Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Buenos Aires as of late...

Here are a  few recent anecdotes from my vida porteña organized somewhat chronologically.  
  • I was taking the collectivo home from class one day and noticed this woman sitting directly across from me.  I wasn't sure why, but I knew that I recognized her from somewhere.  I was literally staring at this woman.  She was in her 60s or so, had platinum blonde hair, really big and hip sunglasses, and a killer leather jacket.  She was really tan, a little too tan in fact, and was on a blackberry almost the whole time, which made it easier to stare at her without feeling awkward.  I got off the bus and didnt really think about it again.  Then I decided I wanted to go down to the ignaguration of the new installation/sculpture in plaza San Martín, I had passed it on the bus before but hadn't checked it out in person.  It was called the Torre de Babel, and when I google searched it to get details I realized that the woman I saw on the bus was the artist Marta Minujín!  I think subconsciously I knew exactly who she was, but couldnt put two and two together that day for some reason, I didn't however, know that she was the artist of the sculpture... strange happenings!  She is Argentina's top modern/pop artist, ran around with Andy Warhol quite a bit back in the day.  She has been doing giant scale installations for the past 40 years, things like building a giant obelisk of pan dulce, then giving it to people to eat.  Or building a giant sculpture and then burning it publicly.  She was all about performance art.  Well I went to check out the sculpture, which is a giant spiraling tower that you can walk up in covered in books of every language imaginable, thus the Torre de Babel.  She was commissioned by the government to make the sculpture to celebrate Buenos Aires being named the Book Capital of the World in 2011.  The thousands of books used for the sculpture are going to be donated to a new multilingual library that will be opening also as a result of the capital mundial del libro thing.  Welp, the only celebrity that I've seen since I've been here was the most badass one! And the fact that she was chillin on the bus (coming back from the inauguration ceremony I can only imagine) just like everyone else, makes it that much better. 
  • Saw a play with Camille at Teatro San Martín...the theatre was nothing extravagant but there was a photography exhibit inside the lobby that was actually quite impressive.  About 5 minutes before the show was supposed to start I told Camille my plan to move to better seats front and center because the theatre was scarcely occupied. Obviously though, as we are in Argentina, about 10 minutes after the show was supposed to start the theatre filled up. It was a three man show (2 man, 1 woman in fact) that took place in Argentina in the years 1800, 1900, and 2000.  The storyline and the characters however stayed the same.  It was really interesting to hear the language change.  When the show started I was getting down on myself because I couldn't understand a good part of what the actors were saying, but once we arrived in 2000 I relaxed when I realized that I understood 100%.  It was a good break to go out and do something that wasnt study at Starbucks.  I swear I've gone to Starbucks more in this country than I ever have at home, almost all of the employees know my name...is that embarrassing?  Well I can get a lot of coffee there for the same price that I would pay for a not so good expresso shot at another place... and they have nice big tables for studying, and its two blocks from my house.
  • Speaking of Starbucks, I was working on my paper there, a 15 page research paper on el ALBA, (Alianza Bolivariana de las Americas), which is a ideologically charged left wing Latin American integration project spearheaded by Chavez and his Venezuelan oil funds that was initiated to counterbalance the now failed attempt of the USA lead FTAA (Free Trade Aliance of the Americas).  The paper came along slow and steady but I'm overall happy with how it turned out, it was pretty cool to be able to use scholarly journals in English or Spanish interchangeably, not because one was easier to read, but because they were useful.  Well I had been there for hours at a large table with the same handful of people.  A girl next to me, a couple on the other side, and another guy and a girl across from me working on a project.  We had all exchanged brief conversation but nothing major.  Well around la merienda time (tea time, i guess is the translation? around 6pm everyone has a coffee, tea, mate, with a little snack, a tostado or a pastry because people don't eat dinner until really late here) the cafe was packed, lots of people moving around and talking, but as I grew up in public schools in Columbus, I think the activity helps me focus.    I noticed a couple standing by the table where there was only 1 seat, they were middle aged and well dressed.  Assumingly waiting for a table to free up or another chair at the big one, I had a couple weird moments of eye contact with the guy, looked a bit suspicious, but they moved along and I didnt think anything of it until the pobre flaco across from me says, "Wheres my computer? Someone stole my computer? Its gone!"  it was sitting right next to him in the computer bag, he was talking to his partner on the other side, and the man snuck the computer out of it and they jet.  The poor guy looked totally helpless, while he was describing the guy to the employees the girl told me he had just bought the computer, brand new.  The guy came back down and said totally helplessly, "y no se puede hacer nada."  It was really heartbreaking, "theres nothing you can do."  Seeing as my computer in the most valuable thing I've ever bought, I felt so bad for the guy it actually made me nauseous when he got robbed.  I havnt taken my computer out of the house since.  
  • Studying for finals consumed a good deal of my time in June, doing final presentations, getting all my last assignments in, and studying for exams. I was starting to freak out because I was cramming to finish my paper (I had a bit of a hold up and the professor more or less told me that I needed to change my topic, 2 weeks after we turned in the proposal and conveniently a week before it was due "Well I havnt read the bibliography that you have, but I think its going to be really hard to prove your point...")  So I had a week to do the assignment that constitutes our ONLY grade in the class, I emailed the professor with my new proposal and he didnt even respond for four days.  I was frustrated, not sleeping, and stressing out to the maximum but when he did email me 4 and a half days later, he apologized for the delay and gave me a week extension.  I think I must have done something good to get some karma like that, because the first thing I did after excessive celebration with my roommate was have a glass of wine and go to sleep. I slept 14 hours, which I NEVER do, then got up, studied for my exams, and spent the next week calmly finishing the paper.  At the end of the day I did really well in all of them and as an added bonus I think my spanish has finally reached a point where I barely have to think about it. Well sometimes anyway.  I don't think that has much to do with school though.  Its funny, you wake up somedays and you're like, holy shit, I don't speak this language at all, what have I been doing the past 5 months, nothing is coming out of my mouth.  And other times, I look back on conversations, and I'm like, did I just say that in english or spanish?
  • A friend of mine works as a graphic designer here in Buenos Aires, and got tickets from his office to see Fuerza Bruta.  Its a performance troup I can only relate to Cirque de soleil.  Camille, Melissa and I went with the guys to the show, we didn't have prime seating in the standing section, but it was free and we all know what they say about beggars.  Well the performance was incredible, crazy lights, live music, acrobatics, optical illusions, giant scale acts and dancing, and water, the whole croud gets soaked in the middle, it kind of has a rave atmosphere.  They pull this huge plastic bubble over the croud and they shoot paper bits and have a trippy light show while people hanging from the ceiling jump around on the outisde of the bubble.  I can't even begin to explain all the stuff they pulled during the performance, but it was totally entertaining.  All went out for pizza and birra afterwards and then went to dance for a bit.  Unfortunately it was some unfortunate girls birthday small that night and the club was ruined by her and her insanely drunk friends. Así es la vida.
  • Went to the museo de arte decorativo with Kirsten.  It is a former private residence that was donated to the government almost a hundred years ago.  It's pretty much a palace.  We got to walk through libraries and reading rooms that belong in the Hogwarts castle.  (Speaking of witch (ha horrible pun intended) Harry Potter 7 part 2 comes out in a couple weeks, I never thought i'd see the last of the legacy in Argentina!)  I mean forreal who has secret doorways? This house does.  There were fireplaces in the main hall that were about 10 feet tall. The whole thing was very European style, two story tall tapestries, a grand dining room, various bedrooms were on display, sitting room after sitting room.  They called them, "sala para estar" translating to "room for being" which I found totally pointless and ironic.  We'll the amount of wealth that produced a house of that nature is unfathomable. The gardens, the huge staircases, the elaborate furniture, the art, the gold leaf, the massive entry rooms and halls, its all just, insane.  I think half of the time I was in the building I was thinking about placing a Harry Potter battle inside it.
  • I cooked a gigantic pot of curried lentils with chicken and vegetables (its become my signature here, its kind of a good mix of a common food that Argentines like, with spice and flavors that they never use) at Cami's appartment for the girls and some of our friends that we met on our first trip to Mar del Plata.  Pilar gave me some fresh bread to bring, and Camille made a really really good homemade apple crumble..it was simple and seemed very french to me, maybe thats just because a parisian made it?  Regardless we had a really nice night in the house talking and eating, cooking with friends here really feels like home for some reason.  I couldnt help wishing the Blake family was here to enjoy with us.  I learned how to cook from my mother.  That being said I am equally terrible at planning portions and usually prepare about triple what I actually need.  Apparently the idea of there not being enough food is the worst of all, we barely made a dent in the lentils.  I brought the left overs home and Pilar tasted it.  She actually really liked it and asked if the family could all eat it for dinner that night because there was so much, the lentils fed all! 
  • Well the majority of the kids in the program I'm in left last week.  I didnt care very much at all except for that I had to say goodbye to a small handful of people I am really going to miss.  Most of all Kirsten, my roomate for the past 5 months.  The first week without her was really really strange.  It was sad to say goodbye to her, but not that sad.  It was more of a see you later, she lives in Seattle, and I am confident that I will see her again within the next year.  I plan on visiting her as soon as possible.  I feel extremely lucky to have had such a positive and considerate roomate, she was kind and very consistent, never was in a bad mood, and didnt mind that sometimes I am! It was great to have someone to share the familiar experience with, and I already miss her a lot.  We celebrated her 21st birthday before she left, one night we had dinner and cake in camilles appartment (we ordered pizza and I made guacamole for her!) and that weekend we went out  and had a great time dancing, and then we also had cake with the family at home a couple days later (Pilar lovingly yelled at me for not telling her that it was Kirstens birthday ahead of time!)  and Kirsten and I had champagne!
  • Since school ended I've found myself doing the same thing that I did when I first got here, just walking around, but for totally different reasons this time.  At first, it was because I didn't know what else to do, and now its because I love it. I've been checking out new parts of town, perusing old book stores, checking out new cafes, and going to parks. Window shopping has been a pretty good passtime, seeing new exhibits, going to museums, and hanging out with Melissa and Lucia has been a day to day.  Its been calming to enjoy the city from a different perspective, it's winter now, although freezing for Buenos Aires is 45 with some wind.  (Porteños are notorious for complaining about the cold...they even effected me for a while.  "ahhh i dont know if I wanna go out tonight...its soooo cold." um, If I didn't go out because of weather like this back home I think I would cut out around 6 months of the year.  I cut that attitude quick, although some streets are total wind tunnels and waiting for the bus for a long time in that IS cold, no matter where youre from.
  • I took a tour of the Teatro Colon, considered one of the top opera houses in the world in terms of acoustics and beauty, and it was pretty magical and extravagant.  Boroque/Rococo style everything, old furniture in the salas, every big name in opera that I didnt recognize has performed here, so they told me.  It was really fun to get to peek around the theatre and imagine what it was like with all the absurdly rich and frivolous aristocrats strolling about talking about frivolous things.  I might return for a show, the theatre really is impresionante.
  • Went to "El museo Beatle"  which is the worlds largest private collection of Beatles Memorabilia.  This super-fanatic Argentina guy had insane amounts of Beatles stuff in his attic and decided to put it on display.  There was the normal stuff, or what you would imagine would be there, like every Beatles record ever, many signed (things like the white vinyl copy of the white album) and then really weird stuff, like official copys of the birth certificates of all 4, to the John and Yoko condom, and literally everything in between.  In essence, it was a bunch of stuff, some of it was really fun to look at, but I mean, just really listening to a Beatles song that I love moves me way more than looking at a bunch of stuff they touched once.  Besides, it seems like Paul had an unfortunate period in the 80's. What was really cool, was that I went pretty early in the morning, and I was the only one there....meaning I got to stroll through said stuff singing aloud to the music playing without anyone noticing or caring, that made it way more fun.    
  • Took a tour of the Palacio de Justicia, (it's where the filmed a good part of "El secreto en sus ojos" the Argentine movie that won an  Oscar for best foreign film).  It definitly lives up to its name in Palace.  The Buenos Aires culture administration recently teamed up with the justice department to give these tours and we got to see some truly incredible stuff.  In addition to beautiful old courtrooms filled with cedar everything and decadent decorations, we got to go into the private supreme courtrooms. We toured the courtroom where they held the trails of las juntas, the trials of the military leaders during the dictatorship that were held partly responsible for the massive and atrocious violation of human rights.  It's definitely a shadow on Argentine history that is very ingrained into its culture.  The idea of la memoria, of the collective memory of what happened to prevent it's reoccurrence is very important to Argentines in general.  Hearing anecdotes about the desaparecidos really is haunting. We also got to go into the leathery smelling private chambers of the supreme court and sit at the giant decagon shaped table, in the diplomats lounge there were leather sofas and chairs with plush velvet everywhere, gifts from other governments decorated the room, and we also got to see the private and ceremonial office of the president of the supreme court.  Needless to say all of them smelled like a century of smoke and power had seeped into the furniture.
  • I finally bought myself a pair of looovely Argentine leather boots... all I can say is that it was shoe fate.  I saw these boots about a month ago, fell in love with them, but couldnt convince myself to drop the cash on em.  Well my feet have been freezing as of late because the warmest pair of shoes I have besides my hiking boots (good or bad, Argentine culture does kind of pressure me to actually dress like a woman when i'm in public, so I don't wear em out haha!) are my chuck taylors, i.e. not warm.  When I finally said fuck it, I worked for a reason I'm going to buy myself something really nice, I showed up to the store and they were on clearance... sometimes the world is just so good to me!
  •  I've begun reading a book by the late Ernesto Sabato called Antes del fin.  He's a very famous Argentine author that recently passed away.  I picked up the book at a used book shop on Av. Corrientes and didnt realize it was one of the last things he wrote.  I think El tunel is the most famous one he's written so I'm planning on moving on to that one next. It's quite nice to be able to read for pleasure again, its been quite some time.  
  • Today I'm going to a feria americana, a flea market, to hopefully pick up some warm clothes for the month on the farm! Hopefully the thrifting gods will be good to me.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Santiago de Chile & Valparaíso

