That one time we invented wine yoga… Mendoza Pt. 2

After a wonderful day touring the bodegas of Mendoza, Nat and I decided that it was time to explore the more nature-y side of Mendoza. After all, it would be a huge shame to come all the way here and not see the Andes. After some quick googling, we decided to head to the town of Potrerillos to spend a lovely day amongst the mountains.

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With a backpack full of dulce de leche and wine, we headed to the bus station to being our journey. After buying our tickets, we had some time to kill so we marvelled at more tree porn on the other side of the city. Mendoza is small but it certainly doesn’t lack in character! This particular underpass is probably the coolest bridge I’ve ever been too.

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In what seems to be a recurring theme during my time in Mendoza, I immediately passed out once we finally got on the bus. Next thing I know, I’m suddenly being urgently tapped on my head by Nat. Groggily, I turned to her in my best impression of: 

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But before I could angrily reprimand her, I took a look outside the window. My god. The mountains were even more majestic than I thought they would be. Chiseled and angular, the white peaks stood out distinctly against the greyish sky. Turns out a nice Venezuelan couple had seen me sleeping and had told Nat to wake me up lest I miss out on the view. I’m so glad they did. Don’t you just love the kindness of strangers some times? As Nat and I sat there watching the snow-capped peaks roll by. I had a good feeling about how the rest of our day would turn out.

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Once we got to Potrerillos, we stumbled around until we found the tourism center, a little hut near the base of a series of rusty hills. With map in hand, we headed off to hike around the lake. The clouds had cleared to reveal a brilliantly blue sky that served as the perfect backdrop for the red earth. I felt so calm and so at ease as we trekked along the Mars like terrain keeping the Andes to our right and the peaceful lake to our left. How lucky we are to have this planet, I thought to myself.

After about an hour of walking, we found the perfect spot to plop down and finally crack open our wine. With mugs full of chardonnay Nat and I sat and just took it all in. On paper, we didn’t really do much. Really, we were just sitting on the edge of a lake. But the beauty of travelling with good company (and aided by good wine) is that sometimes doing nothing leads to memories that feel like everything.

In an ode to Argentine wine, Nat and I somehow invented wine yoga and ended up taking these hilarious pictures. We sat on the shore for hours trying laughing, chatting, and otherwise making fools of ourselves. It felt like the entire lake was ours and that the Andes were for our eyes only (this is probably why we both felt comfortable relieving ourselves behind bushes – pro-tip, always pee downhill). But after a blissful couple of hours, the sun started to set and we realised that we had to catch the bus home. Wistfully, we packed up our wine and cookies and said goodbye to the lake. However, Potrerillos still had one more surprise in store for us: a fiery sunset over the Andes.

As we walked to the bus stop, we constantly found ourselves stopping to stare at what seemed to be a neon glow from behind the snowy mountains. Shades of purple, pink, and orange, danced like flames behind the white peaks. We were speechless.

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As we boarded the bus back to Mendoza, I took a moment to look back on the past 48 hours of my life. I had pulled an all-nighter to fly here, stayed at my first hostel, had more wine than I should have, reaffirmed my mural obsession, invented lake-side wine yoga, and had seen the sun set over the Andes. How spoiled am I, I thought, before I closed my eyes, and in classic Rachel-in-Mendoza fashion, passed out on the bus. 

Photo credits to the lovely Nat Yang. Follow her on Instagram @nat_yang_

Sunsets are better in Uruguay

I’ve done my best in this blog to try and describe some of the amazing sunsets that I have seen so far on this trip. However, I seem to always fall short. I guess the cliche, “a picture is worth a thousand words” exists for a reason. Therefore I present my seven thousand word essay on why sunsets are better in Colonia, Uruguay.

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Done already? You must be a fast reader!

In all seriousness though, this little weekend getaway to Colonia, about an one and a half hours outside of Buenos Aires, was very special. Colonia is a beautiful little town filled with flowers, sun soaked streets, and friendly people. I’m already itching to return.

Let’s talk about… books: Coffee and Commutes Edition

I just got back from an incredible weekend trip to see Puerto Iguazu to see the breathtaking Iguazu Falls. They really do make you feel quite sorry for Niagra Falls… I’m currently working through a backlog of blog posts that I want to write about all my little excursions. More on Mendoza, Uruguay, and of course, Iguazu, to come! For now though, I’d like to write a little about something that I have recently welcomed back into my life with open arms: leisure reading.

I regret how little extra-curricular reading I do during the semester. It’s a damn shame that I only find the time to read for fun during breaks and the summer. That said, due to my lack of regular leisure reading, a good book has always been associated with travelling. In fact, I never travel without a handy paperback tucked into my carry-on. Now that I’m in Buenos Aires, reading has come to be associated with two other things: caffeine and commuting. I’ve loved finding a seat on a packed subway and hunkering down to read. And does anything really beat the tranquillity of settling down in a beautiful cafe with a rich cup of coffee and an even richer story?

