¡Lo siento mucho! Hace una semana y media que escribí la última vez. Perdóname, por favor.
Since it’s been more than a week and a half since I last updated this blog, naturally a ton of things have happened. In fact, (and I do believe this counts as a valid excuse), the primary reason that I haven’t written anything in a while is that I’ve been keeping insanely busy!
So let’s start from the top, un bueno lugar para empezar. Two Thursdays ago, on the 12th, I joined Megan from Vermont, a couple of Dutch kids, and a proud New Yorker on an expedition to the famous Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts).
Not to sound like a museum snob, but I have to admit that neither Megan nor I were particularly impressed by the collections there—on the ground floor, that is. Ten minutes before our scheduled departure, we stumbled upon the optical treat that was the 2nd floor: a collection of interactive modern art pieces. We ran around pressing all the buttons to make the pieces flash/twirl/swoosh while the guards watched, amused by the antics of 2 American tourists.
On Saturday the 14th, Hannah (from Italy), Gabriela (from Brazil), and I decided to make it a sightseeing day. We started off at the Museo Evita which, while providing possibly less information about Evita’s life than did the movie starring Madonna, did demonstrate that Argentina’s most famous first lady was a very stylish gal, indeed.
From there we proceeded to Café Tortoni near the Plaza de Mayo in the city center. It’s a very famous restaurant, probably the most famous in all of Buenos Aires, a reputation that was corroborated by the fact that there were more foreigners there than native Argentines! Gabriela kept pointing out everyone who was speaking Portuguese, and I definitely heard a few other American accents.
The Café used to be a gathering place for some of Argentina’s most famous intellectuals, such as Alfonsi Storni, Arthur Rubenstein, and Jorge Luis Borges. More recently, the Café has been visited by a number of politicians and public figures, including Hillary Clinton and Robert Duvall.
After a very expensive lunch (that’s the price you pay for being pseudo-academic), we continued on to the Recoleta neighborhood, nicknamed the Beverly Hills of Buenos Aires. Despite its well-deserved nickname, Recoleta hosts a bustling artisans’ open-air market every Saturday where unique, hand-crafted goods can be had for a relatively reasonable amount in USD.
Tired of walking, we succumbed to the temptation of watching a movie in English at the Recoleta Mall. (But hey, there were Spanish subtitles, so I at least got some practice, right?) (Another side note: (double parentheses!!) for those of you who have not seen Friends with Kids—don’t! Spare yourself the agony!) Watching the movie in English was, again, a strange sensation. As possibly the only fluent English-speakers in the audience, we kept laughing loudly at the jokes while the rest of the audience sat in stony silence. Just goes to show you how much can get lost in translation..
Speaking of translating, I was starting to fear that my Spanish hadn’t improved very much. But Italy & Brazil assured me that it had, so it looks like my time at the Amauta Spanish school has provided me with a perceptive skill increase after all.
The only thing I wish I could do to improve my comprehension is to control the speed at which Spanish people speak. I was grumpily contemplating how much I still don’t understand in Spanish when I thought that everything would be fine if only I had a metronome! When I was young, I took piano lessons for several years. Much as I hated that annoying little instrument that kept time in an endless series of loud clicks, it was a useful tool for teaching myself how to gradually play a song faster and faster. If only I could use a metronome for Spanish! Right now I think my comprehension is perfect right around here:
My goal right now is to achieve a nice Andante (“walking speed”). But perhaps one day I’ll understand Spanish prestissimo! (Which, from what I’ve heard, is how they speak in Spain all the time).
But back to the sightseeing. On Monday the 16th, Kansas City, Vermont, Italy and I attended a music show at the Konex Cultural Center. Initially I was skeptical given that the group’s name was La Bomba de Tiempo (“The Time Bomb”), but actually they turned out to be a fantastic assortment of rhythmic musicians playing everything from the drumbs to the electric guitar to the cowbell. Yes, the cowbell.
On Thursday the 19th I experienced Buenos Aires’ own flavor of hipster bar. The entire structure consisted of 3 very cramped floors. Everyone on the top floor (an open terrace) was bathing themselves in cigarette smoke. On the second floor was a makeshift gallery filled with pop art. (Side note: Marilyn Monroe is INSANELY popular here. I wonder how much Andy Warhol’s estate makes in royalties every year from Buenos Aires alone?) And finally, the ground floor consisted of a jam-packed performance space filled with bearded individuals listening to an earsplitting live band. Interesting, but needless to say that Italy and I didn’t stay long.
