Week 1: It’s a good thing I like cornflakes and empanadas

For those lacking the time/energy to read every detail of my life slash who aren’t my parents, here’s a summary of what’s been happening:

  • The homestay is awesome; Carmen is awesome and my two housemates are awesome. Everything is awesome. I live with another girl and a guy in the same program, and they’ve been really helpful in figuring out the city as well as in introducing me to more people!
  • I’m subsisting on: dinner from Carmen, empanadas, and cornflakes. Totally loving it.
  • I have Spanish class for 4 hours every afternoon. There’re 4 people in my class, and the two other girls are pretty cool.
  • Everyone should listen to this band Onda Vaga. It’s super popular in Buenos Aires, but I don’t think they’ve gotten around too much. Read: still hip.
  • Subway system conquered, on to buses next week. Completely intimidated. And the streets are still confuddling.

And here’s the extended version:

The homestay: Is wonderful. In a neighborhood of tall buildings, I live in a beautiful old house. My two housemates — besides Carmen and all of her kids and their families (who are always in and out and really fun to talk to) — are a boy from Ireland and a girl my age who goes to Cargenie Mellon. They’re both really cool.

Things Carmen and I have bonded over:

  • Her children: always a good first topic with older people. I basically just inquired about everyone in the pictures on the walls, and she was lov-ing it.
  • My house-warming gift: I gave her a Kansas mug filled with Kansas-themed knick-knacks from the Kansas Sampler store. I told her it was corny (which unfortunately does not translate as a Kansas joke, but would be so cool if it did), though I think she liked it. She’s even seen the Wizard of Oz! (El Mago de Oz). 
  • Salsa: Carmen loves to dance! We both agree that salsa is way more appealing than tango, and she recommended a place in Palermo that I try. Also, I would like to point out that this woman is 76 and still plays volleyball as well. Such a winner.
  • Fear/dislike of riding buses
  • She thinks Argentines have weird words for things, too (she’s Peruvian)

The typical breakfast set-up at the house. Note the all important tub of cereal top left.

Food: Carmen’s breakfast of choice for us is a tub of cornflakes, which we dole out as we see fit every morning. I was pretty excited to learn some Argentine cooking, but given that I was forcefully shooed out of the kitchen by Carmen when I tried to come in and help the first night, that probably won’t be happening in the next week. So now that I know to leave the kitchen by around 8 to allow her to start preparing dinner (She eats early for Argentines, luckily. Usually it’s more like 10:30.), I try to sit down and talk about my day right after I get home. I like to think she finds it amusing that I’m always overambitious with my choice of subject matter and therefore don’t know half the words I’m trying to say. We have dinner with her every night, and I’m rapidly improving in my ability to understand her, although this might not be super helpful because her Peruvian accent is far easier to understand than the Argentine one. She’s great, though.

Empanadas come a close second to tamales as my favorite dish (the gravity of this statement will impress anyone who’s seen me in a Mexican restaurant with tamales on the menu), and I’ve found some shops near class that sell them for the equivalent of $.75. Needless to say, empanadas combine with the copious amounts of cornflakes to amount to about 70% of my diet here. Can never have enough carbs and carne!

Class: I had class for 4 hours every day this week, which is a little intense but very, very helpful. There’re four of us: me, two other girls from the US, and a middle-aged man from Brazil who’s using up all his vacation days to come to Argentina for a month to learn Spanish (how cool?!). The other two girls are pretty advanced; one is going to be a Spanish teacher in Arkansas next fall (I feel like it’s probably not great that she’s not really fluent in the language…?) and the other is 4 years out of Stanford and her parents are Mexican — so it’s good motivation-wise. Stanford girl, who understands but doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, raised my confidence by telling me that 1) she couldn’t understand Argentinean Spanish either and 2) that she was impressed by my verb-conjugating abilities. S-c-o-r-e. I can tell this girl is really on my side because every time I tell people I’m from KS she adds (in the least annoying way possible), “But she lives in Vermont.” Like, really trying to make me sound cooler.

Today was an especially entertaining day in class because ¾ of our class (Brazilian man did not join us) had been out together the night before and, in admirably Argentine fashion, had slept only a few hours before class. One girl arrived in her clothes from the night before and didn’t move her head from the table for at least 2 full hours, which really

Some kids at The Alamo, which I have recently found out is run by a Texan (makes sense...)

kind of trumped everything. Our teacher appeared politely bemused as to why none of us could seem to speak in coherent sentences, but seemed completely unsurprised when we explained that we’d gone to “The Alamo” (can you tell it’s run by an American?)

People: I’ve gotten really lucky with the two girls in my class. We’ve kind of combined all our connections to create a little going-out network that constitutes the Stanford girl’s college friend who’s fluent in Spanish (big bonus) and his connections, the Arkansas girl’s fellow homestay-er from NYC and a friend from college, and my homestay-ers and their friends. No one seems to have more than 1-2 contacts here initially, so everyone’s really friendly/desperate for friends (depending on how you wanna look at it). Also, my housemate from Ireland is on a rugby team here so I’m going to get to hang out with some real porteños this weekend- exciting!

Events: I went to a pretty sweet concert the second day here of a band called “Onda Vaga.” This concert was porteño hipster central, which was pretty amusing (mullets abounded). Here’s a music video to my favorite song of theirs:

Stanford girl’s friend took us out to a really nice bar last night that basically amounted to a gathering between a bunch of expats and English-speakers and all the porteños trying to meet them. It was actually kind of weird; I ordered something in Spanish and the bartender goes, “I mean, I don’t speak Spanish; I’m from Seattle…” So, not going back there. But if I get stressed out about Spanish some night, I’ll know where to go to find others with whom to commiserate… looks like I’ll always have it better than that poor guy.

Navigation: My strategy for exploring the city without getting lost remains to walk in straight lines with at most one turn at a highly visible landmark. I’m generally really solid on navigation in other cities, but the fact that there are hardly any street signs, combined with the fact that people refuse to give directions or orient maps in terms of cardinal directions (“it’s useless” is what our program coordinator told me), has made this unusually challenging. And also, like every third street has appropriate signage.

I’ve gotten the subway (subte) system down pat by this point, which is helpful. Next challenge will be the bus system, which is difficult even to residents of the city; with 150 different types of buses (literally an entire booklet with all their pictures and descriptions), confusingly flexible schedules, and notoriously unfriendly drivers, it’s not going to be overly easy to figure it out. But since the subte closes at 10:30 and taxis aren’t cheap, it’s especially important to have this as an option on the weekends.

Other observations:

Buenos Aires wins for:

– Party city most devoted to pretending it’s not: For some reason, the party capital of South America stops selling alcohol at 10 PM and closes down the subte at 10:30. One interesting outcome of the former is that there is actually (cheap) drink delivery. They’ll arrive at your door with whatever you want! I’m sure it loses its luster after a while, but right now, having beer delivered to one’s door feels exceedingly luxurious.

– Easiest city in which to have a dog: no one picks up after their dogs on the street, which means that walking around often involves navigating a minefield of smelly messes. Interesting.

** And I will totally try to add more visuals but since I’ve taken like 10 pictures since I’ve been here, imma need to work on upping the quantity so I can post some truly quality shotz. **

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One Response to Week 1: It’s a good thing I like cornflakes and empanadas

  1. ashley says:

    yay i love the extended version!! so good, keep it all coming.
    also, not sure if this is as cool in ba as it was in america, but this might get you some cool futbol cred: during the 2006 world cup, the argentinian national team made a goal, but not before keeping control of the ball with like….26 or so passes between all those amazing argentinooooss!!! 26 consecutive passes! it was sick. love you!

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