I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came (Birthday Acknowledgment Post)

I turned 27 years old on Friday.

When I was a little boy and I found myself faced with the question of what I would do when I grew up, I wasn’t ever really sure what¬†the answer was¬†on a professional level.¬†An abundance of possibilities, but no clear vision of what I would be doing as a job. One thing was always very clear to me, though: I wanted to be married and have kids by the time I was 27. This was a kind of ultimatum I’d consciously set for myself because that was the age my parents were when they brought me into the world. Every daydream I ever had of myself as a grown-up was basically emulating what my Dad did, because I thought he had done a pretty great job¬†at it.

For most of my early life I saw myself, quite proudly, as a carbon copy of my old man. Everybody would even comment on how much we looked like each other. We had the same sense of humor, the same steadfast sense of right and¬†wrong, the same overall demeanor. I was a bit of a giant, like he was.¬†I would feel happy¬†whenever I caught myself displaying some of his mannerisms. There were entire conversations at the dinner table about how much I was like him. I’d be beaming while my other siblings sat there, annoyed by our celebration of¬†my genetic predisposition.

One of my first reality checks came during my teenage years, when I found myself feeling increasingly oppressed by my Catholic upbringing. When I started to veer away from the path, Dad wrote it off as a phase. When it became clear that I had truly abandoned the flock, I had to sit down and have one of the most difficult conversations I’d ever had. My father, a lifelong Catholic, struggled with the fact that his firstborn was grappling with his faith in this way, and the fact that he might even abandon it altogether must’ve felt akin to an act of deep betrayal. In hindsight, I could’ve handled that whole situation better, but petulance is inherent to the teenage condition.

My relationship with my father remained strong over the years but there’s still that weird little bit of lingering regret that pops up every once in a while, in the nooks and crannies of my psyche. Sitting together with my Grandmother last year, he asked her if she thought we still looked alike. She said “a little bit.”

I turned 27 years old on Friday. Buenos Aires gifted me with friends, joy, love and laughter, as well as the first few whispered hints of the coming winter. I pull my collar up as I count my blessings and move forward.

Just a Few Words About Alicia Leonor De Farah (1935-2014)

My grandmother was a great woman. She was strong, caring and joyful, with an infectious energy that served as a beacon of inspiration for her peers, and a sense of humor that elicited boisterous laughter from those lucky enough to find themselves in her company at any given moment. She was passionate and forceful, but also compassionate, gregarious and kind. She had a heart that was filled with music and love. She knew the importance of song, of dance, of laughter. She cared, and deeply so.

For the last few years, in my visits back home, I’d witnessed a steady decline in my grandmother’s health and overall wellbeing. Her disposition, once sunny and affable, had dulled into a muted grey from the side-effects of medication and sheer exhaustion. Unscheduled visits to the hospital became a regular occurrence. Sudden and continued health scares led to live-in nurses. Daily blood work. Assisted living. Life became a daily struggle to stay alive, and soon that flame which shone so brightly inside her dimmed into a glimmer. Every once in a while, however, given the right combination of circumstances, like an old in-joke or a funny memory, that flame would materialize itself again in the form of a mischievous smile decorating her weathered visage.

I was extremely lucky to have been born into an environment where humor is such an integral part of our daily lives; where ridiculousness is not shushed or stamped out, but celebrated and encouraged. From both sides of the family, I was surrounded by people who knew how to have a laugh: at the world, at each other, at themselves. My grandmother knew the power of a well-timed zinger, and losing it over a ridiculous pun, and falling over in side-splitting hysterics. She instilled that sense of irreverence and jocosity in all her children, often to the chagrin of her husband.


My grandparents were married for 56 years. Any half-baked cynical bullshit I can come up with about the fleeting nature of human relationships and how marriage is an unnatural societal construct which keeps us from realizing our full potential starts sounding like the embittered braying of a snot-nosed punk when I think about all these two went through together. They were each other’s rock, and for over half a century they kept each other moored and at peace. During her last days, when the stress of constant health scares left her exhausted and weak, they’d take comfort in each other’s mere presence, communicating in absolute silence what a million poems could never say.

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of one of my extended visits, my Dad woke me up and told me my grandmother had just passed away. He was weeping. I hugged him as hard as I could. He’d just lost his mom. I knew that the pain I felt from losing my grandmother couldn’t begin to compare to the staggering heartbreak he was grappling with, having lost his mother. The next few days were a blur of old familiar faces offering their sincere condolences. Words of remembrance and sorrow. A building cacophony of hundreds of different voices offering variations on a single idea:¬†I’m sorry for your loss.

