...Beyond Grateful "When Did My New World Become My Old World?"
“Oh Caribbean Sea, I want to cup your warm sand in my hands, squeeze lime into my sugarcane juice. I want to hear indigenous drum beats, and pirates calling for rum. Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and Dutch, oh Latin America, I want to learn all your colonial languages, and sleep under a mosquito net and fans. The Amazon and Rio Grande, I want to peer down into your rivery depths. I want to make friends with the colorful toucan bird, and gasp at the big anaconda snake. I want to sleep next to pyramids, climb lush volcanoes, gaze at the faraway world from which I came, and simply – be. ”
There we have it. Brave explorers wrote about it. Perhaps Middle Age prophets foretold its colonization. For what it’s worth today, the New World came crashing into our consciousness five hundred years ago – and the world hasn’t been the same since. Carved into global superpowers like the USA and Brazil, and hemispheric megaliths like Mexico and Argentina – the New World is as seemingly diverse as Earth in its entirety.
Colonized, in often bloody battles, by so-called “modern European civilizations” thousands of years after Europe, Asia, and Africa were already chugging along in their existence – the New World has always captivated me. It’s my home, my heart. But more than that, to me, it symbolizes progress and possibility. It also represents cooperation, atonement, and forgiveness. Indigenous and colonial, old and new, melting pot and mixed salad – this land is RICH.
As a child, I was drawn specifically to Latin America – all of the New World excluding my cozy homeland of the USA and its “neighbor to the north” called Canada. Growing up in the little New England state of Connecticut, I guess I was drawn to what was “exotic” – at least to me. I even devoted my early career to Latin America – a full seven years working for the prestigious Economist publishing company.
But that jet-setting career was a long time ago now. Though I’m not a silvery-haired grandmother yet, I often sit in my papasan-chair, in my Connecticut home, and gaze out my window – reminiscing as if I were one. And I wonder – when was that millisecond moment when my New World became my Old World? When did I truly leave all those adventures behind? But I’m getting ahead of myself now. Let me start from the beginning.
For me, September 11th, 2001, ushered in a beautiful, exciting chapter in my life. Even though it was a terrible “terrorist” day for the USA, and even my then-current home of New York City – it was my first day of work at my publishing “dream job” called The Economist. I was twenty-five years old, and I was hired as a junior sales executive, where I was to sell not only the popular Economist magazine (technically a “newspaper” which started printing in 1843), but also complex macro-economic data services and reports – like expensive $500 reports called “Country Forecast Colombia” and “Country Report China.” We were considered the Mercedes-Benz of economics publishing – and I was beyond proud of our editors, economists, and my immediate circle of sales/marketing execs. Then, in 2002, I was promoted to the Latin America “Enterprise” division. This meant bigger accounts, bigger clients – and the likelihood of Latin America travel. Having only been to Latin America once back in 1996, a Mexican Habitat for Humanity trip with my college, I was thrilled at the possibility of expanding my travels.
Over the next six years, I did. I crafted a whirlwind constellation – starting in Miami (the unofficial “capital” of Latin America, though located Stateside), then flying all the way down to remote Argentina, then several points in between. It was a New World Lover’s Paradise. I crossed countries off my bucket-list like I was leaving this Earth tomorrow. I admired the snow-tipped Andes Mountains, a “jumpin’ bean” BUG in the colorfully-blanketed backseat of a taxi in Guatemala – and almost ate a big ol’ shark in Trinidad & Tobago. I finessed my Spanish language skills, and my Portuguese got better, too.
Indeed, the travels were exciting. But more than that, they were magical. When I decided to leave The Economist in 2008 for a job closer to home, I truly felt ready for a slower, more traditional life. But, I was still sad at leaving a job and a whole vibrant swath of “western hemisphere” that I adored.
I once was a twenty-five-year-old woman longing for her publishing “dream job” and some Latin America adventure. To this day, words cannot truly articulate how fortunate I feel to have gotten both – and at such a young age. Though my departure from The Economist was over ten years ago, those memories from 2001 to 2008 are forever etched in my soul.
They symbolize my "Old World" – and oh what a world it was. Somewhere along the way I settled into my slower, more traditional suburban American life – but I remember the adventuress I was. I have a veritable lifetime of happy memories to keep me warm, as well as the below e-mail. Sent to friends and family on June 21st, 2008, a month before I left The Economist, I loved writing this e-mail. I also adored reading everyone’s responses – my loved ones “loved” hearing about my Latam escapades. Olé!
I’ve always wanted to archive this e-mail somewhere for posterity. So, aside from my hard copy print-outs, I bequeath a digital copy here – from my vintage vault to yours. Thank you, Latin America, for all those beautiful moments. “Te quiero para siempre.”
Sent: Saturday, June 21, 2008, 11:47:36 AM EDT
Subject: And just like that… Her travelin’ days were over
Hola my family and friends,
After seven amazing years, I have retired my post as "Account Manager of Latin America sales" at The Economist magazine (www.economist.com). As most of you know, it’s been a jam-packed ¾ decade, filled with beautiful countries I never thought I’d see, wonderful international co-workers I never thought I’d meet (including three Presidents, hello Presidents of Uruguay, Panama and Mexico), and last but not least, a book’s worth of memories I don’t know if I’d ever be able to successfully write. It’s truly been a “wild ride,” and I know I will miss my travels (and even my desk-job in NYC) greatly.
