Interiors Project: Kathy Manu in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Issue five of the Interiors Project features the Buenos Aires home of international school counselor Kathy Manu. Kathy and I became friends when we were both counselors at a little international school in Barcelona and, even after we no longer worked at the school, we’ve continued, each summer, to find each other somewhere in the world (Barcelona or New York City). She is a good friend, a kindred spirit and her thoughts about home have made me very happy. Enjoy!

About my home
My apartment is 86 square meters including my balcony…I think I have 72 square meters of actual indoor space. I have two bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, a living/dining area, a kitchen, a “dependencia”, and a long beloved hallway.

Favorite thing(s) about my current space
There are many things I love about my apartment – I love that there is natural light somewhere, all day (I have windows in every room and I live in a north-east corner, on the 12th floor, so, yes, light, light, light!) I also love my balcony even though it is small, and I particularly love my balcony on a Saturday morning when I can sunbathe outside with a coffee and book in hand while reclining in my plastic easy chair. My balcony has also been revamped with tiki torches that make for a pretty romantic dinner for two.

{The table on the balcony is the site of my “Friday night/date night” dinners in the summer.}

I suppose “favorite” does not imply “long list of things I love about my space”, but I have to add one more: I love the juxtaposition of things here – it is so quiet because I am high up, but I am in the middle of a neighborhood that must be the home to millions of people. I have photos and framed posters and “things” everywhere, but it feels cozy rather than cluttered. I have privacy, but I also know my neighbors. I can go out and easily walk to any number of beautiful places, or I can stay here, open a bottle of wine, watch the sunset and feel perfectly and completely content. I love finding contradiction. What can I say, I’m nuanced ☺!

As an aside, I asked Igor (my partner) what his favorite thing about his current space is (which is the same space as mine) and he said “you”. Apparently I’m not the sentimental one in this relationship!{This is Igor making fun of my “typical weekend morning” position in my easy chair.  Except he is not wearing a bathing suit.  Or drinking coffee.}

Defining home
Home is where I can unpack. It is where I can wander aimlessly, while talking on the phone and not get lost (and in fact end up at my destination of choice, however unconscious I was of how I got there). Home is my mom’s condo in Connecticut. Where there is a wonderful chair I sit in to watch TV. Home is Buenos Aires fused with Barcelona fused with Budapest and Paris. Home is Europe. Home is my pillow that I’ve had since I was two (and that I put in the freezer during the summer so it is nice and cold when I am ready for bed. You are right to assume that I don’t have air conditioning). Home is my things, all in one space…Home is snuggling on a rainy Sunday. Home is within me and the people, images and memories that make up the energy around me.

{The vase holding the white flowers was a Christmas gift courtesy of a lovely afternoon at the MOMA on New Years Eve.}

Countries I have called home 
I have lived in France, Hungary, Spain, Argentina and the United States.

{Dog-walking is serious business here.  Dog-walkers take 15-25 dogs with them in what look like precarious situations, more often than not.  This was the first time I saw a dog-walker with many of the same dog – I couldn’t resist!}

The cities to which I would return
I think the answer to this question will probably change over the course of my life, but right now, I would whole-heartedly live again in Budapest, in Paris, or even in Barcelona. All three are cities in which I feel alive and content in a way that is almost poetic. Budapest and Paris are particularly cities whose chapters have not yet been fully written for me, and I always told myself that I wanted to live in both of the cities again, when I was different, when my life was different than it was when I was 24 and single. And now that I, and my life are different, I feel more compelled than ever to begin an “adult relationship” with these two cherished places.

{Budapest}

{At Monet’s house in Giverny, France}

Risk-taking
I definitely consider myself to be a risk-taker. More with age. I love that nervous feeling of doing something I’ve never done before. Of exploring a neighborhood without a map and only a vague sense of where I should be going. I love observing strangers. I love trying new things. This being said, I am often afraid to take risks about very specific things. I am not to most adventurous eater (I like to be able to tell what I am eating, for the most part) and I am continuously working on taking risks in terms of honest communication with colleagues and friends. Sometimes I am so concerned with making others feel comfortable, that I don’t voice my own thoughts. I am getting better at this though, as I realize more and more that I would rather regret action than regret silence.

