Thursday, March 25, 2010

St. Patricks and Social Movements

I've been taking advantage of whatever free time I have to hang out with friends from Rhodes and Buenos Aires.

Last Wednesday was St. Patrick's Day and also the birthday of a guy on my study abroad program. As a group we decided to go to an Irish pub called the “Shamrock.” Apparently St. Patrick's Day is a relatively new tradition in Buenos Aires...but in the last several years it has really picked up in popularity. I had heard that the Irish pubs in town get packed early, so I was a afraid we weren't going to be able to get in, but the rain must have scared some would-be revelers away. Not long after I arrived at the pub, Will, a guy I had Spanish with at Rhodes found me in the crowd. We caught up and he invited me to an "asado" or barbecue at his apartment that weekend.

Last Thursday I went to a potluck at the apartment of Megan, another friend from Rhodes. Megan's apartment was very international, she had guests from France, England, Germany, and the US. It was really strange to be out numbered by the French while being in Argentina. I retreated to the kitchen with my wine to help make pizzas. Pizzas here are different than the pizzas back home. The crust is more bread-like and the cheese is creamier cheese. They also are known to put on weird toppings like corn, tuna, or potato chips. Megan's birthday is tomorrow so I'm going to go out with her and some friends for dinner at a Thai restaurant.

Friday I went with the program to meet with a mother from the Plaza de Mayo. The "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" is a group of mother who joined together to demand justice for their children who were "disappeared" by the military dictatorship. The Mothers or "Madres" remain an incredibly influential and respected group. The Madres believe that it is there job to do the good deeds in which their children believed. Thus, the Madres continue to work with the poor, homeless, and workers unions.

Friday night my homestay brother who is 26 invited kids from my program over to the apartment and then to go out. My homestay brother invited a friend over which was nice...its always exciting to meet Argentinians. We all bonded over the music we like and then discussed how the social norms in Buenos Aires differ from those back home. I've noticed here that guys and girls run in very different circles. A girl either goes out with her girl friends or is attached at the hip to her boyfriend. Here there don't seem to be friend groups with girls and guys. The Argentinian guy's explanation of why that is sounded like the dubbed version of a Billy Crystal line in "When Harry Met Sally."

Saturday I actually did some homework and then when over to the asado at Will's apartment. It was a fun night, we all ate, talked, went out, and then at 5 am started watching "Braveheart." Now, that last part may have caught you by surprise...the "Braveheart" bit..well, what happened was that Will and his roommates had been quoting it in Scottish accents all night long and since I had never seen it we finally ended up watching it. I am proud to say I made it to the end of the and walked back with a friend of mine to the subway at 8 am to go home and sleep!

Today was a national holiday, so I didn't have classes. I took advantage of that to sleep in and then go to a vegetarian restaurant. After stuffing myself with tofu I went to the Plaza de Mayo to see the marches. On this day 34 years ago the military took over the government and began the period of the worst oppression in Argentina's history. So today is not a holiday in the sense of celebration, but instead is meant as an opportunity to remember the 30,000 young people who were disappeared by the military. The Plaza de Mayo was packed with tons of different political groups, their banners, and their drums. There were the Peronists, the Communists, the Socialists, and tons of other groups I didn't even recognize. There was so much energy in the Plaza and I felt goosebumps when I heard the chant "30,000 present, now and forever!"

Next week the program travels to the interior of the country to stay in a farming town called Rosario. Apparently the town gets really excited when the program comes...last year the group's arrival made the front page of their local newspaper. I am excited to get some different perspective and to go on some bike rides. After our time in Rosario we are supposed to have a little time to travel, and if I can get my act together, I want to go to a city called Cordoba.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Homestay, Classes, and New Friends

It's the end of the first full week of classes. I've settled into my homestay and am starting to get to know the group and kids from B.A.

I met my homestay mom exactly a week ago. My study abroad program had a little welcome event at the school and then we hauled my suitcases to a taxi. My host stay mom is about 65, she is tall and slender with shoulder-length graying blond hair. She has a son, 26, and daughter, 29. Her son lives at home while he finishes his industrial design degree. He works and has a nice girl friend, so I don't see him too much, but we went and got icecream the other day, so that was fun . Her daughter lives in town and is an English teacher in an elementary school. I met her the night of the welcome event and she was exhausted as it was the first week of classes for her.

