"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

December 29, 2004

You Can Help Them

Dear friends, family, and students,

All apologies for this sad note on the cusp of our New Year's
celebrations.

Fruitless efforts to contact or hear from some new, dear acquaintances
in Kerala (a coastal state in India), part of which was hit by the
recent natural disasters, have prompted my search for websites with
aid/relief and localized information.

If you, too, are affected by the staggering, saddening death toll, please know that your efforts, however minimal, would be greatly appreciated abroad. Feel free to pass these websites along to those you know who care deeply about our fellow members of the human race. So far, the following sites have proven most helpful in providing ways you and your family can help:

http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com/
http://www.google.com/tsunami_relief.html
https://www.habitat.org/giving/donate.aspx?link=32
http://www.directrelief.org/index.html
http://www.goal.ie/newsroom/tsunamiappeal.shtml

The Red Cross/Red Crescent is also listed online:
http://www.ifrc.org/helpnow/donate/donate_response.asp .

If you'd like information about ways to help, please contact
info@usa.redcross.org.

Wishing each of you a happy, healthy
new year, and thanking you in advance for your generosity!




December 26, 2004

Head First into Wintertime


big pencil
Originally uploaded by animox72.

There's a store in this city called Snow Country. That's not coincedental. Rochesterians know that Winter begins in November (before Thanksgiving) and ends sometime around the Lilac Festival in late May. It is a dominantly gray, bone-chilling, arctic season. The most unpredictable and feared aspect of our winter is referred to as "lake effect" snow, but none of us seem to bear a grudge towards Lake Ontario beaches come summer.

It has been quite a while since I've endured a Rochester winter. While my beloved Boston has twice been snowed under whilst up North we're merely donning an extra sweater, we're due for our share of white-outs. From what I remember, it shows up, flaky wrath in tow, the night before New Year's, defeating any plans we may have had to wear high heels to friends' bashes, and further, making us contemplate just staying in our p.j.'s.

This evening, while waiting for my relatives to arrive for dinner, I noticed, out of my window, a fog had descended about twenty yards away from our house. But it wasn't a gray, misty fog. It was white. It was animated. And it was coming towards me.

Until tonight, I hadn't recalled just how furious the snow can get here. And while my earliest memories of Upstate record "dumpings" are those of someone who was once about 4'5", they sent a vicarious chill down my spine.

I'm not sure which specific year of the '80's it was, but my brother was barely old enough to get himself in and out of a one-piece, fur-hooded snowsuit--the kind you had to lie down in, zip yourself into, and then have someone help you stand up. We went outside to frolic in snow that was higher than the parked cars (snowed in, I suppose) in our driveway. Somehow, we managed our ways on top of the enormous snowbank and proceeded to start digging a hole straight down. We were looking for grass, poor dears! Although he swore it was an accident, my brother mischievously pushed me in, head first.

I don't remember how long I was in that hole. I do recall, though, that my hands were near my ears, I couldn't breathe well, and couldn't kick my way out. I also don't remember how I got out, but that it was my initiation into discovering--and understanding--the delicacy of my own mortality. (I will never, ever, let my own kids play in snow piled higher than their heights.)

When my parents discovered I'd developed a hint of muscle strength, they sent me out with the shovel. Dreaded shovelling--years before the snowblower was common on our block. My daily task, for several years, was to clear the driveway enough to let my father drive from the street into our garage after work. By the time I was twelve I had this down to a science. The formula was simple: armlock my younger brother into doing it with me, or I'd threaten to do nasty things to his pillows. We'd wind up making funky shovel music with each scraaaape!....scraaaaape! of our wintery instruments. At sunset's last stand, sometimes, my mother would open the kitchen door to discover her two kids having mock lightsaber battles, driveway snow untouched.

Perhaps it's this dichotomy--that playing in the snow can be treachery, and that working in the snow can be fun--that brings out our devious child whenever the weather strikes. Even in Boston, on snow days, when no one went to work because our cars had been plowed under, my roomates and I would spend endless hours shovelling ourselves out--tasks that would have taken little time had we not amused and tormented each other with surprise snowball attacks and spontaneous snowman-building contests.

This is how, year after year, I suppose, we come to terms with Winter. We can't stand it, but we make it fun.

