Sunday, September 27, 2009


I guess I should start at the beginning... of this weekend, of course.

Stayed in all day Friday, trying to get myself to work on this blasted paper. Having a hard time facing it. Just like I did with Memo #1 for my other class, for which I somehow got an A-. Thank God. Didn't get nearly as much done as I wanted on Friday, and I knew I was going shopping with Kelly Saturday afternoon, but I figured I'd have five solid hours between waking up and meeting her in Palermo Viejo around four... I figured...

There's a new girl in the program, Gaby. She's the baby of the program, having just finished college in May after starting school early as a kid. She's 21. GOODNESS. Her parents left on Friday night and I told her at lunch with Adam on Thursday that if she needed saving on Saturday, she should shout. I can't tell you how thankful I am that she called. I don't know why, but being able to get her out of the house on her Worst Day made me feel just a little bit better about having gone through mine completely alone. We went to my cafe two blocks from my house, and while we were sitting out in the bits of sun under the trees, we saw this absolutely ridiculous kiddy bus... I fail to understand. Maybe it was a sightseeing tour? But then why did it stop on the corner for ten minutes? My corner cafe is not a sight. Pretty sure. Gaby was shocked to see Spiderman in Argentina...but having seen some pictures from costume parties here, I can tell you, Spidey's not an uncommon choice here. (Note to self: Inform everyone no spidermen at your Halloween party.)

It was a nice afternoon. Spending too much money on accessories, eying bonsai trees in the market, having a coffee with Kelly on a terrace from which I took this picture. Gaby had to get home to run some errands, but I made my new chicken salad recipe for Kelly and then the three of us met up at a movie theater close to her house. We saw some ridiculous chick flick, but Kelly buried her head in my shoulder when she was embarrassed and we bought Gaby's ticket as a "Welcome to Argentina." I think it made her feel better, and she informed me we're definitely going latin dancing next weekend. Yay!

Another day of trying to work on my paper...went through readings to pull out quotes today, and wrote my introduction and a very basic outline. 20 pages by Wednesday, and I currently have 1.5. I was about to head to bed when I got an email from Evan, an old friend from Carnegie Mellon who is actually one of only four people who subscribe to this blog. Came out of NOWHERE. Subject line: This one is for you... clearly. No body to the email, just this bit of adorableness. And I confess, a lolcat made me cry.

Some of you have been really great through this. Chris, you and your family are AWESOME friends to my family, and it means so much that you guys haven't forgotten me. Matt Stewart sent me a message on Facebook this weekend because reading about G20 in Pittsburgh made him think of me. Katy, I know you read this, and you've been pretty good at keeping in touch, when I remember to sign on to skype... (Sorry!!)

But MAN. Guys? A lolcat made me cry because it was a little reminder that I wasn't forgotten. I've talked to Sarah what? Three times in as many months? Haven't talked to Jen once? Or Zack, you subscribed, but I haven't heard a peep. This whole doing-it-on-my-own thing would be easier if I felt like I had a support system back home. It would be easier not to be phased by the people in my program not liking me if I knew I had friends back home.

I don't mean to get all chain email on you guys, but you really don't know how what you do affects people. This email took him fifteen seconds, and it MADE my weekend. So do me a favor, as a person who doesn't forget people, and make an effort to reach out to someone you haven't thought of in a while today. Feeling forgotten ain't the hottest, and kittens are really cute.

Guess that's all I have to say.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day Five -- Just Because It Was There

How hard it was to actually GET UP on Monday morning!! The life of a Porteño had become so comfy -- out late, up late....definitely not my normal life!! We descended on the bakery "Via Dolce" (Sweet Street) and each took a basket with tongs and picked out breakfast pastries. They all got wrapped up together, we hopped into a taxi, and rode to the pier. M and I with our tea, Al had his black thick coffee, devoured the pastries. Boarded the catamaran to Uruguay, slept for most of the journey honestly. Must have been that full belly thing.

