Friday, October 29, 2010

Becoming an anecdote

Kyle's recent post about her dance party of one reminded me of one of my favorite moments from the nearly four years I lived in Santiago. (The biggest excitement I've had here in New York over the past several days has been trying out a new reading room in the library, so unfortunately, you're stuck with nostalgia this time around.)

I'm guessing that everyone who's ever lived in a city with a subway system has a favorite station. It might be the station closest to your apartment, the one with the prettiest tiles on the walls, the one where you and your significant other met up before your first date or the one where peoplewatching is at its most fascinating. Within the Santiago Metro system, there are a few stations particularly close to my heart. One of them falls at a point on the line where the track travels above ground.

A good friend of mine lives right next to the station and can see onto the platform from his bedroom window. After visiting him during one of my last weeks in Santiago, I crossed the street, swiped through the Metro turnstile and, once I was down on the platform, looked up to his window and, per tradition, waved goodbye.

However, a simple wave didn't seem to suffice this time around. I was leaving Santiago in a few short weeks, making this one of the last times I would set foot in my favorite Metro station. Plus, there was a really good song playing on my iPod. I was going to go out with a bang.

It started with a general rock-out: hips swaying, hands in the air. Then came the robot, the Egyptian and Saturday Night Fever. Across the street, my friend was breaking it down just as hard in his bedroom window, but very few of the waiting passengers who were casting curious glances my way could see him; to them, I was just a crazy, vaguely foreign-looking woman who apparently believed she'd stumbled into the world's most poorly choreographed iPod commercial.

I was disappointed when the train pulled up and cut our dance party short, but I rolled away satisfied that I now had yet another reason to love my favorite station. It had become -- and forever will remain -- the site of the most badass dance party the Santiago Metro has ever seen.

Around the same time, I etched my initials into a square of wet cement. Unfortunately, "wet" in this case meant "half dry," so the result wasn't nearly as aesthetically pleasing as I'd hoped. Still, I relished the idea of leaving a permanent mark on the city that had left such an important mark on me. My interest in nostalgic vandalism had actually been sparked a few years earlier, when I'd accidentally planted my foot square in the middle of a patch of wet cement on a sidewalk in Santiago's Recoleta neighborhood; it was my first taste of the thrill of altering the urban landscape. (I've been back to the area many times since but was never able to identify the imprint of the bottom of my flip-flop. I choose to believe it's because I haven't looked hard enough and not because they smoothed the cement over after I marred it.)

When I think about it now, though, doing the robot in a Metro station may be an even more effective way of accomplishing urban immortality. Cement can be recast, but memories of people acting like lunatics in public last a long time. If even just one of my dance party witnesses now associates that Metro station with spontaneous rug-cutting, I've done my job. I've done it even better if my friend and I contributed to the belief that the Metro and public spaces like it are just as open to the absurd as to the everyday.

In class, we've been giving presentations that are supposed to end with discussion questions, and I've gotten into the habit. Plus, I'm genuinely interested in your answers to the following: What's your favorite subway station and why? (I can't name mine here because I don't want the world -- I'm probably overestimating my readership just slightly -- to know exactly where to stand in order to see into my friend's bedroom.) Where's the strangest place you've ever had a dance party? Do you feel that being foreign (if you live in a place where you are) makes you more or less inhibited about going nuts in public? Have you ever tried to leave your mark on a city or place, through vandalism, vogueing or otherwise?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reactivating the beast gene

Back in August, my mom came out to New York to help my sister and me move into our apartment. One evening, she came across me sitting on the living room floor surrounded by wooden planks and piles of screws -- put simply, in the throes of Ikea despair. Her words of encouragement? "It looks like when God was handing out the beast gene, he stopped after he got to me."

My mom isn't the only one who's implied lately that I'm a wuss. While chatting on Skype the other night, V. and I started reminiscing about the time we hauled his furniture down the street in Santiago when he moved to a new house a few blocks away. (Two days later, his new room was rendered uninhabitable by the earthquake.) He admitted that my endurance had surprised him that day because, and I quote, "you don't do anything."

Anything in the way of exercise, he clarified.

Come on, V. That's not entirely true. Back in Santiago, I rode a bike, walked a lot and had a job that kept me on my feet (literally) for nine hours each day. In Minneapolis this summer, I walked around the lake occasionally and paid a few visits to the elliptical machine. It's true, however, that it's been a while since there's been anything systematic about my exercise. In other words, I don't have a fitness regimen.

I think I need one. At first, I thought fitness would take care of itself in New York. (I also thought I would paint my entire apartment before moving in and have a thriving herb garden up on the rooftop. Alas.) I would, after all, be walking everywhere, right? And wouldn't the plethora of health food options available inspire me to master some healthy recipes?

Not exactly. Sure, I could walk everywhere and spend hours each week chopping cabbage and cooking quinoa. However, the truth is that I'm frequently either too exhausted or in too much of a hurry to do either. There are many days when my only exercise involves hustling to the subway and my only meals are those I can grab on the go. The result: I've been feeling crazed and out of shape. I need to exercise, and I need a routine.

So I've decided to try running. Again. I made my first attempt freshman year of college. I figured that if my roommate could make it to crew practice before dawn each morning, I could at least do a few laps around the neighborhood. Easier said than done in a neighborhood full of hills, treacherously uneven sidewalks and trees that drop softball-sized seed pods everywhere. My career as a runner lasted all of two weeks.

My second try took place halfway across the world. My family and I were on vacation in Spain, and I'd decided that taking morning jogs would be an invigorating way to see the sights. Unfortunately for me, a record-breaking heat wave hit Europe that summer. The one time I actually rolled out of bed early enough to catch some cool air, I got so lost amid the steep, tangled streets of Granada that I had to take a cab back to the hotel. You know, like seasoned athletes do.

Here in New York, it's not as easy to blame my failures on a sinister conspiracy between urban planners and climactic conditions. There are plenty of flat, well-paved and attractive places to run here. Among them is Central Park, where I decided to give running another go this week. Surprisingly, I started off OK. What's encouraging about Central Park is that for every intimidating leave-you-in-my-New-Balance-dust marathoner, there's a novice runner like me. On the day of my first run, there was also a woman who was at least seven months pregnant and put me to shame.

I guess I still have a long way to go.

Any tips, seasoned runners? How can a flojita like me get in the habit without burning out or getting injured?