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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.