Saturday, March 29, 2008

Paros and Tango Lessons

Another weekend, another update. This week wasn't too eventful, just trying to figure out my schedule for classes (STILL). Turns out I'm not supposed to take one of the classes I signed up for because I can't take two classes meant for foreigners, but I'm in the process of protesting it with COPA, so hopefully I'll have that resolved sometime next week. It's not like it matters whether the classes are taught to foreigners in my opinion, it's still in Spanish and the one I'm trying to get them to let me take even has a couple kids from Colombia and Peru in it.

Another ongoing issue is the whole farmer's strike that's been going on here. As I understand, the government has pretty big export tariffs on agricultural goods, an idea meant to keep more needed agricultural products within the country, and Cristina Kirchner, the president, is trying to raise the already exceedingly high tariffs. She's trying to raise the tax up to 44% which, needless to say, outrages the agricultural producers and farmers in the country. As a result, the farmers have blockaded a ton of roads around Buenos Aires to prevent the transportation of goods into the country, which they're calling a "paro" or "huelga" which is more or less a strike. I hadn't really realized how big of a deal that was until I went into the grocery store earlier this week and found all the meat and dairy shelves emptied. I thought they were just having problems with the freezers and temperatures or something, but it was definitely a result of the blockading of the roads. Earlier this week Kirchner came out and made an announcement that the farmer's paro is extortion and that night thousands of people took to the streets with their pots and pans and coke bottles, marching and banging to a specific beat in protest of Kirchner and in support of the farmers. It was really interesting to see how spontaneous the whole ordeal was, and it wasn't just a few people, literally thousands, and some were marching down the main street right by my house. They marched down to the Plaza de Mayo where the Casa Rosada is (the government office), and gathered there chanting and banging on their pots and pans. The next night, I think Wednesday, they marched yet again. Thursday night, Kirchner made a speech to the country asking the farmers and the head of the farmers union type deal (I can't remember his name) to stop the strikes so that they could arrange a deal. Initially, it seemed like the farmers weren't going to do so because Kirchner put no deal on the table, but they did and the talks commenced. A couple of hours ago I saw a headline on t.v. that they're continuing the strike, but I don't know any more other than that. I'm not even sure if all that info is correct, but that's definitely the all that I've been able to gather. The marches are pretty peaceful and the only outbreaks are between people who are marching in support of the government against those against (I've heard that those people are paid by the government in order to picket for the government, which I don't have any doubt could be true). It's been a pretty interesting experience, albeit it annoying at times listening to people banging on pots and pans incessantly right outside my apartment.

On a lighter note, I signed up to take tango lessons through my program with like 15 other people from the program, and we started those lessons yesterday. It's going to be a total of 4 two-hour sessions and we had the first and second ones today and yesterday. I had my doubts about it as that's not really my sort of thing (dancing?) but I decided why not go out of the norm, I mean I am in Argentina. Tango's almost an outdated cultural thing and a lot of the youth have no interest whatsoever in it, but it's still a big part of the culture and history of the country. I have to admit that I've actually enjoyed the lessons, even though I'm not exactly the best dancer, but hey, it's my first time… Hopefully I'll know well enough by the end of the sessions to be able to at least dance every once in a while. I think it'd be kind of cool to keep taking lessons too so that I could actually get good at it, but I hear they might be a little expensive.

As of lately, I found a bar that's playing the NCAA tournament games, so I went there with a couple friends the other night, and I'm actually about to go back tonight. It's kind of nice, but the bar is owned by Americans and all the bartenders are American, which is really weird… I'll probably be spending a little more time there as the tournament winds down this week though, I'm glad I found it to feed my March Madness cravings.

Not a whole lot else is going on, I've been a little bit sick with allergies lately, but nothing too bad. I'm starting to get more into the swing of things now so hopefully I'll be able to figure out a few more cultural things within the next few weeks.

Hope everybody's doing alright!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mi Buenos Aires Querido

So I'm going to try to update, but I'm really sleepy for no reason so I don't know how much I'll be able to write. Last week my parents came and it was Semana Santa so I had a Wed, Thurs and Fri off to hang out with them. A little day by day break down of what we did:

Sunday: Went to mass and then we went to a River Plate game against Racing, but I already touched on that in my last entry, pretty memorable.

Monday: I had class most of the day, but I gave them a short tour of the area around Plaza de Mayo, and then they went to the cemetery and did their thing there while I was in class.

