Tuesday, September 25, 2012

¡Gracias a vos!

After a brisk day of cramming for my exam tomorrow, my headache was relieved...thanks to my lovely family! I found not 1, not 2, but  5 birthday cards on the kitchen counter! Thank you for the kind messages and making me smile after a stressful day! You are all a blessing, even halfway around the world. I will be traveling on my birthday, so I had the awkward decision to open everything before or after my birthday. The "carpe diem" in me chose beforehand. After my exam tomorrow, I will be heading off to explore the provinces of northern Argentina: Córdoba, Salta, and Jujuy!


I will be in Salta on my birthday...so stay posted following the trip, but first, fingers crossed for my exam! :)

¡Uds. son lo más! ¡Hasta luego!
Un abrazo,
Matt

Día feriado ¿otra vez?

So when I mentioned that Argentina seems to have quite a few [special] days off, my observations were exactly correct! Argentina has the most federal holidays in the world this year. Under Cristina's government, Argentina has accumulated 19 holidays, setting a new world record (by surpassing Colombia's record of 18 holidays.) The establishment of yesterday's holiday in memory of the Battle of Tucumán for Argentina's Bicentennial celebration earned Argentina the title as the most "holiday-ed plenty" country.
 
For Spanish readers, here is the article from La Nación - one of Argentina's longest reporting newspapers.
 
Ahora hay que trabajar...
Saludos,
Matt

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Muy, muy tranqui...

Mid-terms are coming! Mid-terms are coming! This weekend has been a melodramatic attempt to study for my mid-term (i.e. the Paul Revere reference). I have spent most of my weekend on the computer reserving hostels, coordinating schedules, and oh yes...studying. With the attention span of a gnat, it's been challenging to study for long chunks of time. I guess I'll be ready for Wednesday either way. I guess this week has been more "study" focused, although my mind is somewhere "abroad."

I did get a chance to get some fresh air yesterday at the San Isidro Racetrack (Hipódromo). No, I did not gamble, but it was refreshing to watch the races and the emotional reactions of the others who placed bets. I could hardly understand what they were saying, but from what I did comprehend, I wouldn't repeat it here.



I also opened my birthday package. As I opened the twizzlers, I couldn't just have one...I feared that I would succumb to the desire to devour them all...I managed to stop myself after 4. I think I'll still have a few left to enjoy on my actual birthday. Thanks, Mom and Dad!


Today was Immigrant Day, so I migrated to my room to (attempt to) study. Tomorrow is a holiday (to celebrate a famous battle for Argentina's independence, 200 years ago). Honestly, they have been celebrating their 200th Birthday as a country (Bicentenario) since 2010, and I imagine they won't stop until 2016. The war for their independence was from 1810-1816, so I guess they couldn't decide when exactly Argentina solidified its own entity as a country. Okay, fine by me!

¡Qué celebren cada día!
Un abrazo,
Matt

Friday, September 21, 2012

¡Feliz día del estudiante y de la primavera!


Fortunately for my sanity, this week has been blissful (definitely calmer). Many have expressed their concern after Sunday, so I appreciate the support. I'm starting to feel better, although I won't be putting my guard down...this week has tested my confidence and nerves.
I have woken up to Fiona (host cat) sunning in front of my door every morning this week. She has assumed the role of being an additional security measure for my room, or perhaps just to soak up the sun. ;)

Thursday evening was a nice diversion from the stress of mid-terms. I went with Germain to a classmate's theater production in the Capital. It was a short (an hour-long) theatrical piece about a dysfunctional family that spends a day at the beach and is inevitably forced to work out their issues. The performers were quite animated and evoked quite a bit of laughter and emotion in this quaint theater.
Today was, yet again, proof that Argentines celebrate virtually everything. It was the first day of Spring, so the media and people took advantage of the beautiful day by spending it outside. Additionally, today was also "Day of the Student," so everyone but university students had off. Several people greeted me with "Feliz día" ("Happy Day!" - insinuating the day of students as well as the first day of Spring). Virtually everyone has a "day" in Argentina: Children's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparent's Day, Student's Day, Teacher's Day...I'm waiting to see if there will be a "blue-eyed people's day" and a "pet day." I wouldn't be surprised.