Now that nature's had her way with us tonight, a fresh, scintillating blanket rests on everything outside. I'm no longer living with roomates nor my little brother, and so the demonic urge to pelt someone with snowbombs is muted. If it gets really bad this year, I'll just have to head out and make some snow angels.

December 19, 2004

A Substitute for a Job

SUBBING: (sub'ing) v. (lit., "substitute teaching") 1., The act of posing as an absent teacher; 2., Per-diem job, entails being a warm body with half a brain; 3., somewhat brave act of blindly entering a crowded classroom armed with only your patience, sense of humor, creativity, flexibility, and interest in children to muddle through a stranger's lesson plans for one or more days. 4., A good way to earn some income while you're waiting for someone to review one of the several resumes you've sent out for full-time work.

You probably don't have a sub you remember, apart from the torture you tried to impart onto one, in the form of spit balls, empty note-passing, audible whispering, or flat-out taunting. And while my first foray into subbing--seven or so years before becoming a full-time educator in Massachusetts--was nothing short of harrowing and unnerving, over the years I've come to observe and understand what it means to be a good, per-diem sub with a chance of leaving the walls of a middle- or high school unscathed.

Thus, while waiting for full-time employment to come through, I have been awakened at the 5 and 6 o'clock hours, on and off for the better part of a week, by a chipper but tired voice asking if I'll be available "for coverage." In an effort to minimize the rousing of the sleeping occupants of the household, I place the living room cordless phone next to my pillow, on the nightstand, before I turn in. Inevitably, the phone will ring while it's still dark out and before my brain's had a chance to understand what's going on. When I pick up, the sub coordinator will begin speaking before I can even manage a muffled 'hello?'. She will ask if I'm available for the day, and if my growl sounds affirmative, she'll go on to tell me where, and for whom, to report. I often ask her to repeat the information twice before it sticks. It's too dark (and I'm too uncoordinated) at 5:50 a.m. to write it all down.

Subbing, in lieu of a permanent teaching position--or any job, for that matter--is a lucky, enjoyable gig if you have a penchant for the unexpected. For most people--especially those of you who spend the majority of your work day interfacing with a machine--the thought of entering a school has no appeal. I hear the same negative generalities tossed around about "kids these days" as I did when I was, myself, a kid. But for the few archetypal miscreants (who often harbor more need than their fellow students), there are a wealth of good-natured, interested, interesting learners.

On my fast-growing, personal "favorite moments of subbing" list is the ten minutes an 7th-grade girl took to show me how to perform a drum roll (I happened to be subbing for a band teacher). Admittedly, those were ten minutes during which I was probably more focused on my grip on the drumsticks than the room full of kids who were immersed in their own instruments, but with a good group of competitive, mindful youngsters, I had some room to play. While a handful of show-off jazz band saxophonists, notably the longest-haired boys of the class, serenaded the rest of us (against our will) to the tunes of "Mercy, Mercy" and an uncomfortably distonal version of "All of Me," I searched for my ibuprofen, happy knowing that the Winton Marsalises of the future are earnestly squeaking and belting out their c-sharps all the way to the Christmas Concert. Give anyone under 4'10" a big, brassy instrument and he'll look positively adorable no matter what sound emantates thereforth.

The other day I happened to be fortunate enough to sub for an 8th-grade English teacher. Three classes were assigned to read aloud their first-person accounts of what it was like to be in Ford's Theater when President Lincoln was assassinated. I took copious notes while the students read aloud their crafty journal entries. One read her piece, with perfect sentimentality, as Mrs. Lincoln; one writer imaginatively recounted, as actress Laura Keene, being on stage when she heard the shot. In a rarified moment of solemnity and hilarity, a small, enthusiastic youngster read as John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin--in a perfect Southern accent. The classes, at my beckoning, heralded trivia about the assassination I'd never before heard. It had been too long since I'd enjoyed myself so much in a classroom.

What you'll observe in a school, if it's a functioning, good one, is a community dedicated to the business of fostering well-rounded, informed, and healthy young adults. You'll see cheerful, positive, supportive messages on teacher's doors (e.g., "Congratulate these students who got over 85% on their last test!" and "Good job to the basketball team--we knew you could do it!!"), messages of common sense social import in the halls ("It never hurts to be nice"), and affirmations on posters in classrooms ("Your aim the sky, your goal the stars/Go for it!"). The pillars of good behavior, in any society, are clearly printed on bright pieces of posterboard in any school. Find me a corporate office that inspires such good naturedness.

