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)

Latin America is for Lovers?

I'm finally going to have to admit to myself, despite my belief that the stereotypical Latin male is/was a thing of the past, that machismo does indeed exist in Argentinean society. Of course, not all men here are patriarchal male chauvinist pigs blah blah blah. And what's more, many women find that attitude attractive. But I've found that there are subtle ways that men treat women that really don't jive with me. I once got yelled at by a Porteno guy (the whole rest of the night) for apparently "flirting" with another guy (it's a long story). Ugh the point is I was made to feel inferior for just being the way I am. Lame. Anyway, so there's just an example of my own culture shock when it comes to dealing with men here.

Since I've been posting really freaking long essays lately, I'm going to break down the dynamics of gender relations here in BsAs (from my observations)

-guys from other countries in Latin America (ahem, Venezuela) claim that Porteños are not your stereotypical "Latin Lovers" for these reasons:
-they're direct and up front about what they want (ie, if they see a hot girl in a club they're not going to waste time trying to "romance" her, they're just going to be like, "hey, come home with me"
-they don't really romance girls at all...they either pick up chicks at clubs (and go to sleezy hotels) or have sullen girlfriends that they seem to fight with/passionately make out with all the time
-these same Venezuelans claimed that Porteña girls go crazy over them because they perceive them to be the real so-called Latin lovers, because guys from BsAs are just, like, "so European" about it

I was NOT having it. Get lost, boludo.

-the Public Displays of Affection here are out of control-everywhere you look someone is sucking face...teenagers, couples on dates, old people...Anyway, at first it takes some getting used to, because hard-core making out in public back in the States is pretty much frowned upon (read, trashy). Maybe it's a subconscious act of liberation from years of sexually repressed society, or the fact that most young people still live with their parents and they don't have anywhere else to do it, or, they just want a little sugar/like to express their love all the time. Ok, I get that, no problem. But on the colectivo? Or in the sweaty subway during rush hour? Ew. Stop.

-Speaking of ew, men here definitely make it no secret if they think you're attractive. I'm not talking about just in clubs: on the streets, in the subte's, they'll make sure you know you're cute. But the thing is, when they whistle or say things like "preciosa!" or "que linda" or even "I'm going to think about you the rest of the day" (haha true story), they really mean no harm. Graciela says we should take it as a compliment. Uh...thanks? But she also said if they say offensive things, like call you a "puta" or something, then you should just ignore them and resist the urge to tell them to "andate a la mierda" (ie go fuck yourself, ahem, sorry mom). Speaking back will only encourage them. So I guess a little compliment from some rando on the street is nice every now and then, but sometimes I can't help but feel objectified (not that I get a lot of dudes trying to holla, jeez, but, many of my friends get lots of unwanted attention)

-ok, last one. This one's a little heavy: the A-word. Surprisingly, abortion's illegal here. Actually, maybe not so surprisingly. It is after all, a Catholic country. Still, with all the supposed sexual/social liberation I'm a little curious as to why Argentina hasn't lead the way in women's rights in Latin America. Looking around the streets on a typical day, there seem to be an abnormal amount of young mothers (and I mean young, early 20's) with a couple of kids in tow. Young dads too. While that's cute and all, Graciela explained to me that people aren't very smart about their sexuality (using birth control, etc) and so these young women end up getting pregnant before they've finished school, gotten jobs, or even moved out of their parents'. So the young couples could end up in a lot of trouble with a lot of mouths to feed before they're ready. Still, the babies here are absolutely adorable and most of these young couples look really happy. Sweet. But, I still wondered how girls in more unfortunate situations handled their unplanned pregnancy. I asked my friend Jonathan what they did, and he rolled his eyes and attempted to explain that they would have to go to a "witch" to obtain an illegal abortion, and that many girls end up in the hospital or even die because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and if they go to a hospital they face legal prosecution. Wtf???? First of all, what exactly did he mean by witch? (turns out he couldn't think of a better translation and just said that to mean old scary lady, like a mid-wife or something). Second of all, not only do these girls obtain illegal and unsafe abortions, they risk going to jail for seeking legitimate medical help afterward, and so many don't even go, and end up dying or seriously messing up their bodies. Sad. So I could rant about this for awhile, but I guess I shouldn't impose my views of women's rights on other cultures...

