Saturday, June 12, 2010


Ritmo de vida

It's hard to believe this is my last night in Buenos Aires, then it's back to South Carolina, and back to my old life. I say "old life" in the sense that coming back to it will be more difficult than leaving it. I've become so accustomed to my life here, and every day this city feels smaller and more familiar, and I feel more connected. But lately I've been getting frustrated with things, experiencing ups and downs and even feeling a little homesick. Maybe it's just the reality of leaving so soon that is tinging everything with sadness. Already friends are leaving, to go home or moving on to other adventures. And I've been waiting around. Waiting in endless lines at the bank, for buses that never come, for trains to run, for the check to arrive, for friends to text you back...waiting until tomorrow, when all this becomes a memory.

But I've gotten so used to the waiting, and the rushing, and time starting and stopping and disappearing and people coming in and out of my life. Waking up, going to class, eating dinner, being with friends, etc. It's so normal, but the pacing is so that nothing ever stays the same. It's funny though, the patterns that you start to notice, as millions of people, myself one of them, cross paths every day. You start to see the same faces: a girl playing guitar downtown who I later saw twice on the E train, a man selling poetry on the 141 who passed me in the street, the old men who wink at me at el Potosi. Random or not, seeing these strangers again and again makes you feel that you're not so alone, that the city is your home, and in a way, you belong as if you'd always been there.

I can't think of anything more to say, except that right now I feel sad, but also nervous and excited and a little uncertain of the journey that's ahead. See you on the other side. Ciao.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


After reading a New York Times article a while back about all Jorge Luis Borges' haunts around Buenos Aires, I wrote down the street addresses with the idea that I would follow his "trail" around the city, just to get some idea of the everyday sights that appeared so much in his writing. When Jordan was here we set off in search of Borges, of the places he lived and worked that inspired works such as "The Aleph" and "Ficciones." Here's our map (pictures to come soon) of an adventure that took us from Palermo Viejo to Recoleta to Retiro to Boedo and back to San Nicolas/Monserrat (downtown) by subway, bus and on foot.

1. Childhood home: Serrano (JL Borges) 2135, "The Dagger"

"the mythical foundation of Buenos Aires, a city I judge to be as eternal as water and air"

2. El Preferido: Guatemala and Serrano

"...a pink shop, like the back of a deck of cards...and in the back room they talked of tricks"

3. Buenos Aires Zoo: Las Heras

where his dreams of tigers began

4. Home: Plaza San Martin, 6B Maipu 994

5. Another home: Paraguay 521

6. Miguel Cane Muncipal Library: Carlos Calvo 4321, "Ficciones"

"Man, the imperfect Librarian"

7. National Library: Mexico 564

8. Cafe Richmond: Florida 468

There are a few things we left out for sake of time and uncertainty of how to get there, but I think we mostly covered Borges' old stomping grounds. Walking down the quiet streets of Boedo and a gray windy day, sitting on the steps of the National Library, and eating queso&dulce in El Preferido made me feel as if I were looking at the city through his eyes, and maybe a little bit closer to understanding such a quiet, profound genius.

"Porque si no mueren las almas, esta muy bien que en sus despedidas no haya enfasis. Decirse adios es negar la separacion, es decir, "Hoy jugamos a separarnos pero nos veremos manana. Los hombres inventaron el adios porque se saben de algun modo inmortales, aunque se juzguen contingentes y efirneros.
Alguna vez anudaremos "Junto a que rio?" Este dialogo incierto y nos preguntaremos si alguna vez, en una ciudad que se perdia en una llanura, fuimos Me & You."

-Borges, on saying goodbye

Did you fall in love while you were here?

Si, todos los dias.

