Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship
“Maradona, dulce de leche y mano de rata” in Buenos Aires
November 2, 2007
This saying was quoted to me as a foreigner’s description of the city of Buenos Aires, but seems applicable to my first two weeks here as well. While I have not gotten to a fútbol match yet—Maradona is Argentina`s reigning fútbol legend, even though he is well into retirement—I have been hearing all about it and I hope to go in December. The rest of the quote refers to the cuisine (yum!) and finally a warning about the hand of a rat. In this city I have had some great times, but also had my first really bad experiences of the trip. Quick recap: Almost as soon as I got to Buenos Aires, I started feeling really homesick for the first time, which made it a little tough to be outgoing, much less in a foreign language. Last weekend my cell phone was stolen in a market when I was laughing with my host and not paying attention to my bag for a minute. Then the next morning, I managed to lock myself out of my hosts’ apartment in my pajamas. So I ended up taking a 15 minute cab ride to the Thai Embassy where my host Omjai works and standing in the lobby (yes, in my pajamas) while people walked by in suits with confused looks on their faces. Luckily everyone was really nice about it and we had a good laugh after, several times actually.
Overall Buenos Aires seems a world away from my previous experiences in South America, making me feel more like I am back in Italy than anything else. The city was beautifully planned to have wide, tree-lined avenues and has an overwhelming amount of activities and cultural events. To add to the European feel, they also have a decent subway system and the architecture has predominately Spanish, French and Italian influences. Oh yes, and then there is the cathedral in Plaza de Mayo, which is designed to look like a Greek Temple on the exterior, despite the fact that it is Spanish colonial inside. This is just around the corner from the large bank from the Brutalist movement (massive and concrete would be the best description). A bit of an identity crisis, but a beautiful place nonetheless. Then there is tango, you cannot go anywhere in the city without seeing signs of its presence, including live demonstrations in the street. Going to a tango show is also on my to do list, and one of the guys from my hostel has promised me a tango lesson in December—he even gave me a CD as a gift to get me ready! I have been impressed by how gracious and friendly that people generally are here, from daily interactions like lining up for buses and cramming patiently on the subway, to their great hospitality.
I have been staying at a hostel that was just started about a month ago and is run by a group of friends from here who have been dreaming of opening a hostel for years. After 8 months of remodeling a cool old house in the San Telmo neighborhood, they are off the ground running. They have done a great job with the place and you can tell how passionate they are about their business by the fact that there are always a few, if not all, of them hanging around the hostel getting to know their guests. It is fun, clean, has a nice atrium, a patio and a huge kitchen. They have currently adopted me as the hostel “princess” because I am the youngest and usually the only person in the whole place whose native language is not Spanish (hence, I do not always know what is going on around me). I will definitely be coming back to Hostel Puerto Limon later in my trip, and be recommending it to everyone!
While my Spanish is drastically improving, I have had moments where I really needed to get away, which is how I ended up wandering over to South American Explorers, a travel resource center around the corner from my hostel. They were hosting a talk on climate change with a woman from the Fundacion Argentina de Etoecologica (FAE), in Spanish. It was a confidence booster that I understood almost everything she said, and I ended up getting to talk to some people before and after in English, who reassured me that feeling overwhelmed in Spanish was totally normal. Hopefully the FAE will lead to some more contacts in environmental design. My other English speaking refuge has been meeting my friend Katie`s brother Patrick, who has been living down here for a year and is currently teaching English. We even went to an expat Halloween party, though pretty quickly opted for the local scene at my hostel instead.
Servas has now firmly found a place in my heart thanks to my hosts for this past weekend, Pablo and Omjai (the pajama apartment). Pablo is Argentinian, and an architect here in Buenos Aires, while his girlfriend Omjai is from Thailand and has only been living here four years. This meant not only great company and cultural experiences, but home cooked Thai meals every day! They also took me and a Servas member from Hungary to a real Argentinian parilla (BBQ) outside of the city. It reminded me of a Texas BBQ, with long benches and a fire pit loaded with cooking meat, except they served local wine instead of BYOB. This place also gives leftover food to the local poor community at the end of the day, which they told me keeps it safe for people to eat there! Luckily they told us that at the end of dinner! Pablo had some great architectural suggestions and Omjai has a wonderful head-tossed-back laugh that put a smile on my face every time. When my cell phone was stolen at a market in Recoleta, she bought me a churro and took me to see the funniest street clown I have ever witnessed to try to get a smile on my face again…and she definitely did.
I have also been enjoying the hospitality of Jorge Duran, a Vanderbilt alum from here, and his family. He kindly met me at the airport and introduced me to the city my first day. I had dinner with his daughter who is my age and an architecture student at the University of Buenos Aires, and then they even had me over for dinner at their wonderfully remodeled historic apartment in the city. With all of the recommendations I have received from various hosts, and the blessing of beautiful weather almost every day, I have spent most of my days walking around the city, taking it all in. One of my favorites was the Museo Xul Solar, the building design was inspired by the art of a local Argetinian artist and has no fully enclosed spaces.
Other than that, I have been spending time making additional contacts in Argentina and working on planning out the next phases of my trip. This Saturday I will be starting my month long course in sustainable living and natural building at the GAIA Ecovilla near Navarro, Argentina. While it seems I will be able to check email on occasion, if anyone needs to get a hold of me urgently, please email email@example.com with my name in the subject line, or I can receive a brief call at +54 (022272) 492072. I know you all will miss having my emails cram up your inboxes, but there will probably not be another update from my end until early December. Though as always, I love hearing from all of you too!