Sure, I found some spit balls on the aged carpet of some of my turf-for-a-day, and a few benign notes left on desks. Par for the school day. Certainly, more favorite moments are to come, and I'll post them--that is, until a job with benefits falls into my lap. Until then, consider spending a day volunteering at a school in your local district. You might actually learn a thing or two.

December 06, 2004

Exporting Attitude, Revised

(A holiday piece for your holiday peace. Revised. Enjoy.)

I completely missed our autumn this year. The fact that I'd not witnessed the leaves’ actual turning and their falling felt a little like I'd missed the formative years of a dear child. Since I haven’t been around to toughen up my seasonal raking blisters, nor watch the development of simple homes and lawns into spectacular holiday light shows (for I was in India for the most exciting baseball month in history, and in Peru for Thanksgiving), coming home to a Winter Wonderland after traipsing around cultures south of the equator is, as they call it, a shock.

Friends and family are mustering themselves up for the long lines that await them at the cash register. They keep talking about their lists: holiday cards, holiday shopping, holiday bargains to be scrutinized. They are busying themselves with lists; and lately, they don’t have time to talk. “Gotta go!” they screech over the phone. “Only two weekends left to shop!” They have Stuff To Do.

My first night back to America happened to be Halloween. The childhood home I’d known for thirty years was full of packed boxes; my parents were about to move to a more rural suburb of Monroe County. While kids, caked in their mothers’ makeup and makeshift costumes hopped on and off of our front step with their pillowcases agape, I walked around our house, saying goodbye to the rooms in which I’d grown up. Having just left Boston (my home for over a decade) for Rochester, which was my home base for every holiday, I was already despondent with nostalgia when I left for India. And, subsequently having returned from the subcontinent, I unpacked my mosquito repellant and linen shirts and repacked them into plastic storage bins to be moved in early November.

A month in India did more than thin my blood; it more than instilled in me a yearning for three tear-inducing, spicy meals a day. I grew accustomed to walking almost everywhere I could, or hiring a rickshaw when heat, distance, or their combination antagonized me. For a month, I was a passenger; most lingering images of impact in India sped past me, through the frame of a bus window, at fifty rickety miles per hour. I had no control over how I got to where I was going, or how fast I could get there.Now, on the streets of Rochester, it's just me, alone, in my car: following the rules of the road, keeping my fair distance from the other cars, wearing my seatbelt, listening to the local folk radio station. There’s enough space, I often think, between my car and the one next to me for at least three mopeds, two cyclists, and a cow. No longer being a passenger, however, necessitates that I adopt a completely new attitude: towards acceleration, deceleration, stopping, being aware of my fellow drivers. I now am in control of creating the way in which to see my new town, my new home, a Rochester I haven’t known for nearly 15 years.

I taped my very own Stuff To Do list to my dashboard. I played a sensational Bollywood hit soundtrack once, at an unabashed decibel, with my windows rolled down, in an effort to summon me back to my long, hot, dusty drives through the Northern Indian desert with a young driver named Mikki. But it was cold, cloudy, and something wasn't right. (Remarkably, I’d managed to get myself lost on Jefferson Road.) The power chords of Foreigner’s Greatest Hits just seemed more appropriate for the chill in the air. With Stuff To Do of the essence, nothing takes the thrill out of riding through the pastoral Henrietta countryside like spasmodically pressing the brakes in fear that I’d pass right by the small-town post office, as my dad so aptly put it, "right at the bottom of that wheat field over there."

While I zoomed past the intriguingly unfamiliar plots of farm after farm in my new suburb, it struck me: in my very own hometown, I don't know my way around here any better than I did in the streets of Ernakulum, Delhi, and Pushkar. You betta slow down, the boys from Lake Avenue sing. My right foot lay lighter on the gas pedal.

