10 Surprises

It has definitely been a while since my last post. In my defense, last week I had a final group paper due Monday, a midterm on Wednesday, and a final presentation on Friday. It’s been busy. This past week also marked three months since I got to Buenos Aires, and I thought I would take the time to talk about a few things that came as a little bit of a surprise to me:

 

  1. One of the hardest things to get used to has been the concept of time. Time is very different here. It is completely normal for a class to start twenty minutes late. People tend to take their time and move about their days in a more relaxed manner.

  2. Ricardo Darín is in every movie. I’m in a class on Argentine cinema, and practically every movie has the same actor: Ricardo Darín. He’s most famous for the movie El secreto de sus ojos which won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2010. For some reason, he appears in films more than any other actor (in my limited experience).

  3. Even though the majority of the Argentinian population is Catholic there are two other major religions: football (soccer) and mate.

  4. You don’t need to watch a football game to know what’s going on. For those who don’t know, Argentina was doing very poorly in the World Cup qualifiers (as in many were worried that they weren’t going to qualify). On October 5th, they tied with Peru which meant that they would have to win their October 10th game. On that night my host mom and I were eating dinner when we heard yelling and cheering outside. Turns out Argentina, more specifically Messi, had just scored, had just tied the game 1-1. When Messi scored again, there was more cheering. And when Messi scored a third time, you guessed it, there was more yelling. Finally, when Argentina won, the fanáticos went wild.

  5. If I had to tack on another “official” religion, it would be politics. I knew that Argentina was a very politically active population, but I could have never guessed the extent. As an international relations, major, I find this aspect incredibly interesting. The midterm elections were on October 22. Needless to say, there were plenty of political ads and discussion, especially since Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was running for senate (to earn immunity and evade trial for corruption). In the end, current president Mauricio Macri’s party swept the election, winning the five most populous cities in Argentina (something that hasn’t been done is the 1980s). However, he still does not have the majority in either chamber of Congress. Cristina also ended up winning a senate seat for the Province of Buenos Aires although her party came in second there. Some have argued that this election marks a split in Peronismo (Argentina’s populist movement since the 1940s) between the Peronists who support Cristina and those who don’t.

  6. The musical Evita has been stuck in my head more often than I thought it would be. It doesn’t help that my internship is by the Río de la Plata, the study abroad office is on Av. Corrientes, and my subte stop to get to the office is Nueve de Julio. I’m always thinking about the song “Buenos Aires.”

  7. News is very US-centric and very dramatic. My host mom and I always have the news on during dinner, and the vast majority of the time, it’s news about the US or, currently, about Barcelona. For breaking news, there will be big titles with patriotic American music playing in the background.

  8. Pedestrians don’t get right of way.

  9. Ice cream and helado are two very different things. Buenos Aires has a large Italian immigrant population, but there isn’t a lot of gelato. Instead we have a delicious middle ground between what we think of as ice cream and gelato. Helado is everywhere, and it is delicious.

  10. The last little surprise isn’t really specific to Argentina. I’m in this class called Comparative Latin American Political Systems. This was the class I had the midterm in this past week and had to memorize the entire political histories of five Latin American countries for it. I’m learning a ton in this class, and it really is interesting. Perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve learned in this class is how similar Latin American countries are. I was a bit skeptical of this when we first talked about it, but it is how the region is studied. We evaluate everything on a macro scale. For instance, most, not all of course, Latin American countries had populist movements in the 1940s (Perón and Peronismo in Argentina, Vargas in Brazil), the vast majority had dictatorships at some point in the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1980s was also a decade of economic crisis. We talk about Latin American always reacting to the rest of the world. We also talk a ton about the incredibly negative role that the U.S. had in the dictatorships and the region in general (just Google “Operation Condor”). Of course, there are countless variations amongst Latin American countries, but it is so interesting to see how easily comparable they are.

 

There are definitely more things that come as a surprise while studying abroad, but these are just a few of the more interesting ones. We’ll see what the next few weeks hold.

Las Cataratas del Iguazú

This past weekend marked my first time out of the Province of Buenos Aires since my arrival here. I do truly love living in a city, but it was quite the welcomed change of pace to go to the beautiful Cataratas del Iguazú.

