The Brain Drain From Spain

When you  find out the word for a woman’s dress, ‘vestido’ is a masculine noun. 

Four hours of foreign language instruction  per day is about two hours more than my brain can handle.  Sometimes I just have to slow down the teacher’s relentless conjugation of irregular verbs by asking a stupid question like ‘how do you say, on-fleek in Spanish?’ She’s getting back to me on that.

The little linguistic victories are thrilling. Successfully transacting the purchase of dental floss can make me feel as fluent as Miguel de Cervantes. But trying to learn the proper usage of the pronouns  ese, esa, este, esta, estes, estas, esto, estos, aquel, aquella, aquello, aquellas, aquellos seems like something I didn’t leave enough life span to complete.

But when I’m feeling frustrated or low, the frisky little Patagonian Mara never fails to cheer me up. They roam freely  in Buenos Aires and though they’re technically very large rodents, I prefer to see them as tiny little donkeys.

Would you call Terminex on these little rascals?



Just found out they have a different word for nearly everything!!!!

First day of Spanish language school and guess what?  I’m the most popular student. Duh. My classmates are pretty cool though, too.  They come from England, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and lots of other countries. There’s only one other American that I’ve met and she’s from San Francisco. They’re all young professionals- most of them on paid or unpaid leave from their jobs.   I had to quit my job to get this much time off. Thanks Obama.

After class almuerza with my new amigos.


I don’t intend this to be a food blog, but this cat with the tie-dyed shirt and the rattail grilled up the best street food ever. It’s called a ‘choripan’, a slightly spicy sausage on a plain roll covered with chimichurri sauce- red or green. I opted for both.  Washed down with red wine poured out of a two liter plastic jug, it’s one of those experiences that makes a 9 hour flight feel worth it.

Don’t Judge me. Only one of these bottles of Fernet Branca was mine.

If this is how they celebrate Good Friday in Buenos Aires, I’d hate to be here for New Year’s Eve.  Fernet Branca tastes like Robitussin and gasoline. One ounce makes a nice digestif, but around here, they guzzle it like Mountain Dew.

On the food front, I finally had some of that famed Argentinian cow flesh. It was just a casual lunch joint special, and yes it was good. Very good. But I’m still planning on a go-to-hell steak dinner at a proper Parilla.

Beef here is grass fed and fabulous, but they don’t tell you how good the eggs are.

Food trucks serve up sandwiches with sausage, pork shoulder and of course, beef.  This  one pictured is called “Parilla Mi Sueno” or Grill of my Dream. See what they did there?

Guy’s all like… ‘Yeah I know. It’s a play on words.’

Today I crossed the muddy Rio Plato on a ferry to Colonia, Uruguay.  I wish I had budgeted more time there because it had an intriguingly artsy vibe.  Uruguay is increasingly popular with American expats and retirees and I can see why.  Some Argentinians concede that things just work more efficiently across the river.  I may try to get to Montevideo before returning  home.

Fishing off the lighthouse in Colonia, Uruguay

Don’t laugh at me, Argentina.

I’m trying my best with the language but asking the flower vendor if I could ‘marry her llama’ was just sloppy Spanish.

I totally forgot President  Obama was coming to Buenos Aires until I tried to go the zoo and the entire park was closed for his visit.  And just like in the U.S, they’re blaming him for all kinds of  stuff.


Today is the 40th anniversary of a military coup that began a reign of torture and kidnapping that scarred millions of Argentinians.  Meeting the the Argentine President, Obama acknowledged the U.S.’s failure to oppose the human rights atrocities, but like the poster says, many here don’t think that ‘pays the debt’.

What else?  Tried the national drink today, “Yerba Mate”.. a sort of green tea brewed in a mah’-tay cup and drunk through a filtered straw.

Luke, our tour guide brewed up a batch in the shade of a banyan tree. My new Aussie pal, Max and I gamely slurped it down and then fell into a brief ‘mate coma’. The anecdote is a caipirinha cocktail. (see photo at top)

Finally today, I’ll share some random pictures that are suitable for framing especially if you have lots of blank wall space.

Botanical Gardens (clothing optional)


About 45 US cents for a subway trip. Not everything is this cheap.
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If the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park opened up with the sun like a flower and closed back up at night- powered by solar panels, you’d have the Floralis Generica.
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Argentina’s National Library. I think it was a gift from Tampa. KIDDING!

On the Couch-o Like a Gaucho

IMG_5251 (4)Did I really cross the equator to watch Netflix in a shabby Airbnb studio apartment?  Sorry.  I just ran out of gas at the end of my first day. After all, I still have some of that sticky stuff on my chest from the electrodes they used to monitor my vital signs at St. Joe’s.

Day one involved the usual disorientation and rookie mistakes of a first time visitor to any country. Changing money took nearly half the day. TIP: Argentinians scoff at $20 dollar bills. Benjamins get the best exchange rate.  Also learned that hugging random strangers is met with suspicion.

Since the primary goal of this three week trip is to attain some level of Spanish fluency, I’m happy to find that very little English is going on up in this pais. Since I stepped off the plane 24 hours ago,, I’ve spoken just a few sentences of my native tongue and that was muttering to myself about a lens falling out of my reading glasses.

Traveling solo is a strange experience if you’ve never done it. On the one hand, you don’t have to negotiate anything with anyone. Decisions about how long to stay at the museo or whether to turn derecha or izquerda at the intersection are all yours. On the down side, you have to make all the decisions. Dining alone has made me realize how many people dine alone.  But I can tell you this: being alone by choice is a lot more fun than  being a party of one because you have no friends.

