Sunday, May 24, 2009
Last night, after dinner with my host family, I hung out with some of the other people in my Road2Argentina program (the "Roadies"). Many of them live in a very nice apartment house approximately 8 blocks away from me, and it was nice to meet up with some other people who spoke English. As it turned out, about a third of the people I met either go to school or used to go to school at UNC so Carolina is definitely well-represented in Buenos Aires for some reason this summer!
After a good night's rest I was off to el Mercado (the market) with some of the other Roadies. I took the Subte (subway) for the first time and found it very easy to use. The public transportation here seems to be outstanding. It seems as though every fifth vehicle that passes by is a bus and the system operates 24/7.
Anyway, the market (pictured above, left) turned out to be incredibly fast. Stretching approximately 20 city blocks, it featured everything from wood-work to arts & crafts to clothing to jewelery and so much more.
We also saw the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada today. The Plaza is an important place, politically, in Argentina because it was the location of the 25 May 1810 resolution that eventually led to Argentine independence. The Plaza is also the sight of the demonstrations of the Madres de los Desaparecidos (the "mothers of the disappeared") which have been going on since 1977. The group is composed of mothers and other concerned Argentines who have come caring pictures of their children who "disppeared" during the Dirty War that took place in Argentina when the military was in power from roughly 1976 to 1983. During this time, the Argentine government purged its citizenry of political dissidents and committed severe human rights violations that have had profound and lasting impacts on Argentina.
The Casa Rosada (the "Pink House") is pictured at right and is located at one side of the Plaza and is the equivalent of the US White House except without all the ridiculous amounts of barricades and security. We were able to walk right up to the steps of the house before we got to a gate that we couldn't cross, and I only noticed two policemen in the whole area. It has much more of an "open" feeling to it though...almost as though it belonged to the people and not to the head of state, and I appreciated this.
To me, the "pinkness" of the house represents the vibrance of life in Argentina. I've only been here for about two days, but I am starting to see that Argentines have a great appreciation for life. In many ways, Buenos Aires seems similar to New Orleans (where I was last summer) to me. Multiple people have told me that Buenos Aires is one of the weirdest cities I will ever visit in my life (and people told me the same thing when I went to New Orleans). I am not sure I have picked up on the "weirdness" yet, but I can see already that this is a special place. People like to go out and eat and drink and party. Dinner is at 10 PM, clubs open at about 12 but don't fill up until 2 or 3, and they stay bustling until well after the sun comes up, rarely closing on a weekend before 7 AM.
This is a place where it is not uncommon to hear music coming from the most unexpected places, where strangers are not afraid to make eye contact with each other, and where relaxation and the ideal of relaxation and tranquilidad ("tranquility") are still highly valued. In fact, the word "tranquilidad" seems to be used frequently in conversation in Buenos Aires, clearly marking the significance of the idea in this society. This whole idea of what the city of Buenos Aires and the country of Argentina represents is embodied by the pink paint on the house of the head of state, I believe. To me, it symbolizes energy, life, and excitement. In contrast to the White House, the Pink House stands for color and passion. Given what I have learned so far, I would say that white has absolutely nothing on pink.
In sum, this is a life I can respect and appreciate. This is a life I can live and like and perhaps even love. I can't wait to see where the next week will take me.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
As my flight touched down at Ezeiza Ministro Pistarini International Airport, I was filled with a mix of fear, hope, and excitement. I still feel these same emotions now as I write this sitting on my new bed in my new room of my new apartment in my new city in my new country. There have certainly been a lot of "news" lately, but I suppose this is to be expected when you travel to a foreign country that speaks a foreign language that you're not familiar with.
My flight over in an American Airlines Boeing 777 was rather uneventful, though I did become friends with a very warm man from Buenos Aires who I was seated next to for the flight. In addition to giving me some restaurant recommendations, he told me about some of the customs and cultural norms that I should be familiar with before my arrival. I was very grateful to him!
When we arrived at customs, I passed through with no problem. Then, I was completely immersed in what seemed to be a completely new, strange, and almost incomprehensible world. The signs were in English (and there was generally no English subtext beneath), the people spoke entirely Spanish (and they generally were not also familiar with English), and all of the measurements I noticed were in metrics. Where was this place where I had landed?
Well actually, it was an airport much like any other. I found my cab, and the man who took my bags to the car complemented me on my Spanish. Perhaps he just wanted a bigger tip... In any case, that one complement gave me the confidence to speak Spanish more readily to my cab driver on the way to my new apartment. He pointed out some of the famous landmarks we passed on the way, and then I arrived at my apartment where I met my new family.
My apartment is located on Sante Fe Avenue, and I seem to be right in the heart of a lot of action here in the city. Below me are tons and tons of storefronts and restaurants and cafes. There is a subway stop only a few blocks away and there are bus lines that run everywhere around this city so getting around should not be difficult.
So far, all is going well here. I have been given a very warm welcome, but I still feel some distance to those around me because of the language barrier. I hope that wall erodes brick by brick, and I intend to do everything in my power to make sure it will. Still, I cannot describe the relief I felt when another US student living in my home stay with me walked into the room with a warm, "Hey, how's it going, man?"