The past two weeks I spent hours in various cafes and in my room working on my paper for Pensamiento politico latinoamericano. I wanted to have it done before going to Chile because it was going to be due a day and a half after my return to Buenos Aires.  I actually was able to get the body of the paper written (I didn't think I would be able to to supersede my inherent tendency to procrastinate.)  I had to analyze the political thought of Silvio Frondizi, an Argentine marxist, who criticized american economic imperialism and analyzed the economic state of Argentina in the 50s, quite an interesting fellow.  He had a series of interviews with Che Guevara who encouraged him to spread his theory of integration as a means of explaining the path to socialist revolution throughout colonial and semicolonial countries of Latin America. The book was rather dense with economic material, so it took a while to get through.  He was taken from his home during the dictatorship, and after they beat his wife and murdered his son-in-law, they beat him, shot him more than 50 times in the back, and destroyed his library not long after.

Anyway, wednesday was el 25 de mayo, Día de la Revolución, so we had no school.  The girls and I decided to skip thursdays classes in order to take advantage of the long weekend to travel to Chile. Tuesday was murder sitting through classes waiting to take off for Chile.  As soon as class let out I took a rainy bus ride home, picked up my bags, and went to Retiro, the bus station.  Retiro is officially my least favorite place in Buenos Aires, it is sandwiched with downtown and villas (slums) and I've heard so  many stories of people getting robbed there that you just have to be on alert all the time in the area.  Well we met up at the station and everything went smooth and we took off tuesday evening for what was to be a 23 hour bus ride into Chile. They made some announcements about having documentation, and the girls and I got quite a laugh when they explained that the bus bathroom was only able to handle "liquidos" but not "solidos." We had upgraded to coche-cama, the most comfortable option for double decker bus travel that comes with meals included.  It's actually quite nicer than one would expect.  I slept pretty well through the night and woke up near the Chilean border.

I debated relating this tale in this manner, but alas, I can only assume anyone taking the time to read my travel bits will not judge me or stop loving me because of the outcome.  You see I have become quite the cautious traveler because of previous experiences, and I thought myself very clever for having pinned my large amount of cash to my underwear before going to Retiro.  I really do hate that place and If I was going to get robbed, no one was getting my passport, visa, money, or camera, I took my precautions on that. Well to my surprise I realized when I got up to go through customs that my money was no longer there.  I didnt panic, because I knew it had to be somewhere. But after I looked through all of my stuff and couldnt find it, I began the self-loathing criticisms for not moving the money to my wallet once I got on the bus as planned.  The only other place I had been was the little bathroom, and I remembered giving the bathroom the normal scan before I left to make sure I didn't drop any coins (they really are hard to get a hold of in BsAs).  Nonetheless I double checked and it was nowhere to be found.  I went through customs and got my lovely new passport stamps without the slightest hint of excitement.  I returned to the bathroom to triple check after we got sniffed by border control dogs to make sure we werent bringing plant or animal products or drugs, and still saw nothing.  Then I remembered the announcement about líquidos and sólidos in the toilet.  I figured, if I don't try, Ill never know.  I tied my scarf around my nose and mouth and took off all of my jewelry.  I rolled up my sleeves, and I did it.  I stuck my arm down the omnibus toilet and pulled out my $1000 argentine pesos and threw them in the sink with triumphant disgust.  I quickly counted them and thanked god it was all there and I wouldn't have to go back in.  I spent the next 10 minutes or so washing my hands, having germ related mini-panic attacks, washing the money, washing my hands, washing the money etc until my hands were a bit raw from the cheap industrial soap.  My motto of the trip, if anything didn't work out for someone, became, 'yea... but at least you didn't stick your hand down the omni-toilet.'  The fact that I recovered the funds put a spring in my step however, for the entire trip.

