am hoping to add to my ever-increasing List: Norway, Sweden, Holland, UK (again). And then just for fun I would love to throw Switzerland and Germany in there. And if I have time Italy and Greece-- though those last two may have to be a trip in themselves.

Just so you know, dear readers, even though this particular journey is coming to an end, I do not intend to stop writing. Please stay tuned to my adventures back in New York City. They will be pretty fabulous, I promise.

And you have no idea how many pictures are headed this way.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Buenos Aires, San Telmo

a little hooked and nostalgic

So maybe I got hooked on culling through friends' facebook photos. I have become completely nostalgic. THIS FEELS LIKE SO LONG AGO. In fact, it feels like an entirely different trip. Well, it was in a way. The above pictures the famous Eva, Krista, Sarah, and myself sitting down for our first dinner in Caye Caulker, Belize. This was within the first week of the trip. It was this restaurant that does not look like a restaurant, more like a random hut set up on the street, with a grill tucked in the corner. But my was it tasty. (Notice how paleI am in this pic, as compared to my last round...)
On top of a pyramid in Tikal.
My favorite mode of transportation this trip: the back of a pickup truck! Semuc, Chempey, Guatemala. Here is Adam, Jake or Sam (they are twins), and Ellie. This was early in November, and I just ran into Adam in Bariloche, and Ellie here in B.A. SMALL WORLD. When Adam came up and said hello, I think I couldn't put together a coherent sentence for 30 seconds I was so surprised to see him.
Ok, I couldn't resist. Doesn't this just pull at your heartstrings? We look so happy! (Wait, isn't there some stage of a breakup where you look through pictures and get nostalgic, and you know you shouldn't really be looking through these pictures...) Sarah and I took this with Ellie's disposable water-proof camera after emerging from the caves at Semuc Chempey, Guatemala. We had found our own way out while everyone else was waiting for a guide to lead the way. We took initiative like that. My knee was gashed and bleeding profusely, but since I had been holding onto Ellie's camera for her, Sarah and I couldn't resist leaving her with a surprise pic of us when she developed her film. We were mischievous like that. This was just before the shit hit the fan.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

From the mixed up files of Ali

Ali was my British writer companion of Chiloe, so these are from her facebook album. That's us below in Chiloe's National Park (such a good one!) Oh for the days of mascara. Can't wait to have luscious eyelashes again.
And, I just have to point out, do you see how absurd my tan is? And trust me, it is much more noticeable when you see me in person. I am pretty sure the first thing I am going to hear from each and every friend when I get home is 'Holy hell you are tan!', or something with the same intent. I didn't know it was physically possible for my skin, lily-white of hue, to turn this color. I actually am missing my days of being pasty-white, I don't think a tan suits me. Though maybe things will balance better when I can use makeup again. And my freckles are bright and bold, which I don't object to in the slightest.

And that is Georgie on the right, a certified lady from England. (She went to a fancy Lady's College.) Good times feasting on bread, cheese, and vegetables as we watch a beautiful sun set over the bay of Ancud, Chiloe.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


This morning I took a long walk up to Recoleta. It is the 'posh' neighborhood of Buenos Aires, and home to the famous Recoleta Cemetery. The one which contains the remains of Eva Peron, among other political greats. Don't worry, I restrained myself from breaking out into song.

Cemeteries in Latin America are more like little towns of the dead. Because all of the graves are actually little houses or crypts above ground, rather than IN the ground. So I wandered through the alleys of this city of the dead, with death and dying on my mind. I've had a little previous experience with it, so it's not a new topic to ruminate on. I am also reading a book about the Plague, so more encouragement to think about death. My therapist asked me once if, now that I am post-Mormon, I had different, more troubling views of my best friend's death (which happened during my college, Mormon years). The Mormon religion is pretty comforting when it comes to death, it helps a lot of people cope. Because the Mormons are pretty confident they know what happens when we die. At the time, I thought I knew that Katie was in a good place. That didn't make it easy to have to unexpectedly say goodbye, without having someone to say goodbye to. No, nothing about that time was easy. Now that I have rejected those beliefs, I have had to question a lot of perceptions of life, reality, death, sin, etc. I don't know what happens when we die, but I do know Katie was a good person. So I'm not worried.

