Beautiful Arts and the Beautiful Game

(Pictured Above: The main hallway of the beautiful Palacio Ferreyra, a photo of myself and the church youth group that I played soccer with, a photo of the Belgrano flag that the fans unraveled after they scored the winning goal, and lastly a rather funny photo of Profe “Gilligan” Mosquera wearing a Belgrano hat)

Being that my Nana (my Greek Grandmother) is an artist, I have grown up with a lot of exposure to the arts.  Despite her efforts to instill a desire for the arts in me, it is typically difficult for me to enjoy art museums and, to some degree, art in general.  But the Museo Superior de Artes Bellas Evita (Evita Fine Arts Museum in English) had a few pieces that did in fact take my breath away.

The museum is located in the center of the city just across from Sarmiento Park in New Cordoba.  It was originally property of a doctor who built the mansion (formerly known as and sometimes still referred to as Palacio Ferreyra), but it was purchased by the state in the early 2000s and was later transformed into a museum in 2007.  The building has a very exquisite French design and is an architectural treasure that is definitely worthy of the beautiful art works it contains.

While the tour in the museum (like a few of the other tours on our trip) had begun to try our patience, due to the fact that there was no AC and we do not have an unlimited attention span for Spanish, some of the jaw dropping pieces we saw made all of the mental exhaustion seem worthwhile.  There were some great pieces of Cordobes aristocrats, but my favorite work was a painting that was modeled after a photo taken in the early 20th Century of the city.  The resemblance was remarkable, as they are framed right next to one another, and it was interesting to see that practically every detail was recreated in the painting.  Another lasting image from the visit would be the Carlos Alonso Room, an artist whose entire collection centers around the kidnappings and tortures that took place during the military government in Argentina from 1976-1983 (also known as the dirty war). The room was very disturbing to many of us because it contained many images of childhood abductions and a plethora of paintings of women being tortured/assaulted.  Although I must applaud the artist’s desire to be extremely critical of travesties that occurred during the darkest years of Argentina’s history, which many people refused to acknowledge or where ignorant to, for many of us we can only look at paintings of torture for so long without feeling uncomfortable.  All in all, the museum was a nice place to visit and a pleasant way to spend the holiday (even if we were only allowed to take pictures in the lobby).

Moving from one art form to another, I finally had an opportunity to play the beautiful game last Wednesday night when a friend from Cordoba invited me to play pickup soccer.  After we all chipped in 12 pesos each (about $2.40 US) we were able to play on one of the dirt fields in this complex nearby the school.  The dirt fields are something that many people from the US will not understand, but it is very common in foreign countries that the field quality is not that well maintained, due to the cost that is needed to maintain them and the fact that people play so frequently that the grass never has a chance to grow back after all the wear and tear it takes.  Being that it was a dirt field, it was extremely difficult to both start running and stop/change direction (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall down a few times because I lost my footing).  And the soccer quality, as you could probably tell from the images of the various guys wearing jeans or chuck taylors, was not quite the best because this was a church youth group pickup game.  My team sadly never won a game, in my defense there were only 3 players out of the 10 us who were “competent” soccer players, but it was still nice to be able to go back out there and play.  It was also an interesting “out of your comfort zone” experience as I knew only one of the players there and had to try and socialize with many people that I had never met before who also spoke Spanish at speed that was much faster than I usually hear.  This was a challenging but very rewarding cultural experience as I realized that we all share a strong passion for soccer.

There is only one comparison that is fitting to describe Argentina’s passion for soccer, and that would be that the game is a religion for these people.  People feel heartache and triumph with their team week in and week out, which is something we all witnessed when we went to a Belgrano game in the famous Mario Kempes Stadium (only about 2/3 full but capable of housing 70,000 people).  We arrived to the stadium around 4 (2 hours before kickoff) to enjoy ourselves some choripan, a sausage sandwich which Cordoba is known well for, and to buy ourselves some Belgrano gear.  About an hour before the game we started to head into the stadium.  Around the exterior of the stadium, there were several members of the Argentine national guard with riot shields and all to keep any violence from breaking out.  Fans truly live and die with their team in countries like Argentina, and with that a lot of times people will choose to fight after the game as a reaction to any insulting chants (because people to personally relate to their team as it typically corresponds to their neighborhood).

As a soccer junkie and avid Arsenal fan myself, I loved every minute of the match.  From the fact that the seating is not very clearly assigned (very different from the US in that regard) to all the fans singing throughout the match, the experience gave me goosebumps.  The game lacked some finishing and was a little dirty at times, but for the majority of us it was a phenomenal experience (Belgrano was actually able to pull out the win in the last 5 minutes of the game).  They had a massive flag that spanned the entire section when it was completely unfolded and all the fans would wave it back and forth in cadence with their songs.  Add in the shredded newspaper that fans would throw like confetti, and I would say that the experience became truly surreal.  If I would have to pick two favorite moments of my trip, so far at least, it would definitely be this game and the paragliding experience in Mendoza (both of which still feel like they were too good to be true or dreamlike if you will).

