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.