Monday, July 20, 2009

One year later

Against all odds I made it out of Buenos Aires in one piece. I had been so depressed in the winter in that city, doing homework. But last Wednesday I got on a plane to Iguazu Falls and a period of traveling began. All of a sudden I was no longer in the dark, cold winter of BA and instead I found myself in the humid jungle! It was still cold and very damp, but it was refreshing. Plane travel is amazing.

I'm back in Urubamba now, I almost can't believe it. Blogging from an old PC in a dusty internet cafe feels so much better than blogging from my little computer in my room, just like I would write from here last summer and it just felt good.

Amy and I made it to Cusco on Sunday and Monday, and spent a couple of days wandering around. Cusco is a marvel but also the most touristy place I´ve probably ever seen in my life, so it´s not my favorite city in the world. We lucked out with a wonderful hostel perched way up on the hill. The first night there was a thunder and lightning storm and purple bolts shot down from the sky followed by an uncharacteristic light, winter rain. We met up with Craig where he´s working and on the way drove through low neighborhoods of Cusco that I´d never seen before. There was a massive blackout and the only lights were the headlights of the fast-driving taxis. Everybody was out on the street and little candles were shining through all of the windows.

Yesterday there was a transportation strike and we didn´t know if we were going to be able to make it down to the valley. We got very mixed information from Cusco residents about the likelihood of our making it out, but decided to try anyway. The bus station was closed, but we caught a big van (which I prefer to the bus anyway).

The drive down to the valley was like a spectacular show. We had to take a dirt road for a good half hour because of road blocks from the strike, and even then the driver had to get out and move rocks. But going this alternate route meant a slower, new view of the valley, one that I had never seen before. We crossed over the highest part right as the sun was setting, and each turn meant a new little lake, a new ice-capped peak, a new purple shadow on silvery clouds. I almost couldn´t breathe. The Sacred Valley is hands down the most beautiful place I have been in my life.

Today Perú already caught Amy with illness, so we cancelled our hiking plans and I decided to head out on my own to see the cemetery and then visit my old host family. It´s strange to be here almost a year later to the day. If the Valle Sagrado is the most beautiful place in the world, this cemetery is the most beautiful spot within that place. As I was sitting there I realized that it has been eons since I was outside, alone, surrounded by flowers and warming up in the sun. Complete solitude is not easily found in Buenos Aires.

I stopped by and saw Pilar and Ruby. The house hasn´t changed a bit. It was so nice to talk to Pilar, maybe the sweetest most innocent woman I´ve ever met. Randú the dog still has a watery eye and Ruby looks older but the same.

What surprises me about Urubamba this time is how much has actually changed. The bakery where I used to buy truffles moved across town, the alpaca clothing shop across from my house closed and the whole building is no longer Eric´s dad´s house but some kind of political organization. The firewood place on my street is now a restaurant and live music bar. Everywhere I could notice differences. I guess proof of evolution and growth? I did, however, see Dominga (the insane, homeless woman that all of the parents in the town threaten their children with when they won´t eat) within minutes of nearing the market. Some things stay the same.

I´m excited to spent more time with Katie tonight, who is doing ProPeru this summer. I feel really calm and content in my alpaca sweater nestled in these hills but strangely also really ready to get back to the United States. We´re really finally at the final countdown.


Friday, July 10, 2009

new chapter.

My 3 best friends here are currently out of the city (2 home to the states, one traveling) and wow, everything just looks so different even though nothing actually really changed...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

swine flu update

Swine flu mania continues. More people are now wearing masks on the street and all the banks have decided to close for like 5 extra days. This produced lines around the block to take out money because the banks will not be stocking the machines. Thank god I took out money the day before that happened. The other day at a café they also gave us a huge container of hand sanitizer and made us put it on before we drank our café con lech (?). Then at the grocery store they make it so that if you are in line you have to stand at least 3 meters from the cashier at all times.

Today the subway naturally decided not to stop at my stop or the one after it, so instead of taking a bus home I decided to walk the 12 blocks since it is a beautiful, clear winter day. As I walked I noticed how much ridiculous swine flu (a.k.a. Gripe A, H1N1) propaganda there is. I found this in just about 8 blocks:

Maybe someday they will actually tell me what I have to do for my final exam. It looks like I'm going to be working on homework for this semester all the way through August, most likely when I get home...

Friday, July 03, 2009

swine flu.

I am currently sitting in the #3 Swine Flu country in the world. The mayor of Buenos Aires declared a national emergency state on Tuesday and ever since then what used to be called "peste porcina" (swine flu) when it was all the way up there in dirty Mexico is now called "gripe influenza A" (much more civilized) is all that is on the news stations.

All of a sudden life went from being shut up doing homework to being pretty eventful. I finished correcting my paper on Tuesday morning before going to turn it in - I ended up printing it off 5 minutes before class in an internet café near the facultad with about 5 other classmates. It was kind of a sweet moment. I felt like I was on cloud nine with that hot little 12 pager right off the printer.

Then I got to class and my professor asked for our papers. This professor is not the kindest or most nurturing of individuals, let's just say that. I handed him mine and he immediately bitches at me for not putting it in some kind of plastic sleeve or report cover. Fine, did not know that was the cultural norm. Whatever. I don't care. Everybody gives him their papers. He starts flipping through them, commenting on citation errors and misuses of the guidelines and font size, obviously in front of everybody. He gets to mine and says that my introduction is too long and that he doesn't understand my thesis statement. Why don't you at least read it and then rake it over the coals, I think. He then informed us that if he spills something on them and they don't have plastic covers, it's not his fault. His last statement about the papers is to say that anybody who put it in double-spaced, size 12 did not write enough and that the single-spaced ones were much more substantial. Flash back to assignment sheet, which specifically asks for size 12, double-spaced. So, cloud 9 went down to like cloud 1.5 and I'm sitting there angry just thinking about how ready I am to not have to deal with this stupid facultad anymore.

Turning in this paper meant the recovering of life for at least a couple of days. I met Avery and ate half of a gigantic pizza and then the biggest piece of chocolate mousse cake I have ever seen. We parted ways and I spotted the linen converse that all the porteñas have that make them look so cool and that I've been looking for for weeks. I finally get them. I go and wait inside my hair salon to get another trim and become human and non-wookie again, and then on my walk home I happen to pass right by my favorite store in all of Buenos Aires, Prune. Prune is the most fashionable, beautiful "casa de cuero" leather purse store that exists.

I've been in Prune many times since I arrived, but never found something that was quite right. Finally, I saw it. Soft, supple, large, black leather bag with fringe. Big enough for laptop, but definitely not just utilitarian. I've looked at a billion leather bags since arrival and found nothing quite what I wanted, but this was love at first sight.

So, now I am becoming quite the porteña. Linen converse high tops, long grey jacket, Prune bag, $19 all-in-one mp3 player (because my ipod shuffle got lost/stolen...). Found the perfect lamp for my room and a can opener that I know how to work. I'm really settling in here.

