Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This Minnesota mom welcomes her daughter back from Argentina, again March 12, 2013

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WE RETRIEVED HER between bouts of morning and late afternoon snowfall from the parking lot of the Culver’s restaurant in Lakeville, wrapping winter coat arms around her thin frame.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province.

She, her arms and torso snugged in a borrowed red parka, shivered in the Minnesota winter. Already she missed her beloved Argentina where the summer sun’s rays brushed bronze upon her skin.

As she and her dad lifted her travel-worn suitcase and lavender backpack from the trunk of her sister’s car, shifting them into the trunk of ours, I savored the sweet moment of her homecoming. Nearly four weeks earlier I’d embraced my second-born, tears trailing down my cheeks as she turned away. The scene of her wheeling that suitcase, slipping through the airport doors, remains imprinted upon my memory.

But on this Sunday afternoon, joy defined the minutes, the hour, in which all three of my adult children (it always seems odd to write that contradiction of words, “adult children”) and the boyfriend of the eldest, slid into a corner booth at Culver’s. The restaurant marked a deliberate dining choice by the oldest daughter whose sister once raved about the fast food eatery. Ironically, it’s headquartered in Wisconsin, where the returning traveler now lives.

Unique restaurant architecture in Cafayate, Salta province.

Unique restaurant architecture in Cafayate, Salta province.

I truly cared not where we ate. Rather, I cared that my family surrounded me. With two of my three now living 300 miles away in opposite directions, such togetherness happens only a few times a year. I am not complaining as many more miles, even oceans, separate families.

A tango band performs on the street during a fair in San Telmo barrio of Buenos Aires.

A tango band performs on the street during a fair in San Telmo barrio of Buenos Aires.

But tucked deep into the recesses of my mother’s worries exists the possibility that my second daughter, some day, will return to Argentina. Permanently. Twice she’s lived there, once visited. She’s been mistaken already numerous times as a local, Spanish flowing fluent from her tongue.

While she can claim a knowledge of Spanish as her own, I have passed along this genetic love of language, this appreciation for words and sentence structure and communication.

Riding the cable car in Salta.

Riding the cable car in Salta.

This desire to adventure, though, wells from within her, sourced perhaps from me. I intentionally encouraged her, like her sister before, her brother after, to travel, to see that which I’ve never seen, never will, for I possess not a distant traveler’s heart.

This has been my selfless mother’s gift—this unfurling of the fingers, this revealing of the palm, this opening to flight, this letting go.

Every Thursday afternoon the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo march in front of the central government of Argentina. They are honoring the memories of, by most accounts, 30,000 protesters who disappeared during the "Dirty War" between 1976-1983. The then military/dictorial government, so my daughter tells me, kidnapped

Every Thursday afternoon the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo march in front of the central government of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. They are honoring the memories of, by most accounts, 30,000 protesters who disappeared during the “Dirty War” between 1976-1983. The then military/dictatorial government, so my daughter tells me, kidnapped those who opposed the government and placed them in detention camps. Those detainees “disappeared,” killed in the camps or drugged and dropped from planes into the ocean, she further explains. Why have I not heard of this or why do I not remember this?  The white scarves identify the group and, she says, are embroidered with the names of the mothers’ lost children.

BONUS PHOTOS from Argentina:

Casa del Gobierno (House of Government) in San Miguel de Tucuman.

Casa del Gobierno (House of Government) in San Miguel de Tucuman.

El Mirador (Lookout), Valles Calchaquies, Salta.

El Mirador (Lookout), Valles Calchaquies, Salta.

An open air market in Purmamarca, Jujuy province.

An open air market in Purmamarca, Jujuy province.

A herd of vicunas, Jujuy province.

A herd of vicunas, Jujuy province.

A meat stand at Mercado del Norte (North Market), San Miguel de Tucuman.

A meat stand at Mercado del Norte (North Market), San Miguel de Tucuman.

Valles Calchaquies near Cafayate, Salta province.

Valles Calchaquies near Cafayate, Salta province.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Miranda Helbling

 

She’s off to Argentina, again February 15, 2013

On the way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

On the way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

SHE’S LEAVING ON A JET PLANE and I know when she’ll be back again…

In reality, she’s already gone, already landed in Buenos Aires, albeit two hours and ten minutes late due to an “aircraft change” in Houston. I’ve gathered that information from the United Airlines website with no way of personally confirming her arrival.