Here’s what I’ve been reading so far:

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ft. An amazing crostini de salmon at El Gato Negro, one of the cities historic barres notables

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I picked this up because it was light and lying around my house the day I flew out. I’m glad that I wasn’t forced to read this in high school. Being forced to read anything sometimes has the adverse effect of making the material seem dry and arduous. My experience reading this classic was the opposite! I really liked how unlikeable Holden was and found it very relaxing to read about one boy’s experience of one great city while zipping around another. It may sound phoney but this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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ft. Colombian coffee and banana bread from Catoti, one of my favourite cafes

I bought this while browsing a beautiful bookstore in my neighbourhood. I knew I wanted an autobiography for my commute – something that I could easily pick up and put down in between subway stops. I was mistaken in thinking that this particular autobiography would be something easy to start and stop. Angelou’s raw account of her  difficult childhood growing up as a black girl in the deep south was incredibly powerful and engrossing. This is a fearless book. I know it will stay with me for a really long time.

Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal by JK Rowling

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ft. An incredible breakfast at Petit Colon, another bar notable in the heart of the theatre district.

Reading in a non-native language is always effortful… unless you happen to know the source material word for word. As exposed in this post, I am a huge Harry Potter nerd. I’ve always wished that I could experience reading the books for the first time again and reading them in Spanish is probably the closest I’m ever going to get to that experience! It’s so magical seeing the iconic lines from the first book in a new language. What’s even more magical is the degree to which I’ve surprised myself with how much I’m able to understand. Check out this video on the story behind Harry Potter translations. Interesting stuff!

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

I found this gem lying around my host mom’s house. Having binge-watched Suits and The Good Wife, I knew I would enjoy this legal thriller. I devoured it on the plane rides to and from Iguazu. 10/10 would recommend.

Aside from what I’ve been reading, I’ve loved living in what is obviously a literary city. After all, Buenos Aires is the city of Cortázar and Borges. Avenida Corrientes, a road right next to my office, is famous for its many used book stores.

Speaking of book stores, no trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without a visit to El Grand Splendid Ateneo, hands down my favourite bookstore in the world. This old theatre turned libreria is a true paradise for book lovers. I could spend hours amongst the bookshelves dividing my time between staring at the titles and at the beautiful ceiling.

The undeniable truth, at least in Hong Kong and in the States, is that bookstore culture is slowly dying. I’ve slowly seen my favourite bookstores back home, bookstores in which I used to spend hours sitting on the floor reading, slowly get replaced by H&Ms and the like. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, I sincerely think that there is still something so special about going to an actual store and weighing beautiful stacks of paper and ink in your hands.

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A staircase of books in Palermo.

Called me old fashioned but I am thankful that Buenos Aires has helped my reconnect with my love of reading and of bookstores. Here’s to more slow mornings spent in the company of a good book and a cafe con leche.

The Origins of Imperfect Feminist

This past semester, I took part in a photo project by Diana Im, one of the cool seniors in my history of feminism class. For her final project, she decided to tackle the pressure that many young feminists feel to be perfect. To be intersectional enough, to be well-read enough, to be woke enough, and to be inclusive enough. While these are all wonderful aspirations, fear of imperfection often leads to silence for fear of getting something wrong. Diana’s project chose to highlight growth and effort – the process of being what she coined, an imperfect feminist. I’ve been struck by this phrase and I’ve decided to borrow it for some of my own writing.

This is a piece of what I originally wrote for Diana along with some cool photos that she took to go with it:

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 I think that it’s a beautiful phrase to capture how I feel about my own feminism, as someone who is still learning, I think that there is a tendency to want to be perfect because very ironically, I think studying institutionalized women and gender studies just ties feminism in at least for me with all the trappings of academia. It’s like always having to have read the right authors, to have been exposed to the certain theories and being able to talk about them and apply them properly… And so just being able to balance the imperfections of reality and of my own life with the want to be perfect in an academic sense has been really interesting. We talk about it a lot but there’s almost no way to translate what goes on in the ivory tower to what goes on in the real world, and so I am so down to embrace this idea that we’re all imperfect and we’re all bad feminists.”

Please check out her blog and the other entries here!

 

Let’s talk about… Harry Potter

As with all things pure and good in this world, Harry Potter has been talked about far more eloquently and by far better writers than myself. However, I can not think of a better subject to start my “Let’s Talk About…” column. The timing is also fortuitous seeing as the world is currently celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first book. So, accio nerds, let’s talk about Harry Potter

Like many others, I am truly one of the Harry Potter generation. I haven’t lived in a world in which Harry Potter doesn’t exist. I’m one of those true potterheads who has read each book at least 20 times and can quote the movies backwards and forwards. I am the proud owner of a cloak, a Gryffindor scarf (I’m a gryffindor, obviously. Do not fight me on this), a stuffed toy cow named Hagrid, and all the spin-off textbooks.