After a gorgeous few hours through the Andes, we arrived in Santiago and took a cab to meet Camille at the hostel.  It was crazy, she had only been gone traveling for about a week before us, but I missed her quite a lot.  Splitting up for good in a month or so is going to be crazy.  It was nestled right off the main drag in the barrio of Bella Vista, a neighborhood filled with street art, restaurants, bars, shops, and parks. We walked around town for the evening, picked up some food and pisco, the local liquor of choice, and just kind of vibed out the capital while we made plans for the next couple days.  Chilean pesos are 500 to 1 usd, and I've been thinking in Argentine pesos for the past 4 months, which is 4 to 1usd, so when I handed the casa de cambio (exchange house) 400AR, and they gave me about 50,000 pesos it was really hard to internalize what money was worth. Overall Santiago was maybe a tad cheaper than Buenos Aires but nothing significant. Like what can you buy with a 500 peso coin? I still cant really tell you. All I know is that it will not buy you a hotdog. If you want street food in Santiago, it comes in the form of a hotdog, with mashed avocado, tomato, mayonaise, and salsa picante. I was warned specifically, if a hotdog is too cheap, its not worth eating. Kirsten and I split one without the mayo and it rocked.

The next morning we got up early and hiked to the stop of San Cristobal, a jesusish statue at the top of a huge cerro (hill) its  kind of like a low key version of the one in Brazil.  We were lucky to have a relatively smog free day and it was warm and sunny. We started the hike at the bottom of this beautiful castle looking entrance, and were accompanied by some stray dogs.  The dogs multiplied as we continued, there were even a puppy gang at one point.  It really felt like something out of a disney movie, all the stray dogs leading us to the beautiful view at the top of the mountain.  Morning sun, autumn turning leaves, and no one else on the trail... stunning.  We were joined where the trail hit a road by a group of 50 or so catholic school boys making their way up as well, I had kind of forgot that we were going to a religious pilgrimage type spot.  We hung out for a while and took pictures, and came down the mountain with a new pack of dogs, a couple of em looked like shepherd mixes, it made me loong for Keba.  Next was the La Chascona, the boat-inspired casa of Pablo Neruda.  We took a tour and got to see a ton of incredible stuff, paintings that were given to him as gifts from people like Diego Rivera, his study, library, his nobel prize, etc.  He was quite the collector, there were interesting knick-knacks from all over the world, bars in just about every room, and incredible art.  The gardens, studio, everything, it really look like he dreamt it up and had someone build it.  It was also the house he lived in with his mistress, not sure why but it added to the magic of it all.  He had a paperweight that was a bronze caste of her hand, quite romantic if you ask me.  We then walked to the center of town to eat lunch in El mercado central, Santiago has a much different rhythm than Buenos Aires.  Its also a huge metropolitan city, but más tranquila.  The people I think, are very kind and more open, but that being said the men are much more vocal.  While in Buenos Aires a man might say a couple words to you under his breath, in Chile they shamelessly pursue you. The mercado was huge, very active, and VERY fishy.  I cant even describe all the fresh caught sea creatures that looked like what Dr. Seuss would draw if he had a nightmare.  Also a ton of fruit and vegetables.  Some of the surrounding streets were littered with scraps of fruit and vegetable carcasses, it was actually quite pretty.  There are also quite a few comedores, restaurants within the market.  Sea food all around.  I tried to be brave and order something new.  I got a traditional dish what the waiter described to me as the most popular thing and it was like a shrimp stew.  Yea there was some shrimp in there, but basically it was a bowl of pre-shelled clams, oysters, shrimp, conch, and other things in broth.  I tried but I couldn't even eat a quarter of it.  I've gotten over my terror of eating seafood, but I unfortunately have not learned to enjoy it... thats yet to come. After lunch we did a walking tour of the city with a Chilean tour guide and learned about a lot of the architecture, history, culture, and plans for the city.  The guide had buena onda, was really knowledgeable about pre-colombian chilean history, current politics, and ecological issues.  Yea, like all of Latin America, the indigenous people of Chile, the Mapuches got worked by europeans. After the tour the girls and I had serious ganas (roughly translated, urges) to eat ice cream after the tour and we went to this place that had exotic flavors.  I had frambuesa menta y chocolate araucana, raspberry mint with chocolate that comes from indigenous Chilean tribe. Nothing like Jenni's but it was really good.  We then went back to the hostel, took a siesta, then ate and got started on the pisco-coca.   We went to a dance club that with the entrada you pay to get in, you get a free liter of beer.  A liter! Needless to say that 5 liters of beer for girls who drink sparingly was quite a bit.  We had a great time, danced, and were only slightly shocked when the entertainment turned into a strip show.  A man first, and the woman closed the show.  It wasn't very sexy, but a crowd pleaser it was.  We had to leave the club after though, I think the closing show was a little too encouraging for a lot of the men there.

The next day we got up really early to get on the earliest bus possible to the coast town of Valparaíso. I made a decision after coming home from the club that one would think is intelligent, but turned out to be a baad move.  I had 2 large glasses of water to help for the fresh start in the morning, but I am not accustomed to Chilean tap water, although its clean me hizo mal. I didn't get violently ill, but I woke up  and the first 10 words that came out of my mouth were all the same.  Fuck.  I was extremely nauseous for the entire morning while we ate breakfast, packed, walked to the metro, took that to the bus station, and rode the hilly route to Valpo.  The hostel was on cerro alegre (happy hill!)  on a street unapproachable by car, the cab dropped us off and explained how to walk down the series of stairs and concrete pathways to get down to the house.  The area was gorgeous, little walkways, carribean style colorful houses, street art everywhere.  It reminded me of Havana quite a bit in fact.  Slow paced, you can walk the cobblestone streets, pass an old abandoned building on the verge of collapse, walk by foul smelling areas, and then turn the corner and see the most beautiful quaint little street, filled with art, flowers, iron gates in front of hundred year old homes with fresh sea breeze that is for me, literally intoxicating.  With deteriorating once extravagant architecture, the town had a summer vibe for some reason in spite of the fact that with the wind it was quite cold.

It wasnt until lunch that day that I actually felt like a human being again. After checking into the hostel we went to the old part of town near the port and  I had something called a Cazuela, its a large bowl of broth with half an ear of corn, a big piece of steak, a potato, carrot, and squash.  It was one of those perfect meals that leaves you feeling satisfied in the most warm and comforting ways.   After lunch we walked around the centro a bit to a bus stop to take the colectivo to a differnt cerro on the other side of town that is known for its old acensores, (theyre wooden elevator that run on tracks up the hills for public transit) the ride was supposed to be stunning in itself, but as I was stepping onto the colectivo I heard someone scream.  I turned around and realized Camille had started running after a man who I instantly realized had stolen her purse.  Melissa and I started chasing after Camille screaming at her to stop and come back.  People started to come out into the street to point us in the direction of the chase.  At one point I made eye contact with a woman and she said "Corre! Le va a golpear!"  "Run, hes going to beat her"  After the ladron took her camera and wallet out he ditched her purse and she came back to us crying.  After we left the area and she calmed down I assured her if she chased after a thief again I'd beat her ass.   Turns out she had her small, over the shoulder bag resting in the back, and as she was getting on the bus he broke the strap right off to get it. La pobrecita had all of her pictures stolen. We went to a safe area, had a coffee at Pablo Neruda's Valpo house, and then returned to the hostel exhausted and somber.  We stayed in for the night and talked over pisco sour.

The next day we got up early and went to the port, this time without purses or anything valuable, and with our game faces on.  I felt 100% arrogant after Camille got robbed.  You see the man who works at the hostel warned us that Valparaiso is a safe city, you'll never ever get held up at gun point or with a knife, but there are a lot of poor and young people, and if they get a chance to steal your purse, camera, wallet, or pick pocket you, they will.  I didn't disregard his statement by any means, but I assumed it was just like any other city down here.  Hay que tener cuidado, como siempre.You've got to stay alert, pay attention all the time, be aware of your surroundings, and dont flaunt what you've got.  Obvio.  Well the thing is, is that in Buenos Aires, yes, there is always a chance that you could get robbed.  But from what I saw and heard in Valpo, if there is a chance for you to get robbed, you will.