Last Saturday I met up with a girl who goes to the University of Buenos Aires. I met her in the airport in Kansas City as we were on the same flight to Buenos Aries. Her name is Antonella, and her grandmother is good friends with a teacher from my elementary school. Small world. I went out to her house and met her friends and did my best to understand all the slang terms. In Buenos Aires the night starts very late, so we didn't even go out until 2:30am. I had to have a cup of coffee before we went because I was yawning so much. We went out to what are called "boliches" or dance clubs. The next day Antonella's grandmothers came over and one of them gnocchi, an italian pasta dish. It was delicious. After Antonella and I caught a train back into town and went to the small Chinatown.

In the morning I have a seminar class and in the afternoons a Spanish class. The morning classes on the history and economics of the region have been very interesting. We learned this week about how the increased production of soy in Argentina and other South American countries has been causing both health and economic problems. The Spanish class has been frustrating as it involves a lot of busy work. I've talked to the program director, so hopefully I won't get stuck with that for the rest of the semester.

Today a girl from my group and I went to the MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires. I really enjoyed it. It is a manageable size and despite the sort serious name of the museum, the art is all modern or contemporary. I got to see a Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera piece. The muesum is not too far from my school, so I hope to return. I also walked down to the Law School which is very elegant with huge columns. Right next to it is a nice park that has a sculpture of a flower that is really tall and done out of shinny metal.

Tonight the study abroad group is trying to go out. Tomorrow night I am meeting back up with Antonella, the girl from Buenos Aires. Hopefully I'll have had a nap to prepare for the night!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mendoza, Iguazu, and Colonia

A lot has happened since I wrote. In this time Aunt Gloria, Uncle Chris, and I went to the wine country in Mendoza, Iguazu waterfalls, and the small Uruguayan town of Colonia. And now, I am writing to you from the small polo resort just outside of B.A. where my study abroad program is having its orientation. Orientation has been a lot of presentations about expectations and culture-shock, but since I've been here for a while, I'm ready to get on with it. I've met, and mostly know the names of the 11 other people in my program. They seem nice. About half are from small liberal arts schools. They are also mostly from the coasts. To the East...Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Florida. To the West...Washington and California. One girl is from Minnesota, but I am the only person holding down the mid-west...I'll do it proud, I hope! I find out about my host family tomorrow and move in Friday.

So, back to my travel log...two weeks ago today I was getting ready to go to the wine country in Mendoza. Mendoza is in the west of Argentina, very near the Andes. It's dryer climate was a pleasant break from the humidity of Buenos Aires. We went on an all-day wine tour of four wineries. That day we tasted a lot wine, especially Malbec, the dark red wine the region is known for. A part from the wine, a highlight of the tour was realizing that a guy on the tour was a physicist who worked with the atom smasher. The next day went on a tour of the Andes and on top of mountain 4,000 meters above sea-level, I got to put a toe in Chile.

Back in Buenos Aires we went to some crafts fairs, met up with a friend of Laura's, and went to the Evita museum. A week ago right now we were on out way to the water falls in Iguazu. Iguazu is at the north of Argentina, right on the Brazilian border. We took an overnight 17-hour bus to get there and back...and I'm not sure I will ever quite be forgiven for putting my aunt and uncle through. Our first day at the falls it rained all day, but we still took the boat tour that took us right up to the roar and mist of the falls. The next day was gorgeous, we walked the trails and saw tons of butterflies. I had 3 butterflies land on stayed on my hand until I passed it off to another person.

We got back from Iguazu this past Friday and that night we went to a tango show with live music. Saturday we went to Colonia, Uruguay by a high-speed ferry. The town was originally established by the Portuguese in the late 1600s and from the on was fought over by many countries. It has been declared a World Herritage site and has been beautifully restored. Kind of like New Orleans, the town has architectural reminders of its diverse pasti...there are streets paved in the Portuguese way and streets paved in the Spanish way. Aunt Gloria, Uncle Chris and I enjoyed trying "clerico" with out lunch. Clerico is a wine and fruit drink similar to sangria, except that it is made with white wine.

The last two days of Uncle Chris and Aunt Gloria's stay we did just a little more around town. We went to a street called "El Caminito" in the La Boca neighborhood. The street is known for its colorful houses and is usually on the cover of any Buenos Aires guide book. Monday, as Aunt Gloria, Uncle Chris and I were walking back to the apartment, we had to stop because of a motorcade and cops blocking the side walk. I was wondering who it could be when Hillary Clinton, wearing a peacock-blue pant suit, got out of a black Cadillac and walked into her hotel.