I am not sure when I will blog next because we are told that we won’t have a whole lot of wifi access when we go on our journey to Salta and the Northern Argentine states this weekend.  I am certain I will have a lot of great experiences and adventures to mention about Salta, as I have heard it is a beautiful, picturesque city.  For all my friends back home, hope the cold is starting to wind down (I almost forget what snow looks like at this point).

Empanadas and Wifi Addiction

(Pictured Above: Profe Mosquera frying empanadas that we made in class, a few of us making alfadores for desert, and a sign in our hotel in Mendoza with the wifi password).

Having had two midterms and an essay due last week, I was not able to fulfill my blogging duties as I had planned.  Therefore I will do one entry today and another entry tomorrow to compensate.

After getting back from Mendoza, we had an opportunity to take an empanada class here in Cordoba.  The setup was pretty neat because as the head chef was making the empanadas and explaining to us what he was doing, he had a mirror above him so that we could get a birds eye glimpse of how to prepare the empanada dough.  The chef was very knowledgeable and spoke relatively slowly so that we could understand what he was saying (although if he were not performing what he was saying as he told us we probably would have been more lost).  The only downside to the class was that much like the other outside of school classes that we’ve taken here (like Tango for instance) the teacher has a tendency to talk your ear off instead of letting you actually try the activity.  Between the lectures, which we had right after the 5 hours of classes that day, and our desire to eat, our patience was running thin until we were able to finally cook/eat.

Despite having limited cooking experience from high school,  I was not able to contribute too much to the food we made.  My group was in charge of the alfadores, a oreo style cookie treat with dulce de leche in the middle (which were delicious).  Sadly, after numerous attempts, I was still unable to cut the cookie without it breaking off.  Thankfully for our group Ben is actually a pretty good cook and was able to carry the workload for the rest of us.

Although there are many types of empanadas (sweet ones, spicy ones, etc) we made empanadas that are considered to be Cordobesas or Cordoba style (which basically has ground meet, a little bit of hard boiled eggs, and olives).  While I have to admit that spicy empanadas are probably my favorites, I do think that Cordobesas are pretty good as well.  My only grievance with them is that they have olives, which oddly enough, we have found in a lot of different food here.  As I once joked about with one of my friends on this trip, I cannot even eat a bologna and cheese sandwich without finding aceitunas (olives).  Most of us here do not like olives, but other than that the food here is great and we all enjoy it.  Typically the families here make decent meals, some healthier than others, but what we have discovered is that the host families are not always given a sufficient amount of money to cover for us (which is why I have gladly contributed to grocery bill).  I figured it is the least I could do for their gracious hospitality.

Next thing I think I should talk about is wifi addiction.  While we were not sure about wifi access before we got here, it is actually quite common with pretty much everyone on the trip having access in their own home.  The school has a pretty fast connection and at various bars, restaurants, and practically every cafe, there is a wifi connection.  Coupled with the fact that many people have brought their iPhones/Smart Phones, it is almost as if we are back home because we have an almost always have a virtual connection to our lives back in the US.  Even though I myself do not have a smart phone with me, I have very easy access to free wifi almost anytime I bring my laptop. This constant access allows us to keep in touch with everyone back home, but at the same time I believe it further exacerbates, as our professor calls it, the addiction to “the screen.”  I’ll never forget the image of all our group being in the hotel lobby in Buenos Aires, because that was the only place with wifi access, and everyone clued into their Facebook, Twitter, or snapchat on their phone and not conversing with each other (which is yet another clue to the locals that we are Americans).  I was hoping to have gotten away from social media a bit while I was here, but the more I think about it, this wifi/social media is a part of our reality now so it’s almost impossible to avoid it no matter where I am.  On the other hand, it is nice to feel more connected to back home and being able to skype chat friends and family.

The topic of iPhones and wifi leads me into my next point:  theft.  Since we have been here, at least 3 people have lost or had their iPhones stolen, other people have had their bags stolen, and one unfortunate person even lost their wallet.  Because the Argentine summer is winding down (February is their August) and school is about to start up for everyone else, the city is much more crowded now.  This is nice in the fact that we are not the only people studying at school, and the nights are a little more lively, but the problem lies in the fact that now theft is much more common.  I have been very fortunate to not have had any of my personal belongings stolen, but I would be lying if I said I do not keep my guard up while I walk now after hearing about all the items that have been stolen from our group.