Anyway, so that's enough about that. Somehow though, my romantic notions of the "Latin Lover" are shattered. But I don't need to be treated like a princess; being treated like an equal is just fine, thanks.

*disclaimer: really though, not all guys are like that here, I've met some really great ones who do respect women

*sorry this was a long post

A mitad de camino

"You hear that sound? You're gonna remember that for the rest of your life. It's the song of the knife-sharpener."

So I've been here for about 2 1/2 months, which means that in exactly 2 1/2 months, I'll be leaving Buenos Aires, and, hundreds of pesos, endless new friends, way too many empanadas, and a handful of weekends of all-night hedonism later, I'm still not sure that I've come to know Buenos Aires as well as I thought I would. Borges once wrote, "And the city now, is like a map of my humiliations and failures." My feels an affinity for these words in the sound of my boots on the pavement at night, the piles of empty sugar packets next to yet another cup of coffee at el Potosi, my face reflecting in the window of the 141 during my morning bus ride to the villas. Most of my time here is spent alone: eating breakfast, walking, or sitting in my favorite cafe doing homework and listening to tapes. Sometimes I prefer to be alone in a city, weaving seamlessly in and out of the endless flow of humanity, when I can really feel that sense that Buenos Aires is as "eternal as water and air." Other times, when I'm staring out my window at night looking out at the city, I feel so overwhelmed by it's vastness, this living, breathing energy that I'm not a part of. What are these millions of people doing right now, at this moment, while I'm sipping a cafe con leche in a tiny cafe on a quiet street corner in the north part of the city? All the people I've met, or have yet to meet, or will never meet, are going about their lives, part of the endless flow of actions and words and change. It's hard to say what "experiencing" Buenos Aires really is--clubbing 'til dawn or visiting monuments? Dining at parillas or seeing a tango show or buying leather knick-knacks? Maybe so, and maybe I've missed these things in search of something else, that human contact that I'm starting to miss. I think the closest thing to the inside was my friendship with a half-French half-Porteño vago who promised he'd show me the "real Buenos Aires." But after two months of dancing and eating and drinking and sleeping in parks and wandering aimlessly and talking to people, I wonder can I really say that I know another side to the city? Could I ever? And I'm left with strange, somewhat saddening memories of awkward silences, falling leaves, streets, sunshine and rooftops and early mornings and sitting in doorways and the song of the knife sharpener. No fairy tale there, just reality. And there you go, maybe that's it: just the reality of living here, of having nothing to do, of wasting time and smoking too many cigarettes, and saying and doing all the wrong things, and losing things in translation, that constitutes the real Buenos Aires. "Welcome to South America honey," he always says to me, when I ask yet another question about why things are the way they are here. And I think now I can accept that as an answer, because maybe that's his way of saying that he can't explain it either.

Monday, March 29, 2010

El terremoto que me tembló

My good friend Erica and I decided that our spring break in Chile was meant to be an "indie" movie, complete with a journey, a cast of eccentric characters, and plenty of self-discovery along the way (along with adversity and emotion), so I'm going to go along with this cheesy gimmick to write about our Great Adventure to the other side of the Andes.