But apart from falling in love with the characters, getting charmed by the spells, being engrossed by the storylines, and yearning for Hogwarts, Harry Potter is tied to real emotion for me as well. One of my favourite memories with my best friend Ashley is staying up all night racing each other to the end of the last book. We sat back to back through the night in total silence yet we had never felt more connected.

–Me and Ashley: Circa the time HP books were still coming out (taken somewhere in Japan) vs. As high school seniors (still a couple weirdos though)–

Another one of my favourite memories is watching the last movie with my dad. I remember walking into the theatre with my cloak on (we dressed up – obviously) with a knot of confused emotions in my stomach. I was excited, yet sad that this was the last one. This was it. At the end of it all, when Harry’s scar had stopped hurting for 19 years and all was well, I was in tears. I looked over and saw that my dad, my stoic dad, had glistening eyes as well. Harry Potter had been the one series of books that we read together and fell in love with together. I was glad to be sharing this moment with him.

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“Platform nine and three quarters? But Hagrid, there must be a mistake. This says platform nine and three quarters. There’s no such thing is there?”

The two of us, being the nerds that we are, later went on the Harry Potter studio tour in London together. I’m only half kidding when I say that it was the best day of my life. We walked through London to get to King’s Cross with my dad pointing out locations from his medical residence days in the city. We took the obligatory Platform 9 3/4 photo before heading to Leavesden Studio. It was a pilgrimage of epic proportions. I could hardly contain my excitement while walking through the studio turned museum, and my dad, my serious dad, wasn’t much better. The true magic of Harry Potter has always been the power of love and friendship – themes that were just as resonant with me, a geeky teenage, as they were with my father, an incredibly intelligent doctor. In my dad, I have always seen the wisdom of Dumbledore, the reserved dignity of Minerva McGonagall, and the level-headedness of Remus Lupin. That day though, I saw in him the fun of Fred and George, and the wonder of Harry the first time he walked through Diagon Alley.

–Other photos from that trip to London back in 2014–

Not to be left out, my mom also plays a part in this. Back when I was a freshman in high school, we watched JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech together. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, but I knew that Harvard was my dream school. Even as a freshman I knew I wanted to attend Muggle Hogwarts and Jo’s incredibly moving speech, as dumb as it sounds, felt like a positive omen (like a reverse Grim). Throughout the next years of high school, I kept this dream to myself, for fear of the stigma and of jinxing it by saying it out loud.

With my dream in mind, I threw myself at school in my best impression of my idol, Hermione Granger. Like her, I was a bit, shall we say… intense. But also like her, I grew confident in my own intellect and in the fruits of hard work and diligence. Despite all this, I knew that applying to Harvard was a total crapshoot. I knew that any number of factors, luck included (and I sadly had no Felix Felices), would be the difference between acceptance and rejection. And so, when I got my Owl from Harvard in the form of a 5:00am email, I was totally stupefied. Then came the flood of emotions: relief, joy, excitement, disbelief. All this was only amplified by my mom’s cries of “OH-MY-GOD-IS-THIS-REAL? Oh my god! OH MY GOD! CHECK IT AGAIN!”.

While I say that Hermione is my idol, my real idol has, and will always be, my incredible mom. Though my mom, having only read four of the books, is decidedly the muggle of the family, she is my Lily Potter, my Molly Weasley, my Nymphadora Tonks, all rolled in one. She was the one who calmed me down after episodic breakdowns when the stress of classes and test prep got to be too much. She was the one who drove me to band rehearsals, softball practices, piano recitals, dance classes and any number of other activities, all while being a full-time business executive. She was the one who held my hand in my high school counsellor’s office when I at last blurted out that I wanted to pull an Elle Woods and go to Harvard.

And on graduation day, she was the one who knew what present I would find most meaningful: a hardback copy of Very Good Lives, the book version of the text from Jo’s original Harvard 2008 Commencement speech.

–My wonderful parents at my graduation, Very Good Lives indeed–

So thank you Jo and thank you Harry Potter. You have been there for the entirety of my 20 years and you have made my family, my life, and the lives of so many others, immeasurably more magical. Happy Birthday Harry!

Florals? For spring, I mean winter? Groundbreaking.

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But how about for invierno, Miranda?

The only thing better than the good aires in Buenos Aires are the good flowers. It’s hard to believe that this is what they call “winter” in this amazing city.

Almost every street corner in Buenos Aires features a beautiful flower stand. The gardens of Palermo are also still stunning. I’ve loved walking around the city and encountering beautiful flora everywhere I go. Here are some shots from the Botanical Garden as well as the Rosedal of Palermo. 

The tomb of Evita, Argentina’s most famous lady is likewise beautifully decked with florals. I’m fascinated by Eva Peron and plan on writing about her in another post very soon!

For now though, let’s all remember the importance of stopping to smell the flowers every once in a while.