In his honestly introspective essay "India's American Imports," Adam Hochschild discusses the influences of Western, specifically American pop culture on Indian pop culture, politics, and population. Just as I had experienced with watching Dhoom in a movie theater in Rajasthan, Hochschild similarly pontificates on the embedded Indian-ness of what seems to be an otherwise Western-infused movie he had watched in the same theater. He notes, as I also had during my trip, that the things we take for granted (or even abhor) in an American context seem revered in India; that the ephemeral, unexpected sights--such as the barely-clad man who sits in a public telephone shack made out of bamboo thatch, waiting for customers as he talks on a cell phone, that rings to “Jingle Bells”, even in October--are what make India so distinctly its own place. Doubtless, India will continue to Westernize itself, believing that all things Euro or American are "better" (read: more finite--the impression that the most durable item, regardless of the toll its manufacturing and use takes on the environment or people, is distinctly British, says Hochschild). Its major cities, like ours, advertise the latest digital gadgets and cellular advances with fair-skinned, light-eyed models that seem as Western an import, as say, I am. The guilt I associate with my degree of materialism each December stared directly at me from billboards in Mumbai and Delhi.

What have I "exported" from India, back to America? Surely more than a couple of sari, some spices and a soundtrack. Certainly more than a hankering for red chilis first thing in the morning, and more than a longing for the chaos of olfactory overload. In these Yule-Times, this giving season, when the circulars advertise “great gifts mom will love!” and “no payment, no interest!” until the next holiday season rolls around, on which continent have I unpacked and displayed my conscience? Didn’t I just pass, during those hot and dusty drives, hundreds—but hundreds—of people who washed themselves in sewers, who ate from garbage piles, whose hands reached out towards my passenger-side window in the hopes of my expending some rupees their way? Will they be coming with me while I run errands for wrapping paper and Seasons Greetings cards?

My ride through Rochester farmlands without a map was telling. Like a typical American--an East Coast girl at that-- I grew impatient: at myself for missing an elusive left-hand turn; at the driver ahead of me who meandered between lanes without her signals; at not being able to remember the name of a street. I don't know why I felt that I was in a hurry: I had no job to attend to at the moment, nor had any engagement to make on time. Just a to-do list and a desire to accomplish everything on it, immediately.

I was completely frustrated when I was told that my car couldn't be inspected, on the spot--and twice, was sent "just down the street" to the next dealer who could schedule me in. I was flummoxed by the man ahead of me in line at Target, who couldn't decide upon which kind of gum to purchase at the check-out counter, and held us all up for thirty extra seconds. And I grew nearly--but only mildly, and humorously-- irate at the librarian who idiosyncratically, slowly, turned each book and CD I checked out over and over, three times, inspecting each item, then lovingly touching it, as if to bid it farewell until I returned it before its due date. 'C'mon!' I yelled in my head. I'm sure that more than once, I subtly rolled my eyes with the intervention of fate that prevented me from Getting Things Done.

Only weeks ago, I learned how acceptable it is, in India, to be accepting--of the dizzying, evolution-like laws of pedestrian and motorized traffic, of intermittent power outages, of bureaucracy, of poverty. Case in point: I was standing in a line at a train station, in Bombay, when the office suddenly closed. It was 1:00 pm. Time for a break!--and as the vendor's window shut, everyone in line casually, in unison, stepped to the right, and waited patiently for the next ticket vendor to open. Another case: when Mikki's mini-car was rear-ended by an older, drunken man's cargo truck, Mikki appeased the crazy, drunken old hoot--who believed the accident was Mikki's fault—with a blessing, rather than engaging in an argument. More than a few times, when all I wanted was a shower, the water in the hostel had been shut off. Sometimes, the streets were sprayed with a thick, choking pesticide that left us pedestrians immobile and temporarily blinded. I learned what it meant to be accepting. The essence of patience is about control.

I can’t say I accepted, nor got used to, the beggars who softly tapped my car window with their other palms extended. But their gazes, like the gadget models on the Delhi billboards, have stayed with me. I look for them, sometimes, at red lights. I have made a resolution to begin contributing to organizations which assist needy families in India as well as other countries, including my own.

I am going out, again, today, with another list. (It is, after all, the holiday season.) Adam Hochschild is my co-pilot. We're going to drive slowly, attempt to smile at elderly drivers, and to be patient (you’d betta sloooow down!) with indecisive shoppers. I may even pop in that zany soundtrack again--keeping the volume down just enough to concentrate on the street names I'm passing. And when we stop at a red light, I’ll refrain from looking at the digital clock, gazing around, instead, at the faces of my new hometown.

December 02, 2004

Get Lost: Part One

I found myself, on my last day in Peru, without much money--just enough, actually, for two good meals and taxi fare to the airport. I wasn't interested in spending any more than what I had, although the desire to fork over my credit card, one last painful time, for another tour around Arequipa might have proven an interesting adventure. But what I did instead was probably more entertaining.