I don’t know much about grief. On a surface level, it seems counter-productive and, honestly, a little silly. But living through my grandmother’s funeral, seeing the amount of people who cared about her enough to make the trek to the outskirts of the city and pay their last respects, was kind of¬†a profound experience. It got me thinking about the ripple effect in motion, and how our actions, however seemingly innocuous, extend way past what we perceive to be our scope of influence. How we can and do transform others’ lives in a million profound ways, and the power that we have to be a force for change in the world. This funeral– this hokey, seemingly archaic and wholly depressing ritual– is, in itself, life-affirming. The deceased reach the end of their earthly voyage, and the people that they marked in one way or another congregate to see them off.¬†In this sense, the use of the word “loss” when referring to the dead starts feeling inadequate, as they remain¬†with us¬†regardless of physical presence.

I think there’s something beautiful about that. Solemnly ceremonial.

However troubled my grandmother’s final days were, the many upheavals she soldiered through, her mark on the world is one of kindness, passion and joy. Of an unabashed love for song, and humor, and Lebanese cooking. Everything she instilled in us will continue on for generations. She taught me more than I was ever able to express to her. I loved her, and I will miss her. But I’m carrying her right here with me, and I’m not letting go any time soon.

Airport Goodbyes & the Malleability of Home & Final Thoughts on 2013


Living so far removed from so many friends and family, and coming in contact with as many transient folks as I have in Buenos Aires, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at airport goodbyes. I know to make them quick and lighthearted. I know to keep hugs from lingering for too long, words from getting too ponderous, to avoid getting overly sentimental or hypothesizing on when we’ll see each other again. Airport goodbyes should be treated as casually as a quick trip to the grocery store. One should take every measure to keep mutual misery down to a minimum. This is important.

And the longer the flight, the better– the more tedious the layover, exasperating paperwork, absurd line at customs. Books. Podcasts. Food. It all helps to keep you distracted and functional long enough to keep the avalanche of feelings from smothering you alive. This is how I’m able to get through the increasingly grueling ordeal of air travel without suffocating. Keeping sentimentality at bay, at least until you’re home and partially unpacked. I’ve gotten good at it.

But this past October, as I was hastily scrambling for a decent wi-fi hotspot at Albany International Airport, after saying goodbye to my parents and siblings to fly back to Buenos Aires all by my lonesome, I made the mistake of activating my iPod’s shuffle feature. I was therefore punched in the gut… metaphorically, of course… by an unlikely song. A wistful ballad about goodbyes, departures and heartbreak. A song that brought on all the bullshit I had been trying to avoid; the empty, awful aftertaste of saying goodbye to the people I cared most about to go back “home”. It devastated me completely, and left me an emotional wreck for the rest of the journey back.

The song was Tim Curry’s rendition of “I’m Going Home”, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show original soundtrack.


It’s a gaudy song from a gaudy movie, but it struck a chord. The concept of “home” has become a confusing one for me. Is it merely where my job is? Is it where my family is? Is it where I grew up or where I found my independence? When I leave Buenos Aires to spend the holidays in Barranquilla, am I coming home or leaving? I think I feel as much of an outsider in either city, just as much as I feel a strong kinship pulling me to them. Somehow, though, it’s very important for me to usher in the New Year in Barranquilla. It just feels weird to start the year elsewhere.

My relationship with 2013 was not unlike that of a fickle house cat and its owner. Sometimes it would lovingly cozy up by my side. Sometimes it would be an aloof jerk. Sometimes it would scratch the hell out of my arm for no apparent reason. It was mercurial and unpredictable. All things considered, the good outweighed the bad, and I felt myself grow as an individual, inching ever closer to true adulthood.

The bad: I went through a few small professional disappointments. Some of the projects I started the year off with never came to fruition. I went through some deeply unpleasant family drama. I saw the deterioration of my grandparents’ health and overall happiness. I said goodbye to a close friend. I didn’t blog as much as I wanted to. I flaked out on people. I was uncommunicative and withdrawn. I suffered through my first serious bout of abject depression for a couple of months. I drank more than I should have.