The port was nice, but the next few hours we spent walking around cerro alegre.  We felt safe there for one, and we were able to walk around the artsy street fairs, go to book stores, art gallerys, tour artist workshops, check out the murals (i'm hesitant to call it graffiti) and check out boutiques.   We had lunch (I ate the best thing I've ever eaten, ever.  I had this desert that was a grilled apple cooked in wine with vanilla ice cream.  I swear it was magical, it actually made me loopy, and it wasnt from the wine) We made our way back to spend our last day in Santiago, Melissa, Kirsten and I went to the fine arts museum, it was an incredible building although not well maintained, and it had just a few, but really great exhibits.  We also checked out a beautiful cathedral in plaza de las armas and watched an evening mass while the other girls went thrift shopping.  We all shared a typical chilean dish, its a meal "al pobre"  or 'for the poor man' because you get a lot of food and its cheap.  Its a big pile of fries with beef, sometimes chicken and sausage too, and eggs.  You usually share it between 2, but we split it 5 way and went for round two at the ice cream shop.  We hung low in the hostel that night.  There were a couple american girls smoking a hookah and drinking wine in the dining area, I listened to them talk and had this funny inkling that one was from Ohio, or maybe, from the midwest, my ears were tuned to it though, I knew the speach was familiar.  I casually started conversation with them and found out that indeed one of the girls grew up in the burbs of C-bus (New Albany to be exact) and turns out she went to Columbus School for Girls, a school 5 minutes away from my parents house where I have been working as a camp counselor for the past 5 years.  One of my former coworkers is a friend of hers.  I spent the next couple hours with the girls, who are studying human rights law at a university in DC, and will be studying at a sister school in Santiago.  The girls were both extremely smart and well traveled, and a lot of fun.  It was great to talk to someone who knew about home.  She also had some interesting insight to some of the programs I'm considering (peace corp, americorps etc) and had some interesting suggestions for alternatives.  The girls are traveling here to Baires in a week or so, we will be meeting up for dinner at least once I'm sure. We took the subway back to the bus station early the next day.  (The metro in Santiago is clean, fast, and efficient, good job Chile! ) The return bus trip was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  The Andes mountains are massive, and colorful because of the minerals.  On the winding road you do a series of about 25 switchbacks to descend and cut inbetween snow capped and lightly dusted mountains until you get to the foothills.  In northern hemisphere season, it feels like November, in the pre-Andes the trees were changing and the farmlands after were bright greens golds and reds.  I was exhausted but couldnt sleep.  I listened to the entire Alice's Adventures in Wonderland on tape and watched the day go by from a bus.  We arrived tired and uncomfortable 21 hours later in Buenos Aires (customs didnt take as long going into Ar)  monday morning at 7am.  Kirsten and I cabbed home, I dropped my pack, picked up my school bag, and got on a colectivo and was in class on time at 8am.  That, was a rough day.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Im a creep.

I am eavesdropping on a conversation at Starbucks with an american expat woman, shes lived here for 6 years, and was lamenting some of the changes, like the arrival of Starbucks. She said 5 years ago un cafe para llevar (to go) in a paper cup would be inconceivable, and now to go cups from all sorts of cafes literally litter the streets. She was also reiterating that Bonafide, my other fav coffee shop in Baires is the only other coffee shop with real espresso. The coffee is burnt, and the grounds you buy at the stores all has sugar already added. Shes awesome, shes complaining about all the things I complain about here. She looks very norteamericana, blonde, in her late 40's but has the attitude of a porteña. I've been listening to her, shes been talking about some cool stuff, she said shes excited shes gonna be in the states for the fourth of july for a change, I guess tomorrow is the anniversary of the obelisco, some sort of celebration going on down there...interesting. I am officially a creep.......ok now shes hating on reggae, im tuning her out now.

Por ahora...

Some stuff thats been going on in no apparent order:
  • Woke up one morning craving facturas, the sweet baked goods that are all too available here in the city, if you're out really late at the clubs you'll smell them baking from the street at all the confiterías and panaderías.  They are usually somewhere between US $0.25 and $0.50 c/u (cada uno, each one) so obviously they are a common option.  I have a friend, Lucia, that is half Argentine that has an absolute love for everything Argentine, dulce de leche and facturas above everything else.  I called her and we used studying as an excuse to go to Ritz, the confitería of choice over by the girls' apartment. We got a dozen facturas to share and studied a bit I suppose.  It was definitely more about enjoying a lazy Saturday morning and enjoying facturas with the girls.  They really are divine...the pastries that is, love the girls too though.  Media lunas, chocolate covered churros, dulce de leche filled puff pastries, cream cheese filling things.....num num num.
  • Got 100% on my latin american culture midterm, and didnt do very well at all on my history exam, I got a 4, which is equivalent to a D in the states.  To justify my academic honor, I was preparing for a four essay exam on the processes of independence in latin america and the underlying economic causes for said processes.  What we got was a 10 multiple choice exam. Yea, most of the Argentines in my class scored around where I did.  The prof told me not to worry, so I'm not going to.
  • Went to a buddy's birthday party, good food, delicous cake, lots of alcohol, and lots of interesting people from all over the world.  It was overall a great time. We went out afterwards to a bar in Plaza Serrano, and a couple friends of my friends drove me home.  It was the first time I had been in a car since I left the states (except taxis) it was kinda crazy, and even better because it was free :-)
  • Convinced Kirsten to watch a PBS documentary with me online about Cuba called Black in Latin America, I think she now fully gets that I have an obsession with Cuba, the documentary is great though, you all should watch it. There's one on Brazil too!
  • Attempted boot shopping and failed miserably, you see Argentina is the land of leather.  And one would think that it would be high quality and cheap, but only the former is true.  For the same price as you would spend in the states you get a much better product, but I walked around for hours looking at the trillion and one zapaterías along some of the main shopping drags and I have now realized how much I hate shopping.  I like pretty things like any other girl, but I got so frustrated and tired and ended up with nothing.  Maybe I have expensive taste, the only boots I really loved were four figures in pesos...(250 US) and frankly, ef that.
  • Had a alfajor tasting party with Kirsten while we were studying one night.  For our weekly date we went to the kiosko and asked the guy that works there to pick out a few of the best afajores for us.  We split them all and discovered that evening, La vaquita super dulce, the best alfajor yet...I've since made believers out of a handful of other intercambio students, they really are the best.  Its chocolately dulce de lechey deliciousness.
  • Went to the Buenos Aires Feria del libro... it was absolutely gigantic. There were something like 1500 stands, and more books than i've ever seen ever before. ever. ever. They had shows, interactive things for kids, lectures, art exhibits, author talks, educational and cultural activies etc...one hall was filled with booths from every province in Argentina, and books from authors that were born there.  Another room had international booths, religious booths, culture booths, etc.  It was extensive. There were temporary cafes set up in the convention center type place and just generally tons of things to look at.  It's just one of those things where you cant even attempt to see it all, but it was a great afternoon nonetheless.  I saw a lot of beautiful books and talked with some really interesting people in the UN Argentina booth among others.
  • Tried a fruit called "kaki" I had never tried one before but wikipedia tells me that they are called Asian Persimmons in North America.  They look kind of like orange tomatoes, with a shiny outer casing, but the inside meat of the fruit is really sweet and soft when they're ripe.
  • Had an interesting assignment in my class on Integración mundial y MERCOSUR.  We broke up into groups to do a practical about the recent assassination of Osama.  Each group represented a different part of the world and we had to give "briefings" and official statements of our positions as said country/group of countries.  It was really quite interesting to read articles and hear people talk about the Osama incident from different perspectives.  I got to share with the class a little anecdote about my fellow buckeyes impromptu mirror lake jump to celebrate Osama's death.  To me it doesnt quite make sense to celebrate a death in that way, I'm not arguing the authority to violate Pakistans sovereignty, or denying the benefits of taking out the figure head, active or not, of the most highly organized radical islam terrorist group, but is throwing a giant red white and blue party to celebrate his death necessary?  Do American college kids really need the excuse to party? 
Always, no sometimes, think it's me, but you know I know when it's a dream.
I think I know of thee, ah yes, but it's all wrong.
That is I think I disagree.
  •  There was kind of a weird dynamic in the casa for a while.  It was Mariano's 7th birthday, and they don't play around with cumpleaños here, its quite a celebration.  He was woken up on his birthday with cake, candles and presents, lots of presents.  Then Pilar brought cake for his class at school, then after school he had his birthday party at some place that is like a chucky cheeses equivalent I think with his friends, cousins, and classmates. Wowza, right? I think Facundo, whos 8 going on 9, was jealous of all of Mariano's attention, and also has recently broken his wrist and is in a cast and all around frustrated, but he was throwing fits almost everyday and I could see it was wearing on Pilar, she was getting frustrated with him and eventually it all blew up.  He's much more sensitive than Mariano...well needless to say, the original niceties have taken a backseat, I must be part of the family now. Although we had pan fresco with the boys on sunday morning for breakfast, warm bread with jam or dulce de leche...quite a treat, and everyone seemed to be in better spirits.  Storm seems to have passed temporarily.
  • I got a cold from Kirsten, that Julia and Pilar also caught respectively, but mine turned into a sinus infection.  After being sick for a week and a half and having sinus headaches I went to the hospital here to see a doctor about some antibiotics.  The private hospital was very nice, but I did have to wait almost a couple hours because I showed up without an appointment, anyway the doctor basically hooked me up to a steaming machine, which cleared me out, and then I was just hooked up to an oxygen mask for a bit before the nurse realized the steam was finished, did you know the oxygen can make you loopy? I didnt.  I got really giggly.  Well anyway the doctor said that because I didnt have a fever or swollen glands I probably didnt have a sinus infection.  He then told me "I know they hand out antibiotics like candy on christmas in your country, but here, we have to control them.  If you get worse in the next couple days come back and see me." and then prescribed me some weak cough syrup.  I totally agree with his point, but it resulted extremely inconvenient for me. I was sick for another week until Pilar bought me ammoxicilan from the drug store, over the counter, ha! Beat the system.  I feel great now! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thunder only happens when its raining

