Update: The oven works! The guy who came to help me didn’t speak English, so I’m unsure of the specifics, but apparently I have to hold the gas on for about 30 seconds before and after lighting. I also have to open the door to my balcony so I do not light myself on fire. It was unclear whether this is all Argentinean stoves or just mine.
Today was the last day of my first week of class, and I am definitely ready for the break. Monday is a holiday (Flag Day? Wind Day? Arm-waving Day? The pantomiming gets tricky) and so I don’t go back to school until Tuesday. This afternoon I said goodbye to George, my least favorite Bulgarian ever. He came in an hour late to class this morning reeking of alcohol and wanted the teacher to go back through everything he missed. He’s the best. George is heading to Venezuela next, which has, according to him, “The most beautiful womans in the world. When they turn 14, their papis say, ‘okay, now I will buy you enormous silicon breasts.’ Is going to be much better than Argentina.”
Yesterday I went to Café Tortoni, the oldest café in Buenos Aires. It was really lovely, with a wide-open floor and ancient paintings and a tango parlor in the back with nightly shows. (Katie and Hillary—I’m still trying to figure out where we’ll go see a tango show, but this joint is definitely in the running.) I had coffee and a sandwich, and I was even able to ask for a box for my leftover half. (Okay, it came back wrapped in a napkin, but I still got my point across.)
After Café Tortoni, I went back to the Plaza de Mayo to watch the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo march. Actually, first I walked about a mile in the wrong direction, and then realized where I was and turned around, but I still got there in plenty of time to see the very, very old women. The Plaza was much more chaotic than the first time I went. Tons of people show up to watch the march, and it seems like it was a combination of tourists and locals. There were also other, smaller marches going on along the sidelines, though I couldn’t tell what they were chanting.
As disrespectful as it sounds, I can’t stress enough how old these women were. It looked like some of them needed the banner they were carrying as a stand in for a walker. That said, it was really powerful watching them. The group marched every Thursday for over 20 years in remembrance of their kidnapped children. Then, in 2006, apparently they decided that the government had evolved to a point at which it was no longer hostile—and no longer denying the disappearance of the children—and so now they march for different causes. Still wearing those headscarves, though, thank God.
Today after class I did some more walking around my neighborhood, specifically heading up Avenida Corrientes, the massive street I take in the other direction to get to school. North, it turns out, is a total leather bonanza, store after store. I’m in boot heaven. It’s fall here, so they’re everywhere, and they’re beautiful. Ankle boots, mid-calf, knee-high, high heel, kitten heel, flat, wedge—it’s out of control in the best way possible. If I had understood the answers to my very artfully phrased “Quanto?” I likely would have already purchased three pair. Instead, when I am given an answer, I hear, “Msldjcincolsdjdunolkfjcien, eh?” and I continue to look thoughtfully at said pair of boots as if I am considering my budget rather than thinking, “what the f— number did he just say?” Then I place the boots back down on their pedestal and nod, mumbling, “gracias,” and run out of the store.
I have seen a huge number of sex shops everywhere in the city, which strikes me as odd. Argentina is Catholic (officially, actually) and pretty conservative in terms of beliefs. Everyone supposedly goes to church and lives with his or her parents until they get married, and people are very respectful of the elderly. But then there’s this flip side to it as well. Breasts and the like are totally on display on magazine covers in newsstands, and there are thong-covered behinds three stories high on billboards. All of the hotels—even the classy ones, apparently—rent rooms by the hour as well.
There are also a lot of clothing shops in my neighborhood, ranging from classy, old lady-type shops to, it seems, stores tailored specifically for prostitutes. I walked into one of the mid-range places to look at a really cute coat displayed in the window (for the equivalent, I realized when I got home, of about $18) and I swear the salesgirl asked me if I had eaten breakfast. It was 4:00 p.m.—and she’s a sales girl in a clothing shop—so I recognize that this was unlikely, but yesterday in class we practiced talking about breakfast for about 40 minutes, and it sure as hell sounded like that’s what she said. Knowing what time it was, I didn’t have the nerve to offer up, “Crossiant?” Instead I said, “No comprende. Lo siento,” and rubbed the coat’s fabric between my fingers and then walked out, as if it were cheap, tawdry. Misunderstandings abound. The thing is, to an untrained ear, so many Spanish words sound incredibly similar. Taking into account my painfully limited vocabulary, I suppose confusion is bound to occur. I don’t really believe it makes sense that two 80-year old men would be standing on the street talking about homework, but I really would have put money on it a few hours ago. I’m told that after six weeks of lessons, I’m going to be speaking—and understanding—Spanish like an Argentine. I’m hoping to at least get some badass boots.