Title: El terremoto que me tembló


I can hardly believe it's been a month since I was in Chile, and since then so much has happened some of the details of my trip are a little hazy. However, I do know it was the craziest and most incredible week of my life, and I'll never forget the people I met, the places I saw, and the experiences I had. We arrived in Santiago de Chile on February 25, took a bus to Valparaiso, then wandered up the coast to Quintero and Ritoque, eventually making our way back to Santiago. The real star of my story could be the massive earthquake that shook the country my first night in Chile, but I'm sure you've all seen the news, so that'll play a minor role. Yes, it was a tragedy, and affected millions of people who are now without homes, but I wouldn't say it was the climax of my, more like the narrative hook that jump-starts the plot. My most vivid memory is the people who were there with me, and how how we connected, and went our separate ways and found each other again and became part of each other's lives. Maybe I'll never see them again, but in these moments of my life I felt some sort of deep bond with a group of complete strangers, free spirits wandering around South America much like myself, unsure of where life would take them. And for that week I spent in Chile, life took me to places I never expected to go.

The Cast (in order of appearance)-

Erica Woodson-plays my traveling companion and wonderful friend, who stuck by me until the very end with a good sense of humor and a plucky spirit.
Nikki Zeiter-plays the third traveling companion who takes off in search of her own adventure
Sebastian-the morbidly funny hostel roommate from Finland whose eccentric mannerisms and mutual amusement make for comic relief. He rides a fix-gear bike, wears high socks, safety "googles," the same ill-fitting plaid shirt everyday, and has unhealthy obsessions with both Coca-Cola, socks, and Snus
Edun & Ella-Norwegian girl and Israeli girl who we become close to
Tim & Ben-English chaps
Simona, Lovisa, Allen, Gonzala, Dominic, & Andrew-lively bunch who work at the hostel in Santiago and guide us through earthquake drama, and we have several crazy nights with them
Anna & Feijtje-hippy girls from Amsterdam we meet in Valparaiso and then again in a tiny surf town
John & Felix-skateboarding French Canadian dudes who help us find peanut butter and we meet in Valp, then Ritoque, and then back in Buenos Aires

Minor characters: Sergio, a Chilean; Kika, hostel worker; creepy girl who wanders around Pio Nono; Christian, hostel owner in Valpo; New Zealanders Chris & Ross ; the surfer dudes in Ritoque; the drunk old guys on the streets of Bellavista; and many others

Synopsis: Nikki, Erica and I arrive in Santiago, check into Bellavista hostel, and go out for an amazing seafood dinner (I have the ceviche). We sit at one of the crowded outdoor cafes on Pio Nono (main street in Bellavista) and share a pitcher of Escudo, the cheap domestic beer. Slightly tipsy on the both the beer and how amazing Santiago was, we sit on the rooftop terrace looking at the stars over Santiago...
At about 3 or 4 in the morning we're awakened to what can only be described as shaking, with a terrible sound of howling wind and things shattering. The next day, in the aftermath of the quake, everything is chaos. Powerless (literally without electricty and internet) we sit on the roof in the bright sunshine and dusty air, bonding over what happened and listening to my radio to news of rising death tolls, destruction in the South, and rumors that the airport would be closed indefinitely. We wander around the empty, ghost streets of Santiago in a daze for a few days, drink lots of Escudo, and follow Sebastian around before packing up and catching the bus to Valparaiso, where we stay in a backpacker's hostel and spend a few days wandering the dizzying streets and bro'ing out before making our way up the coast to a dusty little town called Quintero. We hitchhike to Ritoque, a surf village, and spend the next 3 days in paradise. After the stars come out at night we sit around the bonfire grilling meat and drinking pisco with a rowdy bunch of surfer dudes who don't speak English. We relunctantly return to Santiago and spend our last crazy night in Chile partying with the hostel staff. Our flights have been moved around but we make it out of Chile and back to Buenos Aires.

Moments of self-discovery: the aftermath, deciding to go on with our travels despite how worried everyone back at home is, Nikki's departure, sitting around a bonfire looking at the stars and the Pacific ocean, coming back to Santiago to find our friends are still there, looking down at the city from the top of Cerro San Cristobal, and all the disagreements, hardships, hilarious moments along the way, and the beauty of the country and the sadness of leaving it behind.