Melancholy Mixtapes

Jordan's flight left today at 5, and I've been moping around ever since listening to some mixtapes he made for me and updating this blog. It's been wonderful seeing my boyfriend and sharing my life here with him, and I miss him already. But just to recap what we've been doing for the past two weeks:

-Boutique de Libros (and lots of other bookstore browsing and coffee-drinking)
-petting kitties in the Botanical Gardens
-drinking mate in parks
-eating a lot of steak/empanadas/pizza
-Recoleta Cemetary, National Library
-River Plate football game
-Peruvian food in Abasto
-El Ataneo
-San Telmo/downtown
-dinner with my hostfamily
-he came to teach English with me one day and the kids thought he looked like Ron Weasley from Harry Potter
-going to see Villa Diamante
-hanging out with my friends
-the Borges Trail*

Today we woke up and sat in a park in Palermo Viejo for awhile sipping mate, then went too a coffee shop down the street and read (Cronopios and Famas). We got lunch in a little dingy street parilla and then there was nothing left to do but go back to the hostel and wait for a cab to come take him to the airport.

la Ciudad Oculta

Backstory: I've been volunteering at a community center near Villa 15 (in Villa Lugano) for several months now. Twice a week I make the hour and a half commute to teach kids (ages 6-16) English, and despite the distance and the potential danger of going down there, it's been such a positive, fulfilling experience. I really love those kids-they're so loving and sweet, unspoiled and so eager to learn. American children in comparison are such brats, and it kills me that these children have nothing, not even a decent teacher. I'm sure you can imagine how awkward and unorganized I am, especially trying to explain complex English grammar in Spanish!

Anyway, you can read more about what Centro Conviven, Villa 15 (la Ciudad Oculta) and about the kids here:

It's hard to know that these children come from some of the world's worst slums, away from the eyes of visitors and most people who live in Buenos Aires. I thought I knew what it was like, and I thought I wasn't sheltered. I've seen pictures and I've done lots of research and I spend my Wednesdays and Thursdays teaching just a few blocks away, but nothing could have prepared me for actually being inside the villas, an experience that shook me deeply, and almost tore me apart. To be completely honest, I was afraid. Despite everything that I knew, the sense of panic overcame me like a cold punch in the stomach when I'd realized last Wednesday that I'd missed my bus stop and the 141 was passing through the villas: one side the soul-less gray monoliths of bombed-out government projects and the other the familiar stacks of cheap materials that formed an endless shantytown. Nearly in tears, I told the bus driver I was supposed to get off on Eva Peron and how did I get back? He sighed, stopped the bus and told me to get off, cross the street, and walk a few blocks and take the 141 back. Here? I asked, eying the villas. Is Get off, he snapped. So I did. And I crossed the street and walked the two blocks and tried not to look conspicuous. And then I waited. Looking around, despite the ugly appearance of the buildings and the dirty streets and stray dogs and shady characters, I realized no one was staring, or even remotely seemed to be aware that I was "out of place." Still, the pit in my stomach grew as I took in the sight of such much poverty and human misery. The second I saw the 80 bus approaching the stop I was overcome with such relief, remembering vaguely that it stopped near the Center and being so desperate to get out of there. I jumped on and threw my money in the slot and relaxed, until I realized a few blocks later the bus was turning left on Eva Peron, the opposite direction of the Center and deeper into the villas. The bus driver motioned for me to get off but I shook my head, and 20 minutes later (already late for class) I called Carmen (she's a director of the Center) explaining that I was lost and going the wrong way and was scared to get off and that I was so sorry I was late. She said it was ok but that the kids were waiting for me. I burst into tears. After hanging up everyone around me started asking where I was trying to go and patting my back and repeating "tranquila" (calm down). After some debate about how to get back and which bus to take, an old lady took my hand, got off with me, walked me across the road, wrote down directions, waited with me for the bus, and even tried to explain to the driver where I was going. She also asked if I needed coins (she was a saint). I got on the bus feeling better and thinking I was heading the right direction, but the driver shook his head and said I need to take the bus the other way. I couldn't believe it. I told him I'd just got off that one, etc, and with my mounting frustration and tears coming again I couldn't really explain myself. He said he'd tell me when to get off and to get out of people's way. After a bit he stopped at a corner, told me to get off and walk that way, waving in the direction of a street that passed through a shantytown. I had no choice. And I got off, took a look around, and started to run, running away from reality-- the ugly monster of poverty and all the things I have no power to change. I ran past stacked shacks and leering men and dingy shops and cows and graffiti and the whole miserable scene. I'd seen enough, and I wanted out.
I must have ran 10 blocks, I don't know, when I saw a YPF station and realized that I was around the corner from the Centro. Carmen was waiting for me outside, and I couldn't help but run into her arms and cry on her shoulder. She said nothing for a minute, because she knew what I'd seen. Then she asked if I was ok and if I'd been robbed, and the other volunteers asked the same. The kids were there, already working on homework together, and when I walked in they gave me hugs and kisses and yelled "Seño! We love you! You got lost? You're crazy!" and then hugged me some more and asked if it was tea time yet.
And they knew what I'd seen, and that I'd been afraid. I'm no martyr, I can't walk through the slums like Mother Theresa with my head held high, ignoring the ugly surroundings and embracing the poor and unwashed without fear and only love in my heart. I was scared of their reality--this is where they come from--and it slapped me in the face. And I never want to go back, I can't. I'm not brave enough to walk the same streets my students do, and they know that too. But maybe it's not the elephant in the room anymore, and maybe now we have an understanding and there's nothing more to be said about it. Life will go on, and I'll continue trying to give these kids something better. Crazy? Yes. For believing that I can help these children in some small way, and they can escape that hell like I had, and that there is hope for them. You have to believe this, or what hope is there at all? And who knows? Maybe I can. I am, after all, a lucky girl.