 

Iguazú Falls are located in the Province of Misiones in the northeast of Argentina and in Brazil. It’s about an hour and a half flight from Buenos Aires. My travel partner and potential cousin, Olivia and I stayed in the city Puerto Iguazú which is near the borders of Paraguay and Brazil. We stayed in a wonderful AirBnB near the bus station which made transportation to the Park incredibly easy. We arrived on a Friday afternoon and left Monday morning meaning we had two full days in the Park.

 

The Parque Nacional Iguazú was officially opened as a national park in 1934 with sections in both Brazil and Argentina. It’s made up of around 275 waterfalls with the biggest being La Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat) which falls 250 feet. Since 1984, Iguazú Falls has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2011, it was selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

 

The Argentinian side of the Park has multiple walking trails: the upper trail, lower trail, Garganta del Diablo, Isla San Martín, and Sendero Macuco. The Brazilian side offers multiple panoramic views of the falls. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Brazilian side since we would have needed a visa. From what I’ve heard, we really only missed an opportunity to see the falls from a different perspective. Even so, there was still so much to see and do on the Argentinian side.

 

On Saturday, we left our apartment bright and early at 7:00 to make sure we caught the first bus to the Park. We were really concerned that it was going to thunderstorm all day, but the weather ended up being absolutely gorgeous.

 

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As most tourists do, upon arriving to the Park we headed straight for the Garganta del Diablo which takes you right to the top of the largest waterfall. The metal platform path takes you above parts of the river which was very pretty. We walked for a bit, and then we started to feel the mist (we were worried that it was rain at first). And then you could hear the roar. And then you could finally see the top of the Garganta del Diablo. To avoid getting completely soaked, we had to put our rain jackets on. After making our way through the small crowd of people, we could finally see the falls in its entirety. It was absolutely beautiful and trying to find the words to describe my emotions in that moment is just about impossible.

 

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After the Garganta del Diablo, we headed to the lower trail which connects to Isla San Martín. This excursion involved a lot more stairs than I would have liked, but the views were worth every step. What I found to be the most incredible part about the lower trail was that every five feet the view changed to be something more beautiful and more incredible than before. I felt like I was wandering through Jurassic Park (the theme was stuck in my head most of the day). Everything was so green, natural, and absolutely stunning. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

 

Coatí

Before embarking on the upper trail, Olivia and I sat down to eat food we had brought. Apparently, these Coatíes thought that we had brought the food for them and tried multiple times to steal it. As in one literally tried to take Olivia’s tupperware straight from her hands. They have no fear and kind of remind me of the Rodents of Unusual Size from The Princess Bride.

 

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The upper trail was also incredible. It was a lot shorter and involved no stairs. The views, obviously, were beautifully indescribable. Perhaps the coolest part of this hike was that we saw a toucan.

 

We left the park just as it started to get cloudy, cooked some dinner, and got to bed early. It ended up raining all night and was drizzling when we left at 7:00 for day two.

 

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Instead of going to the Garganta del Diablo like everyone else, we decided to do the upper trail again. We were just about the only people on the trail. The lighting was so much better, and we saw another toucan. The most interesting part about this walk, and the rest during the day, was how all of the waterfalls looked more powerful than the day before because of all the rain. It was truly very interesting to see the differences of the falls between Saturday and Sunday as well as during different times of the day.

 

Since we had time, we decided to do Garganta del Diablo again. Except this time, we had the grand idea of walking there. Normally, you can take this cute little train around the park, but it’s fairly slow and unreliable. The walk from the entrance (Central Station) to the heads of the upper and lower trails is only about a fifteen minute walk. The walk from the trailheads to the Garganta del Diablo ended up being a lot longer. During this 45 minute walk, it started and stopped raining twice.

 

At Garganta del Diablo, which had a lot more mist than the day before and a lot fewer people, we walked around and took some pictures. It was even more impressive than before.

