Last Hurrah...until Thursday

Tuesday, 4 May 2010 06:24 by tga001

“You never really get accustomed to life abroad somewhere. Just when you think you’ve got the routine down and feel confident about the area, you’re hit by a truck…in the form of a Buen Libro chicken sandwich”.

     Less than a week and a million things are running through my mind; packing, making sure my bringing wine back to PA is only somewhat “illegal”, graduating, employment, and the list only starts there. Luckily for me, all of those annoying little problems are not in the front of my mind as I spend my last remaining days; unfortunately studying for finals or doing any schoolwork aren’t high priority either. Aside from the time spent in class, I’m trying in earnest to make sure I have done all of the “touristy” things in Buenos Aires that I would never have thought of doing at the beginning of my trip. This of course included the dreaded day of souvenir shopping.

     For the past 3 months I had this perception of myself as being a “glorified tourist” rather than being just another gringo staying in a hotel and hitting the city highlights but any sense of pride I had in my “glorified tourist” theory evaporated the second I walked into a souvenir shop. Eventually I found some tacky, touristy gifts that allowed me to leave and try to reclaim some satisfaction that I was no longer “just” a tourist; and then got ready for my last Saturday night out on the town. I had the choice to either, 1) Hang out at the hotel with some of the other program students or 2) Experience Buenos Aires for one last time with my Argentine amigo Chispa; the choice was not hard as you can imagine. I’ll spare you the needless details because it got confusing at times but I'll give you some insight into what the “typical” Saturday was like for me these past 3 months. It might be worth mentioning that while Chispa speaks English, roughly 90% of the time the dialogue is in Spanish, like super fast Spanish.

     We started out by meeting up with two other friends and then proceeded to a show put on by the Government in a local park that was a mix between Cirque de Soleil, Don Juan, and loud Brazilian music, but was quite enjoyable. Following a pit stop at McDonalds (Portenos love McDonalds although I tried to tell them they really should try Wendy’s), we were off to a farewell dinner for a friend. For the first time in 3 months, I was able to eat something spicy and quickly devoured the fajitas placed in front of me. After boasting that “Argentine hot isn’t the same as American hot”, I was squarely put in my place by a freakin’ hot chili pepper that resulted in a fair amount of jest at my expense. After enjoying the food and a liberal consumption of certain libations, we were off to a bar to continue the raucous celebrations. At this point, it is about 3:30 in the morning and there is no sign of stopping anytime soon. We end up at a bar where the one guy apparently knows the owner and the bartender; hence, discounted/free drinks until six in the morning. (Disclaimer: Recently there was a law passed that will not let bars or clubs sell alcohol after five, but this is a wash when you know, or someone with you knows, the owner and bartenders)

     After an outside stroll and more lively conversation it’s home by seven and ready to call it a night. Overall, I would say a fitting way for my last Saturday night to a come to an end. There should be another post forthcoming so that I can continue procrastinating about these finals.

P.s. If you are reading this and I do not bring you a souvenir, I’m sorry and I advise you to direct your anger at the airlines for having weight limits on baggage, it’s their fault.

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The Other Buenos Aires

Friday, 23 April 2010 00:25 by tga001

     I don’t know why I feel compelled to write an article with such “serious” overtones as this one but to rave about the city of Buenos Aires without painting an entire feature seems a tad dishonest. Right now as I sit at an Internet café that has become my second home in Palermo, I occasionally catch the glimpses of city life outside the window. Two sights are vying for my attention and it’s hard to decide which is more heartbreaking.

     It’s no secret that debilitating poverty despite exorbitant social welfare policies ravages large cities, especially in large underdeveloped countries. It’s more visible in the downtown area and the surrounding neighborhoods that have descended into little more than shantytowns. But in the northern part of the cities it’s easier to become mesmerized by the modern skyscrapers and leather goods stores while not even noticing the poverty stricken people sitting outside designer boutiques.

     If you were in my place as I write this you would see a young mother who has her right leg amputated venturing into the street when the light turns red in the hopes that some driver will be having a reasonably good day and feel compassionate enough to offer some token change. Unfortunately on a day like today, she isn’t having much. Sadly it isn’t as wrenching as the other scene unfolding right below where her leg should be. Her two children, I would suppose the oldest being 3, are trying to keep entertained. Her youngest has found an empty water bottle that is doing the job but he isn’t able to quite get the hang of his new toy and so every few minutes it roles into the busy street and he crawls away after it. Time and time again the mother makes haste with her crutches to retrieve the bottle and toss it towards the safety of the sidewalk. Everyone that passes by wouldn’t think to help.

