Now I know this doesn't make up for six weeks of delinquency, but consider it an appetizer while I try and get my life back in order...
Some Random Travel Observations From Six Weeks Abroad
1) Argentinians are the worst people on earth when it comes to waiting on line. First, they're even crazier about it than New Yorkers, which is saying something. They'll line up for no reason 2 hours before a flight -- and nobody's even got any carry-on luggage! Then they will immediately cut in front of you given the slightest opportunity. And we're not talking just Porteños (aka, people from Buenos Aires, who even Argentinians consider a distinct breed), because I've seen this everywhere. Although the Porteños do take the cake for rudeness, when they're not being incredibly nice, which they usually are (see #10). But when they have attitude, they're worse than even your most serious Meat Packing District velvet rope-floggers.
2) Conversational topics to avoid:
a) That little Islas Malvinas aka Falkland Islands incident? Argentinians are still pissed about that. And certain English people seem to have trouble letting it go too (no names). And Chile had it's own issues, so it's best to avoid the topic altogether -- although difficult, considering that every time you turn around there seems to be another huge memorial or a flag or a billboard.
b) Who's go the best wine -- particularly with Chileans, since all Chileans are wine snobs. It's like a national trait. Not necessarily a bad one. Still, don't try convincing them to drink their own wine from a box.
c) 9/11. Actually, I don't really mind talking about it, it just depends on who's asking. Sensitive friends, fine. Eager young boys from Studtgardt with ghoulish curiosity and no tact, not okay.
d) American politics -- especially with people from Texas. I ran into these two guys while treking who had heavy Southwestern accents, so of course I asked them where they were from. They deliberately avoided looking me in the face as they mumbled, "Dallas," then immediately countered with, "but we live in Santiago!" Oh, and with Bush-supporting Argentinians who want to get into a major political discourse about the Iraq War in Spanish. This only happened to me once, and luckily I was saved from it by a nice older lady and an apple tart.
e) Football. If you know something about it, it's the great international language, but if you don't, you could suddenly find yourself in a very heated discussion, possibly with another half a dozen people joining in, and wish you'd never mentioned the two names (Beckham and Ronaldinho) that you know.
3) The creepy missing person and wanted signs at the Chilean border crossings: "Niño Perdido," with hopelessly innocent faces, or sinister photos of pock-marked criminals suggesting foul play. Impossible to know the whole story, but they haunted my dreams.
4) Foreign travel can be like time travel, particularly when you spend 6 hours on a bus with perky American college girls who talk about their classes and football player boyfriends...Okay, aside from that (football player boyfriends -- yeah, right), they were like we were, or like friends we would have made, if only they had lived in my freshman dorm in 1986. Aka, the year they were born.
5) Where do the smelliest people come from? This was the unlikely subject of debate during our 4-day trek through Torres del Paine. I said Germans and Andres said the French, with each of us trying to build a case based on the people passing us on the trail ("Where do you think he was from?" "France." "No way, did you see that ponytail?"). Though truth to tell, they were all probably having the same conversation about us after three days of our hiking in the same pants.
6) Always pay cash at Hungarian travel agencies. (All right, this is actually a two-year-old travel observation, but I thought I'd throw it in for good measure).
7) You can convince yourself to eat and drink nearly continuously, as long as you keep saying that this could possibly be the last alfajor (addictive Argentine sandwich cookie filled, usually, with dulce de leche and covered in thick chocolate)/$5 steak/$2 bottle of wine (and not bad wine either) that you may ever have. But of course, then it isn't.
8) Playing bingo for wine is the best way to teach people to count in a foreign language.
9) All semi-cama buses are not created equal. You can be watching movies on your own flatscreen, eating pretty good arroz con pollo and, yes, playing bingo for wine, or you can watch the same frame of a frozen DVD of a Martin Lawrence movie while you amuse yourself cleaning up the trash of the previous passengers and breaking your plastic cutlery on cold chicken Milanese that resembles nothing if not cardboard...At least I think it was chicken.
10) New vocabulary:
"A lie in" (English) = an opportunity to sleep in
To "pull" (also English) = to hook up with
"Re_____" (Argentinian), eg "Rebuena" = Really good/way good/chevere
"Wow" = bilingual, only with slightly different accents
"Rompecabeza" = my favorite word in Spanish, meaning puzzle, but I love the literal translation: head-breaker.
"Ay, porque?" = You're welcome, in Argentina -- which, when said with a smile, perfectly sums up what I will miss most about the people who live there.
11) Believe it or not, not everyone spends all their time talking about their film or their script and how it's doing at festivals or in contests or what production company or producer or agent or director is looking at it or reading it or is attached to star or is interested in funding it and...let's just say that there is actually a whole world out there where nobody gives a shit about the film business, and it's a very nice place to visit. Maybe someday I'll go live there for good.