 

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With an entire afternoon left and only a slight risk of rain, we decided to do the Sendero Macuco hike which was substantially longer than the other trails. Since it’s a lot longer, there are also fewer people. The hike goes through the rainforest and ends at a small waterfall. It was relatively flat and an easy hike. At the same time, it was very enjoyable and relaxing. We even saw a family of monkeys (including a baby!). The waterfall was obviously a lot smaller than the other falls we had seen, but it was still beautiful. The experience of walking through the rainforest was truly special.

 

After two full days in the Park and over 27 miles later, we were exhausted. My time exploring Iguazú was absolutely incredible. I still can’t get over how beautiful everything was and how lucky we were with the weather. The bottom line: If you ever have the opportunity to visit Iguazú, go. There’s a reason Eleanor Roosevelt, upon visiting Iguazú Falls, expressed, “Poor Niagara.”

Rosh Hashaná en la Ciudad

My quest to find a synagogue to go to for the High Holidays began before I ever set foot in Buenos Aires. I knew that I would need somewhere to go, and so I began researching synagogues in the city. There are tons. Within the city, many are concentrated in the neighborhoods of Palermo (where I live), Belgrano, and Once (pronounced like the Spanish number 11). There are Reform, Masorti (roughly the Conservative movement outside of the States), and Orthodox congregations. I looked on plenty of websites and messaged, called, and emailed different rabbis to try and find a place where I would be comfortable.

About three weeks into the program, a two friends and I decided to create “The Shabbat Club” group chat where we would discuss what we liked to call “Synagogue Shopping.” Basically, every Friday night, we would go to a different synagogue services or Shabbat dinners to see what they were like. One of the more interesting experiences was with Menora which is an Jewish youth (university-aged) organization. In addition to having a variety of service activities (I went on one called Manos a la Obra which rebuilds/helps in houses. It was a very enjoyable experience) and being incredibly welcoming, Menora has big Shabbat dinners once a month. I’ve been to the past two, and both were very fun. The services beforehand, however, are separated by gender which I don’t really like.

So the search continued for a synagogue to spend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. About a month ago, we decided to try out the Sinagoga de la Congregación Israelita de la República de Argentina, more commonly known as Templo Libertad. First of all, this synagogue is gorgeous (photo below). It’s a very welcoming, Reform congregation with some of the most beautiful versions of prayers. My personal favorite is their “L’cha Dodi” (a prayer to welcome Shabbat on Friday nights). Although the services are fairly different than what I’m used to, I had a really wonderful experience welcoming Shabbat at Templo Libertad.

Templo Libertad
A Little Bit of History

Before I go into more detail about my Rosh Hashanah experiences, I want to talk briefly about Jewish life in Buenos Aires. Today, Buenos Aires has the third largest Jewish population outside of Israel (behind New York and Paris). Once, as mentioned before, is the traditional Jewish and immigrant neighborhood. Although many Jews have since moved out of Once, it is still home to the more Orthodox population. Gran Templo Paso (I don’t have a picture, but it’s beautiful) is one of the more well-known synagogues in Once. Most of the neighborhood closes early on Fridays, and many shop entrances have a mezuzah.

Fun fact: Buenos Aires is home to the ONLY kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel which is located in the Abasto Shopping Mall (if you’re craving your cheeseburger, you can still go to the one of the mall’s two other McDonald’s).

Even though the atmosphere is relatively peaceful now, the 1990s were a much darker time. In the first half the the decade, there were two terrorist attacks which directly targeted the Jewish community. The first was the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992, killing 29 people and injuring over 250 others. Very little government action was taken to discover and prosecute the perpetrators. On July 18, 1994, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), a Jewish community center, was bombed. It was the worst terrorist attack in Argentine history, killing 85 and injuring over 100. By 1998, it was confirmed that the Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah had, with the support of Iran, had played a role in both attacks. However, no one was formally prosecuted as the government had withheld evidence that would have helped resolve the case.

In January of 2015, after working as a prosecuting attorney on the case for over ten years, Alberto Nisman was found dead in his apartment. This was just hours before he was scheduled to testify in front of the Argentine Congress to present evidence formally connecting Iran to the attacks and that the government had deliberately ignored the facts. His death was ruled a suicide by the government. In reality, there is little evidence which leads on to believe that Nisman’s death was a suicide (recent investigation points to it likely being a homocide). Demands for justice have been met with silence.