The good: I had a lot of fun. I traveled a fair amount. I got to meet some pretty awesome new people. I worked on several projects that were of deep importance to me. I spent a lot of time with my family. I went to Disney World. I listened to a huge amount of great new music. Watched a lot of great films. Regained my passion for storytelling. Completed two screenplays. Went to more concerts than any other year in my life. I laughed a lot. I learned a lot. I grew the hell up. I found that however deep a hole I dig myself into, I can always count on the wonderful people who’ve somehow found their way into my periphery to lift me right back up and towards the light.

And I guess, after all this coming and going, that’s what I’ve figured out about the concept of “home”. It’s not the house I grew up in, or my apartment in Buenos Aires, or even a group of people. Home is not something static, that I can always find in the same place. It’s not a building, or a city. It’s a feeling you can find anywhere you are. It’s safety. It’s comfort. It’s support. It’s the freedom to be gladly and irrepressibly me. And I find that feeling in my nearest and dearest, be it by actual physical proximity or through a phone call or letter or a Skype conversation. It’s shared laughs and comfortable silences. It means the world, and it’s worth chasing after.

I’ll be in Barranquilla for the next month and change, then I’m flying back to Buenos Aires to grab the new year by the face and make it work for me. This time I might let those airport goodbyes linger on for a bit.

Leaving home to come back home. There are worse ways to live.

I’m on Vacation and Forgot to Set an Auto-Reply Email

This is the view from my family’s apartment in North Miami Beach. I took this picture just a few days ago, as I was unpacking my bags and settling back into that apartment for the first time in about 12 years. I kept thinking about how smell is the sense most closely tied with memory; how that subtle yet immediately identifiable aroma (probably just a mix of cleaning products) wafted from the room as soon as I opened the front door and transported me right back to my childhood. The apartment is empty for most of the year, used only whenever somebody in our extended family is in Miami and needs a place to stay. The decor appears to be forever frozen in the gaudiest part of the early 90s, which contributes to the bizarre feeling of temporary displacement I experienced upon walking through the front door.

Getting there was a bit of an ordeal. I was supposed to fly from Buenos Aires to Atlanta, then take a connecting flight to Miami. Flying from Buenos Aires to Atlanta takes about ten and a half hours, so already I was kind of dreading the whole experience. Nothing could prepare me for what actually went down: the airplane’s left wing¬†was struck by lightning five minutes after takeoff. Now, I’m aware that commercial aircrafts are hit by lightning on a regular basis, and that the passengers don’t usually notice as the planes are equipped to deal with it. However, this actually caused damage on the wing, and it was quite noticeable– I heard a loud BOOM, saw a blinding flash of light, and panicked as I felt the plane flailing about for a couple of terrifying minutes. Upon righting its course, the captain assured us the lightning hadn’t actually hit the plane, it was just very close.

Nine hours of shaky flying later, we made an unscheduled stop in Miami for a “refueling”. After making us wait for the better part of an hour, the pilot finally admitted that the maintenance team had found that we¬†had¬†in fact been hit by the lightning bolt, and we had to deboard for repairs. They gave us new connecting flights and 100$ vouchers (but only after I complained on Twitter).¬†So basically, we flew for 9 hours on a plane with a bum wing that had been struck by lightning. This ultimately worked out in my favor, as Miami was my final destination anyway, but goddamn was it ever scary.

I stayed in Miami for two weeks. The first week was spent attending boring work meetings and bumming around the impossibly hot and humid streets of Sunny Isles Beach. The second was spent with my Dad and my two little siblings, who flew up from Colombia for their first trip to the States. It’s always a treat to hang out with my little brother and sister. Feels like every time I see them, they’ve grown by about a decade. They’re such sweet, energetic, creative and hilarious kids, spending time with them is rejuvenating. I wish I understood the associations that their minds make– or maybe it’s better that I’m so puzzled and amused by them. They’re like little Dadaists.


We made the drive to Orlando and hit up the amusement parks. Trips to Disney and Universal Studios (and later, Universal Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens) were a huge part of my childhood, and I was very happy to recapture some of the magic in my current state as a world-weary approximation of an adult. More than that, I was excited to experience it all through the eyes of my little siblings. Not only was it their first time in the States, but it was also their first time in any kind of major amusement park situation, so it was all very intense and overwhelming in the best possible way. The weather was not in our favor, but we soldiered on, ignored the rain and hit up every ride we could– even the really scary rollercoasters. I was proud of how brave they were.