So there's our epic movie: two friends on an unforgettable journey. And it really was. Chile is the most amazing place, I can't even begin describe to you the experience. And now that I'm writing this, things are coming back to me so clearly it's almost as if I'm there again. But I can't emphasize enough that it was the people I met that changed everything for me. Each and every person had an impact, and I hope they remember me just as I remember them, not just as travelers, locals, surfers, hippies, Europeans, whatever, but people whose dreams cross paths as they wander South America. Everyone had something different in mind when they came here; but whatever they're looking for-freedom, adventure, exotic places, "hot babes," good surf, new people, can be found in South America, where anything, literally, is possible, and everyday is an adventure. I feel some innate connectivity to these wanderers, who much like myself want to live life as they chose, without boundaries, and full of risks and cities and people and night skies. Even now, as I'm thinking about the endless possibilities, I can feel the ground beneath me tremble.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Local Wildlife

What you may or may not know is that Buenos Aires is crawling with critters: pigeons & other birdies, insects, dogs, cats and more cats. Ok, so not exactly wild animals, but I can't get enough of the free-roaming pets. As everyone knows, I'm kind of afraid of dogs, and usually only admire them at a distance. But the dogs here-both leashed pets and strays, are so cute and friendly that I want one myself. It's hard to resist the urge to go on a petting spree, especially since I'm not sure if it's rude or not to pet people's dogs. Sometimes I can't help myself, and my hand finds itself patting the furry head of someone's Golden Retriever. Speaking of breeds, dogs are like a status symbol in my neighborhood. Remember last summer when everyone North of 14th Street in NYC had an expensive French bulldog? (of course you wouldn't, unless your name is Temnete Sebhatu) But anyway, I bet half of those poor bulldogs are sitting in a pound somewhere, out of fashion now. Well, it's kind of like that here. Popular breeds are Golden Retrievers, shizus, huskies, and poodles, which are dragged around by little old ladies (I feel bad for the huskies-it's way too hot here for them!). And of course there are the dog walkers, who haul around like 30 dogs of various breeds and sizes, and leave shit all over the sidewalk. Jose, my beloved security guard, has 15 dogs (and 4 cats). Fifteen! Graciela says Jose is "loco," because dog food is so expensive. He told me that most of his pets are "mestizos" (mutts) he rescued from the streets, and that he lives in the Provencia so he has plenty of space for them. People take their pets seriously here. No animal ever seems to go hungry, even the strays. I was petting a group of cats in a trash heap in the park the other day and noticed plates of cat food set out for them, presumably by kind old ladies (like in the Recoleta Cemetery) who can't bear to see cats go hungry. Other hotspots for stray cats are greengrocers and the Botanical Gardens, where clusters of cats lounge under the pruned hedges. As if I don't look crazy enough as it is petting dirty cats, I've taken to photographing them on a regular basis. Some of my favorites are the little orange fellow how lives and few blocks from me, the little gatito who lives at the fruit stand on my way to school (the boys who work there are amused by my obsession), and this fat fluffy gray one that lives behind the fence of some sort of top-security compound. And of course Reni, Graciela's eccentric "boyfriend," who sleeps in between couch cushions and comes into my room at weird hours making all sorts of noise.
I've heard that only Westerners (ie America, Europe) make a big fuss over pets, but considering how well-groomed, obedient, and bountiful domesticated animals are here, I think pet obsession is a universal bourgeois privilege.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Instant coffee: a series of long-overdue posts

I must admit, I was surprised (at my own cultural insensitivity, no doubt) that not all Latin American food is spicy. Graciela patiently explained to me that all Americans expect spicy food, since we're so used to peppers and hot sauce in Mexican/Tex Mex cuisine, but here they don't eat their food with added spice. Aside from meat and a few popular regional dishes, Argentine cuisine doesn't especially stand out in flavor, unusual ingredients, or originality. However, I don't want you to get the impression that the food here is boring. Yeah, you could eat crappy hamburgers and pasta all the time, but I think the Argentine (with Spanish and Italian influence) classics are the way to go if you want culinary satisfaction. Food is rich: meats and cheeses, tartas, creamy coffee, alfajores (cookie layered with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate), freshly baked breads and desserts, winter vegetables, eggs and/or dulce de leche served with everything. It's slow, and meant to be savored and enjoyed with wine or beer, and always with friends.