There was the most incredible storm the other night.  From my room on the 7th floor of the building the wind was literally howling, sounded just like a horror movie, but in a good way.  I kept the windows open and slept beautifully with a bunch of blankets.  What was really surprising is how long the wind kept up, usually in Ohio if weather is very intense it doesn't last that long.  The wind here howled for 2 days straight.   Unfortunately a lot of the trees with beautifully colored leaves lost them all in one night.  There she blows. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rosario

Ok, so I'm doing a late recap of Rosario because I forgot to give the birthplace of Che Guevara a shoutout. It's the third largest city in Argentina in terms of population, and the second in size of economy.   It's an old port town that men used to frequent for its active red light district.  It is filled with HUGE parks, it actually has more green than Buenos Aires, surprisingly.  Unfortunately, I cannot say that I really got a feel for Rosario because of the parameters of the trip.  On saturday morning I left with my program and oooh 75 other american students on 3 different busses. We ate lunch in town, walked around for a bit, and checked into a hotel.  Kirsten and I were already sick of being cattled around so in our 30 minute free time block (woo hoo, recess!) we went swimming in the beautiful (but freezing) rooftop pool.  We then got back onto the busses for a city tour.  BUST.  We were driven around the city and shown a bunch of beautiful parks, fascinating landmarks, cultural activities, and historical sites, but unfortunately we were on a bus almost the whole time, we stopped at El monumento a la bandera, a DC scale monument to the flag.  It was gigantic and tastefully done, packed with symbolism regarding la Argentina.  By the time were finished with the tour it was dark outside and the only thing we could really do was eat and go out. Which we did, very well.  We were planning on going out to eat for my friend Stephanie's birthday, but about 50% of the group was dying for caffeine so we stopped at a cafe and a few of us had two cafe dobles while we chatted.  While Steph stepped out I spoke with the people in the bakery and had them bring out a cupcake with a candle and everything for her.  We walked around town for a while afterward looking for a cool restaurant that was off the beaten path a little, failed, and ended up dining at a nice restaurant on the main drag.  (Suprisingly enough it was the first time i've gone out to dinner since I got to Argentina, although there are beautiful restaurants all around, that generally aren't really that expensive, I usually avoid dining out for dinner because its an avoidable cost, there is dinner for me every night at home, and when i'm traveling I actually enjoy cooking in the hostels, so it was a nice experience) For about 10 US dollars  I had a full chicken entre, and there may have been a couple bottles of champagne with the girls.  We walked from there to the hotel, met up with some other folks, and went to the most gigantic club I've ever been to.  It was Miami style, from what I've been told.  There were three levels, probably 6 bars, different music, super chic seating, 2 full outdoor areas with swank couches and crazy lighting and a pool outside, not functional, just aesthetic.  I played Sober Sally that night, it was Steph's 21st after all, and she took advantage fully.

The next day we went to the center of town, checked out a feria (open air market) and walked around the town some more.  What I have learned about Rosario is that it is exponentially slower paced than Buenos Aires.  First of all everything is closed on Sundays, it was a ghost town on the streets, and second of all, anything that could be open on a sunday is closed for Siesta for like 4 hours in the middle of the day.  Kirsten, my Kentuckian friend Bre and I then found out where all the Rosarianos went and what they do during Siesta, on the weekends, or whenever they get the chance: El rio.  The river was filled with kids flying kites, playing soccer, groups of men and solteros fishing leisurely, having picnics and drinking mate,  eating at the choripan stands, or at cafe's along the river.  We walked for a while and passed the puerto viejo, the old abandoned port.  The outsides of the brick port building walls were COVERED in art.  Some of it was lazy graffiti, but the majority of the buildings had murals, or funny little characters, stencils, poems, intricate graffiti style art etc. (Strangest of all was the shrine to Biggie, he lives on in Argentina too, who knew?) We kept walking to a newer, more recently developed part of the river, and watched a rollerblading competition.  It was quite funny, how cool it was there, large groups of young people freestyle skating to regaeton  and men racing inbetween cones etc.  Not sure why, but it just seemed hilarious at the time, but the Rosarianos took it pretty seriously.  I think I am getting used to Buenos Aires because I was extremely annoyed when it took Kirsten and I a good 45 minutes to find a market or kiosko that was open to buy water and snacks for the trip back.  Things are open "25 horas" en Buenos Aires, and I think that has momentarily spoiled me.  I'm not sure I would want to live in a town that has such an extreme siesta.  I would really love to go back to Rosario another time though, and have a bit more time to enjoy life there.  It's a really sweet town, there are multiple heladerias (ice cream shops) on every block, its WAY cheaper than the capital federal, and the parks are full and really beautiful.  Its only about 4 hours away, or 3 in a car, any weekend would do for nice finde by the rio.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I just found out...

I just found out that my last final exam lands on July 4th, leaving me just shy of 7 weeks to travel, hang, or do whatever I like!!!!

The exam system here is totally different. After the semester ends you have a final exam period that lasts for weeks.  You also don't find out until the middle of the semester when its going to be.  Exams here are oral, (Warning: stereotype proceeding) Argentines are actually Italians in a latin-american disguise, so they love to talk.  You sit one-on-one with the profe, and pretty much your entire grade depends on how well you can either convince him that you learned something in his class or distract him well enough that he thinks you know more than you do.  However, one of my classes has a paper instead of the final, which I will be turning in somewhere in the middle of June (which is fabulous because the exam was scheduled for July 21st, which would have broken up the last chunk of my trip wretchedly)  good news, Good News, GOOD NEWS!

The 'Molly goes to the farm' chapter is looking like a real possibility! ¡Bárbaro! (Literally means barbarian, but is used colloquially for cool or fantastic)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Buenos Buckaires

Well its 64 degrees both in Columbus and Buenos Aires right now--the only difference: For he next 24 hours in Columbus, there are severe weather warnings for strong storms and wind. BsAs will be sunny and has a high of 77 today and 75 tomorrow.   :-) I slept with a blanket and the windows wide open last night, it was chilly and very peaceful.  I dont even hear the cars going by anymore, its soothing.  But I suppose growing up on 5th Ave wasnt that much different.   It's truly getting to be fall here, jacket and scarf weather is here, leaves are just starting to turn on the massive trees along the avenidas.  I am so excited that I get to catch this same crisp inbetween summer and fall switch that is all too short back home too.  The last half of the Crew season, OSU football madness, trees turning on campus and in the park next to Blake...the Japanese Maple in mom's garden will be blood red when I get home. Halloween, apple picking, Thanksgiving, I get to be home for all of that.  But I can wait.

I had a dream the other night about working on a farm here in Argentina, I was picking apples in an orchard, making jam i think, and cooking, and playing with kids...  I've been thinking about doing a WWOOFing program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) where you basically work learning organic farming skills on ranches, orchards, and  farms all over the world to earn your keep on said land.  Some of them just offer you land to camp on, others have rooms available.  There are a ton available in Argentina, but most are in southern Patagonia and the time frame that I have means that it would be the dead of winter down there at the bottom of the world...brrrr... so I am researching opportunities in the slightly more tropical regions in the north.  I'm sure whatever farm would end up accepting me would be nothing like my dream, but I am sure it would be an incredible experience, a good change from city life here in BsAs, and a unique learning opportunity. Vamos a ver.

I've had a lovely couple days, productive and relaxing.  Yesterday after school I went grocery shopping, came home and went on a really great run over at the park, made a ridiculously large pot of curried lentil soup, watched a movie with my roomate for Cine class, listened to some NPR podcasts, did some research on Machu Pichu (to do the official "Inca Trail" you have to plan like 5 months in advance, since there are no more dates available within my time frame, I have found some alternative trips that seem just as appealing, physically demanding, naturally beautiful, and with the same final destination), did some research for my Integracion y MERCOSUR clase, and had some lovely skype chats with people from back home.  

Our empleada, Julia, has quit.  She got another job in the area, I'm assuming that pays more, and she is currently training her cousin Patricia to do her old job.  Pilar explained to me the difficulties of hanging onto a girl that works in the house for more than 6 months or a year, she said they always va y viene (come and go).  Julia seems happier lately, Pilar does not.  Her and her cousin have been speaking Guaraní quite a bit (indigenous Paraguayan langauge) and I cannot understand anything when they speak amongst themselves.  I'm pretty sure its a mix of Guaraní and Castellano, because I pick things up every other minute or so.