Tuesday: Again I had class, but we met up to grab a bite for lunch and went out to La Boca and el Camanito, which is a pretty famous part of Buenos Aires and if you've ever seen pictures of anything from Buenos Aires, La Boca has probably been a part of the scenery. All of the buildings are painted in different colors and it's a pretty big tourist hotspot, complete with tango dancers who, without warning, will wrap their legs around you for a photo opportunity for which they expect payment. Not too great of an experience, but still an integral part of one's trip to BA.

Wednesday: We went to Colonia, Uruguay on the ferry for the day. I planned the trip without knowing too much about the town, and decided to buy tickets to get there at 10 in the morning and leave at 10 that night. The town itself was pretty cool to see, but there was NOTHING to do. It's a colonial city (hence the name) that went through a lot of hard times and was fought over by Spain and Portugal in the last few centuries, but a lot of the city has really cool colonial type buildings. It's right on the beach and overall it's just a really relaxed place to be, quite a contrast to Buenos Aires which is only an hour boat ride away. We went back to the boat station around three because we were literally that bored, and somehow managed to get on a boat that was leaving right when we got there. Quite a relief. Our tickets were first class because that's all they had left when I bought them originally so they brought us champagne right when we got on board. Pretty nice little touch, if I do say so myself. When we got back to Buenos Aires, we rested for a bit and then went out and got a good steak dinner.

Thursday: Wasn't too eventful, we went on a city tour with a guide who knew nothing outside of his script, as I tested by asking him a couple questions about things to which he had no idea how to respond. Dad pissed him off by asking him which soccer stadium was bigger (Boca's or River's) and being a Boca fan, he was upset and ashamed to admit that River's stadium was actually bigger. Silly Porteño pride. We then went to a few leather shops, and they shopped on Florida avenue, which is one of the biggest shopping areas in Buenos Aires.

That night, my parents met my host mother and saw my apartment and we all went out to dinner. I think they really liked Greta, and vice versa! It was a pretty good evening with lots of gift exchanges. She gave my parents a palm from Palm Sunday, which is totally different from what we have in the U.S., it looks more like an olive branch or something, and she gave Sam a little hand-painted box with an Argentine flag colored ribbon and some little dolls inside and a chocolate bunny for Easter. All of it was incredibly nice and it was a really good night.

Friday: We met up and went out to the zoo. South American zoo's have a bit of a reputation and this one seemed to fit the mold quite well. The zoo itself wasn't too bad, but overcrowded and the cages were awful. They did little to reconstruct the natural living environments of the animals except for a carefully placed puddle of water or a couple rocks and a bush in a corner in some of the cages. They sell pellets of God knows what kind of food to be fed to the animals, which in the eyes of most zoo-goers means pitching the food like a fast ball at the animals to ensure that they get their fair share of slop. The animals didn't look healthy, and the polar bear looked miserable in the 90°+ weather.

After the zoo we went to the Japanese Garden which has good sushi according to the guidebooks, and since it was a Friday during Lent we gave it a try. It was actually really good and the trip to the garden offset the zoo experience as much as one could hope.

That night we scheduled a venture to a tango show through the hotel, so after the garden we went back to their hotel and rested up before going to the show. It started raining pretty hard, so the door-to-door bus service to the tango show was pretty much awesome. The tango show itself was awesome as well and it was pretty incredible to see how talented the dancers were. A lot of the stuff was pretty unbelievable, the women dressed in flowing dresses and somehow not tripping over themselves. It was a bit pricey, but I think everyone had a pretty good time.

Saturday: The last day of their trip, we went to Santa Fe and did some more shopping, mom being the only one to really buy anything the whole trip. We ate at a little corner café off the beaten touristy path and had steak and wine for lunch in a mini-celebration for my birthday since I won't see them again for the next four months. We took it easy the rest of the day and went and got coffee and walked around the cathedral to take pictures and just hung out.

Overall, it was a really good week, and really nice to get to hang out with the family for a bit. It was a little hard adjusting to not being independent when they first got here and it was almost a culture shock, which I guess is a sign that I am adjusting to the way of life here, whether I know it or not. Their hotel was absolutely amazing, in a beautiful part of town, complete with a free breakfast, tea time AND cocktail hour. We took advantage of the cocktail hour almost every night. Pretty luxurious! It was a little bit of a reality check when they left, but it didn't last as long as I thought it would; that's not to say that I don't miss them, however. A picture I took from the balcony of the honors lounge in the hotel:

Saturday night my host mother's son and his family came over and we had a traditional Italian fish dish and a pretty good time just hanging out. Sunday was Easter and since my a lot of my friends are out of town right now, my host mother invited me to accompany her to her sister's apartment a little bit outside of town to eat. We had a meatloaf type dish and green-beans and overall it wasn't too exciting of an Easter.

Today I went to the Museo Arte Latinoamericano Buenos Aires (MALBA) with a couple of friends. It's mostly modern art and it was really cool, it felt a lot like MoMA or something. I'll definitely be going back, especially since I can get in free with my student idea. The reason today is really worth mentioning is the discovery of Carrefour, which is as close as you get to Wal-Mart without being Wal-Mart. I realize it doesn't sound too exciting, but it was absolutely glorious, for reasons I can't even fathom. We bought a box of wine and some cheese and crackers and went to a park and hung out for like 3 hours and just talked and hung out, it was probably the most relaxing thing I've done in a long time.

That's about it for now, sorry for the dryness of the entry, I need to start updating a little bit more regularly so I can insert more thoughts about things and random cultural observations. For another day…



Monday, March 17, 2008

Tierra Santa, Semana Santa, and more!

Ahhh, so the first week of classes has come and gone and I've definitely gained a lot of experience in the process. I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable with the city and everything in its realm (subte, colectivos, walking, homeless people, etc.). Anyway, here's a little recap of the last few days, mainly because those have been the really interesting ones.

Friday, I didn't have class until 6 so I went to the Japanese Garden and the Botanical Garden with a couple of my friends. Nothing too exciting, but the Botanical Gardens, like the Cemetery, is home to hundreds of well-fed, stray cats. Apparently people feed them there too, don't know what it is with people and their cats around here, but hey, to each his own…

Argentina, like a lot of Latin American countries, has a TON of Catholics, though I'm not too sure the majority of them are actually "practicing." Bs. As. Has this place called "Tierra Santa" which I found out about through my Lonely Planet Bs. As. City guide book. Here's a little bit of what the article, entitled "Praying for Kitsch," had to say,

"This religious theme park—'the world's first,' according to the literature—is roughly based on Jerusalem and is just 10 minutes from BA's bustling center… The extravaganza begins with a laser show depicting the creation of the world, and continues as you follow a path into Bethlehem… From here it's a 30 second walk to witness the 40ft-tall animatronic Jesus rise from the Calvary mound, open his eyes and finally turn his palms toward the emotional devoted below. And if you missed the show, don't fret: another resurrection is just around the corner…"

Naturally, there is NO WAY I could miss something like this! I gathered a couple of my friends and we made our pilgrimage (consisting of a 20 minute taxi ride) to Tierra Santa. This place is every bit as ridiculous as one could ever hope. The animatronic Jesus was intense, and half-way through his ascent, the "Alleluia" chorus began blaring from the park speakers. He pops out of a man-made hill and pivots and turns His hands, and looks up and down. Some of the people were actually visibly moved by the scene. The laser show, too, was pretty intense, with animatronic rhinos, giraffes, gorillas, lions, and a statue of both Adam and Eve that pop up front-center stage out of nowhere. The lasers during the show just add to the intensity. We seriously spent about 4 hours in this place. There's a mosque with fake worshippers, as well as a synagogue and a replica of the Wailing Wall. It's seriously HUGE, and filled with plaster-like-putt-putt-scenery-esque buildings, people, and animals. I don't even know if my descriptions can give this place any justice at all. The first half of the park is absolutely over the top, but the second part is more like a little Middle Eastern town, and has many scenes depicting Jesus in certain stories from the bible, as well as Arabic food cafes and miniature market. The second part was actually not too gaudy and I was able to reason that it might be kind of cool for little kids to see and learn about the Bible.

Unfortunately, I know NOTHING about the history of the park, whose idea it was, who funded it, nor what the Vatican might thing about something like this. I had a really hard time deciding how serious they were trying to be about the whole thing. I'm sure someone had the best of intentions, but there's a fine line between mockery and gravity; especially when you're dealing with animatronic Jesus' (yes, there was more than one moving Jesus robot).

Today, taking a little spin in the ironically opposite direction, I greeted my parents when they arrived at their hotel and we went to Mass at the Cathedral for el Domingo de Ramos. It's really good to see my parents, and I think this week is probably the best possible time they could've come; I'm starting to get more used to the city and how to maneuver it, AND it's Holy Week, so I don't have class Wed-Fri. Should be a pretty good week, and I'm definitely looking forward to showing them around, and hopefully going a few touristy places that haven't been checked off on my list. They also brought me TONS of Orbit gum, a luxury that I cannot find here. I'm freakin' pumped.

After Mass we went with a guided tour to the River Plate vs. Racing soccer game. The game wasn't very good and the style of play sucked, especially with all of the yellow cards and dives. The final was 0-0, but the atmosphere was definitely something that we needed to experience. The fans are all intense and cheer and jeer at the opposing team/fans, and it looks like a ton of fun to be in with all of those people, though its' probably not exactly safe. After that we went out to eat in Puerto Madero and had a really good steak and wine dinner. Delicious.

This week should be pretty eventful; class Monday and Tuesday, and then a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay on a high speed ferry with the family on Wednesday. On the agenda is lots of shopping for cheap leather and maybe even a tango dinner show, if we're lucky.

Here are a couple of links to some pics I recently uploaded on Facebook:

Tierra Santa

More misc. of Buenos Aires: Puerto Madero, my neighborhood, River game, Cathedral

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Beauty of Chaos

WARNING: This entry is pretty whiney, and I'm tired so the writing probably makes little sense…

So Latin Americans have a bit of a reputation for being late for EVERYTHING and not really having any desire to regulate/organize their schedules. That said classes "started" today.

My first class today was at UCA and is an Intro to Poli Sci course (not sure why I signed up for it, but hey, when in Argentina...) I successfully maneuvered my way onto the right Colectivo and took it all the way out to the class and after asking about 10 people where my classroom was, finally found where I was supposed to be. I sat through the class (which started 40 minutes late) and afterwards went to try to find out where my next class was supposed to be 3 hours later. I asked the lady in charge of the schedules and she told me she had no idea but that they would be sending out an e-mail with the schedules for those specific classes (Estudios Latino Americanos...they're pretty much for foreigners, I'm taking an Economic Development class). I had no idea what to do but just went ahead and met up with my friends at the program office which was like a 15 minute walk away. I checked my e-mail for the schedule of the next class only to find out that someone decided to register me in the section of the Intro to Poli Sci class that meets tomorrow, even though I signed up for the one today. It's a different professor so I have to go AGAIN. That was the first little annoyance of the day.

After that, we went to a vegetarian buffet (a rarity in a country full of parrillas, or argentine barbecues) because one of my friends is a vegan (yeah, I know.) and then I headed back over to UCA to see if I could find out about my class.

I got to UCA and found a sheet with the course listings and Aulas (classroom) and headed to my room. Side note: I had to take my stuff to the laundromat (the one that washes, dries and folds my clothes for me for like $8, you know?) and therefore had no clothes and had to wear athletics shorts and a t-shirt today. Anyway, I get to my classroom and no one was there because Argentines like to be late to EVERYTHING. As I was walking around a security guard confronted me and told me that I needed to go home and change because I'm not allowed to wear shorts. Blow number 2. Good story, my apartment is 30 minutes away, and this was 5 minutes before class. I just didn't go to the class and walked back to the COPA office and checked my email again and then went to pick up my clothes from the laundromat so I would have jeans to wear for my class at USAL at 6, another Catholic school; better safe than sorry...

I walked over to USAL and find out the class that COPA had told me I could sign up for doesn't even meet this semester. Blow number 3. My friend was taking an Argentine History class so I decided I would go along and try it out, because I lost the lottery to get into the one at UCA, and sat through that for 3 and a half hours. It actually was really interesting and I think I'm probably going to take it.

So anyway, I probably walked a total of about 6 miles today back and forth between places, but that's mostly my fault because I didn't want the added stress of trying to find the right Colectivos that go everywhere I needed to go. Boo me. Today sucked pretty bad and I'm pretty tired, but it's over now and tomorrow's a new day with a new, wiser Spenser.

Classes I'm seriously looking at taking/am already taking: Economia y Desarollo, Argentine Literature, History of Argentina. There's still a ton more on the menu, but those are looking like the best for me right now.

In other news, last weekend I went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes with a few friends. I enjoyed it, it's a huge pink ugly building but they have some pretty cool stuff inside, the bottom floor is all European and the top is all Argentine. They had Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, and some pretty famous Argentine painters too. Pretty cool for a free museum.

Other than that I mostly just rested up over the weekend, walked around the botanical gardens (couldn't go in because it closed) with my friends and ate Dulce de Leche ice cream, and on Saturday night went to a Mexican restaurant, which had spicy food (such a breath of fresh air!) and then went to a bar/dance hall thing and stayed out until 6 in the morning like a true Porteño.

And on a last note, the food here isn't the best but I love the empanadas and the pizza is pretty good too. The highlight, for sure, is the dulce de leche, which is basically like a softer caramel. It's pretty much like Mexican dulce de leche, but they use it all the time here. They have a little pastry that's called an alfajor, which is basically two cookies sandwiched together with dulce de leche. I also spread it on my toast every morning for breakfast which is pretty much the coolest thing ever.

That's all I've got for now, I need to go to bed. I took a few pics of my neighborhood the other day and I'll try to get those up within the next day or so when I have a little more energy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bariloche (for real this time)

So Bariloche and the Patagonia region is the most beautiful place I have ever been in my entire life. We spent 3 days there and every day went to a different point with new views. It felt like I was living in a book of postcards, almost to the point that it was hard to believe what was in front of my eyes. Here's a link to the pics I posted on Facebook, and then a little day-by-day break down for anyone who's interested. Somebody tell me if that link works or not and if I need to post them somewhere else. It's too much of a pain to try to post them all on here...

The first day we got there it was raining and pretty cloudy so we couldn't see a whole lot. We spent the day in the town and did touristy stuff like bought t-shirts and chocolate. Bariloche is famous for its chocolate here, and rightfully so. The architecture in the town is very Swiss.

The second day of the trip we did a 6 hour hike, 3 hours both ways, the near top of a mountain called Cerro Lopez. I hadn't recovered my camera at that point so I don't have pictures, but if you look at the first pic in that facebook album we climbed almost to the top of the right peak. We spent like 2 hours at the top just to take it all in and eat lunch. It was a really, really good spot just to think and it was really peaceful and definitely the most beautiful panorama I've ever seen. We hiked down later and then ate at a restaurant in town.

The third day we took a bus trip to a boat and rode the boat out to a national forest and walked around and looked at the really pretty trees. (sorry for the obnoxiously long sentence) The forest is said to have inspired the animators of Bambi, though I'm not sure how true that is... After the boat ride we took the bus for a couple of hours to a beach and kind of hung out at the beach for a while. It, too, was absolutely amazing. We hiked up to a waterfall which was cool as well. After the beach we drove around a circular area in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. We passed by a spot where they filmed part of the Motorcycle Diaries (if you've seen it, its by the bridge where they fall off the bike in the mountains, as I recall). That area reminded me a lot of New Mexico in terms of the flora and height of the mountains. I just found out that Ted Turner also owns a ton of land right in that area too, kind of funny...

The fourth day we woke up a little late and hung out at the hotel by the pool which also had an AMAZING view. We checked out and went to a ski lift type thing and went up to another panorama area (you'd think you might get tired of all the scenic views, yet it NEVER gets old, it's amazing). After the chair-lift we went back into town and I had great $7 US steak dinner at a traditional parrillo with a few friends. We then went to the airport and caught our flight at midnight... These people seem to have NO idea what late means...

Other than that it's just been day-to-day. I started my classes at Di Tella today and it sucked. I had a pretty hard time understanding the professor and the class seems a little bit over my head, especially if it's entirely in Spanish. I'm still in the shopping period so it's not a big deal, yet... I also signed up for a few classes at UCA today and those will start next Monday.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Quick update...

I found my camera.

While in Bariloche, Patagonia I was talking to one of the coord. of the program about stuff and I mentioned that I had lost my camera. He looked at me for a second and told me that he had found a camera in a case at the Circulo Italiano which is where we've been having orientation. Mind you, I had already asked two people involved in the program within a day after I lost the camera, one of them being the HEAD of the program and both told me that they had heard/seen nothing. There was no announcement to the group (at least to any group that I was a part of) nor any form of electronic communication. It seems like they had refused to maybe even look at the pictures on the camera to maybe figure out who might be the owner. I realize I shouldn't be bitter about it, but it sounds like the camera my dad has already bought can't be returned without a penalty for restocking from the store.

Anyway, Patagonia is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my entire life. I managed to take about 100 pictures when they finally decided to give me my camera back and I'll try to post those as soon as I can but this week is going to be pretty busy trying to get my schedule for classes put together. A few things we saw in Patagonia....

  • The forest which inspired the animation for Bambi
  • The area where they filmed the Motorcycle Diaries, and where many believe Che Guevara rode through (kind of lame but cool too)
  • Lots and lots and lots of panoramic views of Patagonia and crystal clear blue lakes.

I'll give a more detailed update later but I'm using my host mother's computer right now and I really need to be doing other things.