Tuesday, December 21, 2010

De Ushuaia a la Quiaca

Days before I left the states for France, I spent an evening with two of my best friends, Rob and Ben, and a bottle of red wine. On a balmy California summer's eve, surrounded by tiki torches in the whispering night air, our faces blushed from libation, we reminisced about where we've been, where we're going. I've had the pleasure of knowing these two guys since I was fourteen and consider myself lucky to have them in my life still, even more so given that we spread ourselves thousands of miles apart in college.

One thing that Rob and Ben share that I don't is experience of South America. Ben's spent 13 months abroad in Buenos Aires, so I like to joke that he's the most half-Argentinian white boy I know. He's been to every country on the South American continent but one, and there's something about his restlessness and uprootedness that inspires me to be brave and to leap into whatever life throws my way. Similarly, Rob's a geologist whose study has taken him to Hawaii, many a national park, and South America. On this summer's eve, this naturally led my boys (I'm a little bit protective and possessive of them, you see, because they mean a lot to me), to a discussion of all things Latin American, including music.

It was then that Ben flipped to You Tube and brought up Gustavo Santaolalla's De Ushuaia a la Quiaca. The title of the song, as Ben pointed out, is a phrase used in castellano to mean a "very long trip," as Ushuaia is regarded as the southermost city in Argentina, and even the world, and la Quiaca the northernmost, polar ends of a country stretching thin across the globe. I sat transfixed by the melody as it poured out of the computer and into my memory. In the days leading up to my departure, I played it over and over and over as I packed.

There's something hauntingly lovely about this song and the way it weaves its way into your consciousness. Its opening is unassuming, the image that of a backpacker traipsing down a dirt road, solitary. I hear the steady patter of steps falling one after another, the fluid continuity of journey, a quotidian Odysseus on voygage. Suddenly, the melody blossoms into a stream of charango and flute, flirts with a momentary pause. It pauses, it whispers, it begins again--the flute stronger this time, chirping. The song tells a story of transformation, of renewal, of bringing outward what is buried inward, the catalyst of travel.

I had not heard this song since my departure until yesterday. The children were downstairs watching television, and there was an ad for a tv show called "Passeur d'Enfants" on the television. I recognized the background melody: De Ushuaia, a la Quiaca, I thought. And that moment, in the way Proust describes it, threw me back to the summer's eve with Ben and Rob before I left. In my mind, I was wearing my blue sundress, the sensation of slightly bitter wine on my tongue, the blissful haze of memory sweet.

After that evening of wine and music, I slept fitfully on end. The death of one part of my life held me in its grip, fought me hard not to let it die. I woke up halfway through the night terrified that I was leaving behind people unbelievably special to me. I panicked about parting ways again, worried that if I let go, I might not ever have them again.

But constancy is an illusion in this life, and nothing every truly stays the same, so attempting to hold on to what will only change is fruitless. I have a principal belief in my life, and it's simple: if you love something, you let it go. If it's meant to be yours, it will come back. I hold this to be true of my family and my friendships. So, I let go. And once I let go, I slept.

De Ushuaia a la Quiaca is a bewitching reminder that I let go to begin this journey called the new part of my life. It's a reminder that life is a long journey from Ushuaia to Quiaca, and while I'm walking, I should enjoy the scenery, should embrace the invitation to wander the earth for a while.

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