When to leave an international school/city
When deciding when to leave, or rather, if I should leave, I try to examine different types of equilibrium. Do I love my job? Do I feel professionally challenged? Do I have close friends? Do I love my personal life? Do I feel like I have outlets that are meaningful and interesting? Am I bored? Am I lonely? When I was living in Budapest and I decided to leave, the pressing reason was personal – it was not enough to love the place I was, I needed to love my life in that place. When I left Barcelona (earlier than expected) the pressing reason was that, while there was no reason to leave, there was also no reason to stay, if that makes sense. As far as leaving Buenos Aires, I don’t know what the pressing reason will be. I fear stagnancy, I want to remain challenged and seeking change and redefinition, but I also like feeling at “home”, it’s nice to not be overwhelmed and to be able to enjoy small moments. Often it is only after I have left that I am certain it was the right decision. And thankfully, thus far, it has always felt like the right decision. This being said, I recently read “The Rules Of Civility” by Amor Towles, where the following quote made me pause – “I know that the right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss”. How true.

{This park, just down the street from my apartment, is called Barrancas del Belgrano. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night old people dance the tango here.}

Finding my current home
With hours of frustration, weekends visiting apartments, anxiety, stress, and doubt! Finding an apartment in Buenos Aires is no easy task! I must have visited over 40 apartments over the course of 2.5 months before I finally found my place. What is written in a description of an apartment is often nowhere close to what it is actually like (the description is usually much kinder than the reality) and price does not reflect quality. I was looking for many things and when I found “my place” in the newspaper, the description sounded too good to be true. I was pessimistic making the appointment. I didn’t think it was going to be what I wanted it to be. And then, on that Saturday afternoon, I walked in, the family living here was packing, the afternoon light was shining in and I walked on the balcony and saw the sea of trees, and I looked at my friend who was accompanying me and I said, “this is it, isn’t it”. And she said, “if you don’t take it, I will!” And often, I think to myself, this is one of those apartments that I will always talk about and dream about long after I don’t live here anymore. It is one of the apartments I wish I could duplicate and have in New York or Paris or Barcelona. It is one of the reasons why leaving, whenever that is, will be difficult!

{The photos of the trees from my balcony is the “sea of trees” I described falling for when I was found my apartment.}

Making a place “home”
One of my superpowers is packing/unpacking. I am quite anal about it. While some people have boxes and suitcases for weeks in their homes, I will stay awake until everything is completely unpacked and put away. This includes when I move. Boxes make me feel stressed. I always pack, in my suitcase that I will open first, hangers for clothes, a hammer, and nails. Having photos on the walls makes a place feel more like home immediately, which is important to me because when I move I am alone and I need that sense of home. I also always pack in my suitcase (and not in a shipment) my duvet and pillows, and at least one set of sheets. Also a towel, bath mats, a favorite mug for coffee. And coffee and a coffee maker for the stove. I pack books to put on the bookshelf right away. One of my first purchases will usually be a DVD player/TV. One of the first people in my apartment will be the man I hire to drill holes in the walls to hang my posters/framed goods (the ones that I can’t hammer in place myself). The other things, the rugs and bits of furniture, lamps – those come with some more time. I will however usually have a home that feels cozy and lived in within 2 weeks. It’s just my nature.

{I love scarves and as such have many.}

{I also love jewelry. So does my cleaning lady. She spends quite a bit of time organizing this area (however unnecessarily).}

{I love white sunglasses.}

My approach to packing
As I mentioned before, I am a master packer. I can pack for any length of a trip in less than 30 minutes. I make a list before I start packing of the things I want to remember not to forget. Book. Camera charger. Umbrella. Advil. Then, I approach my closet. This usually happens at dusk. Don’t ask me why. I begin taking things out of my closet and putting them on my bed. It is maniacally efficient. With the pile on my bed, I peruse. I discard about five tops, maybe two dresses. I add one pair of shoes. One more pairs of pants. I separate what I will put in my carry-on (always at least two full days worth of clothes/undergarments/pajamas). And then I bust out the suitcase (which are, fortunately for me, quite large), and get to business. Putting the clothes on my bed into the suitcase takes me about 15 minutes. It is quite remarkable actually, if I do say so myself. Usually people assume I have forgotten something. But I don’t!