     Perhaps I’ve become so focused on this particular scene because I’ll soon be back in the comfort of the Pennsylvania suburbs and I feel some guilt or if it’s simply human compassion; I’d like to think it’s the latter. Regardless of my personal feelings it does provide a glaring picture of the rich-poor gap that exists in countries like Argentina, and worldwide. While I by no means am at either end of the spectrum, the fact that I’m comfortably sipping coffee as I type on my computer and the woman outside tries to survive makes me grateful for that which I do have without question. Of course the cynic in me leaves room for the idea that the “water bottle into the street” is just a gimmick to evoke sympathetic feelings of nearby gringos.

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My Endless Numbered Days

Thursday, 22 April 2010 00:57 by tga001

If you were to bump into an old friend on the street and he/she happened to ask you what’s been new in the past 3 months how would you answer? There are days I can’t believe I’ve been away for three months and just as many when it seems as though I’ve been away much longer. As the semester comes to a close, and with it my study abroad experience, it’s time to try and recall all of the events that have occurred as I come to the reality that one-month from now my entire undergraduate experience will be complete. There are of course the numerous trips to places outside of Buenos Aires but with the many photographs I've taken it would seem a waste to let that compose my fondest memories. Another option is the time spent with the other students on the trip...although some of those are a bit fuzzy so it would be more work to piece those memories together and even then I'd have to seperate the real from the perceived. Even better! My entire home stay experience including the incredible food my host mom prepared or how our conversations always drifted to me trying to defend myself for something ridiculous. I doubt I will ever forget my memories of driving around Buenos Aires with my host sister, not necessarily where we were going but out of sheer amazement we made it there in one piece (Full disclosure: She's an incredibly talented driver given the city environment and disregard for traffic signals/suggestions/laws). Oh well I guess in the next two weeks I'll think of something to remember...

Picture: Scene from Recoleta of the Flower and the University of Buenos Aires Law School.

It occurred to me the other day that I had not made a posting since I returned from Mendoza, a trip I took over two weeks ago. Part of this is because life has been pretty standard for the past two weeks. The weekend trips to exotic places around the region have been replaced by time spent in Buenos Aires as students’ nostalgia for first impressions of the city become stronger. Routines that were at first foreign and difficult are now habitual, having replaced those so common back in the States. As routine as this city has become I still can’t help but do a double take when I see sights such as an army of window washers working thirty stories up, a colectivo with the back door falling off as it goes down the street, and of course the many “Police” officers on the street corner texting and chatting on cell phones.

 

Picture: English Tower across from Plaza San Martin. The irony is that following the Malvinas Island "hiccup" in 1982 the government constructed a monument to commerate the war right across the street.

     As I think about the time I have spent here I can’t help but think of just what an opportunity this was in practical and less practical terms. Being a final semester senior I have had to overcome the difficulties or networking from abroad and keeping an eye on possible job leads. While the idea that hitting the ground once back should be a bit nerve racking I can only be certain of the work I’ve put in this far and be confident that I’ve done all I could and given my best with the circumstances provided. It’s still hard to believe that LVC would “ok” a graduating senior studying abroad considering all the other participants in the program said that would never happen at their schools; possibly with good reason.. With only two weeks left the time is setting in when I’m realizing I can only remember so many memories and acknowledge that many will fade away and become distant memories that will be difficult to know if the events even happened or not.

 

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I want to ride my bicycle, Bicycle, BICYCLE

Monday, 5 April 2010 22:00 by tga001

Back from Mendoza after a fantastic weekend excursion, with of course a few hiccups along the way as it is with nearly all trips. To give a quick introduction to Mendoza it’s important to know that it is one of the largest wine producing regions in the world and there are numerous vineyards that specialize in producing Malbec wines. The Malbec grape is used mostly as a blending grape in many French wines but because of the terroir of the Argentine malbec grape it is able to stand alone hence the Malbec wine.