Today, the AMIA has been rebuilt, and a memorial commemorates the victims of the 1994 attack. The walls are made of thick concrete, the doors are solid metal, and multiple security guards stand outside the building. This isn’t uncommon. Most Jewish buildings here have multiple guards and a police box outside. When my friends and I first went to Templo Libertad, we were questioned and had to present ID before we were allowed in. It was a bit unnerving but completely expected.

As we continued going to Templo Libertad, the security guards would recognize us and let us in with little to no questioning. This is part of the reason why we stopped our formal process of  “Synagogue Shopping” and went to Templo Libertad every Friday. As time went on, I began to feel more and more comfortable within the congregation.

 

Rosh Hashanah

My Rosh Hashanah festivities began last weekend with Rosh Hashaná Urbano. Simply put, it was an outdoor Rosh Hashanah festival complete with Klezmer music, Jewish foods, and an incredibly positive atmosphere. Needless to say, I had a fantastic time dancing to Hava Nagila with friends and singing along to Oseh Shalom.

Wednesday night marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. A friend and I went to Templo Libertad for a beautiful service. After, I went to a big family dinner with about twenty distant cousins, most of whom I had never met. I was welcomed with brisket and potato knishes, all while in the company of wonderful and welcoming family. Naturally, as in standard Argentine fashion, the conversation turned to politics. Half the table was soon engrossed in an impassioned debate about the political situations in Argentina, Israel, and the US. They switched between topics so quickly that when we asked what they were talking about, the said they didn’t know. I was able to chime in to mention a few things about American politics, but, more than anything, I enjoyed listening to what they had to say.

On Thursday, a few friends and I got to Templo Libertad early to ensure we got a good seat. We were just about the only people there. As the service started, people started trickling in. The music was beautiful, and the service was very nice.

 

Shana Tova from my host mom, Sophia, and me!

That night, my host mom had some of her friends over for dinner and to celebrate the New Year. It was a very fun dinner with way too much food. This included some of the best Gefilte fish I have ever had.

On Friday, I went back to Templo Libertad. I went by myself and was immediately welcomed into the community with open arms. The service was beautiful and a wonderful way to start 5778.

Overall, it has been truly fascinating and incredible to explore Jewish life in Buenos Aires. I am very much looking forwards to seeing what Yom Kippur and the next few months hold.

 

Shana Tova! May you have a sweet and beautiful New Year.

Becoming a Routine

After about a month and a half, life has finally slowed down and become a routine. I have class three days a week (Tuesday to Thursday) and my internship with the Parque de la Memoria on Mondays. I am still loving my experiences here and have really grown to appreciate daily life in Buenos Aires.

 

During my time here, I cannot remember ever shaking someone’s hand, and I’ve only hugged someone once to say hello. Here, you kiss the cheek. It doesn’t matter if you’re meeting someone for the first time or if you’re getting lunch with your best friend, you kiss greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. When you leave, even if you only stayed for five minutes, you kiss everyone on the cheek. This custom has really grown on me. Gone are the days of worrying if my handshake was too firm or weak. Now, it’s just a simple kiss on the cheek.

 

Another little observation is that everyone (and I mean everyone) has a dog. I absolutely love this. Dogs are always playing on the plaza or chasing the pigeons. There are adorable little dogs, puppies, and big dogs of every breed. What makes me happiest, however, is the plethora of dachshunds. Not a day goes by without at least dachshund spotting on the way to the subte station. Furthermore, being Buenos Aires, these dogs are always up-to-date with the latest in puppy fashion. Depending on the weather, the dogs of the city can be spotted sporting their finest sweaters or even rain jackets.

 

Above, I mentioned that I have an internship with the Parque de la Memoria. The beautiful park is right on the Río de la Plata and commemorates the victims of state terror during the most recent military dictatorship (1976-1983). Current estimates state that around 30,000 people were detained, disappeared (known as the desaparecidos), and/or were murdered beginning as early as 1969. The memorial lists the known names of these victims, their ages, the year they were detained, and if they were pregnant. Since much the personal details and names remain unknown, the monument is updated on a yearly basis with any new information.