I had to pick up a birthday package from Retiro at customs, and luckily, I was accompanied by Sebas (my Argentine brother). He had to run a few other errands, so we spend most of the day in the Capital. It was a cool opportunity to enjoy the day, to see other parts of Buenos Aires, and to get to know Sebas a bit better. One of our stops was the building of the Isreali Embassy, where I got to take in the views from a skyscraper of Buenos Aires...it reminded me of Paris, very dense but just spectacular. Oh, and I didn't have to pay taxes nor open my package at customs! I just had to wait awhile, but that's nothing shocking about that in this country.

We are heading into a two-week period of mid-term exams (los parciales) at UdeSA...no class, just exams. My main focus is linguistics right now, which I have on Wednesday.

¡Qué pasen un buen fin de semana!
Sonrisas,
Matt




Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Varias entradas nuevas

Hola everyone!

These past few days have been extremely eventful, so I figured it would be easiest to organize them in a series of three entries:
You can click on the day(s) to have a direct link to each specific entry.





Enjoy! ¡Gracias por leer!

Saludos,
Matt

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lunes: día de arte

Today was a bit surreal at times. I did not get much sleep because I wrote for a bit to calm my stormy mind. However, it still felt like yesterday was a dream or some sort of distant memory. However, as it was time to head out of the house, the reality sank in. My mind was scattered: What should I absolutely leave at home? Can I walk by myself? I needed to calm down, be more realistic, and even "press my luck".
I packed my backpack with my DSLR camera (the good one), my passport, provisional visa, along with a few prayers and lots of knocking on wood, and headed out to the capital for another day.

In the morning, I met up with Germain, a French student from UdeSA, and we were off to the Teatro Colón (Colon Theater) for a tour of this world-renowned theater. Normally, the tour costs $110 Argentine pesos for foreigners (roughly $22 USD), however, by showing my student ID with my provisional visa and passport, I paid $15 (~$3 USD). Along with the price, the tour was PHENOMENAL! The tour guide was quite detail-oriented (my kind of tour guide ;). I don't know if I could necessarily find the words to describe this increible structure. With its rich history and variety of marble, the architecture is jaw-dropping, and it takes a while to take it all in. We toured the elegant entrance and "celebration" areas before entering the star of the tour: the performance hall. A building all about acoustics, this is one of five theaters in the world that has accomplished this perfection - that means wherever one may be seated in the hall s/he will receive the same ideal sounds due to how it ricochets. It is seven stories high, and it's hard to stop looking up. The pictures do not really do the theater justice because it is so broad and extensive, but here you go:
View of Tribunal Plaza before entering Teatro Colón
View from the Outside of the theater
The entrance (looking up)
One of the "aristocratic" gather areas
Looking up in the Teatro Colón Performance Hall
7 stories of acoustic genius
The chairs were quite comfy, but also a piece of art, like everything else!

Afterwards, Germain and I headed to the second tour - a walking Graffiti tour of Colegiales and Palermo (Hollywood and Soho). This time we were with a group of UdeSA exchange students. As we wandered through the different neighborhoods - many side streets and parks, the amount of urban art was surprising, even more so the culture behind it. These artists are not territorial, so these walls are constantly recycled and the art is constantly evolving. The area even attracted global attention last year for the International Graffiti Festival, so we got a glimpse of some of the best graffiti artists from around the world! Each mural/piece was unique, and there is so much graffiti in Buenos Aires that I don't think you could ever stop finding new designs! (To learn more about the street art in Buenos Aires, click here.)
Here are a few of my favorites:
In honor of the Mothers of Plaza Mayo (the mothers whose children vanished in the Dirty War back in the 70s for opposing the military dictatorship). The scarves above are their symbol, and it was purposely placed over a playground.
A bit of an inside joke, Argentines have a tendency to say "Ojo!" (Look or watch out!)...so I tend to say it in a more joking or sarcastic manner.
(Everyone deserves a home.)
The International Graffiti Festival originated in Berlin, Germany.