Moving along, I had been told about the wonders of the long-distance bus experience in Argentina and how it’s like flying first class but for a fraction of the cost. While I can attest to the “fraction of the cost” validity, my experience with the bus is not as splendid as many others’ journeys have been. To say that the bus station was running behind is an understatement. It would be more appropriate to say that the DMV is an efficiently run agency, yeah that much of an understatement. The terminal seriously looked like the Fall of Saigon and was overflowing with long faced travelers hoping that their bus would arrive sooner rather than later. Two and a half hours after our departure time our bus rolled in and we were “whisked” away towards Mendoza. Fast forward 14 hours… After arriving we walked around the city a bit and then checked into our hostel, bought some groceries (and local wine) and prepared to relax the rest of the day and figure out our plans for the following two days.

Picture: "Complimentary" malbec grapes from a vineyard

The next morning we traveled to the town of Maipu, the Mecca of biking through wine country in Mendoza. A guy from Seattle staying in the same hostel recommended the business of Mr. Hugo to rent bikes from and I have to say we were not disappointed one bit. After being welcomed personally by Mr. Hugo, we were off to explore bodegas, olive oil plants, and a plethora of roads in horrible condition. After a full day of riding and sampling, we returned to Mr. Hugo’s where we relaxed for some time with some free wine (this is common with any bike rental business in Maipu). Mr. Hugo kindly showed us where to catch the bus back to our hostel (he personally walked us there, this guy was awesome!) and we embarked back towards Mendoza after a successful day’s ride. That night since everyone was tired we stayed in at the hostel playing cards and sampling some other products of Mendoza.

Picture: Part of our group with the very friendly, almost creepy, Mr. Hugo (center, non gringo)

The next day we headed back towards Maipu to continue our bicycle tour as it is a multi-day affair. Some of our group opted for a tandem bike (much fun to watch) at a different company while some others and myself made a beeline for Mr. Hugo again who was more than happy to receive our patronage. Much like the previous day we convoyed out towards food and wine and were not disappointed by the offerings of family owned wineries as well as internationally regarded fields. We had opted to purchase our return tickets for Saturday night and so we began our trek back that night, a night that can only be described as…unfortunate.

Our bus had left on time and it looked as though we would have no problems on our return trek, big time mistake. At some point during our trip the bus had broken down and it would be approximately three hours of waiting for another bus. Fortunately I had slept through this portion and was only made aware of this fact when being awoken to transfer buses. On the next bus I attempted to sleep but was sadly disappointed by a dripping air conditioned directly overhead that was akin to Iguaçu Falls. Unable to lean back in my seat I struggled to lean forward to sleep and avoid the complimentary Chinese Water torture courtesy of Andesmar Bus Company. When I informed the crew they replied that I should find a different seat; a fantastic idea considering the bus was filled to capacity. Eventually the familiar skyline of Buenos Aires appeared in the distance and our odyssey back was soon to end.

Picture: Bikes parked at one of the bodegas our group visited, Viña El Cerno

            Mendoza is a spectacular region to visit and a very easily reachable destination from Buenos Aires if you have a four-day weekend available. With friendly people willing to help travelers and wines to match the degree of cordiality, it’s a great destination for wine lovers and biking enthusiasts alike...just don't take Andesmar.

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Another Stamp in the Passport

Sunday, 28 March 2010 00:28 by tga001

Business as usual here in Argentina hence the lack of posts the past week and a half. Following spring break it was back to the grind with school and the daily routine of Buenos Airs life. Sometime last week, or the week before, was the “official” half waypoint in my study abroad term here. At times its hard to believe more than half of my time is over while on the flip side it seems like forever ago since I went on a Sheetz run or had a real American cheeseburger.

Last semester I had written my senior seminar paper on the 2001 Economic Collapse of Argentina and as such I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the role politics played on the collapse. Ironically in my copious amounts of research I came across some obscure New York Times piece that discussed tax evasion in the country. I now realize that what that article meant was that since nearly no place down here accepts credit cards it’s very easy to “make errors” whenever a business reports income figures, if they even do that. Hence, this is a reason why the economy down here has the tendency to be unstable every 5-10 years. I think the article had said that government revenue from taxes was about 40% unaccounted for although I'm starting to think with the way business is conducted down here it's more like 40% accounted for. I’ve learned that if you travel in Argentina be prepared to pay cold hard cash, unless of course you’re at one of the more touristy boutiques on Florida or any other type of touristy destination (Hint: If the menu is in English, they’ll accept credit card but you’ll pay accordingly).

