Getting Crazy On My 31st Birthday

On Monday, I turned 31 years old.

It was a little unfair, because I hadn’t even adjusted to being 30. Every time I remembered – “Whoa, I’m thirty!” – it came as a shock. Not an unpleasant shock, but just an out-of-the-blue shock.

30th birthday in Seoul
I spent most of my 30th with this confused look on my face, in disbelief that my 20s were gone.

So now, just when I’m getting used to being thirty, I’m actually thirty-one.

And I understood what I failed to grasp all through my 20s (and my 30th year):

Time doesn’t wait for you to get your shit together.

It doesn’t give a crap whether you’re ready or not, it just soldiers on. Instead of being panicked at this thought, I was just sort of mystified. I’m getting older, but that’s okay.

The best thing about birthdays is that you can dictate what you want to do, and no one can stop you because it’s your birthday. When Jared asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I wasn’t sure but I felt the pressure to make it perfect.

In the past, birthdays automatically meant going out for drinks with a group of friends, staying out all night, and possibly shouting “It’s my birthday!” to random strangers.

In Buenos Aires, that would probably get me robbed. What I really wanted was much simpler than that.

“Let’s go out to lunch,” I told Jared. “And later have cake. Maybe gelato, too. Then we could go to that big bookstore I keep reading about.”

Lunch, a bookstore, and TWO desserts. I’m 31 – let’s get crazy!

For lunch, I chose Casero’s in San Telmo. Not too fancy (I wanted to avoid places with tuxedoed waiters and wine glasses) but not too casual, it was exactly what I was after.

Caseros, Buenos Aires, Argentina
It’s always a good sign when you can see the kitchen. And when there’s an oddly placed door above it.

We ordered the executive menu, which included a drink, starter, main, and coffee for about $13. This is what being 31 does to me – small pleasures become big pleasures, like eggplant milanese, fresh mint lemonade, homemade bread, and pasta. I was more taken with the centerpiece – a bowl of eggplants and peppers – than I would have been with pretentious wine glasses.

Bread at Casero's, Buenos Aires, Argentina
After an onslaught of sweet bread in Korea, real homemade bread is to die for.
Eggplant at Casero's, Buenos Aires, Argentina
I’m retrospectively jealous of myself. This was so good.

The waiter kindly slowed his Spanish way down so we could follow along, and brought me the most beautiful café con leche at the end, accompanied by a tiny cube of toasted coconut cake. I know it was part of the meal, but I felt special and that’s what counts.

After lunch, I Skyped with my family – never as satisfying as seeing them in person, but better than an email.

Skyping with my family
My mom took a picture of my sisters as we were talking, and instantly e-mailed it to me.

Then it was time for the bookstore.

Let me explain. This isn’t just any bookstore. This is a bookstore worthy of a 31st birthday. It’s called El Ateneo Grand Splendid, and was once a theatre: Teatro Gran Splendid.

I could walk into this bookstore every day for the rest of my life and I’d still gasp with wonder. It’s…Grand. It’s Splendid. There’s nothing else for it.

El Ateneo, Buenos Aires Bookstore, Argentina
I’m stunned with happiness at the sheer volume of books.

The red velvet curtains are pulled back to reveal the stage, which has been converted to a café. Everywhere else – there are books. Rows and rows of books, under a hand-painted ceiling and soft theater lights. It didn’t matter that the English section was tiny; I was there to look, not buy.

El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina Bookstore
When we have a house, I’m totally going Michelangelo on the ceiling.

And we weren’t alone. There were people reading in the wings, in the box seats, in the aisles. The reverential silence that pervades most bookstores was there, but there was also a hushed sense of awe.

100 years of El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The bookstore is 100 years old this year, so we even enjoyed a shared birthday celebration. Kind of.

When we finally emerged back onto the street, blinking in the light, it was hard to believe that everything outside was still going on. The insane bus drivers, the impatient pedestrians, the construction workers on the corner – all of it had been suspended while we were in El Ateneo.

The only way I could follow it up was by insisting on a post-bookstore, pre-dinner gelato. We stopped at Nonna Bianca’s in San Telmo for 1/4 kilo of tiramisu, dulce de leche with strawberries, and chocolate with cherries. I’d like to say we savored it, but I’m incapable of eating ice cream slowly.

I am also incapable of taking pictures of ice cream. Eating takes all precedence.

For dinner, we brought home two slices of pot pie from a nearby bakery – chicken and ham and cheese. It was the ideal birthday dinner; no fuss, true comfort food. For dessert, I had selected two pies at random. One was lemon meringue and the other, strawberry cheesecake.

Birthday dinner of pot pie and salad
Chicken pot pie and salad. Simple things are the best.

The older I get, the easier I am to please. With each year, I learn more about what I want and don’t want out of life, and the most important thing: I act accordingly.

There was once a time when I thought I’d be settled down at 30, not to mention 31. And, in a way, I am.

Sure, geographically, I’m all over the shop. I don’t have a linear career. I’m not even sure where I’ll be in six months’ time.

But I know what makes me happy. I don’t have any regrets. And as long as my birthdays involve food, family, books, cake and ice cream, I’ll remain confident that getting older is a good thing.

I might even get used to it.

Blowing out the candles


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  1. Happy birthday! Sounds like it was a pretty excellent way to spend a birthday to me. I used to be the same way – every year my birthday had to be a big blowout bash, then this year I decided all I needed was good food and Mike and didn’t even throw a party. Man, we are OLD.

    1. Thanks! I keep trying to extend the celebrations to last the week as an excuse to eat pretty much everything I see in a bakery window. At least there are some perks to being old before our time – I feel considerably less guilty about indulging in cakes and ice cream!

  2. Happy birthday! The thing I look froward to most on my birthday is good food with people that matter. Your day seems like it fit the bill pretty perfectly.

    And as someone still in Korea, I would do many illegal things for homemade bread and that eggplant 🙂

    1. Thank you! It was an ideal birthday. I completely understand about the eggplant and bread – it was delicious. And you should have seen Jared’s main. Tender, hearty beef. Incredible. Kimchi already seems like a distant memory.

    1. Yes, I did! Thanks. The bookstore was incredible – I think I might go back one day just to hang out in there, especially if I can get one of the cushy chairs in the box area next to the stage!

    1. Thank you!! I had a great day. Might even go back to that bookstore before we leave Buenos Aires – there was a gelato shop nearby that I wanted to try, but their till was broken so they couldn’t serve any customers! Good excuse to return, I think.

  3. Firstly, happy birthday! I’m turning 31 on October 28th! I still can’t believe I turned 30 last year either. Age is so relative. When in my first year in university I had a roomie who was 25. At the time I thought, “Wow! 25 is sure old!” Now I look back and laugh. I’m hoping our 30’s is like our 20’s but with far more maturity and sense of confidence.

    1. Happy birthday to you! I just thought to myself, “Oh, he’s a year older than me.” Nope. Thought I was 30. Already forgot that I’m 31. I remember thinking I must be really mature, practically an adult, when I was 25. Now I think, “That’s so young!” But so far, 30s are pretty good – I’m more confident, but still not sure about the mature part!

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