In some ways I find the contemplation of death inspiring. Thanks to the entrance of death in my life I frequently resolve anew to make the most of every day of my life. Because, I have personally experienced, you never know when it will end. That's part of what got me down here, on this trip. I had my doubts, I thought about Katie, I bought my plane ticket.

There were so many angels in this cemetery. A common theme, of course, in a graveyard. I think they are so beautiful, and what a beautiful human invention. Who was the first person who imagined a pair of wings on a human's body? Something so human, and so not?

I loved all the cemetery cats. Ragged creatures curled up amongst the tombs and squares of grass. Slinking through this town of the dead.

Speaking of burial practices: when I die I want a green funeral. No coffin, no embalming, no burning. Just put my body into the earth to decompose. I wish I could be buried in some national park, but I am sure that is illegal. Maybe by the time I die I'll have a friend who has a farm and I can be buried there. Not that I am averse to cemeteries, I just want to be someplace green and growing, where I can be part of the earth.

Actually, my death may be imminent. I noticed a LOT of mosquitos out today. In the middle of the day. It is mosquitos who are out biting during the day that carry dengue fever, AKA Black Vomit Disease. It is a disgusting and powerful virus, with no preventative measures possible. And indeed, when I was leaving the cemetery I spied a poster warning against standing water, because 'tis the season for dengue fever. I thought I was finally free of mosquitos, as I am now in a city. But I have 7 bites from today. Holy hell, how irritating.

This asian girl came up to me in the cemetery. I thought she was asking for me to take a picture of her. Claro que si! But then she backed up, putting the camera to her eye, and I realized that she had told me she thought I was very pretty and could she take a picture of me? Well, I thought that was a little odd, but I was very flattered. And then I imagined this girl traveling the world, telling people they are beautiful, and then framing them forever in her camera. And I thought, that is completely delightful. We should all tell each other so easily how pretty we are.

I wandered around the Recoleta feria, or market. I love a good market, and this one had some beautiful pieces. I found a cheap toe ring, finally. The Caribbean took mine on the first day of this trip, and I have been looking for a replacement ever since.

This city obviously likes two things: books and ice cream. They are everywhere. I approve.

Also saw some tango in the park. Check. So sexy.

A wee taste

Dear readers. I know that one of the greatest faults of this blog is the lack of pictures. Well, my good friend, Nicolaine, (that´s her on the right there,) just posted some pictures to facebook. So here's the smallest of tastes of the picture storm that is going to overtake this blog once I am back in the states (in less than a week!!!).
We were all velcroed, strapped, and clipped into our safety gear for our bike road down 'Death Road'. Yes, I felt silly, but I also felt badass.

Slight downfall of our gear: you it is slightly difficult to tell who is who. Can you spot me here?

This was in Cusco. Our hostel was on a hill. In a city of very high altitude. That picture is a pretty apt visual description of my experience in that city, except for the hippie pants. I have still not purchased a pair. Though I have thought about it-- great pajama pants.
More to come soon.

Among all the graceful angels of the cemetery stands this tribute: a man in his pajamas. Interesting choice.

Friday, March 5, 2010

From the meat-eating land of Argentina, a book recommendation.

This is the book I have downloaded onto my iPhone as my Emergency Book. In case I am caught somewhere without my book (unlikely), or in case I cannot find a suitable book in a book exchange on my journey (likely). So I have been reading it off and on ever since I left NYC. And it sure makes me glad I have been a vegetarian for over ten years. And a vegan for the last year. (A relaxed one, I will admit, but I am ever more inspired to embrace that 100% once I get back to the States.) A book that is as thorough a review of the meat industry in the states as you can find, and written by one of my favorite writers. Win.

I recommend.

End of the line

Here I am. Final stop: Buenos Aires.

It feels a lot like New York City. I hope that once I get out to some other neighborhoods it will feel more foreign. Even if it doesn´t, I have need of some city things, like a pedicure. Because my feet, after almost 5 months of flip-flops or Chacos, trekking through the entire spectrum of temperature and humidity, need some professional help. In fact, I may have to go get 2 pedicures to really complete the job.