{The abundance of closet space is another reason I chose this apartment. I kind of have a thing for clothes. Especially dresses.}

Future travels
Certain trips in 2012:
o Quito, Ecuador (for a conference)
o Mendoza, Argentina
o San Francisco/ Carmel, CA (wedding of a college friend)
o Portugal (with my Mom)
o Corsica, France
o NYC/Martha’s Vineyard, CT

Desired Trips:
o Atacama Desert/Bolivian salt flats
o Cuba (maybe January 2013)
o Cartagena, Colombia
o Brazil… anytime, any year!

Beyond 2012:
o South Africa
o Tanzania
o Cambodia (Angkor Wat)
o India
o Japan
o St. Petersburg/Helsinki/Moscow

How living overseas has changed my eating habits and preferences
Living abroad has changed my relationship with food more than anything else. This began when I lived in Paris for six months, where the quality of food is famously excellent and more importantly people love to eat, and have long meals with conversation and wine. This was the beginning of a love affair of mine with dining. And lovely dining experiences. And given my past antagonistic relationship with food and my body, this was a big deal. Over the past few years I find myself more inclined to eat locally grown produce, Spain introduced me to the joys of excessive use of olive oil, and Argentina has reminded me that meat smells damn good (and tastes good once in a while too). I become more and more of a wine aficionado as the years go by, and I also find myself being more mindful of what I am putting into my body. I miss the ability to eat spicy, ethnic food. I miss the bubble gum that comes out of machines in the United States. But I decidedly do not miss people talking about food all the time and the barrage of images and messages that discourage the lovely dining experiences I have come to enjoy so much.

{I also really love hunting down urban art.  It is by far one of my favorite things about Buenos Aires, and one of the best ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.}

What excites me about being a counselor
My principal (a former counselor himself) and I always say that we are so fortunate to be counselors. I think being a counselor is one of the most wonderful and simultaneously challenging jobs around. What excites me about my work ebbs and flows over time. Some days it is a student who I find inspiringly resilient and insightful. Some days it is a colleague who is genuine and interested in working as a team. Some days it is a group of parents, supporting each other in one of my workshops. Often it is the fundamental belief in the possibility each child possesses. It is the belief that all parents and all teachers are doing what they think is best. It is the belief in the power of human connection, in relationships mattering…it is big ideas changing lives. It is small moments, a warm embrace, a knowing glance making the difference. It is all those things and all the many things that may happen that make excited to do what I do. That makes me excited to be a part of a field as dynamic as education and amongst peers who are as passionate and talented as some of my compatriots are.

{Travelling requires an array of bags…which I have joy collecting. The large colorful bag is a recent purchase from Hoi An, Vietnam. I love when my travels become infused with my daily life. It makes vacations never end!}

You are invited to leave little love notes for Kathy in the comments section below.

10 comments

  1. I hope to be as lucky finding a downtown apartment with such tranquility! I’m the new counselor at Graded in Sao Paulo. Sorry our paths won’t cross in Quito, but I’m sure they will next year!

    1. Welcome to South America – I am certain our paths will cross – Lincoln is hosting AASSA next year, so you will have to come down!

  2. Hi Kathy,
    Your place looks great and the light in those evening photos is exceptional.
    I like your list of places your’re not done with. If I spoke even bad Hungarian, I’d move to Budapest for a while myself. Monna would live in Paris (and may yet), and we both still love Barcelona. So maybe we’ll be neighbors again someday.

  3. Love the sea of trees! Beautiful! I will be in Quito for the conference maybe I’ll run into you :)
    I enjoyed hearing about your ideas of home. I am eyeing Budapest more and more every day. It’s great to hear others love it.

  4. Hi Kathy. I am “the Martha” who used to work with you in “the little international school in Barcelona”, as Monna said at the introduction. Although we were there together, we never really had a chance to get to know each other. Now, by reading this issue of Interiors, I realized what I have missed. I love everything you wrote, how you wrote it and feel like I now know more about you than when we were together at BFIS. Well, I am still here and perhaps we will have a chance to really get to
    know each other next time you come to live in Barcelona. :-)

    1. Martha, you’re so sweet to say those kind words! I will certainly be back in Barcelona one of these days, and look forward to getting to know you as well…un abrazo para todos en BFIS!!

  5. I loved this so much :) I visited a friend’s sister in Buenos Aires last summer. She was working as an interpreter for a tourism company. She showed us the sights of the city, but we also stayed at her apartment (until her landlord kicked us out), she took us to see tango dancing, and taught us to make empanadas. Oh,and your picture of the dog walker made me especially happy!

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