I'm 12 years old

So I took another trip outside Buenos Aires, this time heading to Uruguay with folks from my program. Friday morning I woke up at exactly 7:30 am (we had to be at the port at 7:45), threw a few things in my backpack, and took the subway downtown at a full sprint. After waiting for train delays, getting lost and receiving several frantic phone calls from Gaby (our site director, I just barely managed to get through customs and catch the ferry for the hour and 1/2 ride to Colonia del Sacramento, a lovely old tourist town across the Rio de la Plata. Colonia was nice: we walked along the coast on cobblestone streets and looked at old buildings and enjoyed beautiful weather, but honestly, you can see the whole town in about 2 hours, then call it a day. There's nothing to do, so I acted up a bit out of boredom. I fell asleep on our bus tour, and goofed off during the walking part, throwing oranges and wrestling stray dogs and cracking up and being a little shit. Eventually we ditched the rest of the group and spent the better part of the afternoon taking stupid pictures and watching Family Guy in Spanish. And Uruguay's really expensive. Lunch, a sandwich called a chivito (a steak, cheese, egg, bacon, heartattack on a bun), fries, and a Coke was 200 Uruguayan pesos, about 50 Argentinean pesos. And we went out that night to a little restaurant/karaoke bar called "Colonia Rock," where we suffered through middle-aged tourists from BsAs belting out Enrique Iglesias. Gross. And again I opted to eat like a 12-year-old boy to save money (and did so all weekend: pizza and fries and hotdogs and soda, mmm!).

Colonia was quiet and very pretty, aka impossible to take a bad photo anywhere in the town. I did enjoy sitting on the terrace of our hotel for a bit, watching the sun set over the old church, listening to pigeons coo, and eating eucalyptus candy and cookies.
Obviously I was anxious to get to Mondevideo, and so thankfully the next morning we left early and bussed it down to the capital. Montevideo seemed happening enough, but oddly downtown was dead quiet. We wandered around the old part of the city and ate in an old market and battled mosquitoes, then basically called it a night. There were apparently elections that weekend and it's illegal to sell alcohol before, so all the bars and clubs were closed. We drank Cokes at dinner then retreated to our rooms to watch bad American television. The next day I slept during the entire bus tour of Montevideo-so dull. The ferry home was about 4 hours, during which my friend Austin and I had way too much mate and giggled the whole time.