Barriloche was nice. I met some nice people, trekked through some beautiful country. I felt like I had to get my fill of green and growing things before heading back to NYC in the dead of March. A lot of the trees there are HUGE. Just so deliciously old. And there were acres of hills and fields overflowing with Christmas trees. It was dramatic scenery. Barriloche, as in the town itself, is far too touristy for my taste. And it felt like Midway (Utah) on steroids. It is the so-called Switzerland of South America, so there´s plenty of chocolate to be eaten. Impressively, I only had chocolate one night. I know. I think the nutella that some silly traveler left on the free food shelf satiated any cravings I may have had. Silly, silly traveler.

This weekend is the Oscars in the States. I know that I hardly ever agree on who is awarded what, and I usually end up being frustrated by the time the credits roll, but I am a little sad I am missing them. Well, actually a lot sad. The Oscars are like my Superbowl. I LOVE the film montages. Seriously. They give me loads of chills every time. I LOVE MOVIES! And the achievements of the film industry throughout its short history are so impressive, and so moving to me. Tonight I bit the bullet and finally saw Avatar. I figured I better see it on the big screen, and I hoped it might be cheaper in Argentina (I´m not sure it was). I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But I really did enjoy it. Yeah, the writing could have been better (it boggles my mind when directors can´t recognize when they should delegate to someone more talented. It just works out better for everyone involved...) Yes, it was basically the love-child of Ferngully, Pocahontas, Princess Mononoke, with a little Sailor Moon thrown in. But it told a good story, it had a good heart, and it was technically told very well. Maybe I am just a sucker for an environmentally-friendly-fueled film, but I responded to it. And I think the power of films to connect human beings, and inspire them, is close to magic. I think it is beautiful. And far too often underappreciated, and squandered in the name of sheer entertainment.

Anyway, enough rambling. Tomorrow I am off to Recoleta. I will try my best not to break into song at Evita´s grave, but I can´t promise anything...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I know that Jesus has had quite a few guest appearances already on this blog, but I couldn't resist the green one. He's like fairy Jesus. And not in the gay way.

This writer is stalking me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I can walk on water too

On my ferry to Chiloe, I saw a sea lion and a penguin swimming alongside the boat. Chiloe: a massive win already.

I arrived in Ancud, Chiloe, promptly got lost walking to my hostel, but luckily almost every square inch of the island is picture-perfect, so I had some nice things to look at as I walked. The token old man came onto me. If life keeps going like this, I guess I'll never have to worry about ending up alone, there always seems to be plenty of old men who want me to keep their bed warm.

After arriving at the hostel I shortly became acquainted with two 19-year-old British girls, who made me feel old in no time. We wandered, and in addition to the afore-mentioned (pictured) iced coffee, I picked up that book on Chiloe mythology. I'll come clean here, one of the big draws to Chiloe, for me, was this mythology. My Rough Guide had mentioned the stories of mermaids and witches, and this type of folklore completely delights me. Somewhere in Central America I remember asking a companion why we hadn't come across more sea-centered legends. I mean, with other lands tossing around their stories of mermaids, sirens, selkies, the sea seems to have inspired such lore for centuries. Why had I not heard of more stories like these in a strip of countries lapped on both sides by ocean waves?

Perhaps there's a certain type of ocean that inspires these stories. Not the aqua waters of the Caribbean, but the rugged cliffs and rocks of a dramatic coastline. The kind that you find in Ireland, Scotland, Greece. Because that's exactly what Chiloe (and Chile in general, for that matter,) has. The next morning myself and three Brits drove west to a beach where we could take a boat out to see penguins, and honestly I felt like I had stumbled into the film The Secret of Roan Inish. And such a setting is obviously suited for fostering mysterious legends of women in the waves and sneaking demons.

Chiloe has a lovely light to it. No matter the time of day, I felt like I was in perma-sunset. The golden hour that photographers know and love, just before the light slides to the other side of the world. The island was completely idyllic. It still largely subsists on farming and fishing. I actually felt like it was how I always imagined Avonlea (of Anne of Green Gables fame) to be, minus red roads, plus some penguins.

Oh the penguins. I don't generally get too excited about seeing wild animals. I think I got over it in Kenya when I saw plenty of monkies, elephants, insects, what have you. I didn't squeal with glee in Central America when I saw sloths hanging from trees or spider monkies skittering by looking for food to steal. But the penguins totally undid me. I squealed along with the rest of the tourists on my boat and I took a million pictures. Though unfortunately a picture cannot capture HOW ADORABLE the penguins are when they move! No matter what they did, whether it be spreading their wings, ruffling their feathers, especially WALKING. Let alone running. And then, as if I wasn't undone with sheer cuteness already, SEA OTTERS appeared. The boat trip was far too short.