The last thing that I would like to mention would be the topic of transportation.  With the city back to its lively atmosphere, the buses have now become much more crammed than they were prior.  It is to the point where now there is little to no standing room or personal space between passengers on the bus.  Needless to say the buses in the morning, and sometimes at night, are not for those who are claustrophobic.  The buses do not run on a consistent schedule here and often times you will have to get to the bus stop at least a half hour before the time that you will want to leave by.  The bus is relatively cheap at $4.10 pesos (roughly 82 cents US I believe) and it is a much cheaper alternative to the taxi, which usually costs about $32 pesos ($6 US) to get to the center from where I live.  Taxis are generally a comfortable ride, and they drive much safer than do NYC taxis.  However the bus rides are often more chaotic, as the drivers love to go fast and brake suddenly/hard.  The drivers typically will not come to a complete stop while you’re entering/exiting the vehicle mostly because they are running on a tight schedule.  The price of transportation all things considered is fantastic for us, as it is exponentially more expensive in the US, but the tricky thing for us is that at Union none of us typically have to budget for transportation (much like how we don’t have to worry about meals or bar tabs while we’re at Union).

In my next entry I will talk about our visit to Palacio Ferreyra (a beautiful art museum in the center of Cordoba) and playing pick up soccer/going to a Belgrano soccer game (the 1st division soccer team here in Cordoba).

Mendoza: Argentina’s Beautiful Wine Capital

(Pictured Above:  A photo of me paragliding over the Precordillera, A photo of the group us in front of the statue of General San Martin, and a photo of one of the three bodegas we visited on Saturday).

I know I said I was going to talk about the wifi and public transportation last time, but to be in honest I just have too much to say about our time in Mendoza.  For starters, Mendoza is a very beautiful, natural city.  The city is unlike any other city I have ever seen, in the sense that the city is filled with overarching trees on most blocks (which explains why the air there is so much cleaner).  These trees, due to the city’s desert/arid climate, allowed us to cool off because the heat there is very taxing to say the least.  Between that and the fact that the sidewalks have a built-in drainage system, the city of Mendoza definitely has a very unique vibe.

Our first stop in the city was to the Museo Fundacional, which examines the earthquake that struck Mendoza in 1861.  It destroyed the cabildo (or town counsel) and since then the city has been realigned or rather reconfigured more to the south of the original building.  It was very interesting to see how well preserved many of the artifacts from the original building are, and although it was not a very big museum by any means, it was fascinating to see how the city has changed since the event.  Also worth mentioning, right outside of the museum there is a beautiful view of the Precordillera (mountain range right in front of the Andes Mountains) and the city as a whole.

After the museum we headed off to the Parque de General San Martin.  To give a little back story, San Martin is a national military hero in Argentina who was known for his help to establish Argentine Independence.  In Cerro de la Gloria, there is a monument commemorating both San Martin and the war efforts put forth by his army.  Located on top of a mountain, the journey to get to the monument was a little unnerving for many of us, as the path to get there was winding and very narrow.  The structure itself is very beautiful and impressive, and along with the unbelievable elevated view of the city with the Precordillera in the background, the sights were definitely worth the nerve racking bus ride to get there.

After a quick lunch and a short break, we headed off to tour three bodegas in the area.  Mendoza is known as one of the eight wine capitals of the world (along with Napa Valley, Cape Town, and Florence to name a few).  The bodegas themselves are quite beautiful because the scenery of the vineyards is simply stunning.  And that’s before we even talk about the quality of the wine there.  Although the majority of the wine we tasted was of their lower tier, as a group we were impressed with the wine they had.  One of the bodegas was an “organic-wine only” bodega and interestingly enough, most of their business comes from the US and other countries (as there is not really a big market for organic-wine in Argentina and the people do not exactly see the novelty of it).  Organic or not, all the wine we tasted was great and I did make sure to bring back a few bottles as gifts for my family.

This Sunday we had ourselves a nice and quiet morning, and around noon a group of us headed off to get lunch at a restaurant nearby the hotel we were staying at.  The service was very typical of Argentina to say the least, as the pace of the service here is much slower than you would imagine (to put it in perspective, what would have probably been an hour lunch in the US was two hours long here).  The slowed service is supposedly done for two reasons:  one being to allow for more time to enjoy the meal/converse and two so that the waiter does not intrude as much on the group (which makes more sense when you realize that most of their money comes from their wages rather than their tips).  All in all, the meal itself was pretty good and a nice bargain.

After the lunch, we all met up at the hotel to head off on one of two excursions: about half of us went to go ride horses and eat at a barbecue and the other half of us went to go paragliding.  While the other half has told me that the horseback riding was a lot of fun, I am pretty sure I can speak for everyone that went when I say that paragliding was absolutely incredible!  Being a person who enjoys roller coasters and amusement parks, going paragliding is something that I’ve always wanted to try but had never had the chance to do prior.  Despite having a slight fear of heights, it was actually less stressful than I imagined it would have been.  The most difficult part of the whole ordeal for me was really just the ride up the mountain to our takeoff point.  The ride itself is about 30 minutes and you head up a very narrow, winding gravel/rock road all the way up the mountain.  After a quick set up of the gear, your typical harness and helmet combination, you are basically ready to take off.  Take off, for me at least, was pretty easy as I only had to run about 10 strides and then jump before the parachute caught the air (although a few of my friends had ‘false started’ due to the wind changing direction).