Picture: Caminito in the neighborhood of La Boca, Buenos Aires

Yesterday was our group trip to Colonia, Uruguay so that we could become legal in Argentina again (Hooray bureaucratic loopholes!). If you study in Argentina you aren’t required to get a visa if you’re in the country less than 3 months but if it’s longer, a.k.a. study abroad, you can leave the country and then return again and the clock resets. This is wonderful except when trying to leave the US for Argentina with a return date more than 3 months away (see 2nd post). The city of Colonia is a beautiful city that makes you nostalgic for days of yore with cobblestone streets, quaint buildings, and remnants of the city wall and defenses from the 17th century. Possibly the coolest thing about the city is the availability of scooters, golf carts, and ATVs to rent. For a small fee you have the option to rent one of these really cool vehicular motor transports PROVIDED that you bring your US driver’s license and a credit card. Unfortunately for me I had neglected to bring my driver’s license so I was relegated to passenger status in a golf cart (still cool).

If you ever decide to travel south to Buenos Aires a day trip/weekend trip to Colonia is a MUST! For only being a pleasant 3-hour (or 1 hour) ferry trip away from Buenos Aires, it seems like you’ve been transplanted in some lush, oasis far removed from city life and hassles but with all the necessary commodities. Things to note: to rent a scooter you must be at least 23 years of age (I think golf cart is 21, maybe 20), nearly every road is one way, stay to the right side of the road (or you can make enemies quickly), and when in doubt at an intersection just gun it and hope for the best.

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It's the End of the World...and really freakin' cold too!

Thursday, 18 March 2010 07:04 by tga001

I have returned from the “End of the World” after a six day odyssey that can best be summed up by a Nat King Cole song; Unforgettable. My spring break started during the wee hours of this past Thursday with a 5:30 (AM!!!) flight from Buenos Aires. I split a cab with another student and we met our third party at the airport. After a relatively crash-free landing (people on board spontaneously burst into clapping as our plane touched down, not a reassuring feeling to say the least) and a quick taxi ride we arrived at our first accommodations; a cozy cabin situated a few hundred meters from the Canal Beagle. We toured the town that day and made a “tentative” schedule for the next few days since the weather could change drastically by the hour.

     The next day was marine adventures with a tour of the Canal Beagle that included panoramic views of the “End of The World”, after all Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, trekking on wind ravaged islands, seeing all types of marine life, and best of all complimentary coffee. We grabbed a bite to eat and met up with another group of students that was in Ushuaia for a few days before doing a group trip to visit possibly the coolest place I’ve ever been to in my life, a Penguin Rookery…with live penguins. There is only one group in Ushuaia that is permitted to conduct walking tours on the same island as the Penguins (Piratour) and I have to say that the hour and a half van ride on “roads” was well worth the time we spent with the Penguins. When I say we were “walking with Penguins”, I mean that I actually could reach out my hand and touch one (I did!) but be warned that if you do decide to try to touch one, they may try to bite off your finger (he didn’t). The guide on the island was very informative and the fact that it was a small group (15 people in total) made photo opportunities much easier not having to worry about people in the background or walking through a timeless pic. Needless to say if you ever find yourself at the bottom of the world, this tour is A MUST!

The next two days were spent at a lakeside resort outside of Tolhuin that offered time for relaxing and a very comfortable feeling not found in many hotels. The staff was exceptionally friendly and our waiter (we had him for both nights) would even stop and converse outside of dinner if he happened to see you. On the second night we met a group of Argentines that worked in the equivalent of the Social Security Administration that were very friendly. Two of the younger guys, Carlos and Frederico, took us up on an offer of pool (USA v ARG…round 2) for bragging rights at the “End of the World” (insert dramatic emphasis and sense of national pride). I won’t bore you with the details or keep you waiting and tell you that USA swept in remarkable fashion. Despite being bested, twice, Carlos and Frederico were friendly at breakfast and wished us well throughout our stay down South and in Buenos Aires. We also enjoyed a pleasant horseback tour of the surrounding Lake Fagnano, despite the wind being ever so bothersome. In town we visited the “World Famous” Panadaria where supposedly the best bread is baked. While it provided wonderful breakfast pastries and WiFi, I would hesitate to bestow on it the title of “World’s Best” although Top 10 would be an accurate assessment.

We returned to Ushuaia for our final two days where we visited a Glacier (very cold and a ski lift held together by duct tape) and toured the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The Park is an exquisite breath of fresh air although the trails have a tendency to be more mud than trail. Our final night we dined on local crab at the Casa de Los Marcelos (or something similar) that offered fantastic food at reasonable prices.