When we disembarked both Al and I were suitably underwhelmed, but M seemed to know what she was doing, so we walked on. She had delivered the perfect trip so far, were we going to doubt her now? Ah, no. Reaching the tourist office we were attacked by very persistent and wily individual that wanted to direct us, and M very quietly guided us away. Thankfully so. We only had a few hours in paradise, and she knew best.

Ahead of us was the walled city of Colonia and we entered through the rocky gate. I don't see how that could have protected Colonia from much...but inside truly was a treasure. The frantic racetrack of Buenos Aires was behind us, and this little dusty silent town waited to be explored. Time was the enemy here, so we just got to glide along the surface, but for some reason that was ok too. The lighthouse was a little too high for climbing, so we admired from outside. Breakfast was all sugar so in dappled shade we had a picada - a tray of miscellaneous cheese, ham, olives and little hunks of bread -- just the ticket to soak in the square.

In and out of the shops was fun, but the leather shops were overwhelming to the senses! Being surrounded by that much animal that wasn't animal anymore was very strange. The smell was a bit intoxicating.... (what does that say about me???) We saw BA as a tiny speck on the horizon, that was funny to me, since she is SO overpowering in person. In your face, demanding of all your attention. Not in a bad way, mind you, but you've got to be on your game -- totally focused -- just to cross the street. But there she was, tinier than an ant. We ignored her.

We touched on the old town, the new town, didn't have time for the grand lunch by the coast that M had planned. Probably my only regret of the trip. (in a week of perfect, I can deal!!) However, weaving our way back to our boat, M left time for helado -- ice cream. It's shameful to call this ice cream, because it's absolutely the best I've had .... definitely since I was in Italy, and maybe better. Italy was almost 20 years ago, so memory blurs. Chocolate yum. I've read about limoncello, so I wanted to try that. Blecht! M had the idea of adding some agua con gas (bubbly water) and then it was just incredibly hard lemonade. That was ok. But limoncello -- unless this was really bad stuff, and I don't think it was -- what's the deal here?

Not sure we took a photo of the place we had ice cream (I think I was bubbly by then...) but it was SO picturesque, and the ice cream...well...sigh. My girl knows her stuff.

So in two and a half hours we're back at the flat, and I'm flat, as in 24 hours I'm gone...I've been pretty much a napless wonder for 2 days and THAT's not good...and we need a meal. Stinkpot calls the restaurant next door and plays the sick mom card, so basically we have room service in our flat. All the waiters line up to see this incredibly *bold* young woman pick up food and the head waiter pleads with Al to please bring the plates back. I have enough energy to wolf down a HEAVENLY dinner (except for the blood sausage that accidently got ordered -- oops!!) and collapse like a 'bunch of broccoli' onto the sofa for more girl snuggles. She HAS control of this crazy world, if she can make this happen! 'Please do not tell anyone -- I will lose my job if anyone finds out!', he said. Seeing M, they evidently all wanted to help carry the dinners, 'me, no me!' When 'Las Vulturas' had finished once again, Al returned the plates with M's thankyou note and a tip -- perfect ending to a perfect day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Welcome to Spring

Hey everyone, it's me, Melanie. You know, the one who actually owns this blog! ;)

I know Mom has a post or two to add from their recent trip, but today was both the first day of Spring and the first day of classes en castellano. It was a heck of a Monday.

Actually, as my Spring resolution I decided to be better about taking pictures and about posting to this, so my pictures today are from yesterday. I decided I needed to have a LOT of fun yesterday to boost my spirits before classes started this week since I was (justifiably) very nervous at the prospect at taking grad-level courses in a foreign language.