I bought a new phone charger on the street today, I dont know why, but I really actually enjoy haggling for things. I feel accomplished when I buy something for 15 pesos that they originally tried to sell at 25.  :-) My roomates parents are coming next week, I am jealous, but still havnt really been homesick.  I have a necklace with a charm of the state of Ohio on it, and whenever I talk to midwest people they are always like "oooh I love that, representin' ohio!" and then I talk to the east or west coast kids and they dont say anything most of the time, or something along the lines of "You're really that proud of Ohio? I should get something like that for Cali" Yessssss Ohio is fantastic I tell em, and we're nicer than you are.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Back to Baires

The past couple weeks have been school heavy, but my routine has become more comfortable. I have a good feel for which days I need to get my homework done, which days I have class back to back and when I have a little minute to grab a cup of coffee, when I can go out and make it to class the next day without issues, which mornings I need to leave earlier because of traffic etc.  Things that make enjoying life outside of school much easier.

Because my brain doesn't function chronologically, here are some things that I've done recently:

  • I've been reading, a lot.  We're reading about the independence of Latin America nation by nation in my history of political and social movements class. My professor is a genius, a populist I think, and well connected the the current political administration. In political thought we're reading Mariano Moreno, Artigas, Simon bolivar, Domingo Sarmiento, Jose Marti etc.  They're kind of like your George Washingtons, Thomas Jeffersons, Benjamin Franklins of Latin America. The prof is very used to American culture, I believe he did his masters or phd in the states, and is quite funny in his analogies to connect to the joven estadounidense.  In my cinema class we've been watching movies like Bolivia, City of God, and El abrazo partido.  So far so good, its an easy class in general.  My culture class has been really interesting lately, we are learning about a German born Argentine feminist photographer who worked in the 50's in a popular women's magazine. There was a section where women would send in their dreams and they would be psychoanalyzed.  Well Grete Stern, the artist, would make photomontages to illustrate the dreams.  She has a big exhibit at the modern arts museum right now,  fantastic.  
  • Listened to my dad play guitar on skype, he was raving about the open tuning on his guitar, sparked by his Keith Richards book, but igual, it was great to hear him again, definitely helped sequester potential homesickness.
  • Went on a book hunt, one thing I now appreciate about the States is how fantastic our libraries are.  You can get whatever you want, at the library closest to you, for free.  Sounds simple.  I have begun doing research for a paper I have to write about a Latinamerican political thinker--I chose Silvio Frondizi, (Argentine Marxist, helped with the Cuban revolution)  and I have to read a couple of his works and analyze them for the paper. Wellllll I went to a couple bookstores that my professor suggested would have them, they didnt, and then I went to about two dozen other bookstores and found nothing, although I was complemented for my interest in Frondizi by a couple different older frazzled looking Argentines.  I also found a really nice little libería/bar/cafe with a stage and a really interesting collection of books.   The library system, is well, not really worth trying if you don't have an unlimited amount of time, so ultimately my teacher ended up lending me two books that seem to be about 50 years old, for that I'm lucky.  
  • Experienced a power outage BsAs style.  Julia cooked by candle light, and we had a nice peaceful dinner in the dark while the boys ran around screaming.  We started to smell smoke in teh house, and when we opened up the windows we quickly realized that the building next to us (across a street though) was on fire.  There was smoke billowing out of the windows and doors of the building.  The street lamps were out, but we realized the power was only out for a couple blocks on our street.  Hundreds of people filled the sidewalks across the street watching.  I think most of them were just nosy passerbys and neighbors bored without power.  One fire truck and a couple police officers failing miserably to redirect still aggressive argentine bus and car traffic slowly became 5 ambulances, 6 fire trucks, an electric truck working on the power, and more cops to effectively shut down that part of the street.  Most of the workers were just standing around.  It took them forever to get a hose pulled out, and when they did, it was just the perfect metafor for Argentine efficiency.  The men jumped out of the truck with urgency, ran to unroll the hose, and alas, there was a giant knot in the middle of the hose.  Three men fussed with the hose and untangled it, but it still took another 20 minutes until we saw water actually running through the hose.  Obviously I know not if they were waiting for something, but it was very interesting to watch the process go down.  We found out from the news the next day that there was an electrical explosion but no one was killed.  
  • Had a going-away picnic for my friends from the multi-country program that were heading off to Peru.  Nicole is from Colorado, and is my soul sister here in South America.  Claire is from the Chicago area, but goes to school at UM (that state up north, hehe) and is an awesome and creative someone that i'm definitely going to need to make a road trip to go see. I organized a potluck at the park next to the fine arts museum for their last afternoon with us.  Camille, Kirsten and I cooked a few things and set up at the park.  Before the others arrived, we were sitting on the blanket in the sun when a kid about 17 or so came up to us to try to sell socks ('high quality' adidas knockoff socks are the hot item on the street right now)  he looked sketchy (ive since commenced a search for a word with the same connotation as sketchy but so far to no avail) and had scratched all over his face.  Camille and l both instantly realized he was eyeballing our purses and phones on the blanket and we both gathered our belongings and told him no and chau.  He went along to another group of people and then turned around and started moseying in our direction again.  I was streching at this point and when I saw him I stood up and watched him very closely.  He then took off in a sprint toward the us, the girls had their back to him on our blanket with all of our stuff.  My first instinct, and I know not why, was to scream "No, FUCK YOU, NOO" and began to sprint towards him too.  I think I startled him because he then ran the other way.  He stopped again and began to say "aaaye te asusté?" (oooo did I scaare you very mockingly?) and thats when I was able to remember some spanish again, and yelled at him some more in a language he understood.  He left.  I think he wanted to just run up and grab something off of the blanket and run away, but he was running to my girls who had their backs to him...had to do something.  Luckily it turned out well, but next time nothing goes on the blanket.  It was sobering for sure, definitely had the adrenaline shakes afterwards.  
  • Went to see BAFICI films, Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente, there are literally hundreds of films playing in theaters all over town from 11am to midnight for two weeks, from filmmakers from all over the world. The BsAs culture ministry sponsors the festival, and its faaabulous.  One film I saw was about a group of campesinos from Venezuela that live in a town  generally only accessible by mule (and 4x4) in the mountains, they dont have TV, phones, or Internet, and just recently got their own community radio set up.  In a series of short expositions about members of the community, they showed festivals with a quirky mix of indigenous and catholic cultures, they filmed everyday tasks, and showed the incredible amount of work it takes to do things that we rely on machines for, like the process of harvesting, splitting, and separating grain and making flower out of it with just men and their animals.  They also talked about some traditions that have gone to the wayside, like when a child died, they used to put the baby in a chair in a huge altar, and mourn/celebrate all night with music and a vigil.  Then they would boil the baby in a soup with potatoes, yucca, onion, etc, remove the baby before it desintigrated, and then serve the soup to the pueblo, the baby would then be dried out for hours over la fogata, or the firepit, and then painted and in later years, angel wings were attached, and it would travel around the pueblo to everyones home bringing good luck, healthy children, and good harvests to the town, one woman said the last time she remembered a real angelito celebration like that was in 1973, their was a slideshow with old school photos of dead children for longer than what I felt was necessary, but igual, it made a strong point about the way they treat death in their culture.  They also had a part in the movie where an old woman was making her "bed," o sea, she was preparing her coffin, which she keeps under her bed with all of her death clothes etc so her family will be prepared when she passes.  Then they also talked about traditions that have remained, like offerings to the sacred lagunas, in which the campesinos cannot fish, and do not disturb the water out of respect.  Speaking of which, I think the documentary was extremely well done, in that it celebrated and respected the people of the town, there was no element of pity or exploitation--above all the music in the film was awesome.  
  • Gave a group presentation about the Mexican process of independence and their revolutions in front of a roomful of Argentines.  I usually have no problem talking in general, public speaking never bothered me much, but this was just a tad terrifying.  I did fine though, because I was so nervous I over-prepared and practically scripted what I was going to say, so it went smoothly, but had 0 charisma.  Quite alright for the first go.  
  • Went to a show on Wednesday night at an awesome little bar called La dama Bollini to see a firend of a friend of a friend play.  He was a soloist, dominican that has lived in the states and now lives in BsAs, we got a pitcher of sangria and a met a bunch of new people,  it strangely reminded me of Wednesday night open mics when my brother used to play every week at Victorians...Victorians no longer exists and I'm far away, but it was muy tranquila and was more enjoyable for me than many of the super-boliches.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mendoza vs. Me

After 3 short days of classes, the girls and I hit the road again, thanks to a ferriado(holiday) that conveniently lands on my birthday.  It is the national day of memory for the Desaparecidos, the estimated 30,000 political dissidents, writers, artists, and thinkers, etc. that were abducted, held in concentration camps, tortured, and murdered during Argentina's Dirty War during the dictatorship.  Happy birthday to me!