I must admit that I much prefer the street performers here in Buenos Aires than the (usually offkey) aspiring rappers in the El stations in Chicago. Over the past few weeks, I have been treated to countless street performances—and the surprising thing is, most of the musicians are good. I’ve seen a couple of accordion players, 3 or so saxophonists, and, most recently, a cello and oboe duo. And the passengers riding the Subte enjoy the spontaneity and always clap after each song.
Yesterday, Monday, Hanna and I decided to do some more sightseeing. (Imagine that!) We walked for quite a while trying to locate the Danish Church mentioned in our guide books, and on the way realized that we were in the quaint neighborhood of San Telmo.
Momentarily forgetting our task to find the Church, Hanna and I wandered around for perhaps an hour in San Telmo’s famous Mercado. Filled with antiques, the market offers a beautiful and nuanced look into the last 50-100 years of Argentine history. (Actually, the market first opened in 1897, so some of the items might be even older than that!) Excuse me for a moment while I borrow a few sentences from the guidebook to explain its appearance (which you should also be able to gauge from the picture below): “The market stands out for its excellent iron structure roofed with metal sheet and glass. Open everyday, it has stands that sell everything from fresh fish to antiques to works of art.”
(Dee Dee, if you’re reading this, I hope you enjoy the beautiful antique clip-on earrings that I found for you in the market!)
Hanna and I also got distracted along the way by a couple of bookshops and (surprise, surprise) an international communist store. I had to buy my requisite Che Guevarra t-shirt (he is Argentine, after all). Definitely interesting—never been in one of those before!
Eventually we did find the church, however. It was made of very pretty red bricks but was, alas, slightly disappointing as it was closed on Mondays. Nevertheless, here’s a picture to prove that I was there. (I find it necessary to prove since it’s a historical landmark and in a guidebook and…oh, silly tourist excuses.)
We consoled ourselves (ok, let’s be honest: we didn’t really care that we couldn’t get into the church) by indulging in some retail therapy in the antique & retro shops in the area. One, called Antigüedades, was absolutely stunning and better than a museum! The shop was featured in the Italian Marie Claire a few years ago. Here’s a link to the shop owner’s website if you’re interested: http://www.sp-antiques.com/web/gallery.php
And today, determined to douse ourselves in yet another dose of culture, Italy, Las Vegas (a new student this week) and I went to Puerto Madero to see the very upscale Club de Pescadores (Fisherman’s Club). Don’t let the name deceive you: The place is very swanky. Think country club.
The Club is situated on the Río de Plata (Silver River) which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. We dined (yes indeed, “dined” is the correct word to use here) at the beautiful restaurant across from the ballroom on the 3rd floor. We had a spectacular view of the river. The salad I ate was easily the best one I’ve ever had and, considering the surroundings, still very reasonable at $13 USD!
And on the research side of things, es todo bien. The librarians at the ALIJA library are very accommodating—here is a picture of the beautiful old building where the library is housed and where I get to work every Tuesday and Thursday.
There is also, as I expected, an abundance of books by María Elena Walsh in the bookstores here. By the time I get back to Chicago, the Northwestern University Library will have the best collection of material related to MEW in the country. (Apart, perhaps, from a few Argentine ex-pats with small children who happen to live in the U.S.)
To round off this novel of a blog post, I have 2 cultural notations for you today.
1). Every once in a while I’ll run across an ads or a sign written in English that doesn’t quite make sense. Take, for example, the clothing store “Kill.” Yep, just “Kill.” I have a feeling that the store might not fare so well in the United States.
Another particularly funny example is this verrrry non-PC chocolate bar…
2). I know I’ve already complained about the mean-spirited bus drivers here, but I’ve got to make another point about driving in Buenos Aires: IT IS INSANE. People are absolutely nuts. The way people tear down the street – it’s a wonder I don’t see an accident every day. And you know what doesn’t help? The lack of lanes. That’s right. Most of the streets (with the exception of the really busy ones like the 9 de Julio) don’t have marked lanes. Which means that everyone is crammed together, running over each other, making up lanes as they go along. AHH!! And I thought the traffic in San Antonio was bad!
Pues, terminé! Hasta pronto.