Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Patagonia: Feeling Foreign



Absorbed in my reading, I  barely registered the stream of beautifully articulated Spanish directed at me.  A bit stunned, I looked up dumbly, a blank, laconic stare toward the Argentine stewardess.

¿Señor, que quiere cenar?”

My empty expression belied my many studious hours practicing Spanish.  I couldn’t even think to ask her to repeat herself.

“In English, sir?”

“Uh, yes, please.  Mi español no es muy bueno.  Gracias.”

A small portion of airplane-grade dinner invaded my tray table, an amalgamation of chewy pasta, dry cheesecake, a tiny wedge of brie, and a salad consisting solely of romaine lettuce and chopped asparagus.

As the strikingly pretty woman continued down the aisle, I could only then recall the numerous ways I could have indicated, “Otro vez, por favor.”

I wondered how Karsten was doing, seated in my row but on the complete opposite side of the plane, five people between us.  A few seats back, Kevin, chatted easily and amicably with the attendant on his side of the cabin.  She doted a moment as he layered on his irresistible charm, making it impossible for anyone to ever dislike him.  I felt a slight pang of jealousy as he bantered with the gorgeous flight attendant.  It appeared that the moment he spoke a little Spanish, every Latino he met (especially the women) became immediately disarmed, or even charmed.

I squirmed and wiggle in my seat, not unusual for me.  It has never really been possible for me to sit still.  Underlying my jitters, though, was perhaps a little anxiety.  Air travel had never seemed so foreign to me.  I was painfully aware of my place as a gringo.

Pushing these feelings aside, I returned to my reading.  The stories in the American Alpine Journal helped to take my temporarily subdued psych and bring it back up to at least a simmer, if not a full boil.  I was going to need it to get through the coming weeks, I was sure.

My friends were only a few feet away, yet I felt detached, almost alone, surrounded by people with whom I lacked any real capacity to converse.  Normally, I would not necessarily have even wanted to speak much with those around me on the plane anyway, but now it seemed vitally important.  I squirmed more in my seat and tried to settle in.  I attempted to sleep. 

Wrestling luggage as we wait to check-in for our flight to Buenos Aires.

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