Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chacarita y influenza

Well, I have been struck down from on high with a nasty cold (NOT THE SWINE FLU), so I'm going to update on all the things that have been happening lately, starting with the post on my trip to the Chacarita cemetery I promised you last week. And here we go. :)

There are two well-known cemeteries in Buenos Aires, the more famous by a long shot being Recoleta's. Recoleta is a neighborhood in which you live so that everyone knows that you have money, and a place where you are buried if you want everyone to know that you had money. Everyone's tomb competes with its neighbors in lavishness and grandeur, and it's one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. Chacarita is on the other side of the city, and makes up for being slightly less over the top by being much, much larger. And as you can see, these families hardly skimped on the cost, either.
It was a beautiful, mid to upper sixties day, and it was really nice to wander around in the relative quiet and revel at the sheer wastefulness of building granite houses for each of your loved ones. Ahem. We eventually made our way around to the grave of Carlos Gardel, the main attraction of Chakarita. Carlos Gardel is the patron saint of tango music, as you can see from the photos of his final resting place. My guide and buddy Jaesoung says that he always has a cigarette in his hand and a flower in his lapel, and that there are ALWAYS this many flowers on his grave.

As we were taking pictures at his grave, a group of Colombians came up to us and asked if we'd been in the cemetery the day before. We replied that we hadn't, slightly confused, only to find out that we were in the cemetery one day too late for one hell of a spectacle. June 24th is the anniversary of Gardel's death, and people flood to the cemetery to dance tango to live music, drink wine and smoke cigarettes. I was CRUSHED to have missed such an incredibly Argentine experience by just one day!

But even with my disappointment, it was a lovely place, and a perfect day. I told Jaesoung it could have been even a little warmer, but he replied that you really don't want to go to the cemeteries when it's warm out. Ahem.

It somehow seems very Argentine that two of the biggest tourist attractions in the city are cemeteries, and that everyone spends so lavishly on the dead. There were half a dozen flower stands outside of the cemetery, and as you can see, there's a full time cleaning crew just for the removal of flowers. I'm all about my loved ones doing whatever makes them feel best when I die, but for the record? I think it's all terribly wasteful. Bring me no flowers. Plant some instead.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meet Cute.

I was going to write you today about my lovely afternoon walking through a lovely cemetery with a lovely new friend, but that post has been superseded by this one. I'll post that one tomorrow, I promise. I have been sitting at my computer since 4pm with this one, and am sore and my stomach hurts from the stress of it. So here it is. Good, bad, and indifferent.

The guy from last weekend? The one who taught me to be careful with Argentinos? Well, he taught me that lesson again, along with a second lesson: Argentinos better not mess with me.

When I went out to dinner last weekend, Jaesoung and I were discussing how we remembered new words we learned, and so I dug into my purse to show him the digital voice recorder Mom and Dad bought me before I left. I thought it would help to be able to record my lectures or any other bit of Spanish I might want to take down without getting out a pad of paper and stopping life. Thing is, I couldn't find it. I figured it had fallen out of my purse, but when I got home, I couldn't find it in my room.

For almost a week, I have thought that I got robbed within 72 hours of hitting the ground in Buenos Aires, and I felt...awful about it. This kind of life change is bound to make you feel a little incompetent - I don't know my way around, I can barely communicate... But to know I had SUCH poor city sense on top of it? Man, I was not feeling too good about myself.

And then, on my bus ride home from the cemetery this afternoon, I was flipping through some of the lovely pictures that I'll post online tomorrow, and I found this one. The tricky boy from last Friday waited for me to go to the bathroom, took my voice recorder out of my purse, and left a picture of himself stealing it on my camera.

A meet cute is a writer's way of introducing two characters such that the reader or viewer knows that a romantic relationship is in the works. And how does the reader ascertain that a meet cute has occurred? A: it's something that never happens in real life. On paper, in a script, this would be incredibly romantic. It'd be frustrating, but also romantic and adorable and cheeky and smart. In the script, I'd have found the picture quickly, rather than feeling like a piece of crap for a week. Thing is, what looks brave on the surface is actually quite cowardly, because it was the only way he could make SURE that I'd HAVE to see him again. Come on, dude. Grow a pair, and ask a woman out to her face. Don't resort to petty theft.