Once in the air, the view of the city and mountain side is unlike anything you’ll ever see.  Because you are going with a guide, it is not nearly as scary as it would seem, and you are basically in a seated position at all times.  My tour guide was telling me about how he had been doing this for seven years so I did feel very safe and relaxed on this surreal, dreamlike journey.  But just as I had hoped, at one point he asked me if I wanted to do some tricks, and of course I was 100% on board with that idea.  The tricks he did were similar to those on a roller coaster, with the big drops, sharp turns, and various flips (all of which were exhilarating).  Being that I was the first one to go, everyone else saw how much fun it was and at that point no one was going to back out of it (plus pretty much everyone asked to do tricks afterwards).  In all honesty, that activity is definitely the highlight of my trip so far and our entire group has agreed that we have to try skydiving together when we go back to Union.

Last thing, I will blog again within the next few days to talk about our empanada class, transportation and wifi, and soccer in Argentina.  Stay tuned!

Zoo, Clubbing, and the Academic Grind


Pictured Above: A photo taken during the marine show that we saw at the Zoo and the other photo is from Estudio Teatro (considered by many to be the best club in Cordoba).

Sorry if I sound like a broken record by saying this, but I do apologize again for not having posted in about a week.  Because I had to take two tests this past week of classes, I was worried that either I would spend too much time blogging and compromise my tests and/or my post would feel a bit more rushed (and thus not up to its normal quality).  Regardless, I do have a lot to mention about this past week.

On Thursday, a group of about 8 of us finally went to the zoo (something we had all thought about but never actually followed through with until then).  While it was not quite the same quality as you might see at the Bronx Zoo, the zoo did have a pretty wide range of animals and it was a great way to spend the day off (most Union students will find it hard to believe, but some universities actually take national holidays off).  It only cost us $39 pesos (less than $8 American Dollars) to see a whole lot of exotic animals (many that I had never seen before in the US) and to see a pretty great marine show.  The show was probably the greatest treat because for more or less $2 we got to see seals perform some cool tricks that I couldn’t even imagine would be possible (such as the picture above, where the seal balances the ball on its nose while balancing itself with one hand on the pool and putting the other hand out while we applauded).

Another fun adventure from our free weekend would be the night we spent at Estudio Teatro, arguably Cordoba’s best and most European looking club that we had been at up to this point (the first one we had been to that actually had a talented DJ by the way).  En route to the club, about 7 of us had decided to meet up at one of our friends house.  Maybe not the smartest decision of the night was for my friend and I to walk all the way from Patio Olmos (about a 45 minute walk) to our friends house.  The neighborhood was not really that safe, and for one of the first times I experienced someone deliberately trying to mess with us (most likely because they knew we were Americans).  We asked someone directions to a street, that was actually about a block or two away on the left, and he was attempting to convince us that we had already past it on the right (which was puzzling because we are both certain that we had asked for directions correctly in Spanish).  Using our common sense, we disregarded his clearly incorrect directions and were able to find our friends house.

Once we got to the club, we all finally felt that clubbing experience that we had anticipated prior to the trip.  This club not only had a legitimate line to get into it (even a 21+ requirement for Argentines, which kept it from having many high school kids like the other clubs we’d been to), but once inside it we saw that it had 3 floors and about 2,000 people inside of it.  This club was an absolute blast and it was a great way to spend our friend Camille’s birthday (Happy Birthday again chicha if you’re reading this!).

Being that we do in fact take classes here in Cordoba, I figure I should talk a little bit about school and how it is different from our experience back at Union.  First off, here most classes are about an hour and 40 minutes in length (except for our film class with Prof. Mosquera) and each class meets at least 3 (occasionally 4) times a week.  The day for most of us starts at about 730am or so that we can catch a bus around 8am and hopefully make it to the school by 9am when Spanish or Film class starts (usually Spanish except Tuesdays). Although transportation here is extremely unreliable, most teachers have some patience when it comes to punctuality (I will make sure to talk about all the joys of taking public transportation in my next blog).  We have two classes back to back and then usually have about 30 minutes or so for lunch, which for most of us is a simple ham and cheese sandwich (although some students host parents spoil them with empanadas and milanesas).  After lunch, we usually end with either Argentine History or Argentine Literature (depending on what we had chosen prior to getting there).  Perhaps due to the time of the class, or just the overall fatigue that comes from hearing lectures in a foreign language for 6 hours, this class time is usually the hardest to get through (that 2:30 feeling that those five hour energy commercials talk about definitely hits us around 1:00pm here).  Although there is a little confusion that comes from the language barrier, most of us have done well in this class (and grades for the most part are kept secret).  This is in stark contrast to our Spanish class.  While our professor had claimed she would not disclaim our grades to everyone, yesterday she took the time to tell everyone in class where they stood.  She called out a few us for as she claims “not living up to their potential” and told others that they were doing fine.  Oddly enough for me, she said that although I appeared as if I didn’t care at all for her class my work reflects otherwise (I wasn’t quite sure if that was exactly a compliment or an insult, but as a class we had a good laugh about that).  As a culture in general, the idea of political correctness does not really exist (for instance I have been called gringo as a nickname by one of my friends here and once, because I accidentally wondered into the backroom of a store, someone who worked there called me flaco, or skinny in English) so therefore it doesn’t surprise me too much that they could be more outright disclosing our grades.  Grades in general though are done in a much different way here.  They are done on a scale of 10, anything above 6 being passing, and there is not quite as much grade inflation as there is in the US, in the sense that only a few 9s and maybe only one 10 will be given out.  Teachers are more than happy if you are getting a 7 in their class here, but it is not quite the same as it would be in the US, where typically we would call that a C-.  While many of us were worried about how the grades would translate back at Union, our adviser Professor Mosquera assured us that they would find a key to translate the grades so that they would reflect what they would be in America (which is great because that is a big concern for many of us here).