The UdeSA Tour Group in front of a mural in Palermo
(Very good!)
The tour was quite exhausting, but I couldn't have wished for a better day - two culturally-enriching tours among good people with nice weather, plus I felt much more comfortable in my surroundings. Although, I should mention I wore my backpack in front and held it pretty tightly. (As petty theft is common, it's a daily practice that people carry everything in front of them.) We stopped in a café that was also decorated with graffiti (on the inside as well) to relax after all that walking. I headed home afterwards and was very happy to be able to relax and let go of my backpack. By the time we had dinner and started talking about the lack of economic planning in Argentina, I could hardly think. Daniel and Silvia mention that you should not go to bed without learning something new - between Teatro Colón, the graffiti tour, and the sobremesa (after-dinner conversation), I had paid my dues and sleep was inevitable.
I'm all smiles after the weekend, but I'm ready for school...a little less chaos is in order, but who knows what will come my way.

¡Qué tengan un súper buen resto de la semana!
Un abrazo,
Matt

¡Qué quilombo en Retiro!

This blog has been a pleasure. It has been my outlet share my time abroad, and I've promised to share what I see and experience - that means the good, great, and not so good. Recently, I've quickly come to realize that Buenos Aires is a natural haven for blood-sucking mosquitos with the presence of the Río de la Plate (River Plate), the natural vegetation, and the humid climate...I'm not just talking about the insects. Sunday was a day with quite a bit of variety experiences, let's go through the day, as I lived it.

Good morning, Skype date with my parents! Despite some internet trouble, I got to check in with them back in Jersey and I would consider that to be a blissful start to the sunny morning.
Shortly after breakfast, I headed out to the Capital...a picnic was the intention. My bag was packed for the day - lunch, camera, jacket, reading materials for the train, check!

I arrived first to Retiro train station, waiting for my friend, Asher, a fellow American student. I found a peaceful spot on a bench, just outside the station for me to do some reading/homework as I waited. One women asked me to purchase something, but I declined her request. As I went back into my own business, a few minutes later I felt something fall on the back of my hoodie. Considering there was a plethora of pigeons flying over me, I figured one decided to give me a present. Two people (one man, one woman, who appeared to be in their 40s) came over to help me clean up the mess. As I took off my sweatshirt to evaluate the damage, they frantically tended to the mess in my hair, hands, and bag before moving to my sweatshirt. They were both talking to me, and it was hard to comprehend this sensory overload. I did the best I could to concentrate on my stuff, but I had also attracted the attention of a few others walking by. The 'cleaning team' did their job of distracting me because when I turned away for a second, I saw that my bag was gone. I gave a quick scan of the scene and saw nothing even similar to my bag. It's a blur where the two individuals went who were helping me clean the mess. Another person guided in the direction of the thief. When I came back to see no one running away with my bag, another bystander informed me that the individual who grabbed my bag had run off in the opposite direction. I felt numb; I did not know how to process the fact that I was just robbed.

The thieves got away with my (Mom's) camera in its case with an extra battery, a photocopy of my passport, books for school, my (Jersey Knights) jacket, my lunch for the picnic, and a few other miscellaneous items. But more than that, they ran off with my trust in strangers. They did not get my cell phone, money, house keys, school ID, driver's license, nor bus card, as those were scattered on different parts of my body (I purposely do not carry a wallet for the reason that it's easy to snatch. - I think when they were "wiping" off the mess on my sweatshirt, I think they were looking for a wallet in my back pocket.) And more importantly, I was not physically assaulted. Even in my moment of stressful realization, the items stolen were not what bothered me, it was the fact that I was violated by an "altruistic" act that had an alterior motive.