Anyway, as I said, I came home with the intent of just sending the romantic sit com of a story to a couple girlfriends, but I ended up sitting by the computer for the rest of the day waiting for him to get back to me, since I don't have his number. I'm now achey from being tense all day, breaking out from stress, and unable to IMAGINE how I'll get to sleep tonight.

I sincerely hope that this is not an indicator of what to expect from my future experiences with Argentinos. And I sincerely hope that he calls or writes me very quickly, so I don't have to keep feeling like I'm hanging here, at his disposal.

I'm so sorry this post sounds grumpy. The good news is that I wasn't robbed, and that I'll have my voice recorder back by the time my language classes start next week if it takes threatening to call the damned cops. And also, no matter how bad my day goes, I am still in Argentina. It's quite a salve, I'll tell you. :)

I love you all.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My first weekend

My mother told me this morning that everyone had been asking when I was going to write again. Since I've managed to write one horrible post in the past week, I'm surprised anyone reads it at all.

I'm starting to get my feet under me. Last Friday Marílu dragged me out, and I'm so glad she did. First, we went to a language exchange group called Talk&Go, which is supposed to pair native Spanish speakers and native English speakers. I was surprised to see that the group was pretty evenly matched, though "native English" sort of went out the window. To four Argentines and a Peruvian, there were two Americans, a Korean learning Spanish, a German professor and his Thai aboriginal opera singer girlfriend. Everyone (except the other American) was really nice, and I got contact information from several of them. I went to dinner with Jaesoung, the Korean, on Saturday night and we struggled through talking to the waiter fairly successfully! Sunday, I went to el Mercado de San Telmo with the German/Thai couple. The Argentine girls promised to take me out after next Friday's meeting, too. If all goes well, with two hours of very broken Spanish I may well have made half a dozen new friends!

After that, Marilu took me to the 21st birthday party of the daughter of her friend. Yes, there are several things about that sentence that are terrifying. There were dozens of Argentine twenty-somethings in large groups, talking and laughing in unintelligible Spanish...it was too much for me to handle. I hung out in the kitchen with the moms, had some good Argentine food and wine. I unknowingly tried goose pate for the first time (I liked it!) and decided that cheap Malbec tastes better to me than expensive Malbec. The lady of the house took Marilu and I along while she was dragged around the fancy neighborhood of Belgrano, giving us the opportunity to pick mansions to buy at a future date yet to be named. When we got back, however, things got...well, a little more colorful.

There were a couple of guys sort of...hanging around the kitchen a little, before we left for our walk. When we got back, we set out the desserts and there was a flock of people to the dining room. Intimidated by the crowd, I escaped into the small back garden, and didn't get three steps outside before realizing oh no. Now I'm out here alone, and the tall dude who's been looking at me saw me go. Crap.

Sure enough, there he was. I spent the rest of the evening getting a LOT of attention from three buddies, one of which kept throwing up his arms and shouting "OHIOOOO!!!!!" Oy vey. Their names, and I'm not kidding, were Ramiro, Leonardo, and Santiago. (Cue Lara's laughing reply, 'where was the fourth ninja turtle?') Oh life in Argentina, you can be so surreal. The moral of Friday's story was cuidate: Argentine boys aren't like lazy Americans, they're much more cunning. Lesson learned!

Anyway, I lost all of Saturday until dinner with a horrible hangover, and went to San Telmo on Sunday. I didn't get to actually shop much, so I'm going back this Sunday, and I'll tell you all about it then. It was pretty great, and pashminas cost $15 pesos (just under $4) each. Not to shabby, huh? :)

One final thought: I found all the cats. People told me about all the stray cats in Buenos Aires but I hadn't seen one before Saturday night. Jaesoung and I walked around the parks by Plaza Italia, and we must have seen forty cats. Some of the trees in the park were uplit for effect, and there was a cat under each light and sitting ON each of the lights. Some of them were friendly, and you could tell that they got fed, but all the signs with pictures of scared kittens that said "Do not abandon your pets" made me sad!