Now it’s back in Buenos Aires for a few relaxing days before the start of the second half of semester kicks off. Hard to believe half of my time here has already passed.

 

 

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It's March! And other brilliant observations.

Sunday, 7 March 2010 21:19 by tga001

It’s been a while since I last posted mainly due to the lack of anything news worthy taking place in the past two weeks. To sum up the past two weeks I’ve compiled this quick list: Punk rock concert, classes, new restaurants, more dinner conversations I don’t understand, burritos, studying, sleeping, catching up on The Office.

Ok so now we’re up to speed on what has bee happening in Argentina. Somewhere in there is also an earthquake next door but it wasn’t felt too severely in Buenos Aires so it’s not worthy of note with the exception of the previous statement. Moving on…I have finally posted pictures and will be soon posting photos to the blog for those who don’t have access to my Facebook page. So look for those to come since it has been about a month and a half in the making

            So the other night for dinner my host mother had invited over one of her “tenants” from another building who is originally from Japan. It was a very nice dinner but he told me possibly the greatest story of how anyone got his or her name. His original name is something like Tanadako (aka very Japanese) and he has been working in international business for the past 40 or so years. Apparently while working in Australia, he went to the bar one day with some of his co-workers and following several drinks they came to the conclusion that his name was too hard to pronounce so they decided his new name would be Peter. That was about 45 years ago and he goes by Peter now; hence that guy is my hero, or more aptly his Australian amigos.

            In other, more relative, news, Spring Break for us will be starting next Friday, which is exciting. It’s particularly exciting because I will be giving new meaning to the idea of “going South” for Spring break by going to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. Most people know this region more commonly as Tierra del Fuego, and yes there are penguins. My goal is to hug a penguin without getting arrested or deported.

            Well since Midterms here are impossibly vague to study for I must return to studying but I’ll be sure to stay more frequent in postings prior to my End of the World vacation. Chau por ahora!

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Ohh Say Can You See...

Sunday, 21 February 2010 23:34 by tga001

       As the Winter Olympics are in full swing, even those who find no enjoyment in sports can’t help but find themselves caught up in some amount of national pride. In such a monumental time persons of all creed and status retain some steadfast loyalty to their flag as their country competes on the international scale. What on earth can this have to do with my trip to Argentina you ask? I shan’t keep you in suspense any longer…

     A group of us program students went out last night to celebrate a fellow student’s birthday by attending a movie and afterwards, a restro-bar that offered table games (Jenga, Scrabble, etc…), pool, video games, and many other fun activities; think Chuck-e-Cheese or Dave and Busters minus prizes and arcade games. Another student, Austin, and I decided to play a game of pool for a little while but, since it was crowded, we waited for a table to finish up and solicited their permission to use the table, which they kindly obliged. This is the part of the story where Olympic fever sets in.

     As they finished up, they approached us with an offer of, “Two against Two” namely two of them versus my partner, Austin, and I. Not wanting to be rude to our host brethren we accepted their challenge with the condition that we be permitted a practice round to warm up. The tension begins to mount. Team USA begins to warm up as a crowd gathers sensing the electricity of what is soon to come, the practice round becomes a scouting report for Team ARG as they huddle and confer. The game ends, it’s time for what the crowd has been waiting for, Team USA vs. Team ARG. (It’s important to note that Team Argentina had a roster of roughly 6 players to choose from so it can be accurately assessed that they chose their top players, just a quick side note)

     After negotiations break down as to which team would break (5 failed rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors), we defer to Team ARG and become versed on what the “House Rules” are to be; this is extremely important later on as there were “omissions”. …The game commences and it’s a back and forth; it becomes apparent that neither team would stand a chance in a international high-stakes game of pool, but the tension is felt by fans of both teams with every shot. Crucial, missed opportunities by both teams add to the dynamic as every shot becomes important and eventually Team ARG takes a commanding position with only a single ball on the table compared to Team USA’s three remaining. A missed shot by Team ARG give Team USA a shot and, a brief conference to reassess the situation, Team USA strikes back like John McClane and pockets all remaining numbers; the Eight ball stands as the last obstacle to a “Miracle on Felt” performance. But suddenly the game halts.