Also found out today that I will not be having my oral final exam at UBA...because of swine flu. While nobody has contacted me regarding exactly how I will get any credit for the massive amounts of work I have put into Sociología y Antropología de Arte, I am just going to be happy about this for right now and begin to deal with school again tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things you don't know you need until you don't have them, vol. 1

I've been doing a lot of homework lately, and once I'm sick of cafés and it's 2am, I am pretty much stuck in my room. The yellow light was driving me crazy, and really adding to the seasonal depression I'm beginning to develop in the Buenos Aires winter. Today I found the perfect lamp for less than $10 and bought a 60 watt white, cold bulb thatonlyexpendsasmuchenergyasa15watt! (the gruff man in the little hardware store was very insistent about that point).
It has made my space just that much more liveable and the long nights of paper-writing pass that much more quickly.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

snapshot 2, 3 +

Been busy with finals and friends visiting.
While never fun, finals in the dead of winter in another language in Buenos Aires are just that much less fun than usual.
With all of this work and no time to really hang out with my American friends here, there have been some benefits. In a normal day, the only people that I tend to see are Liliana (host mom) and Guille, as well as going to class. This means that my whole day is in Spanish and I often will go multiple days without speaking English out loud to anyone. I've noticed that Spanish has now become my main thinking language and the first thing that wants to come out of my mouth when I talk. It's also just a lot easier to say things than it ever has been. This is exciting, because I feel like I've gone years without making any real improvement in my Spanish abilities, but now have.

The other day a pigeon wandered into my class at the facultad and just kind of chilled while we talked about postcolonialism. He must have liked our discussion because he wandered out and then came back with a friend. It's not like i"m the only person who finds this ridiculous and/or funny - all of my classmates and professor did as well. Sometimes I think that I'm the only one who thinks that these really ridiculous things are actually ridiculous, but I have come to find that that is not the case. Really, I think it's just that in the US as soon as a pigeon wandered in the building they would put screens on the windows, or something. But here in Argentina the same things just keep occurring. This is a pattern that I have noticed.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

snapshot: june 22nd, 2009

I need to be in Palermo Chico (neighborhood where I lived for the first two months) by 3pm. I leave at 1:45.

I catch the 55 bus (a bus that I take 5 or more times/week) by my house to go to Plaza Italia in Palermo and catch another bus.

55 goes normally about half way and then inexplicably decides to just go on some other random street. I notice immediately but hope that it will just wind back.

Suddenly I find myself on the right street but about 15 blocks too far down. I get off.

I get on the subway. Ride one stop.

Wait for the second bus. Doesn't come for over 10 minutes.

Get in a taxi.

Taxi driver sideswipes another car on the passenger side and knocks his rear-view mirror off.

Doesn't stop. Is kind of fat and breathing heavily and agitated, but does not stop.

I get out in front of where I'm going, pay him, and go on my way.

Oh, Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

-----> supermarket

Argentine food, at points, leaves something to be desired. It isn't very flavorful or tasty - think: watered-down Italian. Obviously there is some great beef and pizza to be had, It's very disjointed. Sometimes I am just, really, how can you eat that?

Combine this with the fact that I am living with one of the worst cooks I have ever met in my life. My food at my other house on Figueroa Alcorta was exquisite as Argentine cuisine goes, mostly because there was a full-time maid who slaved away on it every afternoon as her only chore, and because we were eating the best cuts of meat and the freshest, most expensive vegetables. It was a simple but extremely satisfying menu.

Now that I am forced to eat nearly inedible food (minus the nights I eat with Guille, as his food as really good) I've developed some routine grocery store guilty pleasure habits to complement the not very tasty food I eat nightly. Today I was sad to realize that my grocery store purchases can basically be broken down into some key groups:

1. Chocolate (Argentines love sweets, and therefore have their own good chocolate as well as all the great, imported European stuff)
2. Wine
3. Maruchan Cup of Noodles - Spicy chicken flavor (I'm not going to try to defend it)
4. Imported bad Mexican food (refried beans, canned salsa verde)
5. Cornichons (Here I have started to eat like a pregnant woman and have been known to combine the Cornichons and chocolate).

I miss food in the US. As a country, I think we have pretty decent taste buds. Chipotle, Sushi Land on Lancaster Avenue, Typhoon, Don Pancho's, even those $8-$10 white people sandwiches that they get away with selling in Portland. Can't wait to see you all...

Today in academia.

Today I woke up on the early side to put the finishing touches on my Proyecto de Investigación proposal for Sociology and Anthropology of Art, as well as make it to an internet café in time to print it out before class. Since most things, especially at UBA, are done "Argentine Style" i.e. lay it out in front of everybody instead of having individual consultations, I needed this to make sense.

I was right. Today, "Argentine Style" was taken to a new level when our Práctico professor read our exam grades out loud in front of everyone, also informing us out loud about what issues we had on the exam.

Coming from Bryn Mawr, where it is against the Honor Code to even utter a word about grades, this was a very foreign concept to me. However, in the end, it didn't really make me feel that uncomfortable, because students aren't competitive here. They compete more against the system, which, as Guille puts it, "means they never win." So, this was more about commiseration and being impressed with the lucky few who got a 9 or 10 out of 10. Our fairly large section has boiled down to 15 or so dedicated individuals who actually came and took the midterm and didn't drop the class i.e. I, as a non-native speaker, probably should not be in this class.

I got...a 6/10 (PASSING). The lowest grade in the class, though one other kid also got that grade. His comments for me? I had "problemas de escritura" (writing problems). Well, no shit sherlock, thanks for that helpful tidbit. You try to take an exam over 300 pages of complex anthropological theory in a second language at the most prestigious university in the country. Then we'll talk.

This was a low moment and a bit of a blow to my existence as a foreigner, a feeling I haven't had in a really long time, surprisingly. And then, to make matters worse, we moved right into having to explain our research projects to the entire class. I understand my topic and I had thought about it a lot, but it's a hard topic to describe even in English. He called me about 3rd, and I just went for it. At least a couple people understood what I was getting at. He then read the important sections of my proposal out loud, said my questions were clear and well-developed, and didn't see any problems with any of it. YES. Most other people's topics were a lot more complicated and nebulous so we had to spend tons of time talking about them and deciding if they would work. Thank god I didn't have to do that.

Friday, June 05, 2009

can we just talk about this

The moneda crisis must be ending. But Great Depression-style behavioral conditioning that took place back in February and March doesn't make having a stash like this feel like any less of an accomplishment.

The big two-tone ones are all one peso (hard to come by), the shorter stack are all 50 centavos, and the little stacks are 10 and 5 centavos = about 25 pesos in monedas!

the winter is long in the city

Haven't been writing much lately, because I suppose that I have been living and studying. I have probably never read or studied so much for one exam, so I spent a good portion of last week in Caballito cafés poring over Bourdier, Berger, Levi-Strauss, Geertz and Jameson, among others.

Thankfully, I think this dedication paid off. I had my midterm on Tuesday, and it wasn't that terrible of an experience. Obviously I was nervous, but I decided that being calm about it was the best thing I could do for myself, so I concentrated on that. I went in there like a zen buddha, only to start to freak out when my professor asked us all something and expected individual answers while we were waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. The rooms at UBA are so damn loud and echo-ey that it is amazing that I ever understand even one word. I had no idea what he was saying. So I'm sitting there like an idiot, unable to understand a simple question, about to take this midterm about complicated cultural theory.