Breakfast is fairly simple and solitary: every morning I eat two pieces of toast spread with marmeledas or dulce de leche, fruit, orange juice, and instant coffee with azucar.
Since lunch is on my own, I usually head down to the confiteria (panederia to all you other Spanish speakers) and buy a couple of freshly baked empanadas (filled with jamon y queso, roquefort, carne picante, spinach, pumpkin, or chicken, depending on the day) for 3 pesos each. Other days I'll buy some fruit and bread from the supermercado, or nuts and snacks from the health food store. Most afternoons I get a cafe and a snack, like medialunas (sweet croissants) or helado, both of which are cultures of their own here.
I've heard horror stories from other students about their host families depriving them of basic nourishment and/or being terrible cooks, etc, so I guess I can consider myself lucky living with Graciela, who is very health-conscious and provides a variety of nutritious meals. Dinner usually consists of protein and a vegetable, with very little carbs, grease, or dairy. Here's a sample menu of dinners from the past few weeks:

-roasted peppers, choclo (corn), and baked chicken
-corn/red pepper quiche
-eggplant and pasta
-pollo milanesas, calabaza (pumpkin), and fresh sliced tomatoes
-porkchops with salsa de mostaza, or baked with apples
-grilled steak and salad
-soups (cream of cebolla, chicken)

sides: sweet potato, lentils, tomatoes, carrot, peppers, pumpkin...basically whatever's fresh and in season
dessert: fruit, with dulce de leche

I don't go out to eat a lot, because a) there's no such thing as a quick meal here. And b) it's pretty expensive. But I've had enough experience in the BA restaurant/cafe scene to compile a fairly legitimate "Best Of..." list:

Best empanadas: Chantilly Confiteria (best price too-can't beat 3 pesos each!)

Best dessert: churros and hot chocolate at Cafe Tortoni, although an alfajor will satisfy your sweet tooth

Best coffee shop: el Potosi, for cafe con leche, Coco Cola in glass bottles, sandwiches with unusual fillings, and a cozy brick atmosphere. It's a local place I discovered a few weeks ago, and I go several times a week. The old men who sit outside with their friends are so cute and friendly I want to put them in my pocket. And the waitress knows me now that I've been there so often.

Best cocktail: clairivoska (vodka, lime, sugar)

Best (cheap) beer: Quilmes

Best wine: Malbec, duh.

Best savory snack (to enjoy with a beer): picada, a plate of olives, cheese, and cubed deli meats (salami, ham, prosciutto)

Best snack for anytime: medialunas

Best brunch: Oui Oui (the girls and I had a Valentine's Day brunch of eggs, bacon, french toast, waffles, and of course, cafe con leche)

Best all around: steak (de asado). Yes, I do eat meat now. And I'm not going to pretend I'm not enjoying it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

la moda de los Porteños

I can't help but notice how beautiful and glamorous most people are here. Of course there are the subcultures of the disenfranchised (blah blah blah) and plastic surgery is very common, but there is definitely a specific standard of beauty. So here's a few observations about what Porteños (that's the word to refer to people from Buenos Aires) are wearing, how they're grooming themselves, and what defines beautiful. It's like they don't allow ugly people on the streets!

Viejos: sad eyes, wrinkles, balding heads, a collared shirt (with stripes or plaid) tucked into belted khakis, orthopedic shoes, and a cane.

los chicos: hipster-meets-guido-meets-soccer player is the look right now. They wear Toms, Havanas flip flops, or rad hightops, long denim shorts and futbol jerseys, (but shirtless preferred, which is ok, because they're all super-fit). They sport slicked back ponytails (ala David Beckham cerca 2002-2003), mullets, piercings, and yes, rat-tails. hola guapo!

las chicas: anything goes with the ladies, but denim minis, cute sneakers, tank tops in all colors, and sandals are a must. Hair is worn long, straight, and dyed various shades of blonde. They actually don't wear much make-up, they're just that pretty.

ladies of an older generation: they are usually very elegant-long skirts, tailored pants, blouses (cleave!!), comfy yet tasteful sandals, and dangly earrings.