When Asher arrived, we left the station and headed off to Puerto Madero. I knew I was not going to be getting my stuff back, and I had a choice to make: I can mope or move on. My mind continued to process what happened outside the train station all day, but I did stay tuned into the conversations.
(Photo by Asher)
Puerto Madero, in front of the Bridge of the Woman (Puente de la Mujer)

Asher and I meandered from the Casa Rosada, through Puerto Madero to the Ecological Park (Parque ecológico), where the picnic was to take place.
On Sundays, you can find a market practically anywhere. We stopped by the Puerto Madero market before entering the ecological park.
I was vibrantly welcomed by a group of UBA (University of Buenos Aires) exchange students, who had a exciting series of events happen the night prior.

(Photo by Asher)
Ahhh Argentina, always offering a way around the rules. Theoretically the fence should prevent people from stepping/falling into the marsh. (I took notice of this on the way to the picnic.)

We sat near the water, which was a treck to reach, but certainly worth the views.
(Photo by Asher)
The picnic did miracles to turn my mood around. Also I tried maté, the real deal! I do think that with time, I may conform to the Argentine maté rituals.

After a tasty lunch of shared food, Asher and I travelled to the French Embassy - they were offering tours of the embassy to the public. Unfortunately, we did not get an inside peek because the line wrapped around the entire embassy (more than one square block). Nevertheless, the market and the view from the outside were very picturesque.
(Photo by Asher)
The French Embassy begins Avenida 9 de Julio
This day screamed "resilience" in my head, so we quickly moved onto the San Telmo Market.
Asher and I with one of the many San Telmo Market street performers.
I was in search of a bag (that I could use for swimming) to replace the one taken from me. Initially, I felt extremely uncomfortable in the crowds as I felt everyone was looking to take what I still had on my person...fortunately the feeling subsided shortly afterwards. We walked through the entire fair (after some interesting communication exchanges en route to find our way there), and I found something that suited my taste and I negotiated a price I liked. Hooray!

As the sun set on San Telmo, Asher and I made one more stop: to the oldest café in Argentina. Of course, Argentines will celebrate for whatever reason that they can, so they chose to celebrate their neigbhoring country, Brazil in a street party adjacent the Plaza de Mayo.
(Photo by Asher)
Brazil Day celebrations on the way to Café Tortoni
Café Tortoni is the epitome of an old-time Argentine café. This is where some of the best Argentine writers and thinkers spent their time. I opted for a hot chocolate over a coffee, and I was very content with my decision! That feeling when hot chocolate warms you up is priceless. After some final conversation, we called it a day and headed back to our host families.
Although pricey, the hot chocolate was delicious!

On the way home, my hyper-attentive mind ran through the potential scenarios of how I would share the fact that someone else went home with my things, while simultaneously playing back the event in my head. Daniel and Silvia helped me realize that I was probably targeted by a group of four or five people (called "las pirañas" - Spanish for 'piranhas,' they surround a victim and quickly place him/her in a state of confusion and distraction, in which they steal what they can grab.) So what I thought was bird do-do was more likely some substance that looks similar. (It took quite a bit of elbow grease to scrub it off of my hoodie.) It was their tool to catch me off-guard. And they succeeded in that aspect. More importantly, Daniel and Silvia (and my parents when I shared what happened) also emphasized how fortunate I was not to be mugged, or physically harmed. They also reiterated (from what I also heard at orientation) that this can happen to anyone, anywhere...a harsh piece of reality that is a prime example of the insecurity in this country.

They may have taken my things, but they DID NOT take my day. I very much enjoyed the day and all that I was able to do, see, and appreciate. Today also reminded me of a quote that a friend told me over the summer. I couldn't find the exact quote, but written below is how I remember it.

"Tell me your story. Tell me it again. Again. Again. And again! Tell it to me until you cannot any longer. Tell me it again! Then, package it up, move on and look forward to the next day."

I have slowly fallen in love with Argentina. Although I still don't feel like I understand the people. They do not think like me - some are genuine; some are thieves; some are indifferent. I'm sure you can find that anywhere around the world, but this is how I can describe it. I would like this blog to be my way to package up this day...take from it what I learned, focus on the positive, and look forward to tomorrow!

Todo tranquilo,
Matt

P.S. - Thanks to Asher for the photos and letting me use his camera!