Next I realized that the professor wasn't going to give us a sheet with the questions on it. Nope...making 20 copies would just make too much sense. So he dictated the questions to us, which about gave me an aneurysm. Thankfully he repeated a couple of times, and I think I only missed the end of one of the questions (a part that wasn't that important). And to my delight, he then went through and explained each one, giving us some hints on what to draw on. WHAT? Guille, a third year UBA student, says that the professors always do that. I have never had that done for me at Bryn Mawr - by the time the questions are handed out, the professor is done, and if you're confused, you're screwed. In fact, most of the professors don't even come to give exams, they put a poor grad student in charge.

I took the exam, and wrote about 4 pages. I knew things. It felt good. Thankfully my Spanish grammar is pretty good, but I'm sure it had some strange word usages, which I think often makes my writing more funny for people than if it also had a ton of grammar mistakes. It sort of masquerades as normal, until it is just awkward. I'm sure whoever is grading this exam will not realize that I'm a foreigner, and will think I'm a retard. As long as I pass, I'm okay with this.

I've noticed that while in English we, as students, "take" an exam and the professor "gives" it, in Spanish the students "give" the exam and the professor "takes" it. So strange. I feel like this might say something cultural. In some ways it makes sense. The students "give" all of their knowledge onto the paper, and the professors "take" it and evaluate it.

Other than studying and reading and staying up all night doing those two things (first academic all nighter in Buenos Aires of the semester woooo) I have just been living. Spending lots of time with Guille, which has been wonderful. On cold wintery nights it is nice to have someone to watch bad Argentine TV with.


Saturday, May 30, 2009


All of a sudden it is very much fall/winter here. All of a sudden I am putting on the same clothing I put on in November, and it feels strange. The mornings are cold, and the sky is clear and even if it is sunny and a little warm when you're not in the shade, it smells like winter. "Winter" is a relative term, because everywhere experiences it so differently. I keep waiting for something, for my concept of "winter" to arrive, but I think it is more or less here. I like it.

Lately, things have become real. This isn't just an experiment, this is life. Instead of just having new, exciting experiences, I am having everyday, common life experiences that everybody has, only they are happening in a new, foreign place. I like this. I am nervous and stressed out about school, I am comfortable in my house, I do laundry and the dishes. I have a schedule, and people that I am infatuated with from afar at the facultad that I run into randomly on a daily basis. Sometimes I don't go to class, I recognize the ticket workers in the subte and the tellers at the bank because I go there so often. These are all daily things I experience at home, at Bryn Mawr. It's a nice feeling.

I have fallen in love with anthropology here, specifically anthropological theory applied to art and its place in culture. My main class, Sociología y Antropología del Arte is brilliant, and so complex that it may be the end of me. Cross your fingers for my huge in-class "parcial" (midterm) on Tuesday. But that aside, it is so interesting to take any sort of anthropology class when you are living in a foreign country, because you are essentially assuming the role of anthropologist. Every moment, every interaction, is fodder for my new anthropological lens.

There are moments when I love Universidad de Buenos Aires, and moments when I don't. UBA is the type of place where if something isn't nailed down, it doesn't stay in place. There are moments when I feel like I belong, and moments when I feel like I cannot handle the disorganization. Preparing for this exam has been an interesting process. I have listened to my classmates try to figure out what is on the half of the exam taken from our optional lectures without success, and realized that everybody else is reading even less than I am. I often find out information about our assignments and readings from the large, gruff, moustached woman who works at the fotocopiadora where we buy our texts. I think she knows more about this course than any of our many professors.

Our four hour lectures are often interrupted multiple times by children begging for coins or adult men who bravely stand in front of us, a group made up of impressionable 20-somethings as well as older men and mostly women finally able to conquer academia in the autumn of their lives. Last Thursday it was a man with throat cancer, standing up in front of the class apologizing for humiliating himself. He was dressed in nice clothing, a sweater vest, glasses. Next was a nervous, twitchy man who had a severe stutter and essentially told us that he had escaped from a mental institution for one day to solicit our help. I looked around at my classmates. Everybody looked so guilty. Such a different experience than I have had at Bryn Mawr, obviously. Here the facultad is public space. There is no lock, there is no doorman. Homeless children play soccer and spend their entire days inside.

Back to studying. Taking this test is going to be like going into battle.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

mar del plata

May not have been the perfect weekend, but I managed to capture these sweet moments (with a few weeks delay in production time...)

Mar del Plata from Rachel Lieberman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

todo bien, girl

The other day I saw a blind man getting on the subway and I thought "Wow. Life could be harder." I do not understand how the old and disabled, and particularly the blind, navegate and survive in this city, as I barely manage myself at times and I am young and able-bodied.

In terms of senses, this city assaults them. Everytime I find myself in a particularly quiet, low neighborhood I realize that silence has become deafening, the way that the noise of buses and honking horns used to be. It's proof - I'm assimilating. I have spent weeks agonizing over this process and whether or not I would ever be able to do it in Buenos Aires, but...against all odds, comfort has slowly crept in.

I went to a required meeting at our program director's exquisite San Telmo house on Thursday expecting a mildly pointless "program evalution" conversation and some good food. In the end I was only right about the food. What Mario did with the 30 of us was basically quell all of my fears and anxieties about what I have, and have not, done in my almost 3 months in Buenos Aires. It was like all of us were suffing silently, singly, over the fact that it felt like everything was moving so slowly, including but not limited to: progress, friend-making, participation at school, nervousness, closeness with host families, etc. And all of a sudden he was basically like "GOTCHA" and informed us that this program really starts on May 1st, when we are no longer zombies wandering through the city, lost and confused.

He encouraged us to find what we want in this city, and take advantage of it. To just get to know people, instead of begging for friends. I have been trying to do this, going to museums, shows, films, parks and beautiful coffee shops, because those are the things that I most love about this city. I've been out to what feels like a billion restaurants and bars and clubs and lounges. I found a traditional Argentine weaving class at the Rojas Center (part of University of Buenos Aires), somehow signed myself up, and am diligently working hours a week. I don't know how, but I have a handful of Argentine friends at my facultad that I run into during the week and talk to, which feels like a real accomplishment. I have a life. And coincidentally on exactly May 1st a new friendship randomly cemented with Guille, one of the three boys who we had been hanging out with, and who made Buenos Aires feel like a smaller place. After a painfully awkward, uncomfortable interaction which was directly correlated with the social anxiety that I have been allowing myself to slip into since my arrival in Argentina, I decided I was going to put an end to that trend and make things right. It worked. We talk in parks, we meet for coffee, he cooks me dinner in his apartment (located conveniently 10 blocks from mine, and he is an amazing person.

Skye, Amy, and Avery (my closest friends here) became my family starting about three days into this program. We were stuck together, spent every day together, re-hashed every hour we were not together over skype nightly, and helped each other through some strange times. Now, naturally, we have become busier and more set in our routines and find ourselves with less open afternoons for 3-hour long coffees and late night skype conversations. I have found new American friends in my classes to go to midnight dessert with, have been spending long dinners and shopping trips with my host mom and her friend Hector. I have spent my extra Wednesday afternoons drinking coffee with Guille, and Saturday nights cooking chicken and drinking wine in his precious Rivadavia avenue apartment. It is strange to slowly distance myself from my friends. But it makes me nervous but excited, because it means that we are really living. Life felt so huge and unsettled for so long, but now I have settled down found my little community, my little area, a new close friend who has his feet much more planted in his native country than I do in a foreign one, which is a nice influence to have.