I didn't get out of bed until well past 8 a.m. (unusual for me, especially when I'm in a new place). I leisurely showered, enjoying the pressurized hot water. I eventually found the lady with the tamales, who had shifted from one street near the Plaza to a different one, for better business. I spent ten minutes to check email before taking my journal and library book off to an out-of-the-way cafe (hoping that I'd find less touristy prices, even for coffee).

Not expecting to do much more with my day than read, write, and walk around, I was content to sit and sip away at my enormous cup of steamed milk (to which I'd added the powdery coffee additive), reading Nafisi's account of teaching forbidden Western novels in Iran. I was engrossed enough to forget where I was, despite that there was a blaring Peruvian salsa radio station blaring near my head. When my waitressed asked (in Spanish, of course) if I wanted anything else, I had to force myself out of the environment of the novel and back into the streets of Arequipa. I paid and left.

Ready to get lost: my favorite daytime, on-foot activity in new cities.

There was really nowhere specifically I wanted to go, other than the river, which I'd been told was nice though nothing of major import. So off I meandered, towards the river. The streets were crowded: it was already noon, and people were on their way to or from lunch, tourists, locals, kids, all vying for foot room on the narrow sidewalks that hugged the busy cobblestone streets. And then it occurred to me. Kids. They were all over the place--in uniforms, bright and two-toned variations of the same dress code. I rounded a corner and found myself at an enormous school, Colegio Republica de Venezuela.

I walked inside the front gates cautiously, reminding myself that a stranger entering a public school in the States is automatically suspicious. I tried to avoid talking to a youngster so that I wouldn't be assumed a nosy, ignorant tourist, but there were no adults in sight. When I meandered over the oldest looking girl (she looked about thirteen or so), she smiled at me before I even spoke. I asked her where I could find a teacher, and she ran excitedly to find one.

When she returned from one of the rooms off of the expansive, sunny courtyard, she had a diminutive, sharp woman in tow. The woman introduced herself as the teacher of athletics. She was wearing a knee-length polyester, button-down, matronly dress, high heels, and earrings.

I explained that I was a fellow teacher, hoping that we could establish a comraderie this way. I wanted to see, I said, how their school works--their classrooms, their materials. The teacher was elated to show me around, but we got no farther than a foot when a swarm of tiny, uniformed, toothy and giggling girls rushed into me. They'd just finished lessons, and there a few hours before the older, secondary schoolgirls arrived for the afternoon lessons. Perfect.

Before I knew it, we were sitting in a circle together, the eight or so girls, the athletics teacher, and myself, on the cement ground of the courtyard. "Where is New York?" one asked quickly. On the heels of the question, another. And then another. The questions came faster than I could answer them. For what was probably our longest topic of consistent conversation, about their birthdays (and hence, what our zodiac signs are), the girls batted out days, months, and years as if in a quasi-girl scout lineup. "10 deciembre mil noveciento noventa y dos!" one said as she held her hand over her heart. "4 octubre mil noveciento noventa y quatro!" alleged another, emphatically. Since I felt a little shameful at not being able to recall all of these birthdays only minutes after we'd switched conversation topics to our favorite colors, I asked the girls to write down their names and the pertinent information in my journal. But what would we do for writing implements? I revealed a tin of watercolor pencils from my pouch. The rainbow of choices thrilled the girls, their hands diving into the tin towards the very colors of choice they'd just mentioned.

As we passed the journal around, and each girl took her careful time writing, neatly, her full name, birthday, and sometimes, her address, more and more questions: do I drink coca-cola? do I like arcade games? am I a stern teacher or a "nice" teacher? are my students nice? would the students in America write to the students in Peru? I asked for the address of the school, which none of the small girls knew; but almost immediately there appeared an elderly man, shuffling along the cement with a small piece of paper in hand.

He pointed at himself and the corresponding words on the small piece of paper he handed me: Jorge Manrique de la Flor, Profesor del Centro. (Underneath his name and title, aptly, was the address of the school.) "Listen, carefully!" He warned the girls, whose braids and pigtails almost seemed to stand at attention with his command. They lifted their eyes without raising their heads to him. "You see this woman here? This teacher?" He lifted his index finger, straight as a ruler. "Yes, we see her," chimed the girls, sensing a punchline. "Well, my pupils, look again at both of us closely--" (he waved the finger about in the air, as if conducting their eyes around the sky) "--for when she and I return to this school in two years from now, we will be married, and you will all be old!" This sent the girls into hysterics. "Ha ha," said the one I came to know as Brigitt. "We won't get old!"

