Argentina: The Final Episode

I recently spent two weeks in Argentina and I am blogging about it at the Eclectic Global Nomad. I am adding pictures here to accompany the blogs.

All four parts can be found here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Photos from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Click on photo to see slide show.

An Action Packed First Day in China

Expat Jimmy by Travis Lee is a fast paced short novel that follows a young American English teacher’s first day in Wuhan, China. He is met by a seasoned expat, Adam, who has been navigating Wuhan for seven years. The day starts at five a.m. and takes them on wild taxi rides, into seedy bars, through a Chinese family’s apartment, witnessing an attempted suicide, making a drug deal, eating different foods, drinking local hooch, and encounters with prostitutes. The day is packed with eye opening adventure.

Adam’s first advice is “Don’t forget who you are or where you are. Who you are is a laowai (foreigner). Where you are is China. Don’t go trying to change things or help people out. Mind your own business and if you don’t heed my advice? Then fine, just don’t come to me for help…”

Adam knows Jimmy is excited and fresh. He doesn’t know much about his new home and has a lot to learn. Adam packs in as much as he can on the first day while Jimmy is jet lagged and wide-eyed. He will have time later to decompress.

There are a couple of things Jimmy mentions that are very relatable. Arriving in this new country, Jimmy mentions it is all hard to describe, you have to experience it. I felt that way when I first arrived in Africa. For example, the smells are unique to certain parts of the world and impossible to describe. Also he has his camera with him and is taking pictures of everything. Everything. It is all so new and different and interesting he wants to capture it all. When walking down the street he sees other expats and expects them to talk to him and to be friendly. They are not. Just because people look like you does not mean they are going to be your friends. This is a naïve notion that many new expats have.

It is amazing how much Adam packs into one day. Adam has become part of the fabric and is so immersed in the culture, he says he cannot leave. It would be too difficult to adjust back to the USA. Any expat can relate to how hard re-entry is. However, he doesn’t seem to be having a very good time in China, either. He drinks a lot. He doesn’t heed his own advice and appears to be heavily involved in one Chinese family’s life. He tries to be rough and detached on the outside but is caring on the inside.

Throughout the day Jimmy is able to keep his sense of self and his moral creed but he does end up giving in to some peer pressure. He starts smoking and is getting a taste for the strong alcohol. At the end of the day he can’t get back into this dorm and stumbles upon a room full of computers and college kids playing video games. He happily joins them.

Jimmy ends with the realization that Adam is right, he is not going to change things but he is still excited and looking forward to more experiences to come.

This is a great snapshot into life in Wuhan. If you have lived in China, you will identify with much of it, if you have never been there, you will have a peek in the window. Although some of it is disturbing and strange, I have no doubt it is real. This book is a fun read.

 

Travis Lee is the author of Kale & Jason, Tear Sin, The Seven Year Laowai, the Journey through Nanking and Grandpa & Henry. His fiction has appeared in The Colored Lens and Independent Ink Magazine, among other places.
For more information, visit: http://www.travis-lee.org

Sun-Less in Nebraska

My friend Leo told me I was crazy to go to the Eclipse because the traffic was going to be EPIC. As you can see, it was pretty bad.

I drove southwest from St Paul to Sioux City, Iowa. My first rest stop in Iowa was an homage to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of appendicitis three months into the voyage and was buried on a high bluff above the Floyd River. The area is now known as Sergeant Bluff. He was the only member of the expedition to die.

I was on my way to stay with an old friend in Lincoln, Nebraska. Another friend was driving up from Denver. Chris lives out in the country surrounded by cornfields. I met him in Switzerland. He was originally from Beirut and had lived in Iraq and Italy. His father was Lebanese and his mother Italian. I’m still not sure how he ended up in a cornfield in Iowa but he seems to be happy with it. And why not? It is a lovely spot.

Needless to say we ate well.  The first night he made Italian stuffed zucchini. Most stuffed zucchini recipes I have seen treat the vegetable like a boat, cut it in half, dig out the meat and fill the hollow.  Not Chris, he cut off the ends, dug out the inside, and stuffed it with ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs and parmesan so the zucchini still looked like it was whole. Then smothered with a lovely tomato sauce. Of course he had also made hummus and Lebanese green beans sometimes called Lubiyeh or Lubee.  He used French style beans in a sauce with crushed tomatoes, lots of garlic and olive oil. Our appetizer was fresh corn on the cob. Just doesn’t get any better than that.

Sunday was our day to be tourists.  We started out at the Sunken Gardens. The garden was originally built in 1930 as part of a Depression works project. It was then renovated in 2005. It has over 30,000 plants on 1.5 acres and is designed each year on a different theme. The theme for 2017 is Purple Reign. It was a hot day so we didn’t linger but we did see a lot of purple.

Next stop was the Capital building. After a nationwide competition, Beltram Grosvenor Goodhue’s design was selected in 1920. It is said to be the nation’s first vernacular State Capital. It was the third building to be built on the site and was a departure from the more typical capital buildings found around the country. It was completed in 1932 and cost $10 million.

The inside is stunning with several courtyards, marble columns, vaulted ceilings, interesting light fixtures, mosaic floors and colorful murals. We took the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoyed the view. Across the street was the lovely old St Mary’s Catholic Church.

After touring the Capital building, Chris gave us a little tour of the city, showing off nice neighborhoods with big houses and then the downtown area. The Haymarket area was a warehouse district that has been transformed into a trendy place to live and work. It is a place to explore restaurants, bars, shops and the Farmers Market. In 2014 it was listed on the National Register as Lincoln Haymarket Historic District by the National Park Service. Chris kept pushing a great ice cream parlor but parking was scarce.

That night our friend from Denver threw together a salad with leftover corn, black beans, green and red peppers, home grown tomatoes, cilantro and olive oil to go with our pork ribs that had been on the smoker all day.

Monday was eclipse day. We packed up our beer and food and drove south to Firth where we went to a pot luck party. Chris’ friend had a big house on a lake with lots of room for eclipse viewing. There were about 30 people there enjoying a warm but cloudy day.  We missed the corona of the total eclipse but we experienced the atmosphere. Everything got quiet, the wind died completely, the day grew very dark. It was eerie. We ate well, enjoyed the beer and company. At the end of the day we jumped in the golf cart and took a spin around the lake.

On my way home the next day I stopped at the highest point in Iowa. Hawkeye Point, 1670 feet. Who knew?

Iowa Weekend – Art, Nature and Food

 

“Old” Capital Building, Iowa City

Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.

I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.

From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.

That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.

Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.

The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.

Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.

From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.

The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.

Interesting light fixtures at the Charmant in La Crosse

There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast. 

Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.