Tonight we depart for Mendoza (a move that many of us believe might be an attempt to keep us from the carnival happening here in Cordoba) but a place that all of us are still very excited to visit.  In addition to that, I will try to talk a little bit about the public transportation and our wifi situation in my next post.  For all my American friends, I hope the snowstorm of the century isn’t as bad as I keep hearing!


Buenos Aires: The Little Apple

(Pictured Above: A slew of political banners that are hung on the fence near the president’s office (called Casa Rosada), The statue in the Plaza de Mayo commemorating Argentina’s declaration of independence, A list of words inscribed on the wall at the Eva Peron Museum (in English Passion, Courage, Work, Dignity, Greatness, and Solidarity), and Me at La Bombonera (the stadium of Boca Juniors)

Apologies again for not having blogged in a while, we had a very exciting and tiring weekend in Buenos Aires (where unfortunately I did not have access to any free wifi) and we also had a midterm in our Argentine History class earlier today (which was challenging to say the least).  Nevertheless, Buenos Aires might be the highlight of this entire trip so far and is a city I would highly recommend anyone to visit (even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish).  At our tango dinner they referred to the city as the little apple because it is both an international city and it has a nightlife that is similar to that of NYC (with its plays and clubbing/restaurants).  After having experienced most of what Buenos Aires has to offer, I believe that nickname is quite fitting.

Having taken a bus that drove us there during the night, we arrived at our hotel around 8am on Friday.  The hotel was pretty nice and some of us had great views from our rooms (not to mention that this was the first place we had been to that had eggs for breakfast, something very comforting to all of us).  We went off on a city tour for about 5 hours that day in which we saw a lot of iconic sites, such as the Plaza de Mayo.  This plaza is not only very majestic in its appearance but historically and currently it still holds a great deal of political importance.  This same site where Argentina declared its independence in 1810 is the same site where a band of mothers marched to protest the kidnapping of children committed by the Argentine government during its dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Between all that history and the sight of all the political demonstrations/banners in the plaza (as the city average about 4 demonstrations a week), it was quite a moving experience for me personally to walk on the same ground.  You can feel the passion that Argentina has for its political welfare, which unfortunately does not quite exist in the same capacity back home.

After the tour we retired for a little while before we headed out to learn a little tango before having a dinner, which we ate just prior to watching a tango show.  These instructors, in addition to knowing English, were much better than those we had in Cordoba (as they had allowed us to dance instead of just talking our ears off for an hour).  The food was quite exquisite (bife de chorizo just might be my new favorite food) and the show was nothing short of spectacular.  My friends back home would laugh at me for thinking this way, but after watching a performance you really appreciate the art behind all the movements, the footwork, and the years that every dancer must have spent perfecting a dance that is so incredibly precise.  Every single one of us was awestruck by its conclusion.

After the tango show, a group of us went over to the Plaza Serrano, which is famous for its clubs and bar scene.  We went to a club over in the Soho region (oddly enough named after the neighborhood in Manhattan).  It was a lively club and was playing a lot of Reggae tome, which has slowly grown on me to say the least.  It was a really good time except for the fact that smoking is permitted in clubs, and the entire place was filled with smoke (before washing my clothes this week my host mom told me that they smelled like an ashtray).  Other than that it was a lot of fun and different from the typical club experience we have back home.

The next day we headed to the barrio called “La Boca” (literally translated as the Mouth) which is located right on the port at the “mouth” of the Rio de la Plata and is home to various artisans throughout the marketplace.  Between that and the music being played in the streets it had a very lively atmosphere (similar but not quite the same as that which I had experienced when I went to New Orleans).  It is a very proud neighborhood, and it is home to one of the world’s biggest soccer clubs Boca Juniors, a team that the great Diego Maradonna (arguably the world’s greatest soccer player of all time) played for.  I got to visit the stadium, and the museum that they have built into it, with one of the other kids on the trip and we were both overwhelmed and astonished by the history and pride that people feel for a sports team.  Fans of Boca really do have a strong connection to the team and people even refer the stadium as their cathedral.  You really can get a feeling that this stadium has a presence that transcends reality and is almost hallowing (I have friends who have described Wrigley Field or the Old Yankee Stadium in the same way).  But at the same time, that could be the soccer fan in me talking.