     Team ARG wants to clarify the “House Rules” in regard to the Eight ball as they realize the inevitable loss that is to befall them at the hands of the dominant Team USA. Until this point Team USA had played by “House Rules” that seemed vague and arbitrary but, in the spirit of competition and understanding, we had conceded to without gripe. That is until Team ARG demanded that the Eight ball would be sunk in the same pocket that the last ball had fallen into. The tension that had already been as thick as a den of thieves erupted with protests of consternation by Team USA fans, and to players as well, over a rule that was deemed horse crap. Negotiations were of no avail and we were forced to continue play with this conveniently crafted, spontaneous rule; Team USA missed what had now become an impossible shot. Team ARG then took its shot, sinking its last ball, and lining up for the Eight ball. “Foul!” was cried by Team USA, as Team ARG looked to sink the Eight ball in a pocket that their last ball had not gone into and an explanation was sought, nay, demanded for such hypocrisy. It was determined by the Argentine “Ref” that because both teams’ last shot had fallen in the same pocket, both teams could not put the 8 in the same pocket and as such, Team ARG would have to sink the 8 into the opposite side pocket, a pocket that favored the current shot of Team ARG. Feeling helpless and unable to stop the inevitable Team USA could only watch as Team ARG sunk the 8 and ended the match. A loss by Team USA on a technicality or more aptly put, a cheater’s tactic.

     Dismayed and heart broken, Team USA was to say the least, unpleased with the results of a match that had been fixed against their favor. More than that, national pride was on the line and we were not about to take this travesty, this travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham sitting down like the French would have. A rematch was demanded with “proper” rules, those of the good ole USA. Team ARG obliged and the table was set for the showdown, a showdown that would not only be a fair game but a game for national bragging rights. Would new, proper rules be enough to conquer the Argentinean team that had just stared down Team USA? Again a back and forth game between giants developed as shouts of excitement and pangs of missed opportunity were heard. Suddenly Austin, of Team USA, made a terrific combo shot that put Team USA up by two and it became evident as to who would prevail. Team ARG tried with determination to come back but any hope of a repeat victory was dashed by a three-ball streak that ended with “8 ball, corner pocket” for the win. A fan of Team USA summed up the excitement with a shout of, “ESTADOS UNIDOS”, that I have no doubt many in the entire establishment heard.

     The series was tied up at one a piece and a game three sudden death match game would be played with a pre-arranged hybrid of Argentinean and US rules. However before the rules could be established, Team ARG retreated away from the pool table and scampered off, afraid of the certain defeat that would befall them if they stayed. A default victory for Team USA, but a victory fought with the sweat and tears of American patriots and a great sense of national pride in the greatest nation on earth!

 

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Part Deux - A Day in La Boca

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 19:08 by tga001

     Right now my blog is very disorganized (as some of you may have gathered) but I promise that in the near future I will actually have it set up so that it is easily navigable and with categorization in a user friendly manner. For now, I'm continuing to just post entries as I come across unsecured WiFi signals and new coffee shoppes.

     This past Saturday a few of the students in the program, including myself, decided to spend a little more time in a neighborhood of Buenos Aires named La Boca. During the early 19th Century La Boca was a haven for newly arrived immigrants, mainly from Italy. Because of its proximity to the Buenos Aires port, many residents became nostalgic for Italian cities like Genoa and Venice and the neighborhood developed an Italian flair. These immigrants brought with them to BsAs many of their traditions and the area became a sort of "Little Italy" minus the Godfather. La Boca was also the birthplace of perhaps the thing Argentina is best known for, the Tango. While there remains dispute between neighborhoods over where the dance originated, it's a safe assumption that the brothels of La Boca became the hospital that birthed the popular dance. Street performers dance the tango for those passing by although the vast amount simply offer to pose with tourists, in tango garb, for a few pesos. If the idea of getting a picture taken with a beautiful woman in tango attire seems worth the 5 pesos you're in luck. For me, 5 pesos is a cup of coffee that I would enjoy much more. Housing was scarce and many immigrants lived in conventillos that housed as many as 8 people per room, very similar to immigrant conditions in US cities during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Though the houses lacked living and personal space, they more than made up for what they lacked in comfort through their exterior decoration. Many of the houses are colorfully painted in a mix-match of colors that photographs can't seem do justice to (Photos to come).