Obviously Latin America continues to plague me with things like the Iguazu Falls drying up, the subway not working, the fotocopy place where I have to buy my readings being closed because it is cold, etc. Bus rides are still long and nauseating (especially at rush hour with a 3 foot loom in tow) and the yelling from the soccer field located conveniently 9 floors below me on an open lot is obviously unwelcome on Sunday mornings. I wish professors would bother to follow a syllabus just once, and that street children didn't play soccer on the third floor of our school and/or chase pidgeons that have accidently flown in when I'm trying to focus on a four hour lecture about abstract anthropological theory and visual culture. the Andy Warhol quote that I found somewhere and scribbled in my notebook says:

They always say time
changes things. But
actually have to change them
-Andy Warhol

I'm not sure if I agree with that or not. I would say that Buenos Aires has taught me that it is definitely a mix of both. You have to go for what you want, but you definitely have to roll with the waves (of people, of torrential rain, of different cultures, of smelly buses, and of life).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I had a dream you were two towns from me

Last Sunday I woke up to my first full day in Caballito and just felt cold and lonely. Fall really arrived that day...the light was thin and pale and the breeze was cool enough for a scarf and jacket. Everything feels different when the light is different, and I felt like I was someplace else. Philadelphia, New York, could have been any city. I didn't feel like sitting in the house but I didn't feel like being out in the world alone either, so I packed up my reading and journal and figured out how to walk over to Parque Centenario to go to the Natural Science Museum.

Sometimes being surrounded by people can make you feel the most lonely, and I know that. It has really been confirmed here a million times over, since there are few places in Buenos Aires where there aren't tons of people. I'm not naturally a lonely person. I like alone time, which is so different from being lonely. I've obviously had some great experiences, but I also feel like I've peppered Buenos Aires with a lot of loneliness. In my old neighborhood I had places where I purposefully went when I felt lonely, and places where loneliness had suddenly struck, and places where just walking by them made me feel lonely.

And now, strangely enough, it made me feel even more lonely to have to move and create my new lonely places again. The fact that in Palermo I had been lonely in them so many times before almost made them less they were comfortable, worn-in, familiar. So I went to the Natural Science Museum, paid 3 pesos and wandered through dark, stuffy rooms filled with whale skeletons, bottom-feeder fish, and squids preserved in formaldahyde. I took videos of bubbles squirting out of fish tank pumps and looked at dinosaur bones. I watched kids run around and gasp in Spanish, and saw an aboriginal skeleton of some sort of pre-human that was short and thin but upright.

I started to miss things I don't usually miss, like the Zoo (since I saw stuffed birds that made my skin crawl) but it was just a big longing for familiarity, I guess. I exited and sat on the front steps eating chocolate con leche aireado (my chocolate intake here has been unprecedented...and obscene) and then wandered over to the park.

Going to parks alone on lonely days is not a good idea, in case you were ever considering it. I sat on the cold stones next to the pond and watched families and couples and friends. (I also watched an obscene park puppet show where a muscle-man puppet danced to "You Can Leave Your Hat On" and then whipped off his tiny Speedo to reveal a foot-long penis, but that's neither here nor there). I wondered why my friends hadn't called me, and missed my brother, mom and dad. I watched mate gourds be passed around and kids fight with their siblings and grandmas help grandchildren throw bread crumbs to geese.

Building a life in Buenos Aires has been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I have pretended that it hasn't, even though I've known it has all along. One way of dealing with this has been watching hours of online TV and sitting in my room alone. Today at dinner my new host mom Liliana called me out on it. At my old house in Palermo I had gotten used to coming home and heading to my room, to never seeing anybody and having my host sister ignore me. She asked me why I hole myself up in my room. I hadn't even given it much thought...I'd just gotten so used to being alone.

Today, I stop being lonely.

Friday, April 17, 2009

and we're slow to acknowledge the knots in our laces

Just as I'm moving out of my neighborhood, the lady who works at the place where I take my laundry finally knows me by name. I walked in there yesterday after dragging my mesh bag full of dirty underwear across 5 of the fanciest blocks in Buenos Aires and she says "Raquel, no?" It made me both happy and sad. However, the place where I am going will have laundry probably on the same block and not all the way across Libertador, the 12--lane highway/street. So there's some consolation.

We spent last weekend in Mar del Plata, which turns out to be kind of a gross Miami Beach-like city 6 hours south of Buenos Aires. Since it was Semana Santa and unseasonably nice weather, I read in the Mar del Plata newspaper that over 150,000 tourists descended on that place for the weekend, so no wonder it felt a little crowded. We stayed in kind of a shady hostel but thankfully were bunking with three cute, cool Colombian kids who are studying in Buenos Aires. We also got together with a guy that Amy's dad met traveling over twenty years ago in South America who happens to be from/live in Mar del Plata. He and his wife picked us up at our hostel and took us on a great tour of the town and then had us over to their wonderful house for a delicious lunch out in the garden. They were so kind and smart and worldy and not Buenos Aires, so that was really nice. It was definitely my favorite part of the weekend, and we saw so many things that we never would have been able to had they not gone out of their way to drive us and show us around.

On a rocky surfer beach in Mar del Plata I touched the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Hard to believe that I've been in Philly for almost three years and never made it to the Jersey Shore. The Atlantic was cold (though nothing like the Pacific), but it was so hot out on Sunday that it felt really good to swim. Mar del Plata was definitely not my favorite place, and it wasn't the perfect weekend (messed-up bus tickets, came down with a cold, night busses, night busses, night busses, dirty hostels, physical discomfort in general) but in the end we saw a lot of things that I have never seen before and had a really great night out at this ridiculous club and a really nice night in at our hostel with a bunch of people we met/ran into.

I'm still trying to figure out how I am going to pass these classes I'm supposedly taking if I never have them. I got back into Buenos Aires at around 7:30am on Monday morning, alone, because Amy and I had to take separate busses because of my messed-up ticket. I went home and slept and relaxed and then went to class that night. Then I had my Sociología y Antropología del Arte section the next day as well as my weaving class. Then the teachers at UBA went on strike Wednesday and Thursday. This doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be class (I saw a lot of classes going on anyway) but one of my professors informed us that there would not be class on Wednesday night. Great. Saves me about 3 hours in bus transportation time. Then it was unsure whether we would have our 4-hour "teórico" lecture for Sociología y Antropología del Arte on Thursday, so I showed up just in case, as did many people. It seemed like we might have the teórico because since the last two Thursdays were national holidays, we have only had one class.

Apparently not having class isn't that big of a deal because after waiting around for about 45 minutes, a friend that I didn't even know was in the class and I decided we would go get haircuts. So, instead of digesting 4 hours of valuable information about the roots of the concept of art, we found a nearby semi-luxurious L'Oreal salon and got our hair washed and cut for less than $12. I told the woman to cut some of the bulk out of the back since I had basically turned into a wookie, and her version of that was taking the thinning shears and literally removing pounds of fluff from my head, but it seems to have worked because I woke up this morning pretty satisfied.

This week was kind of long and tiring, but a few good things happened. Learned how to weave a basic stitch in class, spent some nice afternoons reading in the park by my house, went to two museums I had been meaning to see, actually ran into non-American people at the facultad that I know and spoke to them, and ate a lot of empanadas (not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing). I'm nervous about moving and having to pack up the accumulation of 2 months kind of sucks, but I'm hoping that the lighter, more vibrant neighborhood will give me a new lease on (Buenos Aires) life.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


"Trámite" was a word that I had never heard until I got to Argentina, but now I feel like it is a vital part of my life. "Trámite" essentially translates to "procedure," but I feel like so much more is caught up in it. Procedures in Argentina seem to be way more complicated and bureaucratic than in the States, and therefore the word holds much more power.

Today was the second and final phase for the residency trámite. Instead of having student visas, international students in Buenos Aires have to apply for Argentine residency in order to stay in the country for the correct amount of time and actually enroll in our universities. This means showing up at the immigration offices at the port (next to the Retiro shantytown i.e. one of the places that most scares me in this city) at 7:45am, waiting in a massive clump to get your number called for an hour and a half, being treated like an idiot by multiple officials, paying 200 pesos, and then being herded into a fluorescent-lit room without enough seats to wait up to 5 hours for your name to be called in a thick Spanish accent (again with most of the population of Perú and Bolivia). Thankfully I had the company of some friends, but REALLY. We finally finished at 3pm (after missing the most worthwhile 2 hours of my week - my Sociology and Anthropology of Art discussion) and emerged out into one of the stillest, smoggiest days since I got here. I then took two subways over to my weaving class at the Rojas Center, which I didn't completely feel like doing because I had not had a meal all day and had only slept 3 hours last night. But I went, and weaving was nice, except for carrying my extremely large loom on the rush hour bus home and then walking 6 blocks with it hanging off my body. For once I actually had an excuse to be stared at on the street, which was kind of nice.

After a somewhat crappy weekend (friends out of town, lost cell phone, plans that fell through, class schedule messed up) I am finally back to the good feeling that I had on Friday before all of that other stuff happened. Life has been so unpredictable here, and once I finally think I have my feet solidly under me all of a sudden something pulls out that stability. But I feel like I'm really on the verge of something big.

Yesterday I wandered around to about 20 different yarn stores to assemble all of the obscure supplies for my weaving class. Not gonna lie - people were not that helpful. Never mind the fact that they keep everything behind the counter and freak out if you so much as put a toe over the counter line in order to see an item or a color better. Thankfully I was more or less successful, with the help of a really nice guy in an artisan weaving store who pointed me in the right direction for everything I needed. Who would have thought that a wooden ruler would be so hard to find? Why don't they sell more yarn in balls instead of just all tied up together? Buenos Aires, you are full of mysteries.

After yarn searches around Palermo Viejo, I went and bought a new cell phone in the Microcentro (my least favorite part of Buenos Aires) as well as had a snack and then returned home to rest for an hour or so before beginning my long journey to the facultad at Puán (that is the name of the street, but it is also how many people refer to the facultad). Total transportation for the day: 6 buses and two long subway rides. But a really successful day. Now I finally have all of my classes figured out and they are not that scary...I love Puán because even at 9pm when I have my class it is loud and spirited and bustling with cool college students who make me feel at home in a place where I very rarely actually feel that way. I emerged at 11pm to take two long buses home, which I did successfully for the first time. My professor and and American friend who happens to be from Portland were even on the bus with me. I got off at the last stop on the first bus, so when it was near the end of the line only one other girl and I were on it. The bus driver pulls the bus over, leaves it idling, hops out, runs over to a kiosco, buys a candy bar, and hops back on. So funny. The girl and I just sat there quietly, and when he got back on he said "Oh hey, thanks for waiting."

Trámite is over finally, and as one of the cool young workers in the migraciones office said through sips of mate while he was taking my finger print, "es un fin de semana laaaaaaaargo!" (It's a longggggg weekend!). Amy and I are going to Mar del Plata, a lively beach resort about 5 or 6 hours to the south to celebrate the extra days off of class for Easter.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

first impressions

Made this a while ago, but haven't gotten around to releasing it to the world until now:

first impressions - buenos aires from Rachel Lieberman on Vimeo.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Nothing worth having ever comes easy

A lot of life has finally occurred since last week when I had a false start to classes and the worst sore throat of my life. I shopped a few classes that I decided not to take, began my real ones, began my Argentine/Latin American/Pre-Columbian weaving class, and saw some independent films at the Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente. Even though yesterday was a national holiday which means I don't have the 4-hour lecture for my Sociology and Anthropology of Art class for 3 weeks after only one class meeting (next week is Semana Santa i.e. Easter) this week was more like a real week will eventually (in theory) look like than most others have been.

On Monday I shopped an art history class and a geography class at one of the private universities, and hated them. The kids seemed okay and the professors were nice, but the classes just didn't seem that interesting and the classroom that they both happened to be in is really crowded, noisy, and ugly. I also would have had one at 11 and one at 6pm, which means about 5 hours to kill alone in a neighborhood I don't especially like. On Tuesday I had my first small discussion "práctico," at Universidad de Buenos Aires for Sociología y Antropología del Arte which is a little scary but nobody had done the reading yet (and I actually have read some of the book in English multiple times before) so I didn't feel all that behind. UBA is just so cool. It's busy and dirty and political and crowded and is just a great place to study. The professors are amazing and while the classes are difficult, they are really interesting (they remind me a lot of Bryn Mawr classes) and I only have to take two of them plus my stupid required Spanish class to get to my required number of credits. So there is some justice in the world.

By this time I realized that I needed to find another class at UBA, even though none of the other three I signed up for were going to work. So I found a literature class on Tango song lyrics and decided to drag myself all the way to the facultad at 9am (1.5 hours of traveling, roughly) to shop the class. I got there and...nobody was there. The facultad was like...dead. This was bad news considering it was really my last option and it would be nice to meet the professor and see the class before I took it. Thankfully a girl who is also in my program and has been here since July is in the class as well, and showed up. She said it was a good class, and that it was in fact supposed to be occurring at that place and time, so that was comforting. Apparently in Argentina you just don't have class the day before a national holiday. I don't know how everybody else got this memo minus us. Oh well. This is basically going to be my life at UBA, from what I can tell.

I used my 4 free non-class hours to track down the syllabi for both of my classes (a real victory!) and get the reading for my Sociología y Antropología del Arte. I found the random photocopy shop where our professor had supposedly left the materials, and because it was morning before a holiday, there was no line. When you go into these places, you cannot see how they would work. The copy place is probably about as big as my bedroom at home (or maybe smaller), and basically has papers stacked from floor to ceiling. There were about 4 people and 4 copy machines crammed into this tiny space. I went in and told him my class, and he rifled through some papers and asked me if they were what I wanted. Amazingly, they were. So, for less than 7 American dollars I had the entire text of John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" ("Modos de Ver") and "La Experiencia Estética" by Jacques Maquet. Now I have to read them, but never mind. School in Argentina is confusing. I basically don't have class for the next few weeks, which is nice but also disconcerting. The way I see it, if all of these Argentine kids somehow do it, I can probably do it too. I just need to pay extremely close attention and stay on top of all of my stuff.

My extremely long and tiring commutes and fights for monedas this week led me to a difficult conclusion: I need to switch host families. Somehow my entire life here happens to occur in a cute, cool little neighborhood called Caballito, where my closes friends live and my UBA classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday take place. It is near impossible to get to Caballito from where I live without walking 10 blocks and then taking a 40-minute bus ride. This sucks. If I lived close to my friends, we could get together for short periods on week nights, I could basically walk to school, I could take the subway (it doesn't run near my house here), and I could save lots of money on cabs. Monedas would also be much less of an issue, because I would need them less and Caballito is a much more moneda-friendly neighborhood. In general, a lot more things would be at my finger tips.

I am comfortable in my little space here in Palermo, and I do like my host family, but I get lonely here. It is isolated and expensive and far from most transportation. Caballito is more working-class and younger and busier. It's hard. It was a really difficult decision, and I put off telling my host mom for days. I interviewed a new "family" (i.e. a single woman and her two cats) and I really loved where she lived and it seemed like she and I would really get along. So while I'm excited to move, you also don't know how to appreciate what you have until you're losing it. I know it's the right decision, but it's strange to think that "home" will be somewhere completely different and I will take different buses and see different things everyday. I will miss my comfortable little office and bedroom and I will miss my host mom Silvia and her grandkids. The director of the program basically said that this is the fanciest, nicest house out of all of the host families, which is probably true. I like the house, but don't see much more of it than my few rooms, so that's not as much of an issue to me. However, sometimes drinking white wine in the beautiful living room is really nice. When I finally broke down and told Silvia she was so nice about it and said that there was absolutely no reason to be sad, I could come visit whenever I wanted, which almost made me sadder. We are such different people, but I have gotten so used to our quick little dinners together.

I can't move for two weeks anyway, which is something of a relief. Since there are no hard feelings between us about the whole thing, I guess I can just enjoy my remaining time living in Palermo Chico until I move to Caballito for the next three months, closer to school and friends and transportation.

I am waiting for Buenos Aires to be less of a character-building experience and more of a fun experience. But I guess nothing worth having ever comes easy.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Just kidding. I was supposed to have one class at 3, and another at 6. However. Obviously my extremely important obligatory finger printing procedure to get Argentine residency was scheduled for today, a mere 30 minutes before my first class across town. This was held in a tiny, DMV waiting room-like building in a quaint street called Piedras, with about 50 American college students from our program and probably half of the population of Perú. It took about 2 hours of waiting and really only 10 minutes of actual face time with the authorities, but this is the way these things go. The next round is at 7:45am and could go on for 7 hours, I am told.

Another reason I did not go to class -- though I somehow made it all the way through my grade school years and adolescence without contracting the dreaded strep throat, I somehow ironically came down with it this week. In Buenos Aires. In the summer. I've been having sleepless, achy, feverish nights and painful days since Monday morning, and when it just got worse today instead of better, I figured I should probably get myself to the doctor. I had hours and hours of anxiety dreams last night about, obviously, trying to get from point A to point B in Buenos Aires. I am always amazed at the way dreams reflect reality. And then I woke up and looked at the emergency card they gave us and tried to decide what to do (apparently doctors often make house calls here...). I fell back asleep around 8am and woke up at noon (oops) and asked my host mom what to do, but by the time I had it figured out I was going to be late for my residency procedure. So I had to go there and probably contaminate the entire Peruvian immigrant population before I made it to the hospital.

There is something kind of satisfying about medical care in Latin America. You just pay about $40 for your visit and $10 for your pills and they let you go. My name (pronounced by doctor Alberto Parra as "Raw-chell") was called within five minutes, I was so disgustingly infected that he didn't even give me a strep swab test, and I had my prescription in hand about 10 minutes after first sitting down in the waiting room. Dr. Parra also did the customary Argentine cheek kiss when I left, which seems to me like a bit of a risky move for a doctor who just diagnosed someone with nodes the size of golf balls. But oh well. He was handsome and nice and didn't say anything about me not speaking Spanish as a first language/me being a foreigner. I felt accomplished. I went to the pharmacy and got my pills, along with a popsicle and some apple juice and headed home to collapse.

Obviously things could not be that easy. In Perú, when you needed to get a prescription filled the doctor would write down exactly the number of pills you needed and the pharmacy would get them for you and charge you accordingly. They don't put them in a nice bottle with your name on it or anything, because most of those pills you don't even need a prescription for, but at least they got the right number. So, I expected to just be handed what I needed. Wrong. I got home and realized I only had about half of what I needed, and host mom Silvia informed that this thing that they had asked me about when I went to the counter (which in my mind was like them asking "Do you need sadfl;dj;adslfd recibo?") which was one of those situations where even though I understood the words I didn't really understand the context or what that word might mean or anything. Apparently that word means refill. Or something sort of like that. And I need to go back and convince them to give me more. Can't feel too accomplished with yourself.

Throat still hurts terribly, but tomorrow I have class for reals! About 11 hours of it, since I'm shopping two 4 hour classes as well as my required Spanish class. But I'm excited.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

internet stalking the city

Google arial shot of my block. The tall building on the corner closest to the street with the crosswalk and lines - that is my building.

A picture of my street, Figueroa Alcorta, taken from the nearby shopping mall.

Monday, March 23, 2009

late summah days

So I said that classes began today, but that was all lies. Classes at UBA began today, but I decided not to take the Monday-Wednesday seminar that I had originally planned to take because it was twice a week from 9-11pm all the way across town. Not only would I not get home until midnight, but the idea of wandering around Caballito in the dark alone didn't sound that appetizing.

I tried to go to bed early last night, but couldn't sleep until 2 or 3. I woke up at 8:30 to go to the Santander Río bank to get monedas. Thankfully it is close, because it turns out they only give you 5 pesos worth at a time. I see myself going multiple times per week in the future. However, it was a wonderful feeling to have shiny, brand-new two-tone monedas jingling in your pocket...the key to being able to move freely throughout the city. I love the bus system here - no schedules, nothing complicated. You just go to the stop and wait a couple minutes until the next bus comes. Obviously this system is not always foolproof - plenty of times you wait for 15 or 20 minutes only to have two buses come right next to each other. In general, though - I really like taking the bus, and using my Guía T (i.e. the bus bible, and the most important item I own here in Buenos Aires) to plan out a route from anywhere/everywhere in the city. Arriving successfully makes me feel really accomplished.

Since I had another free day and no museums are open on Mondays, I had a leisurely breakfast after my moneda run and did a little shopping while waiting for my friend Amy to finish her errands. It was hot and humid today. I'm ready for this weather to be over. I checked the promedios (averages) for the week on Español and we are a good 10 degrees farenheit above where we should be. We took the Subte (Subterráneo i.e. "underground" i.e. subway...i.e. sweat central) down Santa Fe, a street near-ish my house to go to a museum (i.e. the only museum open on Mondays) dedicated to Ricardo Rojas, the educator/writer that the cultural center where I will eventually take my weaving class is named after. I figure that if such an amazing thing as the Rojas Center (which offers weekly, 4-month long art classes in every imaginable subject for less than $100) is named after him, I should know who he was. Obviously the museum was closed for maintenance, because this is our luck. However. We walked from there to the Recoleta Cemetery, which may be the coolest thing I have seen in Buenos Aires thus far.

Latin American cemeteries are just a special breed - I spent quite a few hours poking around the gorgeous cemetery in Urubamba last summer, which is when this fascination started. Instead of being grassy and full of headstones, they are like small towns built for the dead. In the Recoleta Cemetery, the tombs are all squished next to each other with front steps like houses. Some are shiny and well-kept with glass front doors and lace curtains, some are cracked and cobwebby. The cob webs were so stereotypically intricate and dusty that they almost seem fake. Compared to the rest of this loud city it is a quiet place - you can hear the birds chirping, the breeze rustling the leaves. Feral cats wander and sleep on the bases of the polished marble statues. If you peek inside, you can often see the actual wooden coffins - old, cracked, warped. What is even more interesting is that if you have spent the last five weeks learning to navigate Buenos Aires the way my friends and I have (indeed it has been my main/only activity since arriving), you know who all the important political and cultural figures of Argentine history were, because the streets are named after them. Buenos Aires does not have number streets, which is frustrating from a navigation point of view but good from a cultural point of view. I might not know all the history, but I know the names. And walking around the Recoleta Cemetery, where all the rich and famous are born, you see a lot of these names. Makes them into people.

Things are just so much better - as Buenos Aires moves out of late summer (the worst time to be in a city) and into fall, I'm just feeling so much more comfortable here. OVERWHELMED was the sentiment of February and most of March, but that is slowly going away.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cambiarías un poquito de mi suerte

To be perfectly honest, the last 5 weeks have been...unpleasant. I don't mean that I hate it here, or that the past 35 days have all been negative. However, a lot of things have been...less than ideal. I expected this experience to be a lot more exhilarating right from the beginning, as most of the time I've spent in other countries has been in the past. Turns out that the reason that we are here for 5 months instead of the customary 4 is that you really don't do anything the first month. When I got here on February 16th, I had no idea that I would not start classes until March 25th. When you suddenly find yourself in a massive foreign city without any friends, you kind of want a place to belong...or at least something to do. First I worked on making American friends. Then I got about 20 huge mosquito bites that turned into 20 painful welts (a requisite step for me in South America, apparently). Then I was just so hot all the time I didn't do anything (had something to do with the fact that I was wearing jeans on 95 degree days to cover up the bug bites). Then I went through a phase where I went out a lot (this takes care of really planning days because since going out here means staying up until 7am, I would basically sleep through them). Then I traveled a bit, then I just got really depressed. Now that things have improved, I realize (hindsight is always 20/20) that this type of period is something that just has to occur. But for the love of god...five weeks of it??

Transportation basically rules my life here, for the obvious reasons. I have made two really great friends that I see almost everyday. Unfortunately, they also live a 20 peso taxi ride/30 minute bus ride away from me. Combine this with every other place I will eventually need to be in life, and I probably spend half my day on a bus. I'm generally okay with this, minus the moneda situation. I also had the misfortune to be placed in a part of the city that, while beautiful, is strangely inconvenient for public transportation. To get to a subway I have to walk over 12 long blocks, and most buses only come within five or six blocks of my house. This is annoying during the day, but manageable. At night, I have to take a taxi because walking in those areas isn't completely safe.

I like leaving my neighborhood. Buenos Aires is very much a Beautiful People city, and somehow I got placed right in Beautiful People central, finding out how the other half lives. I'm not the bronze goddess type, and I don't like to teeter around on heels. I don't have much money, and therefore don't have a wealth of fancy clothes. My hair won't smooth down (humidity is a bitch) no matter how I try. I don't like this, because it makes me feel awkward and ugly. Almost every family here has a full-time maid. I have to listen to my host mom complain about said maid nightly at dinner. I like my host family - they are good people. They are intelligent and hard-working. But they will never, in a million years, be my people. Everytime I am excited about something - for instance, getting to visit my facultad at Universidad de Buenos Aires for the first time, or signing up for an art class at the Universidad de Buenos Aires art center, my host mom Silvia will, in typical Capital snob style say, "Wellll that will be an experience - people are so weird there." In my mind, having uneducated, underprivileged women in maid uniforms who already have 7 children shipped in from the city outskirts to do everything for you, including make all of your food and your bed, is weird. So I guess we are just about even on what we think about the other's life. Living at my house is interesting - it is so different from everything that I'm used to that the experience is never boring. However, it left me wondering - will I find a place in the social sphere of Buenos Aires where I'm comfortable?

I tried for the first few weeks to assimilate to the Palermo Chico lifestyle. I would put on my best ladies who lunch outfit and sit in our pristine living room with Silvia and her friends. I would try to look fancy when I went out. And I was kind of miserable. Not only could I not pull off that look...I didn't feel like myself. We went to trendy bars and met people we were never interested in seeing again. Finally, yesterday I decided I was going to take shit in my own hands and fix this problem. Two entities came into my life yesterday that have just made life in Buenos Aires feel so much better:

1. A pair of white, high-top Chuck Taylor All Stars.
2. Nico, Adrian, and Guille

1. Everybody has them here. And in typical porteña fashion, they make them look so cool. Suddenly, with my new sneakers, everything changed. I wore them with an all-black outfit and a new scarf to a cool bar last night in the working-class neighborhood where my friends live and felt so good. I strutted around Palermo, Caballito, and San Telmo today and felt amazing. Never has a pair of shoes felt so powerful.

2. We met Nico and Adrian at a bar with live music a few weeks ago. They are both twenty and study where I study - Universidad de Buenos Aires. Nico is tall and handsome but dorky and a little condescending. Adrian is tiny and intellectual and hilarious. Last night we cemented our friendship with them by hanging out for reals, and they brought their third gang member, a 19-year-old named Guille, who also studies at UBA.

For some reason, my two best friends and I just really click with these boys. They're nerdy and cute and funny and harmless. They're all from different parts of Argentina (not Buenos Aires, which automatically makes them a little more chill and less neurotic). We talk about everything from families to Spanish words to music, to politics, to Freud, Lacan, and Focault. We had so much fun last night that we invited them to a mate session in the park this afternoon. Amazingly, they all showed up, waiting for us at the gate, with about ten bags of cookies in hand. We spent about 4 of 5 hours just sitting on the grass, eating cookies, drinking mate, and just talking and laughing. For some reason when we're with Nico, Adrian and Guille, Buenos Aires just feels smaller, everything just seems less daunting. They're cute and real and ridiculous. Having friends from here just makes us feel a lot more like we belong.

So cheers to new shoes, new friends, and classes that (FINALLY) begin on Monday! Things are looking up.


Friday, March 20, 2009

monedas $$

Pretty high up on the list of things that impact my life here in Buenos Aires: MONEDAS. Moneda is the spanish word for coin, and although the Argentine mint printed more last year than in the history of the country, there is a severe shortage of them here in the city. Unfortunately, you also need coins to ride any of the hundreds of colectivos (buses) which are the main form of transportation. There are multiple theories as to why there is a shortage and/or where the monedas go. Some say that people are hoarding them to be melted down because the metal is worth more than the actual coin. I don't like this theory, because while it is ridiculous, it just does not address the issue in the way that the other theory does. This other theory is - THE MOB.

Supposedly the mob is connected to the privatized bus system ( I mean, why wouldn't it be?). The heavy metal machines that suck down our monedas everyday are then emptied out and moved to mob headquarters, where bosses sell the coins back at an 8% increase to poor kiosco (little gum, candy, soda and cell phone card stand) owners who need to make change for their customers. Apparently the government seized over 1,000,000,000 one peso monedas from the mob and returned it to them in bills. Because of this shortage it seems that kioscos get a lot more play than they used to, and my friends and I are all getting fat off the alfajores that we are forced to buy everyday to get change. However, you really have to hit it right, otherwise kiosco owners will flat out deny your purchase or give you the item for free.

Sometimes good things come from the moneda shortage, like free rides on the subte (Buenos Aires subway) or real bonding between people on the street. One day a woman willingly gave me two two-dollar bills and a one peso moneda (the most rare kind!) instead of a five. It was literally the most unexpected/nonsensical thing that has happened to me thus far here. Or, one day a little old lady happily gave my friend Amy two peso coins in exchange for a two peso bill because she had no money to ride the bus. Minus a few people who have moneda connections, it kind of bonds people together. Also, once in a while I'm not even trying to get monedas and am instead buying a fashion magazine and a Fanta and I'll get it for cheaper. I try to keep these positives in mind everyday because the rest of it is so annoying.

I've been trying to become an expert moneda hoarder, but I'm still pretty bad at it. You have to lie and confront in order to be successful, and while I've got the lying part down ("No, I don't have 5/10/50 cents") I tend to give up easily if somebody says they don't have monedas to give me in change. One day I had to take an extremely expensive taxi because I was denied three times in a row in my neighborhood and was going to be late for class registration at UBA. Or, for instance, today I was buying cheap gold hoop earings at Onda, the Argentine version of Claire's, to replace the nice gold hoop earrings I have been wearing for a year that were knocked off of me while fighting off my muggers, and they needed to give me 50 cents. Instead of 50 cents, they gave me the ugliest thing I have ever seen in my life:

I think it would be so funny to make a documentary about the things that people have done for monedas. I myself am considering prostitution.

Just kidding. Sort of.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good airs.

It has been an epic month. I suppose this is why I haven't really been able to sit down and just write - I've been too hot, too tired, too busy. From my two months in Portland I went from Northern Hemisphere to Southern, winter to summer, cold to hot, dry to humid, small city to big city, house to apartment, small life to really, really big life. My first two weeks here were just a huge hot muddle, while I tried to make some friends and learn enough about the city to at least partially get myself around, and fully survive. The closest I've been to a massive Latin American city has been Mexico City (Cusco was not even close) and I thought that Mexico City was a scary place. While Buenos Aires is hardly Mexico City ("Paris of South America" ?) I have been extremely...overwhelmed.

I'm living in Palermo Chico, a small section of the very large Palermo neighborhood. I live on the fourth floor of a high-rise on a wide avenue near art museums and huge "bosques de Palermo" which is essentially a forested park area like the Upper West Side and Central Park. My neighborhood is fancy and snobby and a little boring - I don't love it, but thankfully my activities and studies take me far away from here everyday, and it is nice to come home to the cool, green parks. Obviously I have never lived in a shiny building with an elevator so this has been an experience. We have a team of 24-hour doormen including a little old man named Coco who either salutes me when he buzzes me in or pretends like he's filming me and yells "hello, beautiful!" (in Spanish of course). At first it was I'm realizing it borders a bit on lecherous, (like 98% of my interactions with Argentine men.) We also have an empleada (maid/cook) named Susana who is really sweet and friendly and makes delicious food. The apartment is very fancy and traditional and white. I have my own tiny, tiny bedroom, tiny tiny bath, and a little white office where I keep all of my school things and computer, all in a little hall.

My host family consists of two people - my host mom, Silvia, and her 23 year old daughter, Maria Jose. María José isn' t home very much, but she and her adorable boyfriend Agustin sometimes join me and Silvia for dinner. Otherwise, María José and I really only exchange pleasantries, and sometimes not even that, which kind of strange. She, like most of the women in Buenos Aires, is tall bronze goddess, so I find her a bit intimidating. Silvia is on the more academic side. She is extremely tiny and mouse-like, but also very elegant. At first I wasn't sure if we would have all that much in common, but it turns out she's really sarcastic with a dry sense of humor, which I really appreciate. I like our dinners, but Silvia is pretty intense, and is finished eating and back in her room within 20 minutes. So...lots of time alone in the Lascano household for me.

Silvia works out of our house as a psicoanalista, which I think is the equivalent of a psychiatrist, except here they all follow either Freud or Lacan and not just bullshitty therapy stuff. It's a Buenos Aires thing. Silvia likes Freud. She has all of her other 50-something female friends over quite often to talk about the men they are dating and gossip about friends over glasses of wine in the fancy living room. They say things like "Oh yes that Judith, she is such a character! Ugh! She doesn't shave her armpits or color her hair! Can you imagine?" Or "Yes, I went out with that German man but he was sooo old! He had hip problems! He kept trying to give me drinks and get me drunk!" They are really funny. Sometimes I take part in these little sessions and listen. We also talk about politics and world affairs and things like that. They are all really intelligent, successful, well-educated, and well-dressed. They have complemented me on my shoes several times, which makes me feel good about myself in such a fashionable city.

We have spent a lot of time getting classes and academic tutors and all of that stuff straightened out - this is a very serious study abroad program, actually. My main tutor kind of looks like Donatella Versace (i.e. a bit over-processed), but like, if Donatella were a professor at Bryn Mawr. I suppose we'll see how things work out. For the first two weeks we had daily Spanish lessons, Argentine history talks from our ridiculous gay, fancy, bearded program head Mario, and meetings in a palace-like building called Circolo Italiano. Parts of Buenos Aires are so damn fancy and Italian, but in a really effortless way. There is an expensive bar downstairs that rushes sparkling water and capuccino around to the different employees, tutors, and teachers from our program. It's very luxurious.

As far as classes are concerned, I am kind of sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to begin my new life here. I have now registered at the Universidad of Buenos Aires (UBA - the big, prestigious, public university) and Universidad del Salvador (USAL - a much smaller, private university). We have the option of 4 different universities, but I narrowed it down to those two because I wanted to experience both big public and small private, and also because they had the most classes that interested me. For some reason the departments I'm in don't begin until next week, so I have had lotssss of unscheduled time. Where this time has gone, I do not know - sleeping, cultural activities and traveling, sitting in cafés with friends, riding public transportation and being lost would be my best guesses. Today I went and signed up for a Latin American/Argentine/Pre-Columbian weaving class at the Universidad de Buenos Aires art enrichment center, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm just itching for everything to start, so that I feel like I have places to go and somewhere to belong.

There have definitely been beautiful moments here, but there have been some ugly moments too. Two steps forward, and one step back is the way it seems like things are working. The past month has held beautiful trips to the Andes and to Uruguay, but I've also been assaulted and robbed right on my block. I've met some amazing people (Argentine and not) but I've also felt more self-conscious than I have ever felt in my life due to the way that some people treat a 21-year-old American girl (because apparently we are all supposed to be straight out of American Pie. The U.S. really should think about what exporting movies does for creating stereotypes abroad).

But. Life continues, two steps forward, one step back. I think I'm okay with that for now.

I really miss you all, please tell me about your lives!

Rachel Lieberman
c/o Institute for Study Abroad
Avenida Corrientes 880 8°C
C1043AAV, Capital Federal


Thursday, March 12, 2009


I have photos up on my flickr in a set just for Argentina. Check them out here:

Sunday, March 01, 2009


A little video of a weekend trip to Patagonia, Argentina.

3 días en patagonia from Rachel Lieberman on Vimeo.