Okay. Enough for now. Love you all. Miss you, but I can't really say I wish you were here...only because I think this is something I have to do on my own. Or with men with ninja turtle names...whatever.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hola de Argentina...hola a Argentina...

¡Hola a todos!

I'm sorry I didn't write sooner. There is SO much to do, and so much to see, and even though I already have nine thousand things to tell you, I haven't been outside of Palermo (mi barrio) yet. I haven't even seen most of Palermo. There is so much to do.

My flight was more or less uneventful, if my time in airports was slightly less so. I had to dissect my luggage at Dayton after we found out that weight overages were going to cost more than 250% of what we thought they'd be, I had a delay in Dulles, and I was treated as a biohazard in Buenos Aires. There've been over 800 reported cases and at least five deaths from H1N1 in Argentina, so travellers coming from America are now required to wear masks and turn in forms with three forms of contact information prior to disembarking the plane, and then walk through a heat sensor to screen for fever. I didn't know at the time, but apparently if I had been running a fever, they'd have sprayed me down before I could enter the country. Seems like a scene from a movie, yeah? I hope things don't get any nuttier, as it might affect some of your decisions about coming and visiting me. ;)

The taxi ride home from the airport was great, what a glimpse into the culture and everything. I saw a dude standing next to his horse in the bit of grass next to the highway, and countless little boys playing soccer. I saw that there are fruterías EVERYWHERE, and that if I ever drove in this city, I would surely die.

Day one was spent listening to my new landlady and roommate Maria talk at 900 words per minute and not understanding a dang thing. After showing me around the apartment and telling me at least 100 important things I'd forget if I ever understood them to begin with, she took me out a bit. I was glad to go out walking, even with the severe sleep deprivation going on. We got some essentials, and she showed me a good grocery store nearby (very important). When we came home, I started unpacking, and found that I didn't really want to stop - that by the time I went to sleep I was more or less settled in my room and had taken a shower. Upon telling Maria that I would just eat the cheese and fruit I bought at the market, she made us both some truly gross bowtie pasta with butter, cream, and "low fat cheese." Actually translates to "cheese for health," but I prefer to think of it as "cheese for gross."

Day two, I caught up on sleep, miraculously. Maria also went out with me again to a perfumería for toiletries and another big grocery store, which delivers for free if you spend more than 100 pesos (about 25 bucks). Turns out I was so dead on my feet on Wednesday that she was afraid if she hadn't been there, I'd have walked out in front of a bus, so she came along on day two to make sure I wasn't actually that clueless. Good news: I have city sense after all, just not when exhausted. Maria went out to dinner with friends, so I got to have the evening to myself in the apartment. I'll tell you, I can't wait to know people and have a cell phone so I can go out at night safely. I went to a butcher three doors down from my building to get a steak for $2, and I didn't want to come back home. I tried watching Argentine news, but couldn't bear watching coverage of the same story that'd been on the TV for at least 24 hours, so I ended up watching American movies with Spanish subtitles. I'm taking this city by storm, I'll tell ya. I watched a half hour of news from Barcelona and understood it all. God I miss Spanish that's not Argentine Spanish. I'm sure I'll get it down eventually, but I hate it in the meantime.

Of course, the good news is, I'M IN ARGENTINA. As much as a royal ass I'm making of myself, and as truly inadequate as I feel, I really love being in a city again. I'm going to enjoy walking endlessly through the barrios, and I love that there's still activity at 10pm. It's sprawling, and I have no idea how I'm ever going to get a handle on it, but tomorrow I'll work on Palermo on my own. Baby steps, Mom keeps saying.

We'll see.