So, without further ado, here's a little tribute to each of my countries. I’ll always miss…
-Miami: My “second home” and “home away from home.” I’ll never forget walking on South Beach for the first time, still dressed in my lavender business suit from meetings earlier that day, with my black-cosmopolitan-NYC nylons sticking to the soft brown sand (and sticking out like a sore thumb aside all the ravishing bikini-clad females sauntering around). I’ll never forget the craziness of driving my rental car on the Miami freeways (“Was that just a gator on the side of the road?!”); and the gorgeous, historic Biltmore Hotel I was lucky enough to stay at for a few nights. Truly a beauty!
-Argentina: Scene of my first South American adventure. I’ll never forget the delicious steak I ate (Argentines do love their beef); seeing La Casa Rosada for the first time (and envisioning Eva Peron and Madonna standing on its beautiful pink balcony); and taking photos of all the hot World Cup soccer players I saw in-training on my last day there. Go Team Argentina!
-Chile: My FAVORITE South American country, and the one I’ve traveled to the most. I’ll miss watching the weather forecasts from my hotel room, and marveling at how I’m able to see the temps for both the Atacama Desert in the North (driest desert on Earth, with no recorded rainfall ever) and Antarctica in the South (always super-cold for those cute lil’ emporer penguins). I’ll never forget the university students' protests I witnessed one day in downtown Santiago (chockfull of tear gas and water cannons, now that’s some Latin American drama), and I’ll never forget the excitement of being in a country that had just elected its first-ever female President. Congrats, Michelle Bachelet!
-Brazil: Scene of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on, as I walked along the boardwalks of Rio de Janeiro clinging to my wallet for necessary precaution. Brazil was so beautiful and yet difficult to absorb for me, with its high-rising, mountain favelas (slums), and its famous white Jesus Cristo statue towering over the city (as if it to save this beautiful city from all its crime below). Thank you, Cassio, our local rep, for looking out for me on this trip.
-Uruguay: Scene of my first Presidential meeting, and my international television debut! I was so nervous at the thought of speaking in Spanish to strangers on foreign television, but it all went well! I’ll always remember Montevideo as the “city that never bloomed,” with all its gray architecture and serious matter-of-factness; but, I enjoyed it, nonetheless.
-Guatemala: I loved the bright colors of all its buildings (green, red, orange). I loved its similarities to Mexico, and yet how its small size bred a sweet quaintness. Guatemala was probably the most “traditionally Latin” of all my travels, and I’ll always admire it for that.
-Panama: Scene of my second Presidential meeting, and my first glimpse of the Panama Canal! I loved Panama! Its people were so unbelievably friendly, its landscape so lush and tropical, and I got a first-rate tour of Panama City by our local rep Eric on my first day out. Tooling around in his car, while listening to vintage ABBA and Bee Gees (coming from his vintage “tape deck”), I admired Casco Viejo, the old ruins, and the aforementioned canal. It was a great welcome to an awesome country. Anyone interested in “eco-tourism” or a slice of “Pirates of the Caribbean?” Go to Panama! I recommend it!
-Trinidad & Tobago: Another gem in the Caribbean, where I slurped my first “sugarcane” juice, feasted on “saucy” baked chicken, ate some strange gray root called “dasheen,” and topped it all off with some green “callaloo.” Port of Spain is such a bustling industrial city (and so maybe not the prettiest or tourist-centric), but its casual people, not to mention its interesting food, made it all worth it. I will never forget the “Breakfast Shed” and “da cool” accents of this tropical island. I was truly “I-REE!”
-Peru: Scene of many a lay-over for me going to and from Chile. I’ll miss seeing the indigenous, brown mud buildings of Lima every time my airplane touched down. I’ll miss the feeling of wanting to step off the airplane in an effort to explore this beautiful country as I had others. Though I can never say I have actually stepped foot on Peruvian soil, all those long lay-over hours HAVE to qualify me as an honorary visitor or something, right?!
-Costa Rica: Another in-transit country for me en-route to Panama. Its airport sits next to a huge tropical mountain that I swear is actually a volcano (still have to research that), and for the first time on all my business trips, I really, really wanted to play HOOKY! Costa Rica was so sunny and inviting, and I did get to walk outside the airplane for a bit! A true treat to inhale!
-Mexico: I can’t think of a better country to finish off my professional traveling career. After all, this country is where it all started for me, as a little girl watching Spanish television at home in Connecticut, to then falling in love with Mexican food growing up. I would later learn that the bright colors of Mexican food extended to its people’s beautiful and vibrant art, architecture and history. I was hooked, and couldn’t wait to see more. Mexico is also officially the first of all my Latin America travels, back when I attended Fordham University. I still remember the dingy blue jeans I wore as I built houses in that small village in southern Mexico, and wondering where my Spanish language skills and love of Latin culture would take me during my life. I could’ve only dreamt THEN where I would be NOW. Twelve years later I have met the President of Mexico at a cocktail party at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City. (He even kissed me!) It was a “full circle” moment for me, and one of the most special ways for me to say goodbye to an entire Latin culture that I have always loved so much.
So, as you can see, I could keep writing for pages! These last seven years have truly been amazing. They’ve been wondrous, breathtaking, exhausting, lonely, and most importantly, memorable. I am sad to leave The Economist, as I’ve always called it my “dream job in publishing;” but, I feel so lucky and grateful for all my experiences.
I also feel ready for the next chapter in my life, and am so excited to begin my first-ever job in Connecticut. This will be the first time since the age of eighteen that I won’t be connected to Latin America or NYC. (Can I handle a slower, more traditional life? I hope so!)
Thank you to all of you who listened to my stories, looked at all my photos, and appreciated any souvenirs I may have bought for you along the way. As I mentioned in my Argentina e-mail years ago, you were all “there with me, in my pocket” experiencing it all as I did!
Here’s to a lot of great memories, and now a new stage in my life!