Monday, July 21, 2008

buenos aires top 10

TIME FLIES. I can't believe in three days, I'll be back in the California sun. I have absolutely loved my time here...exploring, getting to know the others on the program, or hanging out while eating awesome vegetarian food with my host family! 

Here is, in no particular order, my "Buenos Aires Top 10." 
  • Flea Markets. Every weekend (and holiday), there are huge flea/artisan outdoor markets in almost every neighborhood. The San Telmo market caters to an artier, more bohemian crowd. Recoleta is slighty pricier and has more crafts. San Isidro is crafty but cheaper! Tigre's market is just insane, with rows and rows of stores selling everything from mate gourds to wicker chairs to leather boots. I loved walking around them just for the people and dog watching!
  • Public Transport. Although they love to complain about the 'quirkiness' of the train of subway systems, I think Buenos Aires pretty much has it all figured out. There's an excellent train system (that costs 85 centavos or ~30 cents U.S.) that runs from the Province (greater Buenos Aires area) into the center of the city. There are 4 or 5 separate lines, and they come every 20 minutes. Within the city center, there is an excellent subway system with many different lines. The subways also cost less than 1 peso and come every 5-10 minutes. During rush hour, the subways are like human sardine cans. The busses, or Colectivos, are also EVERYWHERE! There are many different lines that also run in the Province, in the city center, or between the two. My one critique of the Colectivos is of their uncontrolled emissions and exhaust fumes. 
  • MALBA. This is one of the best collections of contemporary Latin American art I've seen and in a beautiful neighborhood/building as well!
  • Taxistas. The only cab driver I had that wasn't overwhelmingly friendly was an old man on the verge of falling asleep at the wheel. With that being said, the taxi drivers here are so wonderful and friendly to us foreigners! Every single one asks you "How do you like Buenos Aires? Is it a beautiful place?" The second most common question is "How are the men? Do you have a boyfriend?" One taxi driver even insisted that Marie and I call his daughter and practice speaking Spanish with her. We left the cab with thee different personal numbers!
  • Portenos. Before I left, I heard from several of my Mexican acquaintances that Poretenos are notoriously arrogant. There are even several Argentine jokes about it ("How do you get a Porteno to commit suicide? Have him/her jump from the top of his/her ego..."). Be that as it may, I think that the Poretnos are just the coolest. The culture is so warm and inviting here; within five minutes of meeting someone, you're practically family. All of the silly rules of formality are still there, of course, but mostly abandoned in favor of good conversation and some good laughs. My best conversations have been with random old men in the street.
  • Bars. Every bar here is insanely cool. (Everything here is insanely cool!) Of course there are probably many dingy hole-in-the-wall joints that we happily missed, but overall the bars were huge, with a wonderful selection of drinks and constant supply of 80's music. I've done my share of bar-hopping in Seattle, L.A., San Francisco, and New York and can confidently say that Buenos Aires definitely has the best bars! 
  • Cafes. Buenos Aires is famous for its beautiful, classic cafes. Most of them have tall ceilings, beautiful wood tables, and 50+ years of history. Unlike cafes in the states, these cafes serve coffee, wine, beer, pastries, and typically some assortment of sandwiches/empanadas. Another awesome place to people-watch and "matar tiempo."
  • PDA. People really, really like to make out in public: on the streets, on the trains, in line, or in stores. Perhaps it's because most people don't move out of their parents house until their mid-twenties? I really don't know, but they really, really like PDA.
  • Political banter. For many of us in the U.S., politics can be a pretty taboo issue (I said "many of us"--certainly not for me!). We were fortunate to be here during an extremely intense political event. The "conflict" between the Government and 'el Campo' culminated with the Vice President voting against President Kircher to reject the 45% taxes on food exports. The morning of the vote, over 200,000 people filled the streets in protest, effectively shutting the city down for an entire day. 
  • Dogs!!!! There are so many wonderful, beautiful, friendly dogs here. Everybody is always out walking their dogs, or, if you're a dog walker, about 9 of them! I've had countless love affairs with dogs of all shapes, sizes, and colors, which were definitely instrumental in my love affair with the rest of the city. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

still here!

it's been about 20 days, depending on whether or not you count plane time. everything is still going wonderfully... we took a midterm exam today and i was floored by the reality of MID-. we're more than halfway through; in fact, i leave 2 weeks from this coming thursday. travel has an interesting way of compressing time, making two weeks seem like an eternity and then BAM! all the sudden you're home. it's almost as if it never happened, as if the entire journey was a dream and then you clicked your heels to return to reality. 