So! I biked to La Recoleta on Sunday to check out their feria (market) which is supposed to be much more craftsy and hippyish than San Telmo. It was an incredible sunny day, a bit warmer than the forecast had predicted else I'd have worn a tank top and tried to get a little white into my blue skin. Along the way, I was regaled with the hilariousness of a whole horde of clowns close to the children's hospital in Palermo. I almost went over to ask if I could join up, until I realized the joy I'd feel being a clown would probably be outweighed by standing at intersections trying to get money. They were all over, and if I'd gotten my camera out sooner, I'd have caught all three of these standing in a row eating sandwiches and scratching their hats. As it is, I barely got my camera turned on when the light turned green, so I took this picture blind. I actually feel kind of bad - the one really looks like she wants me to come over and, well, give her money. Bad me.

My new friend (praise God) Kelly met me close to the cemetery, and we spent over four wonderful relaxing sunny hours. We had awesome salads in the sun at a nearby restaurant, and then proceeded to search the market for all the things we need. We found NONE of them, but came away with things we most certainly didn't need, nevertheless. I got birthday presents for Mom and Lara, and even got something for myself! I know, our birthdays aren't until January and February, but when you see something here, you buy it. I've learned that one the hard way. I just hope I run back into some of the things I've seen and passed up... More than what we got, though, it was just a great day getting out and meeting people, including Flora. She sat facing away from the crowds, facing her daddy in his booth. Her sign says, "Don't bother. I'm resting." Too cute. When we had done enough damage for one day, we got fruit salad covered in fresh pressed orange juice and sat on a hill listening to some live music.

Maybe it was the good mojo from yesterday, but today went much better than I'd expected. I had a Spanish class in the morning, and had a bit of a rough and stressy afternoon, but then biked down to Tribunales to pick up readings and sit in the computer lounge reading and looking up words on google translator. Ran into the new girl, seemed nice! And then class started and something AMAZING happened. I understood a lion's share of what was said! By our 8:30 break, I was pumped up on endorphins and gleefully told the other Americans that I understood 85% of what was being said, and Holly's response was, "Yeah, he talks really clearly." Plblblblblb. I guess it's a good word of caution, I still have two more professors to meet, and I doubt I'll be so lucky as to have three professors that don't swallow their words. They openly discussed the fact that Holly invited all of them but not me to dinner in front of me, and they all went out to get a drink together after class without inviting me, but I'm glad they didn't. Got lost on my way home and biked through a good portion of Recoleta and (I think) a bit of Belgrano before finding my way. It was great. Hooray endorphins!

Regardless, I know some of you were interested in seeing how day one of classes went, and hey: clowns and cats. What more can I say.

Love you all.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day Four -- Market Day

Thankfully M is staying at the flat with us, making life more simple for all. And the late night snuggles for me are priceless. We are birds of a feather. Getting up on Sunday morning had me moving as fast as I could. Today was San Telmo! I'd read about this market, and M had told me all about it too. My pulse was rapid, and I was ready! We started the morning with scones that Lara sent us -- quite a decadent way to start the day, then into the taxi. That, by the way, is truly taking one's life into ones hands.

I digress to discuss life in a taxi. How these people do not die on a daily basis (redundant??) is a grand mystery to me. The road could be 2 lanes, or 9 lanes across and there will be more taxis than the street can hold (they are tiny) and they drive like lunatics on crack. Or speed. Some sort of illegal substance. Maybe Mate. I never did get the chance to try this, tho I did ask for it once and oooh the look I got. Is it not served on Sunday? Add in the machismo that surrounds them like an aura and insanity is not a strong enough word. I didn't see accidents tho. They zip and they zag and will actually bump the driver infront of them if displeased, and honk ALL the time!! We decided it is the 'taxi toot'. I couldn't figure out why they honk -- there were a couple of rational toots I saw, but honestly. I think it's just for fun. In Israel the honking seemed just an extension of the conversation, but not here that I could see. I think it may be one of the 'just cuz' items in the world. To keep tourists like me from settling back in and enjoying the ride? That may be it!!