Also on Saturday we visited the Eva Peron Museum.  Despite having visited early on in the day, it was eye-opening to look at all the work she was able to do for Argentina (similar to but not quite the same as an Eleanor Roosevelt/Abigail Adams type figure in the US).  The amount of social work and what she stood for was something I was definitely more drawn to because of my past social working experience (having worked in a homeless shelter this past summer).  I am a very strong advocate for social work and I admire someone like Eva Peron who dedicates her life to helping others.

The last part of our trip that I feel people might enjoy would be talking about the experience in San Telmo.  This is a neighborhood that is similar to La Boca in terms of its marketplace except for the fact that this marketplace has many more artisans and hand made crafts than the one in La Boca (I think this marketplace stretched over at least a kilometer).  Many people bought ponchos, clothing, and even some tango paintings while we were there (I even bought myself a Argentine Flag to bring back home).  The environment was very uptempo, which in most other places is unusual because Sundays in Argentina are typically more laid back.  After that, we quickly went to Recoleta to check out the Museum of Beautiful Arts.  Although we did not have high expectations heading into the museum (many of us are not quite art aficionados), the artwork in their was breath taking and it was astonishing to see how well preserved it all was (despite some pieces having been there for almost 300 years).  All in all, Buenos Aires was an unbelievable trip and it is very likely I will head back there when we have another free weekend (not this upcoming one though).  This week we have a lot of fun activities planned for our first free weekend (visiting the zoo, going to an amusement park in Cordoba, and also heading down to the river) so I am sure that there will be a lot that I will want to share in the next few days.

Birthday, Tango, and Che

Photos: About half of our group that came out Saturday to celebrate my birthday, All of us at the Museum of Che Guevara in Alta Gracia, and a picture from the tango show we saw at the Arrabal restaurant in Cordoba (a little blurry but unfortunately it was the best photo we had).

Since my last post, the wifi in my house has been restored so hopefully I will be able to post regularly again.  I will try to be a little more diligent with my blogging so that I do not have posts that are excessively long (thanks again to everyone who actually made it all the way through my last post).

Friday night we had dinner at this restaurant in Cordoba called “El Arrabal.”  This is an upscale restaurant that gave us a nice three course meal (although just my luck the desert had peanuts so I missed out on that).  They are infamous for their tango shows, which consist of two singers, a bass guitarist and accordion player, and of course a couple that performs the tango in very lavish attire.  Having only taken one tango class on Tuesday, which needless to say was a challenge for most of us, we have not really witnessed the tango in a formalized setting such as this.  And after watching the show, it is fair to say that many of us had a new found appreciation for the dance.  You are really able to see the meticulous detail that goes into the choreography, as the dancers never miss a beat and are able to dance in ways that appear unfathomable to the rest of us.  Couple that with the music and the elegant stage presence of the singers and it truly is a phenomenal production.  Not to mention one student in our group was actually called up to sing a song up on the stage, and she did an amazing job (seriously Camille you sounded just like Alisha Keys).  There was also a little bit of humor because a little while past midnight one of the guys on the trip told someone that it was technically my birthday and they brought me a slice of lemon flavored cake (thankfully this one did not have peanuts or nuts).

On my birthday, we headed for a trip to the small, very beautiful city of Alta Gracia.  Once we arrived there we visited another historic Jesuit convent (which I believe is now the third or fourth one we have visited since arriving here).  Just like the other ones we had visited, it had very elaborate architecture considering that it had been built around 400 years ago.  After taking a quick tour and many photos, we ate lunch before departing for the Che Guevara museum.  The story behind the museum is that Che lived in that house for a several of the more formative years of his childhood.  Being that Che is considered both an iconic revolutionary figure and a controversial figure by countless others, the museum instead chooses to celebrate his upbringing by displaying various replicas of several parts of his early life (everything from his report cards and early notes to his parents to the replica motorcycle that he used when he traveled throughout South America).  Despite not knowing too much about Che prior to visiting the museum, I did appreciate the his longing to try and understand the hardships that many people in the lowest economic classes around the world endure.  At least that part of his life is worth celebrating for me.

My birthday night was not unlike any other in Argentina except for the fact that we went over to one of our speaking partners’ apartment prior to having a night out on the town. He was very easy to understand and he and I talked a lot about soccer because he was a River Plate fan (one of the biggest teams in Argentina, probably comparable to the Red Sox historically).  All in all the night was a lot of fun and one of the more memorable birthdays I have had in recent years.