Cigarettes are a popular accessory for everyone but las viejas. And people wear their book-bags on the front. Seriously.

other things

Even though I love it here (both good and bad experiences), there are a few things I miss about home. And a few things I don't like about this city! (sorry to copy you Tas)

Me extraño:

1. Of course, my family, my friends, and my boyfriend

2. Bojangles. And any breakfast food like pancakes, cereal, etc.

3. Gender equality. Yes, there's even a woman president here, but there are subtle ways in which men treat women like inferiors. And I can't go some places/walk home at night alone.

4. Riding a bike

5. Fixed prices. I'm waiting to buy a few souvenirs until I can speak better Spanish, so I can get my haggle on!

6. Unnoticeable sewage smells. Enough said.

7. Late-nite transportation/food

8. Not feeling like an outsider.

9. Politeness. Ok, like I said, people are friendly. But not necessarily super tactful. Maybe that's just honesty, and I'll get used to it. For example, I asked this girl for directions the other night in Spanish, and she rolled her eyes and said "I bet you my English is better than your Spanish." I mean, I would never say that to someone attempting to speak English! So I said, unkind back in rapid English, and she made no comment, so I guess she didn't understand. Take that, bitch!

10. Parliament Lights.


It's taken me about a week to make my observations and get a feel for this place. although I haven't done everything, I've definitely tested the waters. I'm more of a wanderer than a planner, so I've taken to going on a daily adventure (yes, mostly alone, but no worries). Some of the best and most memorable times I've had have come about by my tendency to wander, and try a few things with no real direction or plan. Sometimes it works out, sometimes things fall through, but wandering is the best way to get to know a city and immerse myself in the culture. It's too easy to get into a groove, speak basic Spanish when necessary, and get into the routine of going out to all the same places on weekends with all the same people. Here's a few things I've learned by myself (or with a friend or two), that I think are more valuable than anything a guidebook can provide:

1. Make friends with the doormen of your building. The guys that work the desk are called Mario, Raoul, and Jose. Jose told me if I wanted to practice Castellano, I could always chat with him. He gives me directions, useful information about things to do, and always makes sure I'm going somewhere safe. They've got my back.

2. Find a neighborhood cafe. The cafes on Cabildo (commercial area in my barrio) are expensive, impersonal, and crowded. Luckily, Alison and I found the perfect spot near our building today. Much cheaper and much comfier!

3. Take buses/el subte as much as possible. Taxi drivers sometimes try to rip you off, and it's so cheap ($1.10 pesos= 30 cents) and actually a lot safer (I've heard stories about them kidnapping girls?!)

4. Don't speak English when you get on the bus, and throw your coins in the machine like you know what you're doing. Usually the bus drivers don't care if you've paid enough of not, but if you get flustered and whatnot, he'll let you keep putting coins in the slot until you've paid for more than one ride. That being said, the colectivos (colloquialism for bus) are a lot of pressure, because you pay after the bus starts moving and you're always rushed.

5. On that note, always carry monedas (coins) with you. They're hard to come by, and people hoard them. There's a national coin crisis (literally) right now because of obsessive hoarding. I think the problem would be solved by bus cards (they take coins only), but that's just me. And people at stores hate giving change in coins, so give them as small a bill as possible so you at least get a couple of monedas back.

6. Avoid bars blasting American music. I'm already sick of (most) Argentinian guys, and they hang around those places to pick up American girls.

7. Don't walk in huge groups (more than 4 or 5), especially on the subte's. It's a dead giveaway you're a tourist, and it's obnoxious. I was riding the subte by myself when a group of American girls got on. They were so loud and annoying-no wonder people think the stereotypes are true. When I spoke to them in English, they nearly jumped out of their skin--I was sitting quietly like everybody else, so I guess they thought I was a Porteño?