Sixteen and a half uncomfortable hours on a bus took us to the city of Mendoza, nestled near the Andes mountains in the west of Argentina.  It's kind of like Buenos Aires, but cleaner, slower, more relaxed, and, well, not at all like Buenos Aires I suppose.  They speak in a mix of Argentine spanish with pronunciation closer to Chilean.  They actually take a siesta in Mendoza, which compared to the 25 hours a day activity in Buenos Aires was actually strange when you wouldnt see a soul on the street or anything open from 2pm-5pm.

The hostel had muy buena onda, we put are stuff down, brushed our teeth, and commenced the wine hunt.  Mendoza is famous for its wine, it has the perfect climate, and the Malbec made at the bodegas there are world renowned.  There is a very popular Bike&Wine tour in Mendoza.  But you have to pay for the shuttle to the Bodegas, pay to rent the bikes, and then pay to get in to some of the bodegas.  Instead, we chit chatted with a couple guys from the hostel and got instructions on how to take the colectivo (public bus) to the area so we could do a self guided tour. Welllll. We walked through city to the main bus terminal to begin randomly asking which bus would take us to the Bodegas.  One kind driver said he would go there, and would advise me when to get off.  He dropped us off on a corner in a residential area and told us it was about 3 cuadras (blocks) away.  We were skeptical.  We definitly did not end up where we meant to, but it worked out all the same.  We meandered around the neighborhood until we spotted vines, and then followed a series of beautiful wine themed murals to Bodega Lopez.  We toured the winery, tasted grapes, learned about the machinery, the history, the climate, vines, flavors, the woods, the aging process, color, aroma, and just about anything else you could imagine.  Then we went into the cellars for wine and champagne tasting.  This all cost 3.8 pesos - less than a dollar for the bus fare to and from.  I love wine country.  The chicas and I had a merienda in town, coffee, medialunas (criossants, literally half-moons, cute eh?) and caught site of the Mendoza dia de la memoria parade.  Drums, flags, chants, signs, songs, floats, the whole deal, basically the main message: not to forget those that went missing, and to never let it happen again.  It was very high energy, and a bit sad. We returned to the hostel, made dinner and decided on activities for the remaining days of the trip.  We spent the evening with Fernet y Coca, Vino,  Argentinos from all over the country, an Aussie, a Kiwi, some Frenchies, Chileans, Canadians, and some Mendozinos obviously.

The next morning we were off at 7:30am on a bus tour called Alta Montaña, we traveled along the famous Ruta 7, which travels along the Mendoza river and the famous Ferrocarril (railway) through the Andes to Chile.  We stoped at the picturesque Potrerillos dam, a previously inhabited villiage at the base of the Pre-Andes that was flooded.  We stopped in Upsallata, a mountain base town to get breakfast and food for lunch and learned about the Huarpe Indians that used to live in the valley there, as well as San Martin who prepared his liberation army in the town.  We stopped at a famous stone bridge that had some significance as well (we got 2 hours of sleep the night before...I dazed a bit and stopped listening) what I do remember is that the river water was cold, clear, and delicious.  The mountains in the Andes are incredibly colorful because of all the minerals, some areas were deep reds like you would see in the American Southwest, and other areas the mountains seemed to be green, teal, and purple.  We stopped at Puente del Inca, a natural stone bridge carved by the Rio de Las Cuevas with natural springs.  The energy there was powerful, the moon was shining one one side and the sun on the other...I would have loved to be there before it was touched my modernity.  There was a ton of awesome crafts, everything from rocks, jewelry, alpaca sweaters etc. I was suprisingly able to exercise a little control and didn't buy anything.  Someone pointed out that the climbers cemetery was close.  We continued on to a look out point of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western hemisphere.  (Unfortunately we didn't get to do any hiking there, we tried, and I really wanted to do the base hike, but we couldn't seem to find a way to get there affordably for any day-hikes. Así es la vida.  To actually climb the mountain you need a permit, if they dont get too sick, people tend to go crazy in altitudes that high, many die there every year.  Five had already died this year.)  We continued on Ruta 7, and then slowly climbed an incredibly steep switchback to the Monumento Cristo Redento at 4,200 meters. It is a symbol of peace between Chile and Argentina.  At the top of the mountain you could see everything, glaciers, mountiains, lakes, etc. The wind that high was nothing short of painful.  No vegetation means the wind spits loose sand/earth (it burns, trust me).  At the top there is a little hut where they sell tortas fritas, hot chocolate, and Andian spirits (the liquor sort of spirits, that is.)  We had ourselves a little warm up.  The daytrip was the exact opposite of our hike in Chalten--the views and the weather were absolutely spectacular, we knew where we were, we were very comfortable, and did little physical activity to get there. Although I was hoping to do a bit more hiking on my birthday, we wouldnt have been able to see everything without the help of a handy dandy minibus, plus it was pretty cheap!  We returned to the hostel, showered, and got ready for the party that the hostel was conveiniently throwing that night.  We had a little empanada party to celebrate my brithday, and the girls suprised me with a Dulce de Leche cake with candles and a bottle of wine that they secretly bought at Bodega Lopez.  The hostel staff gave me a remera (t-shirt) and Camille got me a package of my favorite crackers, it was all very sweet, everyone sang Happy Birthday in English, that was a tad comical.   I think I really wished that my people from home could have been there to celebrate, but I definitely had a blast.  The hostel party was much less lame than anticipated, DJ, lights, smoke, terrazas open, the whole deal.  They even had a shot bar set up, tilt the headback and open wide kinda deal.  In the end I am quite thankful that I didn´t end up under the table at some bar in Columbus, OH puking my brains out because the law says I´m allowed to drink now.

Another 2 hour nap and we were on a mini-bus again heading to Rio de Mendoza.  It was cloudy, cold, windy, and raining lightly off and on.  Great day for rafting. We were split up into groups, to do trecking rafting or repelling.  At 9am the day after my 21st birthday the river gods showed me who's boss.  The girls and I were put into the group to go rafting first, and I froze my ass off.  There was a promo that day at the adventure co. so there were more people than usual, so there werent enough wet suits for everyone, so no one got one. Naturally.  They gave us these stupid nylon get-ups that did absolutly nothing but get soaked and cling to your body.  In fact most peolpe were so frozen after the rafting that they couldnt get the suit off alone.  Yea, the rafting itself was fun, I had never done it before, but it was not nearly intense enough for the adrenaline to outweigh the bitter cold.  Luckily though, we chatted up with one of the raft guides and he turned out to be the lead guide, so we got to be the first raft to go through the river...its kind of nice to pretend you're the only one out there when there are another half a dozen groups on the river at the same time.  Theres a bathhouse with showers and it was what we call a "quilombo" its Lunfardo for 'a big fucking mess' there were 4 girls in each shower trying to dethaw.  I literally couldnt stop thinking about how painfully cold it was the entire time.  So yea, Mendoza River, you won this round.

We all went into the lodge-type restaurant area, heated by one fireplace in the middle of the room, to eat lunch and attempt to warm up. Didn't happen. Trekking was awesome, we climbed up to the top of this beautiful look out point, walked through giant rock formations, and rock scrambled down the 'trail'.  Luckily it was actually more difficult than I was expecting, I definitely had to channel my inner mountain goat, still, unfortunately wasn't warm.  Took some beautiful pictures, checked out some beautiful rocks, and headed back to the lodge again.  We hung out with some guides by the fire, still trying to warm up.

Repelling was next.  Long story short, i'm scared of heights.  Argentina is not like the US, they don't have the sue culture that we do, thus safety per-cautions were present, but its not like you hike up to the rockface, clip in to one rope, transfer to another and get a safety lowdown.  No no no, they throw a helmet and a harness on you, and you hike up to the top of the cliff.  You hang out at the top, and when its your turn, you inch your way down to the edge of the cliff where the guide clips you in, shows you how to use the figure 8 and the rope, and down you go.  I knew I was scared, but i thought it was going to be one of those things that once I started doing it it would be fine and I'd love it.  Well I did love it, but I cried the entire way down.  Its pretty crazy to turn your back to the ground 10 stories below you and just go.  The guide ended up repelling down with me because I am a big old baby and couldnt manage to make myself stop crying.  I was laughing too, I suppose, mostly at myself.     We returned to the hostel still frozen, exhausted, and half the group was feeling sick.  Took a 3 hour siesta, like everyone else in Mendoza, and woke up for an asado at the hostel.  It wasnt until I ate about 10 pounds of steak, salad, and bread that I actually felt warm to the core.  I have never, in my life, been so cold as I was that morning, it's really not that enjoyable.