Sunday we went and saw an Argentine film in Patioolmos (a mall located in the heart of the city) called “Thesis about a Homicide.”  The movie unfortunately did not have subtitles and thus it was very mentally draining to sit through the entire movie (yours truly and more than half of us fell asleep at moments).  But for the most part, it was not too difficult to understand the plot/dialogue to the movie (although none of us got the few jokes dispersed into this crime thriller).  It had elements similar to Hollywood movies, in terms of special effects and music score, but it also had different elements not found in American films.  This included a fair share of female nudity and even a fairly aggressive, and uncensored sex scene (that caught many of us off guard to say the least).  But at the end of the day most of us understood the basic idea behind the film and we were able to appreciate it for what it was.




Suggestion Box

It’s hard to find a better picture to describe the differences between school down here and life back home than a stray dog sleeping inches away from us in class.  These dogs love to follow us on the street when we go from place to place and up to this point they have been completely harmless (although many people are worried about getting fleas from the dogs).  For reasons I can’t explain, these dogs do not seem to follow other people on the streets.  It could be because often we are traveling through the streets in a group or because maybe we Americans have a scent that attracts these dogs.  Maybe it is because we are more embracing of their company than the locals, as they often try to usher them away and have little to no sympathy for these dogs.  Regardless of the reason, these dogs are a constant reminder of the differences in culture between Cordoba and our life back home (where they have pounds and the pet population is controlled via spaded/neutering).  They are also super protective of our group, often barking to intimidate other dogs, occasionally other people, and often times cars/buses that they believe are threatening us (these dogs get so close to the vehicles that about five or six times I thought they were going to get hit).

Other interesting parts of this culture that I had not really thought or talked about earlier was the exhaustion that sets in.  This is something that is due to a multitude of reasons.  First and foremost, probably most frustrating for the rest of us, is the strange eating habits in Argentina.  The breakfast here is just bread and coffee!  I never realized how much I would miss my eggs and yogurt or cereal.  This breakfast does not tide you over well and makes it a little difficult to stay attentive in class before lunch.  Snacks and meriendas are not really common here, so in place of eating something before dinner (anytime in between 9-11 at night) it is common for people here to either take a siesta (a small nap around 2 or 3 in the afternoon) or to grab a coffee and a small bite to eat.  Another reason for the fatigue is due to the language barrier.  While we are all learning Spanish and it is fair to say that we are all relatively competent, hearing Spanish for 5 hours in class and then hearing it everywhere you go/at home with your families, becomes very mentally draining as we have to keep trying to speak/listen.  Therefore when we have an opportunity to speak a little English, such as through this blog, email, or little conversations on the bus with classmates, it allows us to maintain some sanity and relax.  A third factor would be the heat here.  While it is never really more than 95 degrees, the fact that we went from winter to the hottest month of the year here is taxing.  Any physical activity like running or working out becomes difficult during the day, and therefore it is much more common to see people running either at the beginning or end of the day.  The final factor, and quite possibly the most influential for many people like myself, is the lack of sleep.  Because the culture is very laid back (for instance being as much as 10 minutes late is not considered a big deal here) and does not run on quite the same schedule, everything from dinner to social life happens much later than it would in the US.  The nightlife in the US might begin around 9:30 or 10, but here many places do not open until about 2 in the morning and people stay out until 5 or 6 in the morning.  This delay in schedule, which is in stark contrast to our school schedule that forces many of us to get up around 7 to eat, shower, and catch the bus, cuts back on the sleep that we receive and forces us to either take siestas or pump ourselves with caffeine to maintain energy (I would say that I oscillate between the two alternatives).  It is also worth mentioning that when you want to sleep, the heat makes it very difficult because there is typically no AC and the ceiling fan in our rooms typically is not enough to keep us cool.

But all these differences bring me back to the title I chose for this entry:  suggestion box.  Many of us are faced with these cultural differences and choose not to embrace them, or work as hard as we can to avoid them because they intimidate us or they are uncomfortable.  However for me, I look at ourselves as suggestion boxes.  The culture here cannot physically force you to change yourself.  Rather the culture differences that you face serve more as suggestions that you can choose to embrace/experience, both during and after this once-in-a-lifetime trip.  I myself try to embrace this culture as much as I can in all facets from the odd hours/schedule to the different social life (spending more time in public places and dancing in more formalized settings than in the US).  These suggestions will ultimately change my perspective on many aspects of American culture and even affect the way in which I live my own life, so I feel it is almost my duty to live as much like an Argentine as I can while I am here (which means drinking an awful lot of mate).

Because my house lost its wifi, and I am not quite certain when it will return, I am not quite sure how often I will be able to blog.  I will try to make sure that I at least blog once a week, although I hope to blog twice a week so that my entries are not quite as long winded as this one (thank you again for your patience if you have read everything up to this point!).  While I am still experiencing some camera issues, due to the many photos posted on facebook by other students on the trip I am confident that I will be able to post at least a few pictures from our adventures.