8. Go see movies on Wednesday nights, because it's much cheaper. $15 pesos>$26

9. The streets here are surprisingly clean, at least in my barrio. Actually the city is very well-kept. Even the graffiti has its charm. But no one picks up their dog's shit, so watch where you're walking!

10. Order randomly off menus (only if you eat meat!) because you'll usually get a nice surprise.

11. The ham here is so much better than at home. I don't know why, but even something as simple as a jamon y queso sandwich is delicious.

12. Apparently restaurants don't believe in tap water. It's perfectly safe/tasty to drink, but for some reason people always drink bottled water (agua sin gas or con gas) and it's more expensive than, say, a glass of wine. If you order water at a restaurant, expect to pay 6-8 pesos for it.

13. People here seem like they're racist, but I think they just acknowledge those differences without...tact. Every time a person of Asian origin is mentioned, someone always pulls back the skin around their eyes. Yeah. We get it. Unnecessary, but it's not like they don't like Asians. It's hard to explain, but I guess race has always been an issue in Latin America.

14. Not all people here are out to get you, as apparently our programs would have us believe (with horror stories of rape/robbery/etc). Most are friendly, will give you accurate directions (they'll even ask if you need help if you look lost), and are just trying to make a living. Of course, there are creeps and shady cab drivers and whatnot, but some Americans I've met are very cynical about the locals. As long as you say hello, how are you?, please/thank you, goodbye, people are polite right back.

15. However, people think Americans are too polite. Argentinians are more direct, and we tend to give indirect answers such as "well, i don't know," "maybe..." etc. People can actually be kind of blunt, but they appreciate direct answers.

16. Walk as much as possible. It's the best way to get the know the area (which in turn makes it safer for you) and see things you wouldn't have otherwise seen. Alison and I discovered a beautiful park and coffee shop today, just by wandering for a few hours around our own neighborhood.

17. There's no need to rush anything. Argentinians are punctual for class/work/etc, but they take their time when it comes to leisure. Like going out at night--it's unnecessary to arrive anywhere before midnight, because most people take their time eating dinner/getting ready. Going out shouldn't be a chore, and being too early/meeting people at an exact time makes it not fun. As with eating out or taking a coffee, waiters aren't rushed to bring you the check; they just assume you'll sip and talk and enjoy yourself, without having to be somewhere in 15 minutes. That's why there's no real fast food here--if you're going out to eat, be sure you have plenty of time. I like that mentality; it makes spending time with friends so much more enjoyable. Like the other day some friends and I planned to go to a museum, but we ended up sitting for three hours at a cafe and having a great time instead. The waiters even brought us free ice cream! I guess they liked our un-American attitude :) So why rush anywhere?

18. Bring a notebook and pen everywhere. That way you can sketch out maps, write down directions before you go so you don't have to consult a guide, take notes on street names and places you want to go in the future, and just write down thoughts about experiences and sensations.

19. Get the feel of a place before you engage in eating there. Look at the owner's/waiters'/patrons' faces when you walk in. You'll know immediately if you're not welcome (as a non-local or a woman). If you decide to stay, you can expect poor service and to be ripped off.

20. Above all I guess, practice speaking Spanish. I wish more than anything I spoke better Spanish, and that I'd studied harder before I came. Foreigners who can communicate faster and better and to a wider group have to best experiences and find off-the-map things to do/see. Like today, I asked a guy where that roaring noise was coming from, and he brought me to a futbol stadium! Ok, he did speak English, but if I hadn't stopped him to speak to him in the first place, I never would have gone. Ok, so I didn't actually go to the game, but now I know a) where the stadium is b) how much tickets cost/where to get them c) that some guys here are actually decent!