Our last day in Mendoza consisted of walking around parks, plazas, and train tracks, eating candy and empanadas, checking out street fairs and a wood carving competition, and finally the girls got ice cream and we shared a Mate at the hostel with the staff (a couple of the staff members fell in love with some of our group) and said goodbye to the town, to the vines, and to the mountains.  Believe it or not, the 16 hour return bus ride was even less fun than the first. I really had an incredible time in Mendoza, I got about 8 hours of sleep over a 4 day weekend, spent about 32 hours on a bus, learned what being cold really means, turned 21 with an entirely new group of friends, cried uncontrollably on the side of a mountain, and drank some of the best wine in the world. If freezing my ass off is the worst thing that happens to me while I'm in South America, Ill be just fine.  I arrived in Buenos Aires at around 11 am Monday morning, and made it to my second and third classes starting at 1pm, I most definitly slept easy that night.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Patagonia Withdrawal

Buenos Aires welcomed me harshly.  The night we arrived back was extremely hot and humid, the exact opposite of the cool, dry south.  Sleeping was uncomfortable, but por suerte it rained all of sunday, giving me the perfect excuse to spend the day sleeping, getting up to eat, taking a siesta, eating again.  It was the first time in Buenos Aires I didn't leave my house for the entire day,  my body definitely needed the recupe time, and I'm pretty sure that is the last time I will have a day like that.  I started la facu (short for la facultad, or university) on Monday at 8am. Oh boy.  Ohhhh boy.  Goodbye Spanish class with my fun little Argentina teacher, 15 min breaks, open discussion and questions, you will be missed.


My first class was Historia de los movimientos politicos y sociales de Latino America - no translation needed.  Its within la facu so its classes with Argentinos.  The teacher looks like a stereotypical college professor.  Bit of a potbelly, balding with frizzy white hair, thick glasses etc, he spoke very clearly however, and the material seems very interesting, latin america in all its social and political revolutionary history and identity, right up my ally.  There is, however, a TON of reading.  We shall see.


Second class, Pensamiento politico de Latino America.  A very animated little man teaches this course for foreign students.  There are kids in the class from all over the world except Argentina -Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, France, Canada, Holland, and lost of Estadounidenses.  The first class was a rapid colonial america history tutorial, he threw his cigarettes and pretended to jump out of a window when the class failed to answer basic history questions regarding our respective country's history.  I'll tell you one thing, the Mexicans and the French in the class answered questions about their national history waaay more thoroughly than the US students, heh, it was a tad embarrassing when no one could come up with some of the answers.  Unlike the courses in la facu, the foreign classes are well organized with relatively detailed syllabi, and they start on time.  Similar to the courses in la facu, there is a TON of reading.  I am still vibing out how mandatory this reading stuff is here.  


Third class, the scariest of them all, is Político Internacional.  It is basically a hardcore 4th year Poli Sci class with readings from many of the political thinkers that you'd see in American classes.  It's filled with all the things about Poli Sci that I avoid at all costs. Like economics, ew, and security studies, and war theory, etc.  I miss my sophomore year "Peace Studies" class at OSU.  The teacher mumbled for two hours, used a ton of slang, and seemed to have an insider friendship with a few of the kids in the class of 12.  There are only 13 students left in the entire graduating International Studies department at the University, LEFT, meaning they're the only ones who stuck it out.  I'm scared.  The teacher doesnt have a book, we just have to go to the fotocopiadora and  have them print out the bibliografia.  The text book system here is TOTALLY different.  Way better in my opinion.  You don't see officially published expensive textbooks with their own bias (Hello Texas!), but large spiral bound compilations of mostly primary source documents, chapters from books, articles, etc. organized by the teacher for the course.  It's up to the educator to string the ideas together.  This particular teacher didnt bother to compile a book.  Looking through the material for the semester was daunting, often times we have hundreds of pages to read for each class, but interestingly enough, many of the articles are European or US authors, so me thinks I will be able to find many of them in English.  Usually I would never 'cheat' in that sense, because I do want to learn the language obviously, but I am in no position to deny any advantage, I need it in fact, and I have a million other avenues to learn the language.  Worst part: a HUGE part of the grade in the class is an oral exam, one on one with the teacher, where he tells you a topic, or asks you a question, and you have to tell what you know.  I might drop this class tomorrow for something like Latin American Lit or Culture or something.  I need to figure out if this is a challenge I can handle or if its overambitious.  It will, unfortunately, affect my pretty GPA back home. 


Class four: Latin American Cinema, class for foreign students, teacher has pink hair.  We have 9 pages to read for next class.  This is my breathe easy class.  Although I wont be able to attend the showing of the movies on thursday morning because of ^ that class.  I will be renting the movies, watching them online, etc.  Hopefully thatll work out.  Vamos a ver.  (We will see)


Class five, I am trying to kill my self, Integración y MERCOSUR.  Do you know what MERCOSUR is? I didnt.  It's the international economic organization with Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay and Paraguay.  We will be learning about the process of integration, how MERCOSUR works and interacts with other countries and organizations, comparing it to unions like the EU etc.  This teacher, on the other hand, (think Argentine George Clooney)  actually acknowledged the presence of the foreign students in the class, and was interested in why we wanted to learn about MERCOSUR etc.  The guy seems very smart, speaks slowly, and is pretty patient, which I am a big fan of. We have presentations however in this class, so that should be interesting.  


Class six, Tango.  I took it because it's a free tango class.  I will be dropping it because half of the class is lecture.  I can sit through one day of a dancer talking about Tango history and development. One. 


One bright note: No classes on friday.  


Recap of Night life activities: 
-La bomba de tiempo at Konex.  A weekly drum performance led by different people all the time.  It is an outdoor venue with muy buena onda.  Theres always a line to get in, but being a woman always gets you out of it. Nestled in Palermo, Gypsies (ojo - caution) sell pot brownies and cookies, guys sell pan rellena (I've yet to try it but it looks soo good.  Its bread with hot meat/cheese/sauces inside) and cans of beer way marked up. There are always girls dressed up handing out fliers for the best after parties etc.  There was a Brasileño guest performer who rocked.  He was an ugly, short, fat man that resembled a mini Diego Rivera that rapped, beat boxed, sang, made crazy noises etc.  Everyone dances, mosh pits are unavoidable if you're up front, not hard to catch dilated pupils if you're looking for em.  Whats great about Bomba, is that unlike everything else in this city, it starts around 8pm, so you can go on a monday night, and get home in time for dinner, or hw or whatever.  Obviously you usually go to a bar afterwards, but my Norteamericana sides comin out-its nice to have a night life activity that starts before midnight.


-St. Patties day in Buenos Aires - Meh. Ended up at a terraza bar in Plaza Serrano, got a free drink from the waiter along with his number, got really annoyed with the large group of norteamericanos I was with that don't know how to tip (had nothing to do with the waiter flirting with me), and remembered why I avoid going out with too many Americans 


-Went to the Buller Brewing Company in Recoleta near the cemetery, it was a pleasure to have good beer again.  For less than $10 US dollars I got a sampler of all of their beers with peanuts.  Ranging from a light lager to a stout. Yum. Felt like a splurge.  Meagan, a friend from Ohio and a mutual friend of a friend Ian met us there.  It was nice to have some OH vibes.  Then we met up with a couple of the Mardel boys and went to a dance club.  It was a little young, but there were some entertaining b boy battles and a couple stripper poles on the stage for the daring party goer.  Dancing helped unwind weeklong stress. 


Had a Día del campo excursion with my program.  Running on two hours of sleep from the night before, we stopped for medialunas, and met the group to spend the day at an Estancia with real Gauchos.  One the way we stopped in the city of San Luján, known for its giant basilica.  Every year, thousands of people walk from Buenos Aires at 1 in the afternoon on pilgrimage to this town, arriving  in the morning around sunrise. The line for baptisms was literally out the door, it was a little silly, but cute.  The story of the church is kind of interesting, there were two men riding along a major ruta carrying images of Mary (I think? Could have been St Lujan I dont know this junk) for the churches that were to be built in Spain's Argentina.  The horses got to the town and refused to move.  The men thought the horses were tired, so they spent the night, the next day they packed up, and the horses still wouldn't move.  They thought there was too much cargo, so after unloading the weight, the horses began to move, the men quickly gathered all the items headed for the churches, and the horses wouldn't budge again.  It was seen as a miracle that the horses refused to move if the image of Mary wasnt on tierra firma.  There, they built the basilica, kind of cute right? 


On we went. La Mimosa is one of the most famous farms in the region, and is a beautiful old colonial home surrounded by gardens with peacocks walking around, sprawling fields with horses, sheep, cows, chickens etc, a HUGE asado, woodfire bbq, big enough to feed hundreds of people.  We drank mate, watched the Gauchos ride horses and do Gaucho things, ate empanadas fritas, ate a gigantic meal with chorizo, chicken, blood sausage, steak, the whole deal, had coffee with tortas fritas, hung out under the shade of the willow trees, rode horses, played the Gaucho version of Bachee ball, and danced, it was kind of an imaginative day.  I did some sketches, and some of the Gauchos seemed to like them.  I think I was most impressed with the four year old boy who rode his horse like John Wayne.  Skills.