But I can surmise my second daughter is on the ground, on her way via shuttle bus and then a taxi to the hostel where she’s booked several nights.

And I will tell you this: I don’t like any of this—her traveling alone with no real concrete itinerary and no immediate way of instantly connecting across the 6,000 miles that separate us.

She has no personal computer, no cell phone, at the moment.

Approaching the MSP Terminal 1 drop off site.

Approaching the MSP Terminal 1 drop off site.

I should be accustomed to this really, this being her third trip to Argentina. But those first two times she had a home base in Buenos Aires, studying and interning in the capital city.

Back "home" in Faribault, packed and ready to go.

“Home” in Faribault, packed and ready to leave for Argentina.

This time, though, my daughter is vacationing, taking a month away from her job as a Spanish medical interpreter to revisit her beloved South America and the friends she made there. I admire her independence and her fearless spirit. I really do. I have encouraged such qualities in all of my children. But now I am paying the price.

I cannot help myself. I am a mom. Moms worry.

And, if I was not so darned nosy and had not sought out information from my girl, I would have less to concern myself.

But I asked and she told me about the planned lengthy bus ride to Tucuman in northern Argentina. When I questioned the safety of this mode of transportation, she told me about the time her college friend Devon was riding such a bus. Would-be robbers smashed a window, but the bus driver, knowing their intent, sped away.

Then there’s Tucuman, where my girl and her friend, Ivana, were mugged by two guys on a motorcycle, in broad daylight several years ago. Crime has only gotten worse in that city, Ivana says. My daughter won’t be carrying a purse this visit. Just in case, I have copies of her credit and bank cards and her passport.

She’s planning a 16-hour journey on Train to the Clouds, a train that will take her high into the mountains and villages of northwest Argentina. To alleviate my concerns that she will be traveling on some rickety old train, my daughter showed me photos on the train’s website. That reassured me…until she mentioned the medical personnel assigned to each passenger car to deal with health issues related to the high altitude. I suppose that should reassure me. It did not.

And then my eldest had to mention the stray dogs that roam Argentinean streets.

For the next few weeks, I will try to pretend that my daughter is still only 300 miles away in the Midwest. That is my strategy, plus lots of prayer.

My daughter didn't fly Delta. But these are the only planes I saw when leaving Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport after my husband and I dropped her off.

My daughter didn’t fly Delta. But these are the only planes I saw when leaving Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after my husband and I dropped her off.

IF YOU’RE A PARENT of adult kids who love to travel, how do you cope? I could use some tips.

Since writing this post, I received an email and a call from my daughter reporting her safe arrival.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering a beachfront style building in Fargo, of all places August 30, 2012

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AMID ALL THE BUILDINGS—most of them mammoth brick structures—that I observed in a one-block walk-around in downtown Fargo, I never expected this one:

The 8th Street Lofts in downtown Fargo house apartments ranging in size from 465 to 1,445 square feet and renting for $560 – $1,800 a month, according to the Loft website.

Wow.

The rectangles of tangerine orange bursting in brilliant shades next to monotone gray walls set against the complementary soft blue of a summer afternoon sky caused me to pause, mouth agape.

Would you expect this in Fargo? Maybe along an ocean beachfront in Florida or California. But North Dakota?

That just goes to show that any preconceived notions of what buildings belong where can be proven wrong when you happen upon an architectural anomaly like this structure housing 8th Street Lofts.

Honestly, in the bone-chilling cold of a sub-zero, wind-flogging January morning, wouldn’t this cheery color cause you to smile? It would me.

You’ll find brightly-colored buildings in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although primarily a tourist destination today, the area is surrounded by houses with painted sheet walls of different colors. Photo by Miranda Helbling.

The jolting orange shades remind me of the multi-colored buildings photographed by my second daughter in the La Boca barrio of Buenos Aires, Argentina. That rough, working class neighborhood along the banks of the Riachuelo River draws tourists to view the colorful houses built by the early Italian immigrants from cast-off ship building materials—planks, sheet metal and such—and then, as legend goes, painted with left-over paint.

I expect when my daughter saw those jolts-of-color buildings, she, too, stopped, mouth agape.

She failed to tell me, though, that the La Boca neighborhood is a rather dangerous place, especially at night. That figures given street criminals are drawn to tourists.