So that was Uruguay...and I'm sure you can tell it was pretty boring. It was like I was a kid on one of those school trips, or family vacations to see historical things: unappreciative and sullen, looking for distractions and goofing off the whole time. But I'm not complaining. I mean, I've been to 3 countries in the past 4 months (and got my visa renewed until August!), and I got to hang out with my ASA friends and eat junk food. So looking back now I'm glad I went, and I least I got some rad pictures.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rosario: ALL U CAN EAT

I took a day trip to Rosario with Graciela a few weeks ago, just to get out of Buenos Aires. My impression of the city was that it was beautiful and I wish I could've spent more time there under different circumstances. I bussed it up there with Graciela and her ladies group, and spent the better part of the day being pushed around by old people in a casino. Part of our ticket ($100 pesos) included a buffet lunch at Argentina's biggest casino, which was a weird place: hundreds of flashing machines, tables of craps and roulette, and a horrible sense that the whole operation was run by dirty government money. We met up with Graciela's daughter Marisol and her husband and baby son, and after cleverly stealing a few meal vouchers (the Porteña way-both of us went back through the line in disguises and grabbed a few for Marisol and Juan Manuel), the four of us tucked into a huge meal that included pasta, asado, salads, meat&cheese, desserts galore and bubbling cauldrons of what was called "ethnic food." So basically I lapsed into a meat coma just as we broke from the group, crammed ourselves into JM's tiny car, and took a city tour through downtown Rosario. Everything was so clean and white and beautiful, especially Boulevard Oroño. We stopped at a cafe right by the Monumento a la Bandera, which is really an impressive tribute to the Argentinean flag, and spent the afternoon drinking coffee and brandy and watching the Rosario Central game, and sweating because it was so hot. We went back to the Casino, loaded ourselves on the bus for another tour of Rosario, back through DT and to the Monumento to check out the nighttime lights and the eternal flame, and walk around the Cathedral. We drove around a bit before heading back to BsAs. Graciela's invited me to go on a similar trip with her to, as long as there's a buffet included?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Las tres lenguas

So instead of writing another essay, here's a little guide to the Buenos Aires dialect, called Lunfardo (they technically speak Castellano, which is technically Spanish). Sorry some of this is rude, but I picked up these phrases and words by just listening and observing and asking a lot of questions (thanks to coco, wake, greg, and ñaño for their help)

Some vocabulary/expressions you won't learn in Spanish 209:

estar en pedo-to be drunk
cara de culo-literally, ass face, but it means to have a sour expression
Bolitas-offensive term for Bolivians
Paraguas-offensive term for Paraguayans
asqueroso-creepy; disgusting
me importa un carajo-I don't give a shit
boludo-idiot; also used among friends as a term of endearment ("che, boludo")
cojer-in other Spanish speaking countries, this word means to take, but in Argentina, it's definitely to fuck
Andate a la mierda-go to hell/go fuck yourself
Dejame a romper las bollas-get off my nuts
pancho-hot dog
frutilla-strawberry (fresa)
anana-pineapple (piña)
birra-beer (cerveza)
shopping-centro comercial
ser buena onda-to be nice, give out good vibes
tragos-mixed drinks
gaseosa-a soft drink
vivir en un nube de pedo-kind of like "you have your head in the clouds," but literally means "to live in a cloud of fart"
amigovio-"boy" friend (guy who you hook up with)
dar a luz-give birth
malparida: cursed birth
mandar fruta-bullshitting

Special skater/kid lingo:

porro-joint (of weed)
estar re quesudo-to be a jerk-off
che-kind of like starting a sentence with dude, to get someone's attention
parcero/parce-a friend, or a dude (this word comes from Colombia)
costilla-literally, "my rib," they use it to describe a very close friend
marico-faggot, but also used like boludo, an affectionate term for your friends
marrones-gay guys
shahor-I think it comes from a Jewish expression and means "outsider"
Me da paja-it's a pain in my ass

So these are just some of the expressions that I've picked up since living in Buenos Aires and hanging out with a bunch of skater dudes. (sorry Mom, but I did leave out some of the worse stuff)

Chau! (they say "ciao" instead of adios)