Saturday, February 6, 2010

la esquina de O'Higgins y Olazabal

Since arriving last Friday, I've already done and seen so much it would seem I've been in Buenos Aires for a lifetime. That's the thing about cities-they swallow you whole and digest you at warp speed. My memory of the past week is a blur of images--of palm trees, sunshine, clean white and red brick, tree-lined avenues and silhouetted crowds in smoky bars. Most nights I dream in Spanish, waking up in a hot sweat. When I'm sleepless I sit by my bedroom window listening to the whir of the ceiling fan and the echoing sirens, staring out at the geometric shapes of the high-rises in my barrio. By day, the city is distinctly itself. But at night, it's transformed into a glittering metropolis: crowds of people sitting at cafés, brightly lights, tiny cars weaving in and out of the endless traffic. It could be any city anywhere.

So far, I've visited the Recoleta Cemetery, seen the National Museum de Bellas Artes, visited Boca and San Telmo, and of course toured Plaza de Mayo, home of la Casa Rosa, the national Cathedral, and the history of political upheaval in Argentina. One memorable afternoon I went down to Almagro in search of an elusive libreria, but ended up sitting in the park watching skaters. And of course I've started classes already-five hours a day of español. And I've eaten my fair share of empanadas and carnitas and helado and dulce de leche.

I live in Belgrano, a very nice barrio (neighborhood) in the northern part of the city. My host "mom" is Graciela, a retired lady with two-grown up kids, a love of gardening, and a cat named Renado (Reni), who she says is her "boyfriend." As crazy as I am about cats, I couldn't believe my luck. Anyway, Graciela and I eat dinner together every night (around ten) and we watch telenovelas and the news. She always explains to me what's happening in simpler terms. We speak Castellano (one of the Argentinean dialects), and she asks me about my boyfriend, my family, and the like. And of course corrects my awful grammar. Give it another week, she says, and you'll catch on.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

i want an old argeniteniniananan man to nibble on the corners

All his life, Borges dreamed of petting the fur of a real tiger. At the age of 84, two years before his death, his dream became a reality. Maybe it was in that moment that the "inconceivable universe" that he so often explored in his writings came together. No one knows for sure what the tiger was thinking.

So I've decided to blog about my adventures abroad (mostly to keep friends and family updated). I'm leaving in a few days for Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I'll be attending the Universidad de Belgrano and living with a host family. Other than that, I don't really know what to expect. Of course I'm excited and nervous, but mostly I'm just looking forward to the whole experience. I've heard a few things about the city from various people who have been or known people to have been: Brandon Wilner told me about this sweet bookstore called Cobra that I can't wait to check out. And Paulina said that the shopping was unbelievable and I can find all kinds of leather products (boots? hopefully!). And Jordan's roommate Eliot described the youth culture as somewhat vain (always looking in mirrors) and fashionable and nervous (apparently people in Buenos Aires see therapists more than New Yorkers!). And my brother's friend Jace went there on his honeymoon and ate lots of beef and thrifted. In cities everyone experiences something different and vitalizing, and indescribably life-changing. Corny, but out of all the cities I've been to, each one has its own intricacies, connectivity, and endless flow of life. Since everyone else is in school, I've been sitting around my parents' house in Rock Hill, alone, carless, broke, and restless. I find myself dreaming of cities, of Borges, of labyrinths and gardens, and cafes and streets and memory. In my imagination, the libraries and language and ruins render the city an abstraction rather than an actuality. I suppose I'm caught up in a Borgesian fantasy. I'm chasing after the proverbial third tiger, an "ancient, perverse adventure, foolish and vague;" the quest for absolute physicality and sensuality that Borges sought it in symbols and shadows and literary images. I suppose I ought to set out on my own adventure across the landscape of Borges' dreams, and find my own.

And David, I'll find your old man, and together we'll drink mate and nibble the corners.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Selection from The Other Tiger, Borges, 1960

We'll hunt for a third tiger now, but like
The others this one too will be a form
Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not
The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths
Paces the earth. I know these things quite well,
Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,
And I go on pursuing through the hours
Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.