i feel my spanish improving, slowly but surely. my listening skills far exceed my speaking abilities, but thanks to our culture&conversation class, i'm beefing up my vocabulary to talk about gender, racial, and political issues--the things i REALLY want to be talking about down here! it's difficult to get into a lot of social justice issues without access and connections, but i'm doing my best by chatting up those who seem interested in engaging social justice issues. in truth, THIS is why i'm here. (of course none of this would be possible without improving my spanish ability!)

i've grown to adore my host family. they are truly gems on this planet and i'm blessed to know them. i look forward to keeping in touch with them when i leave and someday--ojala--returning. yes: i'm always making plans! 

my favorite day of this entire trip thus far was our second day in uruguay. the temperature magically reached about 75 or 80 degrees and we just happened to stumble upon an incredible, unpopulated beach! it was such a sigh of relief, a literal breath of fresh air, to leave the city and take in the landscape. i wish i had more time down here, to travel through the hills and mountains and get a sense of the land. of course, the day culminated with a love-fest with some random beach dogs! no perfect day is complete without dog love. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008

pictures & a few thousand words...

I took this picture on the boat on the River Delta near Tigre. For all of you L.A. people, this is Buenos Aires' version of the Venice [Beach] Canals but much wider and natural. It was a loooovely boat ride! 
In la Plaza de Mayo....
Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. It was so wonderful to see them after reading about them for so long! 
My wonderful, beautiful host parents Maria Ines and Hector and a huge mountain of bread behind them! They make macrobiotic food, mostly breads and desserts, and sell it in various places around the city. I told them that I would send my mom this picture and tell her that there's no food here and I'm constantly starving... yeah right. I've been all over the world and can say with confidence that all mothers everywhere show their love through food. 

Monday, June 23, 2008

first weekend in argentina...

Travel is crazy. After three days, it already feels like I've been here for a very long time... I feel comfortable in my home stay and am beginning to adjust to the schedules/habits of the family. 

I spent the weekend mostly exploring downtown with my friend Ilana who was studying abroad here during spring quarter and just returned from travels in Bolivia/Peru. It was wonderful to have my own tour guide to show me around! Downtown is chaotic, but seems to be a wonderful mix of Paris and NYC: tall buildings hover over the streets with Parisian windowsills and balconies and seem to have strong, old roots (in other words, I can imagine them as the life-blood of this city). Mostly, the people seem elegant, as they're popularly described in travel books and articles. But all of this romanticism is punctuated with neon McDonald's signs, blaring taxi horns, and public transit. City life. 

My host family is wonderful and friendly. They are vegetarian and keep a relatively strict macrobiotic diet, which means that they eat whole grains and avoid processed foods and most medications. (As a vegetarian of 6-years, I'm so thankful to find them in Buenos Aires!) It's been fun chatting with them about Hollywood, Barack Obama, and different places we've travelled. My Spanish is clunky and awkward, but hopefully as the weeks progress, the words will flow more freely (and correctly). The actual program began today and everybody at the University was so kind, albeit perhaps a bit too concerned with safety. I'm excited to actually begin improving mi espanol!

Highlights thus far: hearing Klezmer music--"musica klezmer"--at the San Telmo flea market; going to a kosher restaurant downtown with Ilana; eating home-made seitan; having internet in the house even though their wireless router is apparently broken. 

Friday, June 20, 2008

cabin pressure.

It's 1:15 am... my plane leaves in exactly 15 hours! I've just started to think about this trip; somehow, all of the packing, gathering, and deciding what to bring and leave behind was done in auto-pilot mode. That's what a 65 page thesis will do to the human brain after many, many months...

But this is very different and new to me. I'm a planner: I plan things way in advance and in way too much detail, consequently leaving expectations and anticipations swirling in my thoughts. I'm thrilled to have very few expectations and only positive impressions of Buenos Aires (I may begin to call it B.A. but only in a nod to my home, L.A.). 

Unfortunately, I've developed a sinus infection over the last couple of days. I inundated myself with Vitamin C with hopes of nipping it in the butt, but no such luck. Hopefully 12+ hours at 36,000 feet won't be too terrible...luckily I have an arsenal of decongestants, advil, sleeping aids, chewing gum, and who knows what else! Honestly, though, if I make it through the circus known as the Los Angeles International Airport tomorrow I'll be beyond thrilled! :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"can you hear me now?"

i have no idea how to use these things...