Sunday, June 29, 2008


Yesterday I took the train downtown with a few people.  We went to the Recoleta Cemetery - it's funny that a cemetery would be one of a city's top tourist attractions, but it's amazing.  I think there are almost 5000 people buried; well, not really buried, because the cemetery is constructed as a town with tons of huge ornate mausoleums.  I don't know how big it is, but you could probably wander around for hours.  There are strays cats running around everywhere, it's kind of creepy.  Evita is buried there, and a lot of Argentina's former presidents.  You can look into most of the tombs through glass panes on the doors, and a lot of them have stairs heading underground where family members are buried.  Creepy.

We went through the artisan market at Recoleta, wandered through some of the major streets and shopping districts (la avenida de 9 de julio with a bit of the obelisk is shown at the right), and ate at probably 3 different cafes before heading to the Boedo barrio to listen to Segundo Mundo, a klezmer (secular Jewish/Yiddish) band play at an intimate little theater attached to a cafe called "Pan y Arte" (Bread and Art).  The nightlife here is amazing, it's something I'm definitely going to miss back in Seattle.  People didn't start lining up outside of the cafe to listen to Segundo Mundo until almost midnight, and afterwards when we went to have dessert people were still coming into the cafe.

This afternoon my host parents had an asada (a barbeque) and invited family over.  Everyone was so nice.  There were only 10 people in the house so it wasn't an overwhelming amount of spanish, and people here actually don't talk that fast.  It was a very argentinian meal... there were 5 kinds of meat and most of the conversation centered around futbol and politics.  And tonight I went to a catholic mass at a really pretty cathedral in San Isidro.  The service was in Spanish, and the cathedral was completely packed with mostly younger people, it seemed like the place to be in San Isidro tonight.  I think that 96% of Argentina is catholic.  

Friday, June 27, 2008


Today we visited an Estancia (a gaucho ranch) a couple hours outside the city.  It was touristy, but it was cool nonetheless.  We had a pretty traditional/typical argentinian meal (empanadas, wine, salad, bread, meat, meat, meat, more meat, flan, coffee, more dessert, and mate) and watched traditional folk dancing.  We also watched some of the gauchos do their thing and rode in horse carriages around the estancia.  It was a long day, but it felt really good to get away from the city for a little bit.  

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Las Madres de la Plaza

Today we had class with our culture/ conversation professor for the first time.  The class looks like it's going to be really fun, we're learning about stuff like food, tourism, customs, religious life, and local slang.  A group of us headed downtown this afternoon because las Madres de la Plaza still march in front of the "Pink House" every Thursday.  It's about 30 years after the first marches, but yet the women (and men) still come to the plaza to march and hold pictures of family members who disappeared during the dirty war.  There were only around 20 women marching, but it was really touching to see that they still come to march and remember every week.  A little later 2 other groups showed up to protest (we couldn't figure out what they were protesting) and the plaza started to fill up.  The other day in class our professor was going over all of the different words used in Argentina to describe different kinds of protests; when we said "Why are there so many words?"  she said "Because there are so many protests!"

It was really sunny today.  We wandered through part of the city and through the park at la Plaza San Martín and found a parisian cafe to enjoy for an hour or two before catching a train back home.  The train ride from downtown to home only takes about 35-40 minutes, and the station downtown looks huge and european.  The ride only costs 85 centavos, which is less than 30 US cents.  It's funny though, pretty much the entire country of Argentina is short on change.  It's a huge crisis - it's incredibly difficult to get change anywhere, and according to our professor today no one really knows why there is such a shortage.  A lot of stores will run out of coins and give you a piece of candy instead.  The largest amount of currency is 100 pesos, about 30 USD, but so many shopkeepers and restaurants are hesitant to break 100 pesos and so I'm constantly keeping an eye out for places that will have non-counterfeit change and making sure that I have enough small bills to cover cab fares and restaurant bills.   

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tigris and Tango

Today after class and a long lunch we took a boat tour of part of the Paraná river at Tigris.  The river goes down through a lot of South America, and Buenos Aires is centered around the area where the river empties out into the ocean.  Our boat navigated one of the tributaries in the delta.  There are lots of houses along the river, some really nice and some not so nice, and in many areas there are no streets - the residents only have transportation via boat.  They can use their own boats, canoe, kayak, row, or catch a ride on one of the tour boats or postal service boats. 