After that, we flew to upstate New York to see the rest of my family– my sister Cristina (and her husband Jordan), my brother Jonathan, and my Mom. It’s been so good to have all the family together again, for the first time in forever. We’re all staying at my sister’s place in Lake George, up in the Adirondacks. This is my third visit here. I really love it, even though I can’t see myself living here for any prolonged period of time– my mind appreciates the respite from the chaos of tumultuous, cacophonous Buenos Aires, but it’s that chaos where my heart lives, it’s that chaos that I thrive in. Here? I’m just floating on by, enjoying the scenery, feeling my mind settle into a groove. Like a sort of mental massage, I guess. Priming myself for my triumphant return to Buenos Aires this weekend. I’ll be devastated to say goodbye to my family, but so happy that I got to spend time with them. They’re all pretty great.

Other than that, a few quick tidbits I’m bound to expand on when I get back to the real world: I’ve been enjoying the very excellent album by Elvis Costello & The Roots, Wise Up Ghost. Also,¬†The Electric Lady by Janelle Mon√°e is flabbergasting in the best possible way. I’ve listened to The Arcade Fire’s new single about a thousand times. I’ve watched a couple of terrible movies. Breaking Bad is still giving me panic attacks on a weekly basis. I’ve been visiting used record stores and scoring the strangest finds in the 3-dollar bins. And finally, the podcast I recorded with Agust√≠n Donati got me listening to the music of Jorge Drexler– his beautiful cover of Radiohead’s much-maligned MOR composition “High and Dry” is posted below for your listening pleasure. It really speaks to me right now.

This is a calling card, maybe it will be a farewell note

Don’t laugh at me. I’ve been watching the Batman movies in chronological order. I said don’t laugh at me.

It’s been a slower process than expected since I’ve been so absurdly busy the last few days, but I’m making my way through them. Of course, the Nolan films are pretty fresh in my memory so I’m not in any sort of hurry to get to them. Two things immediately came to mind upon watching the two Burton films: Holy shit, these are much better than I remember– and holy SHIT, Batman Returns is much¬†much better than I remember.

After Nolan’s wonderful movies, it’s easy to write off everything that came before it as campy and ridiculous, and a lot of it is– certainly the Schumacher movies fall within those categories– but I had almost completely forgotten how relentlessly strange and dark and film noir these Burton films are. “Batman Returns” in particular floored me. I loved the winter-y feel to it, the characterization of the Penguin, the Roach subplot– a genuine Dickensian nightmare. Catwoman’s “origin” story was a little heavy-handed but Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance more than made up for it. Just the right amount of classic childlike wonder and macabre strangeness. A really fun movie, a lot better than I remembered it.

Also, is it wrong that I bewail a lost iPod more than the crumbling of a relationship? It probably is, right?

In other news; my mom is here to visit. Yes, my mom is back in Buenos Aires. I won’t lie, as much of a relief as it is to have her here and as¬†fun it is to take her around and introduce her to all of my friends… seeing her step into the strangeness that has been my life as of late is a little off-putting. She seems a little misplaced, a little out of context. It’s still been really awesome showing her around. I brought her into the office and introduced her to a bunch of people. I’m taking her to dinner with a few friends tonight. She’s sure to embarrass me with childhood stories I’ve no recollection of. I’m fine with that.

And I get a huge kick out of this.

Yes. “Aww” is what you’re thinking of.

The Late, Great Jimmy Lopez

It would’ve been my grandfather Jaime’s birthday today.

Seen here on the far right, singing, my grandfather was a vocalist for a big-time Colombian jazz/dance band back in the day. He also used to run one of the hottest nightclubs in Bogot√°. These were all things I learned after his passing. In my time with him, he was just this larger-than-life source of cheer and wisdom.

My life would’ve been radically different if it wasn’t for him. He put the love of music in me. He was with me during some of the most significant moments¬†during my formative years. He was a great man– flawed, but with great resilience and character. He was one of the most kindhearted people ever, and taught me so much about music and life in general. We used to be inseparable. We made a great team.

He died when I was 10. I remember hearing the phone conversation my dad was having with my grandmother about it, when they still hadn’t told me about his passing. I remember rushing upstairs and trying to convince myself that they must’ve been talking about somebody else as I tried to force myself to sleep. I still miss him terribly.

Right now I’m listening to one of his favorite songs, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, and remembering.