I met such a lovely temporary travel companion in Ancud: Allie, a British author visiting briefly while she is crashing at a friend's house in Pucon. We bussed down to Castro together, an altogether charmless town on a completely charming island. As soon as we left the town, on a bus to the national park, we slapped our foreheads wondering why in the world we weren't staying in any of the darling little towns along the road. Anywhere would be better than Castro. Oh well, lesson learned for next time.

We discovered a fantastic beach at the national park. It was looooooong. And almost completely deserted. When we settled into our cradles of sand, we felt like we were the only witnesses to the crashing layers of waves. It was fantastic. I have always been a fan of a dramatic coastline, much preferring it to the more-often-sought-after Caribbean coastline. So I was completely content, even though the water was too cold to swim in (not to mention the rip tides I could see!). Set in between cliffs, and beyond the grassy dunes, this beach was expansive and flat, so that when the waves lapped in, the water was spread extremely thin, creating sheets of ocean that slowly slid up and down the sand. When I walked towards the waves, I could walk forever without getting too deep in the sea. And when I walked along the coast, these sliding plates of ocean gave me the impression I was walking on the water. It was awesome. And it was all mine. Allie, left behind sun-bathing, was the closest witness, and she couldn't see me. So I could run, dance, sing, splash along the coast as much as my heart desired. For a few hours, a good kilometer of gorgeous, dramatic, Chilean coastline was the property and delight of one Laura Sorensen. It belonged to me, because I loved it. And then some beautiful cows joined us, who sees cows at the beach? Good times.

Yes, Chiloe was lovely. It didn't feel much of the earthquake, in fact many slept through it. Internet, electricity, and phones were down the next day, but Chiloe was lucky and escaped the profound destruction visited upon its sister cities.

I've got to say, I was so touched at the number of inquiries I found in my inbox once internet came back. I wish Chile had escaped such destruction, but it was nice to know how many people cared about me. Thank you.

Chile is so lovely. So much coastline perfectly suited to me. So much beautiful countryside. And a relatively small population to put it to use. I hope I get to spend a couple of months settled here sometime in my life, to get a better sense of the life here. The bus ride into Argentina was a gorgeous farewell as the bus plowed through ancient forests, mountains, and lakes in Patagonia.

Oh Patagonia, I am not finished with you.

I've owned this book for 3 years-- I could never get far because the tone is so somber. But I'm finally working through the depression in Barriloche, and Chabon's words, as always, are beautifully crafted.

Monday, March 1, 2010

This is where I am now. Perched up in Barriloche, Argentina.

Chiloe is famous for it's tuen of the century churches. I really liked this one, I felt like I was in a church made of kappla blocks. So airy and light, like a small push would bring it tumbling down with the clatter of wooden blocks.

Oh religion, what strange things you do inspire. At least this one hasn't been dressed up in home-knit clothing like some of the other idols. Oops, I meant figures.

I was unprepared for te splendor of this iced coffee. Good companion for studying Chiloe's awesome mythology.

The World of the Potato?! Who wouldn't want to go into this cafe? Island of Chiloe.

Brief anecdote.

One night in Valparaiso I went to dinner with a guy I had met at breakfast in the hostel. We had dinner in a nicer restaurant than I generally allow myself. We were there for a very long time, and eventually there was only us and another couple of guests, and the restaurant was closing. Valparaiso is very relaxed, and as is the custom down here, dinner is enjoyed late in the evening. But we were still the last guests. The chef, maybe owner of the restaurant, was on friendly speaking terms with us, and he started asking if myself and my dinner companion were a couple. And since we were not, why not? Did I have a boyfriend? Well of course my dinner companion and myself were ending up together, we'd been sitting there deep in conversation for 5 hours. He was so open about this possibility, something that is generally shrouded in dating mystery until someone makes a move. He wouldn't let the topic go and had a lengthy conversation about the subject with one of the other guests who spoke better Spanish than I.

I was thoroughly delighted by this Chilean man who was quite a bit more nosy than any American restaurateur I have ever encountered. Who was so open with his romantic expectations of these two travelers he just met.

He also had the most beautiful Chilean accent. I find them exceedingly difficult to understand, but completely delicious.

I gave my heart to Valparaiso.

I arrived in Valparaiso at midnight. Nevertheless, I fell in love immediately, as soon as the taxi driver got to the Cerros. The Cerros are hills, and they are old. They have a beautiful view of the harbour. Hills give a city such character, I should always live in a hilly city. And I swear they somehow foster the creativity in artists, juding by the hilly cities I know. Valparaiso's buildings are jumbled one upon another. You see stairs rambling off all over the place, like an Escher drawing. Valparaiso is not a city your mom would like, or approve of. It's a bit gritty. I don't know who commissioned this, or gave permission, but almost all of the old buildings in the cerros are covered in art. And not just the standard graffiti you see splashed up in every city. It's more like hundreds of different artists used the walls of Valparaiso as their sketchpads, their notebooks that they doodled and explored upon. Art, creation, expression is a presence there, and it seeps into every nook and cranny. And it seeps into you. There are studios around every corner. Anyone can make their mark, wherever they want. There are growing things everywhere, popping out of the middle of streets.

Valparaiso. No wonder it fostered people like Pablo Neruda. I think any artist would delight in it, love it, want to live in it.

I should have stayed.

My first day there I walked the half hour to Neruda's house, La Sebastiana. I want Pablo Neruda to be my decorator. His house was so full of life, whimsy, expression, personality. It was so friendly. I love looking at people's houses, apartments, rooms. You can learn so much about a person and their stuff. I generally think well of an anti-materialist tendency. But I cannot deny that, like Neruda, I love stuff. I love my stuff. It's not that I pride myself in the ownership of something like a BMW, it's more like my things are an extension of me, and an expression. I will never be one of those people with a minimalist decor. I will always have books spilling from their cases, being piled in corners. Mementos, reminders, items that inspire me. Not complete clutter, but happy gatherings of things. It makes a space more vibrant, more living. More fostering of my creative bent. You can ask anyone who's lived with me, I am not a stridently tidy person. I did not inherit that from my mom.

There were some performers singing and playing live music when I got to La Sebastiana-- best live music so far. Phenomenal guitarist, great singer. I was sitting there, completely overflowing with happiness. And while once in a while I still feel that I am not experiencing the full potential of beauty or joy because I have no one to share it with, at this particular moment I was just sad that no one was there to receive this extra vibrant joy that was pouring off of me.

Valparaiso. I was so happy there. I couldn't believe how happy I was. I have hit this level of general happiness that seems absurd. I, as usual, am over-analyzing everything, and my brain can't stop thinking how strange it is that I am so euphoric. I don't know when the last time was that I felt this way for such a long period of time. Every day is a gift. They are shot through with dazzling, gorgeous rays of gold. Every moment is more intense, more concentrated. I feel like a kid again in that I have recovered a remarkable sense of wonder. I feel so inspired and am planning so much for when I get home.

It reminded me of the following quote from one of my favorite films, Before Sunset:

"I remember as a teenager I went to Warsaw, when it was still a strict communist regime... Something about being there was very interesting, I found. After a couple of weeks something changed in me. The city was quite gloomy and grey, but, after a while, my brain seemed clearer. I was writing a lot more in my journal, ideas I'd never thought of before... It took me a while to figure out why it felt, you know, so different. And then, one day, as I was walking through the Jewish cemetery, I don't know why, but it occurred to me there, I realized that I had spent the last two weeks away from most of my habits. TV was in a language I didn't understand, so, all I'd been doing was... walk around, thinking, right! My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy, and I have to say, it was almost like a natural high. It felt so peaceful inside. No strange urge to be somewhere else, to shop... Maybe it could have seemed like boredom at first, but it quickly became very, very soulful, you know?"

While my trip is not exactly like communist Warsaw, traveling has taken me completely out of a situation I know or am comfortable in. I am constantly surrounded by strange places and strange people. I have my internet connection with my old world, but that takes up a very marginal amount of my day, and sometimes I am disconnected from that for several days at a time (which feels like an eternity). Meanwhile, I have so much time at my disposal to just let my thoughts roam, wander free, with no direction, no guidance. I used to hate being left alone to my thoughts, I found they would easily wander into negative territory. I certainly still have my moments, but they are so few and far between. I constantly find myself in vast vistas of beautiful natural landscape. I read a book once about yoga and meditation, and it advised me to walk about in nature for an hour every day. Our bodies, our souls, our minds, respond to it. It is far too small a part of our lives anymore, especially as I live in the concrete jungle of New York City. I find that in these spaces everything about me breathes deeply, and opens up.

It has been interesting being, for lack of a better term, at my leisure for 5 months. The last time I was not at school or work was right when I moved home after graduating, and I was out of work for a month. I was miserable. I think there were a lot of factors contributing to that misery, but I generally like to be about something. I feel uncomfortable at my leisure. Before that month, the last time had to be in high school. At the beginning of my trip I wrote about how ridiculously difficult it was for me to lie on a beach all day in Cancun. I didn't like it. Well, my beach days have turned out to be as productive in a different way. The thoughts I explore, the words I explore through books, the beauty I soak up. It is easy to get caught up in work. Away from work, for so long, my brain has cracked wide open.

My situation, as an artist, is a little different from your regular careerist. My day job is certainly important, I need to pay my rent, and it behooves me to find a day job I can have some amount of passion for. But my job isn't my life's work, as it is for some. And I think I have been too caught up in it. That is easy to do-- it's where I go most days. But there is so much more of my life that I have been neglecting somewhat in favor of that day job. My brain, my life, my passions are big enough to hold my job as well as the plethora of other things I should be doing and exercising.

Life is more full, more varied, more exciting. I intend to bring this back home with me. I, in fact, have developed a list. Of course I developed a list.

-I want more art in my life. Everywhere. When I get an apartment room again I am painting on the walls. Yes, direct inspiration here from Valparaiso.
-I have been very frugal for the past year in preparation for this trip. While I have other things to be saving for, I want to stop sacrificing art and life. I will buy a new album every two weeks.
-I will not, however, be allowed to listen to my iPod on the subway. Subway time is reading time. I should be ripping through more books. On more subjects.
-I am going to listen to live jazz once a month.
-I am going to see plays whenever I want. (Thank god for student-priced ticketing, my BYU ID without an expiration date, and my youthful face.)
-I want to cook more good vegan food. I will cook one full-fledged good meal (and desert of course) a week, which I am not allowed to eat by myself, I must always invite at least one friend to come share it with me. (This one directly inspired by Pablo Neruda. He considered a meal eaten alone, a meal wasted.)
-I will take my camera out once a week.
-I will get my hands on photoshop and learn how to use it to increase the quality of my photography.
-Volunteer for Greenpeace more than I was before.
-I will go hiking or camping once a month.
-I will go to brunch with a friend every sunday.
-Acting is my career, I will treat it more like a career. I will enroll in an acting class, voice lessons, and audition regularly (once I get my bank account back on track).
-I will buy a guitar and learn how to accompany myself so I can start performing regularly at open-mic nights.
-I will go out with friends more frequently. My NYC experience suffered while I was being frugal. I am a single beautiful woman in Manhattan, I need to be taking advantage of that.
-I will go to the gym 4 times a week. Obviously.

Valparaiso. I wandered, I conversed, I brewed in cafes. One day I visited a vineyard, a small fishing village, and Pablo Neruda's third home, Isla Negra. Well, the man can stick to a theme, I'll give him that. His third home is overwhelmingly dedicated to the theme of the sea. Seriously. I like a figurehead probably a little more than the next person, but he probably had 20 of them in his house. It was fantastic. I especially loved a couple of rooms that was filled with knick-knacks from around the world. Fascinating.

He has a stunning view of the rugged Chilean coastline and Pacific from his grave. Some of his words are definitely going up on my wall.

The other great thing about Valparaiso was that I met some great people. People that I hope stay in my life. They will. I didn't get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked, so I will remedy that in the future. I could go more into this. But I won't.

There have been two places in my travels down here that I absolutely didn't want to leave. That I was a little miserable leaving. Salento was one, Valparaiso was the other. If I had been there earlier in my travels, I certainly would have stayed. But at this point, down to the wire, I felt that I had to move on. I bought my bus ticket the first day I was there, but after my few days in the city I certainly regretted it. I should have stayed.

Valparaiso did, however, give me a lovely parting gift. While pausing at a stoplight, a singer with an accompanying guitarist and drummer were performing in a square at the bottom of my Cerro. It was a lovely example of how alive, musical, and creative this breathing city is.