I wouldn’t expect the same in Fargo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Travel stories from Argentina November 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:28 AM
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Castle at Estancia La Candelaria in Argentina.

 

AS DIFFERENT AS my second-born and I are—she’s a fearless traveler, I’m not—we share a common passion and talent. We are both writers.

I never purposely led Miranda on this path, although I suspect that my endless reading aloud of books to her as a child instilled a basic love of language.

She chose to pursue writing on her own with me offering encouragement from the sidelines. In high school, she served as co-editor of the student newspaper, never backing down even when challenged by the principal. At the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, she also wrote, and edited, for the student newspaper.

Last week Miranda began freelancing for examiner.com, St. Paul. She’s a travel writer with the online entity, and a darned good one. She focuses on Argentina, her adopted country, and the place where she’s studied, done mission work and interned. She just returned from Buenos Aires three weeks ago after a 4 ½-month stint there, her second time in that South American capital city.

Since her return to Minnesota, Miranda has been searching for a job that will utilize her Spanish-speaking skills. She has a Spanish degree and wants to work as an interpreter or translator. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that she opted for minors in international studies and communications studies.

While she searches for employment, Miranda is volunteering with a local charitable service center, helping with Spanish interpreting.

She is also staying connected to the Latin America culture via those examiner.com, St. Paul, articles. She’s penned some interesting features about gauchos, a Buenos Aires cemetery, a favorite pancake restaurant and Mafalda, Argentina’s most popular comic strip. But don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself by checking out the travel section of examiner.com, St. Paul.

 

 

An Argentine gaucho

 

 

Statue at Chacarita Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

PHOTOS BY MIRANDA HELBLING

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The unrest in Argentina unsettles this Minnesota mom October 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:43 PM
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TYPICALLY, MASS PROTESTS and violence in another country would not overly concern me.

But when your daughter is in that nation’s capital, where left-wing party members have overtaken the streets in massive protests, and where a 23-year-old has been shot and killed during the demonstrations, you pay attention.

Thankfully, I knew none of this until my 22-year-old was safely out of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and back in the U.S. My first hint of the political unrest came in an e-mail I opened just hours before her arrival at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport late Thursday morning. She was already in Houston, waiting for her connecting flight to Minnesota, when she e-mailed me.

She wrote of demonstrators blocking traffic on Buenos Aires streets and of a temporary subway system shut-down, resulting in difficulty securing a cab to reach her airport shuttle bus Wednesday evening.

Only later did I learn of the death of Mariano Ferreyra, identified as a Partido Obrero militant. According to the Buenos Aires Herald, Ferreyra was “shot in the chest and killed during a violent confrontation between railroad workers and members of the leftist Worker’s Party (Partido Obrero)” on Wednesday.

Even after reading numerous online newspaper articles about the shooting, the demonstrations, and a blockage of a portion of the Panamericana highway by Kraft Foods Inc. workers, I still don’t understand the situation. And, yes, that would be Illinois-based Kraft which has a plant in suburban Buenos Aires that produces cookies and other food. The Argentine factory was involved in a labor dispute more than a year ago that led to a larger dispute between leftists and the government.

Although my daughter was never in any danger, just the fact that she watched angry protestors march along the street past her apartment toward their gathering spot at the Obelisk 10 blocks away is enough to unsettle me.

The shooting occurred in another area of the city, not anywhere near her home along Avenida Corrientes in the Once/Balvanera neighborhood.

The bottom line in all of this, for me, comes down to my relief that my daughter is back in the United States, far, far away from Argentina’s current discord.

She told me, too, of a two-day strike by garbage collectors that left stinky trash piled high along streets and sidewalks. As in the past, even before the shut-down, she’s seen the cartoneros (which means “cardboard”) collect and dig through garbage.

My daughter likely would have photos to show me of the demonstrators and the garbage, except that she was mugged in a northern Argentina city several weeks before the mess in Buenos Aires. That crime left her without her camera, with only her passport and the emergency funds I wired to her.

Yet, despite all of this, I’m certain, that my daughter would return, in a heartbeat, to Buenos Aires, where on two visits, she’s lived for nearly a year. She loves the culture, the language, the people.

Yet, I hope, that for awhile anyway, she will reside in North, not South, America, where today, for this hour, this minute, life seems calmer to me than on the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling