So, I have realized yet another exciting adventure but, unfortunately, I can’t regale you with all the amazing details of that or much of anything else at the moment. I have returned to face one of the busiest weeks yet in regards to my classes at the University of Belgrano. We have reached the mid-point of the semester and, as such, it’s time for midterm exams and all the excitement that comes with them. I had my first exam today and I have one tomorrow, another on Wednesday and, to complete this fun-filled week, one on Thursday as well.
I have been, and will continue to be, busy preparing for the exams, but I thought I would take a break from studying to write a short post. Since one of the questions last week was about the University and my classes there, I thought this would be an appropriate time (while my mind is filled with positive thoughts on the subject) to provide some details.
So far, I have provided some pictures of the U and a list of my classes, but little else. Last week, before I left the city for the weekend, I wandered the main building of the University of Belgrano, where I have my classes, with camera in hand to take a few photos. This, as I now know thanks to the kind words of campus security, is not allowed. Why I am not allowed to take pictures of the University that I attend is still unknown to me. I asked the security guard, politely of course, why taking pictures was prohibited, but he was not able to provide me with an adequate response. So, what else was I to do but wait for him to leave, no doubt to rain on someone elses parade, and continue taking photos. That is what I did, and these are the results. I hope you enjoy them all the more knowing that they are the fruits of my clandestine photo shoot on campus grounds.
So, while we are on the subject of things I am NOT supposed to do at the University of Belgrano…
These comfy couches (yes I know because I tried to sit in them once) are for professors only. The only problem is that I have never once seen a professor, or anyone else for that matter, actually sit in them. What’s more, this picture doesn’t even show half of the plush seating that adorns the lobby. So, these leather beauties, and several more like them, sit empty and alone, waiting like a spider’s web to ensnare any unsuspecting students while the spider stands watch in an itchy blue sweater.
Now let’s see, where were we? Oh yes…
You guessed it: professors only. These babies stop on every floor, whereas the student elevators do not. The elevator I take from the lobby goes to 7, 12, and 17. It’s not a big deal, just interesting. My classes are on floors 9 and 10, so I usually just get off on 12 and walk down.
Anyway, enough about what I can’t do. What I am allowed, ok expected, to do is show up to classes. When I do, they take place in a classroom that looks roughly equivalent to this:
It is from these fairly comfortable seats that I listen attentively to every word the professors have to say while at the same time filling my notebooks with copious amounts of detailed notes. That, or I daydream while doodling pictures of monkeys.
Anyway, if you have been paying attention, you already know what classes I am taking, but here are some of the exciting details of each one.
In Argentinian Literature we learn about…well…the literature of Argentina. We started with some pretty early stuff that was quite difficult to read including some stories that were important to the development of the Argentinian Nation and some “Gauchesca” literature that related stories of the Gauchos of the Argentinian countryside. We have since moved on to some more modern literature like the “Vanguardista” poetry of Oliverio Girondo. Ariel, the professor, is a very interesting man with some unique insights into not only literature, but just about any other divergent topic we wander into.
Next, I have Latin American Cultural Studies, where we learn about the discipline of cultural studies in general, as well as the specifics of Latin American culture. This includes reading essays and stories, and even listening to songs, that relate to how Latin American culture has developed in the past, its current trends, and where it might be headed in the future. Lara, the professor for this class, is one of the two professors that I had for my intensive spanish class when I first arrived in Buenos Aires. I liked her so much that I actually decided to take this class based on the fact that she was teaching it.
Another class that I have, taught by the same professor as the Cultural Studies class, is Latin American Literature. The title is pretty self-explanatory. We study literature within the broader scope of all of Latin America. This class and the other literature class cross paths now and again. This is interesting because I get to experience some similar topics from two different points of view and, sometimes, it cuts down on my reading time.
Finally, my favorite class: Tango: The Expression of Buenos Aires. I have this class two times a week, just like the other classes, but one day is spent studying the history of the tango while the other is spent experiencing it first hand by learning its steps. The professor, Jose, is a very likeable guy who knows his stuff when it comes to the tango. The interesting thing about this class is that, out of 30 students, only about 8 are guys and the rest are girls. The guys have to switch partners a lot in order to make sure that all the ladies get to dance. While this may seem like the perfect set up, it means that I barely have time to get comfortable dancing with one person before I have to switch it up. Also, the little time spent dancing each week always leaves me craving more. Because of this, I have begun taking extra classes each week outside of the U in order to learn more of this amazing dance.
Alright, speaking of classes, I need to get back to preparing for them. I’m not sure how, but this short post became a lot longer than I had planned.
I know this doesn’t compare to glaciers and mountain sunrises, but it should serve to answer one of the questions I received last week and, perhaps, tide you over until I can truly attempt to satiate you with something a bit more exciting.
Ok, I continue to receive questions from everyone about the life here and I appreciate each and every one. I have answered several of the questions directly in the comments section. Those of you not following the comments should check to see if I have answered yours. Other questions that were asked repeatedly or merit an entire post will be answered shortly.
I am leaving tomorrow to head north once again. This time I am going to Puerto Iguazú in the Misiones province of Argentina near the borders of Paraguay and Brasil. Unfortunately, these countries will not let me in without paying entry fees, which I am not going to do. Fortunately, from the Argentinian side of the border you can visit the Cataratas del Iguazú which, I’m told, are waterfalls that rival those of Niagara.
Upcoming posts, upon my return, will include: my trip to Salta and Jujuy, my trip to Iguazú, food and, by request, posts on the people, the nightlife and a bit more about the University of Belgrano and my classes there. Of course, there will be much more to come over the next few months as well.
Que les vaya bien
Ok, I have finally finished the post about my trip to Patagonia, and there hasn’t been much time for anything else in between. I want to start getting up some shorter posts about Buenos Aires and Argentina on a more regular basis. I have several topics to get started on, some of which I have been planning to post about for quite some time. So, I am going to start posting them now. However, since I am such a nice fellow and since I want to please my adoring and supportive fans, I would like to know if there is anything specific I can post in order to satisfy your curiosities about me, my life here, the people, the city or anything else that might come to mind. Don’t be afraid! You can post your ideas or questions as comments to this post or you can send me an email, however you would like to do it. My email address can be found on the contact page.
“Tenés algo más chiquito?” This is a phrase that I hear daily in the grand capital of Buenos Aires. This is the question that, inevitably, cashiers in the tiny kioscos on the corner, the large supermarket chains and everywhere in between will ask you when you hand them the ubiquitous 100 peso bill. What they are asking is if you have a smaller denomination. “Do you have anything smaller?” This is a fair question to hear in the U.S. if you hand someone a one hundred-dollar bill. The thing is, a 100 peso bill is, in reality, closer in value to a 20 dollar bill (about $22.76 at the current exchange rate).
Apparently in Argentina there is a rampant lack of change. Most of the time, if you stand your ground, they will, begrudgingly, make change for you. That is, after they have held the bill up to the light to check its authenticity and given you a hard glance. The funny part, as if it were part of some large joke being played on the Argentinians by god and the banks, is that most of the atms give out nothing BUT 100 peso bills. All this fun culminates when you go out to dinner with a group of your friends, the check comes, and everyone promptly pulls out their 100 peso notes. What follows it usually at least 15 fun-filled minutes of trying to figure out who owes what and how in the hell you are going to work this mess out.
Monedas (coins) are in short supply as well. The collectivos (city buses) accept only coins, and many people hoard their monedas for this purpose. Sometimes, when a cashier at your local kiosco or supermercado owes you some small change (usually less than two pesos) and they can’t, or don’t want to, give it to you, they will try to convince you to take a piece on candy or some other small item instead. Personally, I find this little quirk to be quite charming.
Dealing in pesos is an interesting thing for someone who is used to the U.S. dollar. First of all, you are constantly making calculations in your head to try and decide how much you are really paying for something. Luckily the conversion is, for the most part, simple enough. Secondly, the money looks so completely different. It is so colorful in comparison to the U.S. Dollar that, at times, it can feel like you are playing with Monopoly money. While this sounds entertaining, it’s always important to keep in mind that this real money you are spending and to resist the urge to buy Boardwalk. Remember, in Argentina there is no community chest.
So I have returned to Buenos Aires and I find it just exactly as I left it: grand and teeming, dirty and beautiful. I returned from my fantastic voyage on Sunday evening and began the semester on Monday. I would like to have posted sooner, but I needed a few days to get things in order at the University and to rest my weary bones. But, like that prodigal fellow from that story in some book or another…here I am.
First off, school (that’s why I’m here right?). I was able to register in all the classes I wanted. I have two literature classes, one Latin American and one Argentinian. I also have a class in Latin American Cultural Studies. Last, but most definitely not least, I have a Tango class. This should be plenty to keep me busy in between whatever adventures are awaiting me next.
Speaking of adventures, I just returned from one that will be difficult to do justice to with my simple words. Nevertheless, I am going to try. It is going to take several posts over the next few days to give you a glimpse into the wonders that I have, for some reason or another, been blessed to behold. The posts that follow will be a chronicling of some of the most incredible things I have seen and done in my life. I hope that I can express at least a fraction of the pure, childlike joy and amazement that welled up in me time and again during my voyage.
Ok everyone, I want to apologize for the lack of posts over the last week. I was sick for several days (don´t worry, I´m better now) and then I had to fnish up the last few days of class and the final exams. Everything went incredibly well.
But….I have some bad news, there will not be a lot of posts this week either. That´s because this morning I hopped a flight to El Calafate, Argentina in Patagonia!!! I am writing this post from my hostel on one of their computers. I will be here for 2 days and then I travel across the border to Puerto Natales, Chile and Torres Del Paine National Park. Then its further south to el fin del mundo, Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego!!! Everyone check out the map to see where my adventure is taking me.
I won´t be updating this week but, when I return, rest assured that I will have tons of pictures and amazing stories to share with you all.
Wish me luck!
Chau for now.
In order to reassure everyone that I am doing more here in Buenos Aires than dancing until dawn, spending all my money at the ferias and chasing after the argentinas I thought I would let you know a bit about how I spend the daytime hours during the week.
The monday after I arrived in Bs As, I began intensive Spanish class at the University of Belgrano. The school is a short walk (about 8-10 blocks) from my house. There are a few different buildings, but only one main place where I attend my class. It is an interesting spot, more akin to an office building than a school, that towers over you as you approach it from the street.
My classroom is on the 10th floor. The elevators for the students don’t stop on every floor, so I get off at the 12th and walk down. The faculty elevators make all the stops, but to be caught using one of those means being chastised in rapid porteño spanish that makes you feel as if you had committed some heinous crime against humanity.
Once I make it to the classroom, without being verbally abused if I have not strayed from the designated path. I am greeted with a view of the city that is quite distracting. It is difficult to concentrate on the intricacies of some of the most difficult concepts of the Spanish language when you are staring out into a vast urban landscape and daydreaming of the endless adventures that await you there.
On the first monday of classes, a mob of hundreds of loud and obnoxious american students descended upon the university and took placement tests to determine what level of class they would take. After that, they divided us up into classes of varying numbers (mine has about 14) and began the process of cramming our skulls with as much information as they can throw at us in what little time we have.
My professors are nice enough, but I would much rather be out amongst the natives and learning first hand than going over grammar exercises. For this reason, I have not been too worried about my class. I show up on time, do the work, and wait impatiently for the time to come when I will once again be let loose upon the city…
So there I am, waiting for the taxi in front of the Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza and trying to come to grips with how far I am from anything that is familiar to me. From Kansas City, it’s over 5500 miles to Buenos Aires. However, the anticipation of meeting my new family and the euphoria that stemmed from being in such a strange and exciting new place easily quashed any of the other thoughts competing for space in my head. The cab pulled up to the curb. The driver helped me stow my luggage (Only two bags for five months?) and I hopped into the front seat to improve what would be my first look at Bs As. Inside the cab, the air was cool and the familiar sounds of American pop music were emanating softly from the radio. Unfortunately, 5500 miles is not far enough away to avoid the top 40. I buckled my seat belt and we sped away from the airport and into a new life.
The airport is located about 30 minutes to the southwest of the city. Along the way, my thoughts bounced back and forth from wonder at my new surroundings to fear for my life due the wild ride I was receiving at the hands of my only friend in Bs As, the taxi driver. In between white knuckled moments, I watched the graffiti covered buildings zoom by. The parts of the city that we passed through to reach Belgrano, the neighborhood that I now reside in were, to put it nicely, well used. Every time the taxi driver slowed down, I secretly hoped that it was not to drop me off. However, the surroundings slowly improved as we neared our final destination and, at last, we slowed to a stop in front of 747 Moldes in Belgrano.
The driver helped me get my bags out of the cab and I tipped him generously for sparing my life and he gave me change in pesos. This was both the last time I touched U.S. dollars and the first time I laid my hands upon the currency of Argentina. He waited as I pushed the buzzer and, after a long moment, a smiling face appeared on the balcony above. Maria, my house mother, asked me gently to wait and, another moment later, I heard the metallic click-clacking sound of the lock. The door to my new home swung open.
Maria’s smiling face welcomed me inside and I dragged my suitcases into my room. She showed me around the amazing, Spanish style house (more details about this later), giving details and instructions as we went. After the tour, we returned to my room and she left with simple goodbye consisting of but a word. “Suerte”, she said, and disappeared up the staircase.
Well, here we go. This is officially my first post from Buenos Aires. I apologize for not getting some stuff up here sooner but, as I’m sure you can imagine, things have been crazy. I have been here for one week and my brain and body are still trying to catch up. I will be adding some more pages to this site with specific topics like food, the city, the people, and more. You can subscribe to receive emails when I update the site.
First thing first, let’s catch up on some of the stuff that has happened during the first part of my journey and the weeks leading up to it.
I would like to thank everyone that came to my going away party. It was amazing to see so many people I care about, and that care about me, in the same place at the same time. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did. It was great to have all of you there to see me off in style. The food was great, the drinks were plentiful, and the night was unforgettable (Except for the last few hours. How did I get home again?). This is one of the only decent pictures I have from the party and it doesn’t include very many of the people that were there. Send me more!!
The week after the party was a crazy one full of last-minute preparations and excitement. Almost everything I own other than the things that I brought with me are now packed into a 5′x15′ storage space. As the time to leave grew closer, the anticipation mounted. In the few days leading up to the trip, it was hard to contain the plethora of feelings that were welling up inside of me. I could hardly sleep, but that helped me to have the time to get everything done that I needed to do, and I feel like I left well prepared for my journey into the unknown.
On the day of my departure, I was lucky enough to spend some time with a couple of my favorite women: my mother and my “Auntie” Laura. We talked and laughed over a nice american cheeseburger. Good food and great company for my last meal in the states for some time to come.
After lunch, it was off to the airport. Mom, Dad and Beverly were there to see me off. I had a bit of a scare when I went to check my bags. There was some confusion as to whether or not I was supposed to already have my visa. The women at the check-in counter were nice enough, just not too bright. After half an hour, a gallon of sweat, and calls to two different coordinators of my program, they let me through to board the flight to Atlanta. The flight was full and I was forced to check my carry-on and submit to a search of my backpack, which was so tightly packed that they took one look inside and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Ah the intrinsic pleasures of air travel.
The flight to Atlanta was uneventful. The airport is enormous. I made the trek of what seemed like miles to the other side of the airport. I found a seat at my gate near an outlet to plug in and charge my laptop and the flight began boarding almost immediately. This time I boarded the plane with no problems. As I headed down the long white hallway toward the giant bird that would carry me into my future, it hit me that this was it – I was really doing it. I entered the belly of the beast and it was like I had already stepped into a new world. Most of the passengers were Argentinians that were headed home, and all I could hear was their Castellano being spoken in a host of voices all around me. I settled into my seat near a window of the largest plane I have been aboard and prepared myself for the flight.
The ten-hour flight was actually rather painless. They had screens throughout the cabin that tracked our flight path that immediately made me think of Indiana Jones. When I looked up to see our path taking us over Florida it was cool, but when I looked up to see that we were flying over Cuba it was almost unbelievable. I fell asleep over the Caribbean Sea and when I woke up we were well into South America and hurtling at over 500 miles an hour into Argentina and towards our final destination of Buenos Aires (Bs As from now on).
The sun was coming up over the clouds as we descended into the Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza. It was unreal. We landed smoothly and I disembarked as a stranger in a strange land. Customs was much easier to go through than I expected. I had to pay a reciprocity fee (thus named because it mirrors the fee that the U.S. charges Argentinians to enter the country) of 140 dollars which allows me entry into the Argentina for the next ten years (seems like a good excuse to take another trip in the future). They put the first (of many) stamps into the pages of my passport and I proceeded through customs where everyone is subjected to a simple scan of their bags and allowed to leave the airport. I walked out of the doors of the airport and into a grand adventure. Arranging for a cab to take me to what would be my new home for the next several months, my mind raced with thoughts of the wonders that were awaiting me in this strange new land…