Fear and Bliss

(Pictured here is my Speaking parter Roger, Patio Olmos a beautiful mall in the heart of the city, and a cup of Mate Coroba’s drink of choice which tastes like a bitter version of green tea)

Being that we have now been in Cordoba for about a week, I figure now is a good time to reflect upon some of our experiences.  First off, my host family is about as perfect a match as I could have envisioned.  My host mother has shown me nothing but unconditional love since I have arrived and has done everything possible to make me feel comfortable.  Plus she cooks amazing and relatively healthy meals.  Except for breakfast here, which is just toast and coffee, I can honestly say that I eat like king here.  My host father has also been very supportive and we both connect over a mutual appreciation of soccer.  While I can’t say that I understand exactly what my host parents say all the time, I will say that I can usually get the gist of what they’re talking about.  With the love and support that they, and their two dogs, have shown me, I have had a much easier time adjusting to this new environment than some of my other classmates.

Our first day of school was interesting to say the least.  This day marked the beginning of the Spanish Only Policy, which is challenging but essential to get us to learn the language.  We were supposed to be driven or to take a ride with our host parents on the first day, but unfortunately public transportation here is not exactly reliable or consistent.  We missed a bus that arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and despite waiting another 50 minutes, no other buses came.  So my host mom and I took a cab that got me to placement test about half an hour late (although she assured me that in Argentina they are a lot more understanding about time/being late).  Between that and having phone issues for a few days, it is fair to say that I didn’t quite start out on the right foot.

Adapting to the culture here has been a unique combination of fear and bliss.  There are moments where you are scared about how you will fit in with others or what others are/might be saying about you in Spanish (in particular this is prevalent on the bus).  But then you have other moments when you are having the time of your life (such as with the weather and the fact that many people will have patience when you’re speaking and be very accepting of you).  I find that to be the best part of Argentina’s culture.  In America we seem to be much more judgmental and do not show nearly the same level of support to people of foreign countries/those who are not fluent in English (sometimes we even neglect them).  The real key to adapting to an environment such as this to remain calm in situations of ambiguity, and to just try and immerse oneself into the culture.

This of course leads me to Roger, my speaking partner who was named after the former James Bond actor Roger Moore.  Both Francisco and I have Roger as a speaking partner, and in addition to being very laid back and fun to hang out with, he has done a fantastic job of exposing us to the culture of Argentina.  For instance, on Thursday night the three of us went to a local dance club called Tsunami Tango and danced/learned the salsa.  Both Francisco and Roger are well versed in salsa dancing, but never in my life had I danced (at least not like that).  Despite some early difficulties, I was able to get the hang of it rather quickly because, being a soccer player, I have decent footwork.  One of the reasons I did enjoy the dancing so much was not just the expressive nature that it has, but also the bonding that took place between the 8 of us that went to the club.  Since most of us had not ever danced before, it was a lot of fun to learn/struggle together.  Plus it is good to know that learning the salsa will improve my soccer footskills.  The most interesting lesson about Argentine culture that we took away from this night of dancing was that dancing in Argentina, while there may be a lot of sensuality to the moves/dancing itself, it is more of an expressive activity.  This is in stark contrast to dancing in the U.S., as often times dancing is considered more of sexual act (ie: grinding).

The last thing I should mention was Jesus Maria, which is where there was a national folklore music festival.  Between the music and the doma, which is the taming of horses that looks a little bit like the bull riding in the U.S., it was a great event to experience.  There is a lot of national pride at an event such as this, and there were many interesting artisans that were selling everything from panchos to embroidered leather purses.  It was a lot of fun to be at an event with such lively music and it was unlike an atmosphere that we had been exposed to at any point prior in the trip.


Finally Here


*Disclaimer: my Mac cannot yet recognize my camera so the pictures I describe will be posted as part of a gallery in the coming days*

These photos of Cordoba as we stepped off the plane and the bidget in the hotel (not quite sure how how you’re supposed to spell that) I think both perfectly represent the wonder and excitement that lies ahead as well as the Argentine customs that we could not have envisioned. After traveling for about 20 hours straight we arrived in Cordoba on Sunday. I would have posted sooner but prior to Sunday night I had slept a combined hour and a half in a 36 hour period. Although we had all read about culture shock, not a single person on the trip could say they were prepared. Its a strange mix of being extremely excited, about all the possibilities and adventures that lie ahead on the trip, and being scared out of your mind, since you are in an unfamiliar territory and cannot communicate in a manner in which you are accustomed. It’s easy to stress out in a situation like this but the way I like to look at this trip is that it will be two weeks of struggle (which includes learning the language well/having the confidence to speak, meeting new friends and people, and learning the area/customs) but it is followed by eight weeks of bliss (language skills improve, feeling comfortable in the city, traveling throughout the country, etc.). We have only been here two days but it already feels as if we have been here a few weeks because of all the exploring and traveling that we have done (more pictures of Cordoba to come). Having just been united with our host families, we will finally begin school in the morning and with that the two weeks of struggle will set in.  But as my professor Moyano would say “Vale la pena” (the pain is okay).