Interesting things I saw today:
• A baby riding on the lap of a cab driver who almost ran me over
• A black person (the black person?)
• About a dozen policemen standing in front of a huge bank with body-sized bullet-proof shields
The weather is really lovely right now—mid-60s, or 18˚ C, for those of you in the know. It’s perfect walking weather, which is great, because A.) I love walking and B.) I am also scared that if I get on the subway having completed fewer than two weeks of Spanish lessons I will end up in Venezuela.
Yesterday I walked down to the Plaza de Mayo. It started out as simply this big open park in the 1500s, but apparently the whole city assembled there to celebrate independence from the Spanish on May 25, 1810—and then it became known as the “May” plaza. It’s also where, every Thursday at 3:30 p.m., The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo march. They’re this group of women in white head scarves that protest, weekly, the disappearance of children during the “Dirty War,” the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. I love a cute headscarf, so I am definitely going to make a point to go back and see them march. There were a ton of people in the plaza selling Argentinean flags and pins and hot dogs. I approve, all around.
Along the rim of the plaza is the Casa Rosada. The “Pink House” is historically the presidential palace, but apparently the current president, Cristina Kirchner, lives outside of the city. It’s beastly big and bright pink. I would like to live there.
Opposite the Casa Rosada is the Catedral Metropolitana, which could just as easily exist in Europe, if my mild obsession with old churches is to be trusted. I walked around inside for hours, sitting by the little side altars and looking at all of the paintings and architecture. What was different than most of the European cathedrals I’ve seen is that this one is very much a thriving church, day to day. People walked around performing the stations of the cross, holding their rosaries up to the feet of the statues of saints and, in two cases that I saw, crying.
Also, in just a few days, my neighborhood (in the garment district, apparently) has already grown on me. There are so many different types of people walking around at all hours, and random sidewalk vendors selling all kinds of crazy things. (Lots of slippers—big, puffy ones. Odd.) On my immediate street there are dozens and dozens of fabric shops, with entire window displays of buttons and zippers, and six-foot tall spools of fabric out on the sidewalk. A surprising number of the materials feature Disney characters and/or multi-colored hearts.
Important realization of the day: Buenos Aires is huge. I mean really, really big. Monstrous. Since I got here, I’ve been thinking, I have never seen so many people in one place. I chalked it up, at first, to the whole city simply being unfamiliar to me, but today I decided to do some comparisons, and I was really shocked at what I found:
Population of Washington, DC: 591,833
Population of New York City: 7.3 million
Population of Buenos Aires: 12.8 million
So, I was right, I literally have not ever seen so many people in one place. Particularly down by my school (in the “Micro Centre” neighborhood), the streets are just jam-packed. The driving is also something to see. The cars and buses stop for no one—and often, for no stoplight. The pedestrians are all very adept at navigating, it seems. Little old ladies with canes are weaving between blazing motorcycles while I wait, alone, until the little walking man lights up on the other side of the intersection.
I still love my apartment. It’s a little haven in the middle of all of the chaos. I can still hear and see the city, but from six flights up, it seems very manageable, mentally. There was a front desk guy this afternoon that I hadn’t seen before and he was so good looking I could barely say, “Buenos noches” for good night. It was 2:30 p.m. I’m pretty sure he was impressed.
I went to a grocery store again yesterday and, I have to say, food shopping here is just fantastic. I could spend hours wandering around looking at all of the different packages and guessing what’s inside. Is this a bag of goat’s milk or grapefruit juice? Is this plastic tub full of pieces of black olives or chocolate? Is this tongue or filet mignon? It’s really exciting at meal times when I open the packages. While there are a few big, fluorescent-light laden “super-mercados,” the little tiny food shops are way cooler, if way dirtier. Apparently this is the opinion of most Argentines as well. I hear that the newer stores are failing because people prefer their neighborhood shops.
Unfortunately, once I got all my groceries home, I couldn’t cook any of them. I have a gas stove which, although I understand in theory, I can’t actually light. After trying for a while, I gave up—and opened the door to my balcony to air out the gas invisibly clouding my apartment. I noticed that the next apartment over also had their door open. (Los siento. Sorry.) I moved onto the microwave and—I’m not kidding here—I can’t get it to work either. There are no numbers. No numbers. How can a microwave function with no numbers? (Note: Must make friends who know how to operate an Argentinean microwave.) After practicing the phrase, “My stove does not function,” in Spanish for a few more hours, I plan on going downstairs to get some help.
The Spanish lessons are going well. It’s a lot, obviously, to take in, but I really enjoy the classes. (This might be because everyone speaks slowly and simply, like five-year olds.) An old guy from California, Carl, has joined the beginner class. He’s married to an Argentine woman told him, “I have to do this if I want to stay married. But she won’t teach me–how screwy is that?” When we talked about ourselves, Carl told us he has a BMW and that it is fast. He also has two houses. (Why is it that Americans are so disliked abroad?)
We are making our way through these workbooks that use famous actors and musicians for all the examples. We practice talking about them and sometimes we pretend to speak with them. I’m pretty pumped because if I ever see Tom Cruise I can tell him that he is a brunette and that he is handsome and nice. (Argentines are apparently a less judgmental people when it comes to cults and creepiness.) I can also tell the Rolling Stones that they are old and I would like to be friends!
As a side note, apparently all languages are housed in the same part of the brain. Case in point: Today, when introducing myself, I said, “I’m Jess—err, Ich heisse Je—err, no, shit, wait. Yo soy Jessica. I think.” I also began to count in German when we moved onto numbers. So bizarre and pretty fascinating.
I will leave you with the English translation of a very impressive script I wrote as an assignment for class this week. It took me a considerable amount of time, and I think my creative writing background really shines through in spots:
John: “I am from Canada.”
Tom: “Canada! Is it cold?”
John: “Yes! Very cold.”
Tom: “That is sad.”
John: “But I have gloves!”
Thanks for all of the encouraging notes—both about me and the blog!