Today I tackle the subway system and enroll in my Spanish program for next week. Better pictures on the way.

Just got sprung…

Nurse Angel lived up to her name!

Bottom line, I had a blood clot form in my leg, possibly from a long airline flight.  I was put on IV blood thinnners in the ICU and will now take anti coagulant pills for three to six months.  Case closed.  I hope to resume the first ‘leg’ of my Argentina trip next week.  See what I did there? Leg?

The nurses at St. Joseph’s in Tampa were caring, professional and kind. But  after spending three days and nights confined to a hospital bed, I’m convinced our medical needs an overhaul.  The labyrinthine and disconnected lines of communication would give Kafka the creeps.

I won’t go into details here, but one of my key physicians was completely out of touch for two full days as I lay in a hospital bed. No checks, no updates, no questions, no answers. I called his office from my room asking for a call back. Nothing. (I should note, other doctors were very attentive.

Generally, communication goes in one directi0n.. always AT the patient.  The essential problem in my case seemed to be multiple doctors, and multiple departments failing to communicate with each other- none of them fully responsible for your care.  For me, it resulted in irritation and frustration. I’m a pushy reporter so I can irritate them back.   But I’d hate to be wheeled into that same system with a more serious condition that prevented me from being the squeaky wheel.

I’ve drawn a lot of flack for  criticizing healthcare in the past.  Doctors will blame  the cumbersome insurance bureaucracy, non-compliant  and uneducated patients and, of course- Obama. I’ll acknowledge we have the best medicine in the world in some aspects, but it many ways, we don’t. I’m just saying, lots of cumbersome and just plain silly practices need to go- starting with hospital gowns.  They’re not gowns. They’re large hankerchiefs and they make patients looks like deranged flashers. And I have haven’t even got my bill yet!

By design or not, hospital gowns cast patients in an unequal, even subservient role while facing a doctor dressed in snazzy street clothes.


Not so fast…


Cable TV and all the Jell-O you can eat!

Since returning from San Francisco I’ve been experiencing a little pain and swelling in my left calf. I thought I might’ve overdone it climbing those famous hills. Just to be safe I had my doctor take a look a few hours before my planned departure.
She didn’t like what she saw so she sent me to tower radiation for an ultrasound. Sure as shit I have a deep vein thrombosis also known as a blood clot. Not a big deal unless it dislodges and goes up into your lung- a scenario much more likely to happen on a long flight to… say Argentina.

That’s why I find myself in a hospital bed instead of an airline seat. From what I’ve learned so far I’ll be put on powerful blood thinners and sent home. Hopefully I’ll be able to take my trip in a few days or maybe a week. I’ll let you know.
Men plan. God laughs!

Heading South: The Sabbeardical gets real.

Tonight I’ll be on a plane to Argentina with almost no idea of what awaits. I’m packing light.

-Earplugs to drown out the sound of foreign languages I don’t understand

-Mosquito repellent to ward off Zika virus

-My Irish Passport in case anyone accuses me of being a Trump supporter.


Seriously, my primary mission is to attain some fluency in Spanish. If I happen to have fun and see amazing mountains and waterfalls and meet fascinating people along the way, so be it.  The first couple of weeks will be in Buenos Aires where I’ll attend all day Spanish classes.  The final two weeks will be spent traveling the country practicing what I’ve learned on people who can tell me where the biblioteca is located.

Instead of writing a travel log (I saw this, I ate this, I was abducted by  this offshoot of the Shining Path, etc…)  my entries will be more journalistic- customs, attitudes, world views and ambitions.

I know not a single person in South America, so if you have any connections or advice to share, please do.  So, until my return in mid April stay in touch and Via Con Dios!


Margaret McLaughlin 1925-2016

My mother would have loved her own funeral.  A crisp, sunny morning in Marin County surrounded by her children, grandchildren and long time friends and neighbors. The eulogies delivered by my three magnificent brothers were heartfelt, moving and funny as hell.

Margaret and Erin

My niece Erin Marie represented the grandchildren eloquently, bragging on her grandmother’s ability to hold a perfect plank at the gym for five minutes. My sister Mary and her husband Larry covered all the details of the mass and the reception.

We played this photo montage with a music bed of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” one of mom’s favorite songs. In her childhood pictures, the lookalike next to her is twin brother Joseph.

Thanks Mom, for giving me San Francisco

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area for my mother’s funeral, it occurred to me that she is the reason our family is gathering in this spectacular place. Quick story:

When my father was offered his choice of FBI offices circa 1960, he and my mother chose Los Angeles where her parents had retired.  While in L.A. for a house hunting trip, my mother drove up to San Francisco to visit a friend.  Setting eyes for the first time on a cool river of fog rolling beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, she called my dad and said, “we need to be here”.   Forever more, my five siblings and  I would call the most beautiful city in the world ‘our home’.

While in this ‘other’ Bay Area, I’ve been retracing the steps of my earlier life.  It all looks more breathtaking than ever, but with the absence of my mother- the center of gravity and north star of my life,  my home town feels a little empty.

The funeral is Tuesday March 8th. We’ll take mom’s ashes to the coast and make the Pacific Ocean her final resting place.

Thousand year old trees at Muir Woods have a way of putting our puny lifespans into perspective.
View from Sausalito and the house I'll buy with my Powerball winnings
View from Sausalito and the house I’ll buy with my Powerball winnings


If there is a more beautiful man-made structure in the world, I don't know what it is. #GGB
If there is a more beautiful man-made structure in the world, I don’t know what it is. #GGB