I’m at the Continental gate in Ezeiza airport, confident I am at the right gate without double-checking given the five people I see typing furiously away on their iPads. I begin arguing in Spanish at length with the gate attendant. After forcing everyone through yet another bag check before boarding the plane, they find three large tubs of dulce de leche in my bag and tell me it’s considered a gel. I am livid since conveniently there is no hope of putting any of it in my checked bag. Every time I travel I seem to become increasingly frustrated by the inconsistencies of various American air transport companies, and this is the last straw.
A friend of mine has done me a favor and organized a car to pick me up through her company’s account and has put the car in the name of an employee. A woman is standing to greet me when I step off the plane and as we wait for my bags to arrive she begins asking me about my flight…in Spanish. I am jet-legged and half asleep so at first it doesn’t occur to me how weird it is to be back in the U.S. and speaking Spanish again. Then I realize the name of the employee my friend has used is Latin and my driver based on her accent is obviously from either PR or DR. I am still trying to figure it out as the luggage carousel begins to move, thinking how unlikely it was for her to think I was from either of those places given how ghostly-white skin and my Porteña accent. Once in the car she explains that her company had told her that I was from Argentina and didn’t speak much English, but she tells me she suspects I do! I begin to laugh.
My first day back after 10 months in Buenos Aires, I never have felt so short walking the streets in Manhattan. At first I can’t figure out if it is just that I have forgotten how tall people are in North America and how much more I blend in being almost 5’8, or if something is actually different. A few days later it occurs to me that I have arrived just in time for fashion week and that this year for the first time it is taking place only a few blocks from my parents Columbus Circle apartment. I hope I won’t feel so midget-like for long.
One of the things that most surprises me about being home is how used to speaking Spanish I have somehow become. If I am not concentrating or a bit tired as is the case for the first few days, I find myself starting to say hello, goodbye or thank you to someone in Spanish. Worse, I am completely unconscious that I am tacking on a Spanish word here and there. During the first few days my parents interrupt me several times because I speak part of a sentence in Spanish without even realizing. The day after I arrive I’m on the train ride to DC for my friend Rita’s wedding and a man sitting next to me offers me a Twizzler to which I respond in a loud voice over my blaring ipod “no gracias.” After a pang of embarrassment, a part of me is actually quite excited by this. It means that speaking Spanish has actually become totally unconscious and natural to me, that I am not translating things from English first in my head anymore.
I’ve always known how useful Spanish is in a place like Manhattan, but I never realized just how much until now. I count more than a dozen times that I am consciously aware and comprehending of the Spanish being spoken around me. I even find myself in a Forever 21 store where my Spanish skills came into play. There is a huge line at the cash register when the cashier asks the line of customers if anyone speaks Spanish. Everyone turns to look behind them and I find myself volunteering and at the register helping out the Spanish-speaking tourists so that everyone can be on their way. It feels totally great to be speaking Spanish again.
Home for only a few days I start to feel like I never left. I am loving seeing different groups of friends every night and in no time back to my routine of hopping the subway to different neighborhoods, walking around for hours while I take in all that has changed, grabbing coffee at my favorite bar in Soho, Aroma, eating lunch at City Bakery with my dad, and making dinner and drinks plans each night.
One of the things I have missed so much but not forgotten is the energy of New York that is unlike anywhere else in the world. I revel in the fact that in a matter of months I have become totally out of the loop on the hippest restaurants and bars. One night at a birthday dinner at a new hotspot, Abe and Arthur’s, I realize it is just that energy that I have been homesick for in Buenos Aires. We enter the swanky meatpacking restaurant and I notice a crowd of seven girls immaculately dressed, each one in a different pair of Louboutin-height heels and I love it. It occurs to me I have seriously been missing the fashion competition that is the streets of NY. In Buenos Aires I often feel unmotivated to dress up, spend time organizing outfits, or wear my highest heels, something I personally enjoy a lot given my love of fashion. In New York I never feel overdone and am right at home teetering in my tallest heels and my most fashion forward ensembles. Walking down Fifth Avenue one afternoon I am reminded of the constant challenge it is to be fashionable in a place like New York, and despite the needing lots of disposable income part, I really miss it.
The thing I cannot express just how much I miss is, of course, the food. I find myself in just the first week alone eating enchiladas, the juiciest burgers I have tasted in months, spicy Thai food, soup dumplings, savory plates of salads from Whole Foods and City Bakery, and Pinkberry frozen yogurt at least once a day. The other big thing? City-that-never-sleeps store hours. I never once wonder if something is open, I just go and it is. I am thrilled there is no day of shopping rest on Sundays and there are people eating, drinking, and exploring things at all hours. I
There is something to be said about being away from something that you love. I am a strong believer in the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder and I see the city in a new light that is totally refreshing. I buy a new point and shoot camera one day and became a tourist in my own city snapping pictures of everything that once used to feel so ordinary.
I appreciate things I never had before, the conveniences, how easy life is, the street scenes I had previously rushed past in a hurry. When I leave the house I don’t need to worry if I have any cash in my wallet – everywhere, magazine stands and taxi cabs included, takes credit cards in NY. I think how funny it is while in a drugstore buying something and my change is four cents and the cashier runs over to another register to give me my exact change. That would never happen in Buenos Aires, there wouldn’t be any change I think to myself. I love the fact that almost every purchase I make in a store is returnable, including a necklace I buy, wear for a week, and then somehow unravels a bit and I am given a brand new one, no questions asked when I take it back.
I start to think about what an amazing place New York City is for people from other countries. No one pays any particular attention to people in the subway speaking another language or in English with an accent from somewhere else, it’s part of the day-to-day experience in New York.
Another thing I have missed is eating dinner at 7:30. Despite all the arguments with my family about trying to wait until a bit later to eat dinner, I do enjoy having the rest of my night to do things, unlike in Buenos Aires where I am sometimes eating a steak dinner at 1am.
The things I don’t miss? Walking the streets as if I am in a constant rush when I am in fact on vacation! Everyone around me on the streets makes me feel like I need to walk like I am late for something. And one of the first things I notice after stepping off the plane back in Buenos Aires is the calm I feel walking around my neighborhood. There isn’t the same tension in my shoulders or panic in my step.