We arrived safe and sound however, and ready to shop. San Telmo is not just a shopping paradise -- we saw clowns on stilts, and so many other amazing street performers. The tango dancers older than time were there! M said they were famous, because they'd gone to the market every Sunday to dance for years. Apparently their picture is even on a postcard! Younger versions were there, but I still thought the old couple were darling, and the fact that the lady could still dance in heels on the cobblestones at an unknown age was quite impressive. I think that just about anything you could dream of would be on these streets.

We wandered out of the throng of tourists in search of 'meat on a stick' for lunch. Anthony Bourdain, the travel wise-apple from TV always says find where the locals buy their produce, then find where THEY buy their lunch. It may not have been as authentic as it could have been, but the cheap plastic chairs, beer by the liter, grilled chorizo with chimichurri sauce on top of sliced baguette at the rickety aluminum table right outside the produce market -- well it was heavenly.

We dove back into the fray and bolstered ourselves with that darkest and most delightful of coffees when necessary. One of the places had a true Argentine peacock. I don't know what else to call him. Of course Al was escorting two North American beauties -- but this guy was a hoot. Easily 65 -- shaved head, but with hmmmm....a shark's tooth around his neck? Maybe a wild boar's tooth? That and the gold chains, and shirt unbuttoned half way down, as the seriously machismo'd do... When we arrived he was facing away from us, and by the time we left he was practically -- well. It was silly. And it's a sad day for the peacocks of the world to lump them in with him. This was where I asked for the Mate and got the frosty look. It was on the menu, but being a silly tourist I don't know the protocol. It's not illegal...but I think in the states it would be. Ask me no more!!

But, we hung in there until the end, staying until the Brazilian drummers rolled up the streets at 6. What a site! Everyone within hearing distance dancing, and the drummers, young and old so proud. The sites, sounds, smells -- SO very much fun!! Thank you Melanie!! Another fun day!!

Day Three -- A Tree Hugger?

The walk to the botanical gardens in itself was a treat, and yes, it is early spring. There is the certain 'nip' still in the shade, but once you get into the sunshine it warms the soul. The gardens are across from the zoo, families with little ones are everywhere, the excitement is palpable. I'm on a tree hunt. Driving in I could tell there were alien trees to my little tree library, so I was on a mission to find them, and yes, they were everywhere! And if you ask Al and Melanie, I touched every one of them. Not sure that is fair, but probably is. African, Chinese, Japanese, as well as the South-American ones, and the deciduous ones were fascinating. Spoinky, leathery, and down-right prickly leaves. We found some amazing tree trunks as well, and had to get photos with them. Not much was North-American, but when it was, I just laughed. Yes, they have spirea. Family joke inserted here. (Al hates spirea...)

The native, feral cats of the gardens and amused us as well. It's a real problem in BA that people abandon their cats at the gardens, there are so many everywhere, and signs requesting 'please do not abandon los gatos!' And as promised, the palo borracho with Al showing off. Initially I got confused with who was who... The trees just beginning to flower -- I ask M to please come back in a couple of weeks to take photos -- it's going to be spectacular. And then we happen onto a bird of paradise blooming. How can this be? (my mind cannot understand) A couple mystery vines also coming to life. I wish I had my plant book. (it is 600 pages so I cannot carry it -- not a practical idea). So remarkable. Again I ask for M to come back to take photos. She nods and sighs. She's been my daughter forever and knows how to placate me, although she's got enough of my blood in her that I KNOW she's jazzed as well!

Lunch at Plaza Serrano, people watching, and our first foray of shopping. It had to be shoe shopping, in the tiniest of shops, with at least 100 women in the shop. Good grief. Shoe shopping in English can be confusing, but in Argentine Spanish, watching your purse carefully (that now weighs 150 kilos) and 'please may I try this in fuchsia in the next size up'... Are we kidding? Al was wise and just continued his people watching outside the store. It was fun tho!! I now understand why M hesitates to go shopping. It's not as easy as it could be!

