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).