Profesor Jorge, who is 70 this month (he revealed his birthday, too) brought a wooden chair and a long wooden desk, both of which he carried with one arm. He ordered me to sit at the chair. The girls huddled around the desk, their fingers brushing my shirt, my hair, my hands. We talked about snow. American mountains. Christmas. Airplanes.

As parents came for their children, and the girls began to peal themselves away from the desk, and from me. "Ciao!" they'd chirp, giving me a quick but expected peck on the cheek--the proper greeting and parting custom in Peru. (Wouldn't this be a lovely place if everyone here did the same!)

Soon, only Jorge and I remained at the desk. I had not seen the athletic teacher leave, but Jorge remarked that she was preparing music for her afternoon lessons; the older girls were learning a traditional Arequipenan dance for a town celebration. I didn't want to overstay my welcome, so I began to put my colored pencils and journal away. I asked Jorge what, if anything, he believed the school needed. I was prepared to hear him talk about the lack of contemporary lesson books, or lack of pencils, or technology. "Only one thing," he began. He held up his index finger as he had with the girls. "Un grabador."

Finally, a word I didn't understand. I asked him to describe "grabador." "It's a device, a thing, it's this big--" he hands were close together, palms facing each other. "It takes the voices of the girls when they sing, so they can hear them later." Ah! A tape recorder! I told him the words in English. "Yes, that. We very desperately need one. These girls, they think they sound like angels. I don't know who's telling them this. But when they sing--ach! The ears bleed." Apparently, the school is not desperate for other technological instruments, and Jorge would know: he's the computer teacher.

I made to leave the courtyard, and Jorge took my hand in both of his, and kissed it. He made me promise to return, and if I were unable to, then in my place, please, a "ta-hape re-corrrrreder." I walked back into the sunny street with every intention to make good on it.

But oddly, only a few steps away, I sensed that I wasn't alone. And I was right. Three tiny girls, Vanessa, Xiomara, and another coincidentally named Veronica (which was the name of the snow-capped mountain I'd spent four days staring at during the Incan Trial), dragged their tiny suitcases full of books behind them. They looked like miniature stewardesses.

"What are you doing?" I asked them. This, for some reason, sent them into peals of laughter. When they calmed down enough, one mentioned that their parents didn't expect them home for hours, and would I please walk with them? This was a little odd. I had turned down a demonic night of salsa with gals my own age only the night previous, and now I was being summoned to walk around town with a bunch of schoolgirls. Did they just want to hang out with a kooky white girl? By the way they knocked each other away from me (for each wanted to hold my only free hand), I sensed they were just happy to show the new girl around their lovely city.

Our first stop was an arcade. (They hopped up and down until I gave them each a sole for a game.) In a matter of three seconds, they each lost their sole to a demented, machinized game designed to lure hopeful kids into getting the stuffed animal of their choice. But the girls didn't seem to mind much. Off we went. They insisted on taking me to a small shop around the corner for hair odds and ends. "Why?" I asked, wondering if this was yet another ploy to get me to buy them something.

"You need something to keep your hair out of your eyes. We all think so," said Xiomara. I apologized, instantly self-conscious, remarking in a most fumbling way that traveling for two months kept me far away from the salon. I tried to explain that I wasn't so much interested in keeping up appearances when there really wouldn't have been anyone to impress on the hike to Machu Picchu (dare I mention that I didn't really bring anything resembling shampoo?), but to no avail. No sooner had I moved my eyes from one side of the store to the other than they'd picked out a ridiculously bright pink and purple hair band for me. And they insisted I wear it all day.

Finally, I told the girls it was time for us to part ways. I felt too strange walking around with adolescent girls in tow; there was something wrong about it, though the walk had been enjoyable and appropriate. I asked them to take me to a cafe along the Plaza, where we could say goodbye. And when we got there, they lingered, not wanting to reciprocate my "Ciao!" They waved, kissed my cheek one by one, and dejectedly made for the street.

(Continued in Part Two.)