Nate's host family has a friend who teaches tango classes, so a group of us met up tonight to do the one thing that you have to do before leaving Argentina.  I got to Nate's house early and his family fed me steak, Argentinian people are so nice.  The tango place was really amazing, I'm so glad we went.  The room looked like more of a foyer with tile floor and high ceilings and really new age-y paintings on the walls.  There were a lot of students, probably 20, so we split up into beginner/experienced groups and half went outside to the courtyard where the there was a little breeze and cafe tables with lights strung up.   The teacher was named Lucía, and she was sooo cute.  It was really interesting to take a dance class in another language; we didn't really have any problems understanding anything because she was so visual and demonstrative.  We changed partners a lot, and one time I ended up with this swarthy looking (not in a bad way) Argentinian man with a really impressive head of curly long hair.  He was pretty intense.  I had never danced tango before tonight, and what I learned was that a lot of other dance forms (salsa, swing) are about learning to do things that look cool... tango is more about learning to feel your partner and intuitively react, and if you're good enough to do that then it starts to look cool.  We started out by learning how to walk properly, and to me beginning tango looks a lot like fancy walking... but even then it's still difficult, because every step is so precise and intentional.    

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lo Que el Viento Llevó

We had our first real class today.  Being in class feels like having a long conversation, and daily conversations are kind of like classes, so all in all it's not that bad.  I actually really like our class because we're not learning spanish, we're learning castellano, and I'm realizing how many really simple words I have yet to learn.  After class a group of us wandered around San Isidro until we found a cafe that was big enough for a group of 8.  I got all of my cell phone stuff squared away.  And Molly and and I wandered around the shopping district in Olivos a little.  We went into a video store and my favorite part was reading all of the translated movie titles... "Lo que el Viento Llevó" (What the wind took / Gone with the Wind)..."Eterno Resplendador de una Mente sin Recuerdos" (Eternal Shining of a Mind without Memories / Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)... "La Familia de mi Novia" (The Family of My Girlfriend / Meet the Parents).  I was really surprised at how many people were on the streets at 7:30 when it was already dark.  Supermarkets are really rare, it's mostly newstands and kioskos (gum, candy, phone cards, etc) and specialty stores that sell only handbags, only shoes, only bedsheets, only stationary, only underwear.  There was a women's clothing store called Brocolli, haha.  But I guess that's kind of like naming mexican restaurants in the US "el sombrero."

I really like having dinner with the family every night.  We usually eat around 9pm, which I like.  My host parents get home from work/errands around 7 or 8, and after dinner everybody winds down.  It noticed today that my days always revolve around meals; relaxing for a couple hours every day with food and friends is a nice change from eating practically all of my meals on the go the last couple weeks of spring quarter.    

Monday, June 23, 2008

First Day of School

It was so good to go to school and finally see familiar faces and meet the rest of the group from Harvard.  After introductions and placement tests and business in general, one of the students from San Andrés took us to a restaurant on the water (at a boat club I think?).  I love how inexpensive food is here - I had a plate of gnocchi that I couldn't even finish for $4.  We all sat and talked for 2, almost 3 hours.  Traveling with different groups of people helps you to find common ground with people that you otherwise wouldn't seek out.  After the train ride home a few of us went into one of the movistar stores to buy the equivalent of trac phones.  Cell phones are confusing enough in english, it was pretty funny trying to communicate with the phone guy in Spanglish.  Or here, is it Castellanish?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Lazy Sunday in Buenos Aires

Today my host family took me downtown for the first time - Buenos Aires is so huge!  We went to see la Casa Rosada (the Argentinian version of the White House) at the Plaza de Mayo, where las Madres de la Plaza (the mothers of people who disappeared during the dirty war in the 1970's) march.  It was cool to visit there after having watched the Official Story only a few weeks ago.  There were about 25 policemen in the plaza because it's where all of the demonstrations take place.  There were also about 2500 pigeons.  There's a lot of graffiti in the city, like in any city, but the graffiti around the plaza is especially political, I noticed a wall that said "Muerte al estado, libertad en insurrección).  We looked at a few more touristy things before heading to the street market at San Telmo, where artisans sell crafts, street performers do their thing (mostly tango dancers and classical guitarists) and vendors sell mate and empanadas.  The market goes on for blocks and blocks and blocks, it's crazy.  

I really love the european influence on the architecture in the city - there are a lot of cute little cobbled streets and fancy doors.  My favorite thing about downtown is that practically every street corner has a bar or a cafe.  The one we went into was really cute - Daniel and Ana are in the cafe in the photo - the black and white checkerboard floors were covered with peanut shells but the waiters were all wearing black vests and ties and the walls were lined with old wine bottles.  Coffee, tea, and mate are cheap - 5 pesos, about $1.50, and there's always a full menu of sandwiches, salads, desserts, and alcohol.  Also, their posted hours were 8am-3am on weeknights and 8am-6am on weekends.  What I wouldn't give to have dozens of amazing cafes open until 6am in the U-district.

On the left, posing with a street performer in San Telmo.  When we started to drive back home, a soccer game had just let out so the streets were full of crazy fans.  We were on la Avenida de 9 de Julio (an important date, Argentina's date of independence from Spain), which is a cool thing in itself because this street is HUGE.  It's the world's widest boulevard - I've read that there are 16 lanes of traffic, but it seems so much wider because it's broken up by several islands and the huge obelisk (kind of a nod to the Washington Monument, Argentinians love their monuments) is right in the middle. Anyways, everyone was wearing red and white jerseys, fans were running down the sidewalks waving huge flags and holding flags out of the windows of their cars, people were pulling over on the side of the road to open beers and celebrate, and the central median was full of huge yelling crowds holding banners.  Everyone was honking their horns, and my host dad said, "Porque no participamos?" (Why don't we join in?) and started honking his horn.  