La variedad de Buenos Aires

A mural heading into Palermo.

Buenos Aires is a city with many faces. On Friday, I finally did a city, double-decker bus tour of the capital (better late than never I say). It was perfect weather - great to take in the sites from the various sides and angles this city has to offer. It also helped me piece together the fragmented mental map of Buenos Aires. However, most of the adventure was using public transport to get to the starting point of the tour...there was an accident early Friday morning on the train, thus they cancelled the train services for the day. Naturally the shift of human traffic overflowed the buses, so personal space was thrown out the window to fit more people.

Due to a delayed start, I got a slot in an afternoon tour, giving me two hours of free time. I tried to do a tour of Teatro Colon (Colon Theater), but those tours were cancelled as well. (I guess some greater power was aggravated by the protests the night prior, or everyone took off due to the great weather.) Instead, I found a nice plaza nearby to sit under a palm tree and enjoy the passers-by. I even did some homework to be academically productive.
Teatro Colon
Musical, garden art (opposite Teatro Colon)
A different angle of the Obelisco

Before heading over to the tour bus, I decided it was time for me to try the Golden Arches, Argentine style. At McDonald's I got my personal favorite, the 10-piece Chicken McNugget meal (with fries and Coke). It was quite expensive (~US$9) because the government has chosen to control the prices of McDonald's products to interfere with the Big Mac Index (an informal system of comparing the costs of living among different countries based on the national average price of the Big Mac.) Nevertheless, it was salty, hot, fattening, and yummy...next I'd like to try the McFlurry (or better said in Spanish, McFlurrrrrrry).
¡Me encanta! (I'm lovin' it!)

The bus tour went off without a hitch. Many sites were familiar, but this time I had the chance to listen to an audio guide about each part of the city...yay, for all the fun facts! The view from the bus was great!
Buenos Aires City Bus Tour
Plaza de Mayo (Casa Rosada)
Plaza de Mayo (View of Cabildo)
Parliament Building
A quick pit-stop in Caminito!
A giant, robotic flower that illuminates and closes at dusk.
Porteños enjoying the beautiful weather in Belgrano.
Monumento a las Cuarto Regiones Argentinas
(Monument of the four Argentine [geographic] regions)
Do you see me above the "ER" in "International"? (Red t-shirt)

By the time the tour ended, I scurried off to swimming...although I scurried more at a snail's pace given that it was rush hour on a Friday in the main avenue of Buenos Aires (shall I mention, without trains?!). With my newly found knowledge and tidbits of Buenos Aires and exhausted self from walking and swimming all day, I was kaputt.

Saturday was humid and mucky. At UdeSA, the exchange students had a meeting with our "UdeSA buddies" - a.k.a. students either that have participated in an exchange between UdeSA and one of its partner schools (such as TCNJ :D) or will be going on exchange next semester. We did a wide range of interactive icebreakers in teams of exchange students and "buddies." I found the activities to be silly, but nevertheless a fun time. Everyone was constantly slapping away the mosquitos that were attacking us like an angry school of piranha. (This was after applying three layers of bug spray in both creme and spray forms.)
When it comes to soccer, I'm not very nimble manuvering the ball on my own. It was a hilarious fail adding another person in the mix. (2-person team soccer - Team Che!)
4x4 Potato Sack Race
The mosquito-bitten exchange/buddy group

Fortunately, the humidity let up a bit in the evening. Julia and I strolled over to the San Isidro Racetrack (Hipódromo) for an art exposition called "Arte Espacio: Almacén de Arte" (Art Space: Warehouse of Art). It included a wide variety of artistic collections including: sculptures, paintings, 3-D art, photography, word play pieces, and anything else underneath the sun. Materials I would have never expected to be art were used in very interesting fashions. The quantity of artists was a little overwhelming, but I focused on the works that caught my eye (mostly photography). There was definitely something for everyone's taste.
A personal favorite, the women mirrors the painting above the man in the red shirt. The artwork comes to life here!
I even got to be a part of the art!
¡Qué disfruten de la vida! :)
Un abrazo,
Matt