Back to the flat for mi siesta necesario and a creative dinner in. We hit the bakery, cheese shop, and opened a bottle of Malbec. Insert a sigh of contentment that cannot be replicated. Ever. M (being M) had prepared the flat with some delicious salami, chunked turkey, sliced jamon... The Fontina here is a hard cheese -- but delicious in it's own right. Thick rinds, but definitely worth the effort. In the dessert category Al won this time. No idea what he got, but with the grated dark chocolate on top of the whipped cream, well. There you have it. And I managed to be up after midnight! The life of a porteño!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Day Two -- Our Luck Continues!

What a gorgeous day we had yesterday! After a slow morning, Melanie decided to take us on a bit of a walking tour of some of the sites of the city: Av. 9 de Julio, the Teatro Colon, the national Cathedral and the Casa Rosada. We walked up to Plaza Italia to take the subte (the Buenos Aires metro system) downtown, and realized that Melanie wasn't exaggerating about everyone looking miserable all the time. After about one stop, Al asked Melanie, "How do you say 'smile?'"

We emerged from the subte facing the Obelisk (not much different than any other obelisk) and after a quick stop into a Christmas ornament store, did a bit of walking around on Av. 9 de Julio. My goodness, what a busy street! It's one of the widest and busiest streets in the world, and I will always remember watching the sea of people crossing at every light. It reminded me of Picadilly Circus -- but bigger and much more confused.

Our wandering led us to Tribunales, the square in front of the court building and the subte station Melanie uses to get to classes. She mentioned that the square looks a lot prettier in daylight - all her classes are at night! I made her promise to return during daylight in late Spring, as I saw what looked like the hugest and most incredible rhododendron tree ever! I made her SWEAR to take a picture when it blooms!

We got lunch in a street cafe near the square and then hopped back onto the subte to Catedral to see the national cathedral and the casa rosada. The cathedral looked so unlike a cathedral from the outside that we asked someone where it was while standing on its steps (!), but inside it was quite lovely. No concert in our honor this time, but as we were walking towards the doors, Melanie pulled me back so I narrowly escaped walking right into a cadre of fully uniformed guards (equipped with sabres...) that had come to open the gates of the tomb of General San Martin, the man who liberated Argentina so easily he decided to cross the Andes and liberate a few other countries while he was at it. It was awesome to watch, and we just laughed at our luck! Two days, two churches, two remarkable things to see!

We met the old guard's modern counterpart when we went to take pictures in front of the Casa Rosada ("Like the White House, but pink," said Melanie) and saw a unit of riot police marching around in full gear. We think there was an animal rights protest planned for the afternoon, but we scooted home for a nap before any of that started. Maybe next time.

Melanie and Al went grocery shopping while I was asleep, and after I got up, Melanie and I poked into two stores within a block of our flat--one vintage and one modern. We didn't find much, but I did get a cute sun hat for our trips to the garden and to Uruguay! Home to get dolled up, and then we went to a highly-recommended restaurant, La Cabrera.

How YUMMY! For a total of $75 including a generous tip, the three of us ordered twice as much meat as we could eat, plus a bottle of wine inspired by Andy jumping over the moon (Andeluna, it was called), plus two incredibly decadent desserts. Melanie and I made quick work of them, and when the waiter came back, Al informed the waiter that we were "Las Vulturas." Like the complimentary glasses of champagne we got with our dessert, we left the restaurant feeling quite bubbly, and giggled the whole way home.

Today, Melanie is taking us to the botanical gardens. I am so excited to see all the strange and wonderful plants. In our taxi ride back from our sightseeing yesterday, I saw a huge wisteria in full bloom, so I'm very curious to see what's growing and blooming in the beginning of Spring! I'm amazed at some of the things I've seen overwintering outside here! I'm sure I'll drive Al and Melanie crazy taking pictures of flowers, but it surely won't be the first time I've done that!

I'm so glad that we came. We're having a lovely time, and it's so wonderful to see our girl in her new city. She's become quite the city girl. She's more comfortable in this atmosphere than I'd ever be, it's a tough place and you have to be pretty tough to live in it! Never fear, though, I'm still getting snuggles I need.

more later...gardens await!