I'll probably have a quiet night tonight (well, not exceptionally quiet because the teenage girl who lives next door is listening to and singing along to Britney Spears at an incredible volume), and then school tomorrow!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Since today was the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere and it's their shortest day of the year, the sun doesn't come up until around 8am and it's just after 6pm now and it's already dark outside.  I am definitely missing my Seattle summer and super long days, but today it was beautiful and sunny.  Ana was so cute, she said "Here in Argentina we don't have much to brag about - the economy is terrible, the government is terrible - so our weather, we always talk about our good weather!"

Everyone here is sooo nice, people greet each other with kisses on the cheek.  Today we went to a lunch at the university, it was kind of a farewell for Melissa and the other exchange students that are finishing up their semester.  There were students from Brazil and Columbia and France and England and America, it was pretty cool.  Some of the students had a band and played some ccr and the police, there's something really comforting about hearing american music in a foreign country.  When I told the singer that he did a good job singing american songs, I found out that he spoke English, and when I said I was from Seattle the first thing he said was, "Oh, Jimmi Hendrix!  Pearl Jam!  Kurt Cobain!"  The campus is pretty small, I think there are 4 large buildings, but that's actually a really good thing because I can't imagine going to a university as large as UW in another country.  Speaking spanish is going pretty well, my first thought when I woke up this morning was "I have to speak Spanish today... all. day. long."  I had to look up the word for "spoon" (cuchara) before I went down to breakfast because I could not remember it for the life of me.  It's so fun talking with Ana and Melissa; Melissa speaks castellano with a french accent, and I speak castellano with an english accent, and we're always comparing how words match up. 

I bought a monthly pass for the train, at $24 USD it's a really good deal because el Tren de la Costa that goes by the university is more of a tourist train and costs $3 for individual trips, although the train that goes downtown is only 82 centavos (less than 30 cents).  The station at Maipú, which is 3 blocks from the house, is the connecting point for the two trains, which is really convenient.  And Ana said that taxis are really cheap, which is good because I don't think there are any trains that run past midnight.

Daniel is watching TV and I just heard "GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLL!" from the other room.  If you're surfing channels, 4 or 5 in a row will have soccer games.  I think we're going shopping around Olivos tonight.  Buenos Aires is so huge - I haven't even been downtown, but even in the outskirts along the river the stores and theaters and restaurants and neighborhoods just go on and on and on.  

I've hardly taken any pictures, but here's one of my room.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm here!

It feels so good to take a shower after 19 hours on a plane.  19, not the expected 15.  It was 5 hours from SeaTac to Atlanta, and then the 10 hour flight to Buenos Aires took an extra FOUR HOURS because of bad weather.  Apparently as we were approaching the airport it was so windy that the only landing strip we could have used didn't allow for a instrumental landing, and the pilot couldn't do a visual landing because the clouds were too low, so we had to fly to the Montevideo airport in Uruguay and wait while they refueled and the weather cleared up.  I felt bad for the people who had connecting flights to Montevideo, because they weren't allowed off the plane and had to go back to Buenos Aires where they had already missed their connections.  But I was pleasantly surprised that the driver was there to pick me up after the delay, and he said that today was the first time it had rained in 3 months.

On the plane I sat by a guy from Western who's studying for six months at a different university in Buenos Aires, and there were two other exchange students in front and behind us, and we all happened to know people in common.  Small world.

My family is really nice - Ana and Dany's house is way cute, it's narrow and 3 stories tall.  I'm staying in her daughter Florencia's room (who they call Floppy, it's cute) on the third floor, and they have an exchange student from Canada named Melissa who will be here for another 2 weeks.  Melissa is from Montreal though, so she speaks french more so than english.  Also, their house is a couple blocks away from where President Kirschner lives.  We drove around town and the weather looks exactly like Seattle.  Most of the cars are European - I've only seen Volkswagens, Renaults, Peugeots, and Xsaras since I've been here.  They showed me the University - it's a 15 minute train ride, and the nearest train station is only a 5-10 minute walk away.  

Tonight we watched Grey's Anatomy with spanish subtitles, Daniel showed me everything on a map of downtown Buenos Aires that I need to see before I leave, and Ana made me my first "argentinian steak," which was amazing.

Friday, June 13, 2008


So I just spent the last two days packing up everything in my dorm, I'm in the middle of unpacking back home, and as soon as it's done I'll be packing for Argentina! I leave in 6 days and I have about thirty seven thousand things to do before then, so I'd better go and attack the huge piles of laundry that are starting to take over my room...