     There is much to do in La Boca because it is the quintessential "tourist spot" in Buenos Aires, but be prepared to feel like a tourist since every corner seems a Kodak moment. Street vendors line the colorful streets as local artists sell pictures of tango and jewelers sell their wares as well. If there were ever an item that screamed "You're a tourist, buy me!” they can be found at several of the stores. However some stores offered a bit more than the tourist t-shirts, postcards, and shot glasses which provided a nice juxtaposition and a tasteful gift or remnant to bring home. We walked around Caminito/La Boca for an hour or so before meeting up with two other students that had stumbled upon a quaint little restaurant tucked away and hidden from the street performers and chaos of the streets. The name eludes me as of now but once I have my blog organized I'll be reviewing restaurants/cuisine/etc... to provide a practical "guide" to the city. We finished our bottle of wine (just a house wine, nothing spectacular but nothing awful) and continued in pursuit of a restaurant that offered food and a "free tango show". Be forewarned that if you want to dine at a restaurant that offers "free tango" it simply means that the food prices are higher, the performers WILL come around with a hat or basket asking for tips/payment, and, depending on the venue, the dancers are beginners or at most, amateurs.

     Fortunately for our group, the restaurant that we selected was one that provided a fantastic show (complete with audience participation) at a price that can be described as reasonable given the location. There will be pictures to come of the place just because of how enjoyable the experience was and because the waiter agreed to a quick photo with me. Following our meal and show, we were content to head back given that we had explored, walked, sipped, and ate all of the La Boca "one day" experience. While you can always find restaurants to eat at and streets to explore, for the most part La Boca can be explored in an afternoon.

 

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Mosquitoes, Tango, and Dragons Oh My...(A Weekend in Three Parts)

Monday, 15 February 2010 03:41 by tga001

     This weekend was full of exciting adventures and treks that kept me busy from sun up, until sun down, and then, when the sun came back up. From Parilla and swimming in the countryside, tango and vino in La Boca, and the Chinese New Year on Sunday, it was much harder to keep docile than running overdrive on adrenaline and sleep deprivation. Because of the amount to write about from this weekend, I’m going to try and do 3 back-to-back entries focusing on each specific topic rather than condense them and risk omitting exciting and interesting components of each.

     On Friday we (los estudiantes) had a trip to Lujan and an Estancia for some traditional, Argentine cuisine that had been rescheduled from the weekend prior. We stopped in the town of Lujan to tour one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world and pay homage to the Lady of Lujan. There is an interesting story regarding the transportation of the Virgin’s statue that can be found at http://www.sspx.ca/EucharisticCrusade/2005_May/Our_Lady_of_Lujan.htm. One of things about the Cathedral that I found most interesting was a wall of "Desaparecidos" that commanded a reverance of its own. It was an odd mix of serene and haunting gazing upon the faces and profiles of persons who had disapeared and knowing that there were/are thousands more. For those unfamiliar with Argentina's "Dirty War" and the Desaparecidos, I'll be writing on the subject later this semester. Following the cathedral it was off to the main attraction of the day, the estancia complete with food and swimming pool.

     Traditional Argentine preparation of parilla dates back several hundred years to the time of the gauchos of yore and continues to this very day. Partaking in a traditional parilla entails an endless supply of different meat products, some quite delectable and some for those more adventurous, that never leaves any person wanting for more. A good time was had by all as we enjoyed the plethora of food before us and the entertaining, if not questionable, conversational topics, however, little did we know that there was a feature of the trip we had not all prepared ourselves for. As we disembarked from the bus, a contingent of very hungry and infuriating mosquitoes had prepared to make our trip to the Estancia seem like something out of the jungle. Most of us got smart quickly and applied liberal amounts of bug spray to ward off the pests despite the necessity for repeated reapplications. Others took up smoking. To give you some idea of how bad it was there is a student in the program who previously spent time in Venezuela and traveled extensively in the jungle region of South America. To quote his reaction, “I’ve never seen so many mosquitoes anywhere”.

     Following a delightful lunch, it was time to refresh in the nearby pool, which, unfortunately, meant a trek through another tempest of mosquitoes. The presence of a pool seemed a bit quirky since it was in the middle of nowhere but with the weather as hot as it was, no one was complaining. Following a relaxing swim and more mosquitoes (are you seeing a theme develop?), we visited the library of the ranch that houses over 40,000 original works by some of Argentina’s founding fathers as well as first edition copies of literature the likes of Dumas, Tocqueville, Rousseau and other prestigious authors.

      I’ll be posting soon about the neighborhood of La Boca, the birthplace of the tango, as well as celebrating Chinese New Year in Buenos Aires' Chinatown. Until next time, chau!

P.s. My apologies for the changes in font in a few of the posts. Unfortunately there are aspects of blog maintenance that are not exactly user friendly.

 

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