Friday, September 11, 2009

and then they sang...

so we slept like the dead and woke refreshed! The city was just coming to life as M said it would. We took a taxi to her lovely little apartment. It's darling! Just perfect for her. Tiny kitchen as she said, but suitable, and if she uses every surface as a countertop. Reminds me of my first little tiny apt all those years ago!

We walked out to her square, and looked at the amazing Cathedral Guadalupe, and of course wanted to peek inside...and I don't know who was singing, but it was holy and amazing. We have that kind of luck. In Chartre, Santorini, our first Mass in England at Westminster Cathedral where they were doing a Mozart Mass in A minor -- I don't think it's luck, I think it's by the grace of God, truly.

Dinner was a hoot, bowls of different kinds of stews. She got a butternut squash something over chicken, Dad got a peach, prune, different meat something, but I lucked out with lentils and jamon and mixed salted meats. I won the jackpot. It was delightful!

And the things that grow here. My goodness. The drive in from the airport yesterday I had my head hanging out the window. The driver, Aldo spoke no English but his Spanish was 'neutral' he said, and he was easy to understand for Dad and I. M had to translate some, but not much. The palo borrecho or 'beer-belly' trees I will have to take a photo of. They are great! It's like March here -- deciduous trees are just leafing out now. But hibiscus are outside and BLOOMING. Fig trees are outside and sporting new growth. There are palms of course. But still. We are nearly in the tropics here. But, we see familiar allysum blooming. Right by the outdoor amaryllis. Mind blowing. Very difficult to comprehend.

We're off to new explorations today. How absolutely wonderful. More later.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day One -- Trip of a Lifetime

Dear Friends,

We made it! After a long, long journey, we're in an amazingly beautiful flat on the 7th floor of an 8 floor building in the gorgeous neighborhood of Palermo Viejo. Melanie's neighborhood is close, although we've not made it that far. Tonite we'll wander over to see.

Getting to the airport in Dayton was more difficult that I'd hoped. As always I thought I was organized. Ha! Then we hit I-75 Highway 4 traffic. For once I was happy that Dad had forced me out early! And, that early check-in over the internet is really cool too!!

Flying through Houston was my first time in that airport but I do remember the gulf level of humidity. That's a special treat! Geez oh pete! There were lots of little ones on that flight who were extremely well behaved, so when there were several on the overnight flight I was optimistic. Hahahaha!!!

Let's just say it could have been better! Screaming 18th month olds at 3am, well, they aren't my favorite. Let's just say their mothers weren't my favorites. Had they ever heard the word 'no'? Or said it?

Landing in BA, both of us wondered what the heck Melanie had done to herself three months ago! How had she done this? That's my girl! Customs was a breeze and collecting bags was better than expected, and as soon as we passed through the airport doors we were totally barraged with 'offers' of taxi rides, rental cars, etc. I was not expecting such an enthusiastic welcome! I hadn't seen that kind of offering, or barking from folks since we lived abroad -- and I cannot remember where.

Seeing Melanie was a joy -- she looks wonderful! And watching her communication skills is a treat! The Argentinian-Spanish, from what I can tell from less than a day, is SO DIFFERENT from what I have ever experienced. She's right!!

Pronunciations like the 'll' I'm used to being a 'y' are a 'sh'!! I still want to make them 'll' being a stupid American -- so the poor Argentinians get a total of three words now instead of one! Complete lack of communication skill from me!

And, folks speak into their collars. And mush words together. We noticed that on the plane. Following English, the Spanish translation was given, obviously, but neither of us could understand. Maybe we'll get better, but in a week, I doubt it! Also -- speed is the key. The faster the better!!

Nevermind. She looks beautiful, and she's communicating much better than I expected. But I knew that going in! It's great to watch.

Tomorrow I'll write on what I've seen so far -- and it is amazing. So much to take in! But today is for snuggles.