 

As an intern, one of my jobs is to translate videos from Spanish to English. This has proven to be much more difficult than I originally thought. The videos I’ve been working with are of some of the Park’s founders, and the main difficulty is trying to translate their interviews into coherent English without losing the meaning of and emotions behind of what they say. My other task is researching the victims of the dictatorship. I compare lists names that the monument has with government lists, search for names in newspapers, and work to find any personal information. It’s been a very interesting and meaningful experience so far.
Update: In my last post, I told the story of sharing mate in my International Law class. The past two times, the student has not brought mate as he’s been sick. How do I know this? In the most recent class, the professor jokingly told the student that she wanted some mate and asked him where it was. He then told her that he hasn’t been feeling well which is why there has been no mate being passed around.

Many Wanderings in Buenos Aires

All over the place, I’ve seen different versions of the same advertisement by the Government of Buenos Aires that reads:

            Siempre hay algo para hacer en la Ciudad.

                      (There is always something to do in the city.)

This statement could not be more true.

 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of running from university to university trying to figure out which classes to take, walking around the city, finding random festivals and ferias to go to, going on tours, and so much more. By far, the highlight was having dinner with my family here. It was incredible to meet my cousins who made me feel more welcomed than I thought I could be in Buenos Aires.

After a few weeks of trying out different classes and meeting with advisers, I finally have a schedule. On the first day of my International Law class at Universidad del Salvador, a few Argentinian students in front of me were sharing a mate. After a little bit, one of the students passed the mate to the professor who gladly took it. She then continued with her lecture between sips of mate and passed it back when she was done. The student filled the mate up again and began passing it to all of the international students in the class. When he passed it to me, I gladly took it and enjoyed my first mate here. And yes, apparently sharing a mate among other students and the professor is completely normal.

Last week, thousands of union members came together to protest President Macri’s economic policy. I’d seen other protests from a distance, but this one was huge. Colectivo (bus) routes were limited and traffic was terrible. The most entertaining part, however, was that, even from the eighth floor at the IFSA Office, we could hear the protesters. It sounded very much like a second line was coming down the street.

This past Thursday, I went with some friends to the beautiful Teatro Colón to see Pinchas Zukerman and the Argentinian Symphony. Needles to say, it was absolutely incredible. Our tickets were only 100 pesos (around $5.70 USD) and were way up in the top of the theatre. Even though we were behind the nosebleed section, the acoustics were so incredible that it didn’t matter. 

I also went on a tour of la Casa Rosada which was absolutely beautiful and incredibly interesting. We did get to stand on the balcony (which technically isn’t a balcony) of la Casa Rosada.

That night, I got New Orleans food for dinner at a restaurant called NOLA. I was very happy with my gumbo and cornbread and the decorations. Afterwards, I went with some people from IFSA to a tango class at a milonga. Never did I think that I would be dancing tango in Buenos Aires, but I ended up having an incredible time learning some very basic tango steps.

Some other things I’ve done have included going to a city-wide asado (Argentine BBQ) downtown, visiting la Parque de la memoria (Memorial Park), and going to a puppet museum. I’ve stumbled across a feria celebrating Ecuador and gone to the famous feria in San Telmo. I’ve admired graffiti paintings Palermo soho and walked through parts of Once. I’ve eaten plenty of ice cream and studied in countless cafes.

There truly is always something incredible to do in Buenos Aires.

Two Weeks Later

Just over two weeks ago, I boarded a flight to travel 5,435 miles from St. Louis to Buenos Aires (about 200 miles further than the distance from St. Louis to Moscow). Ten and a half hours later, I landed in the city that was going to be my home for the next five months.

I was a mess of emotions. On one hand, I was incredibly excited to study abroad. This was something I had wanted to do since before high school. I had all of these expectations of what study abroad was supposed to be like and that it would be a semester to travel and explore a new country. I would try new foods, learn about a different culture, meet new people, and so much more. On the other hand, I was scared. I had been taking Spanish for eight years, but the Argentine accent and dialect are different from what I’d previously encountered. I would be away from my friends and the life I had built at Tulane. It was isolating.

Now, skip ahead two weeks.

These first two have been incredibly, stressful, busy, and exciting. I’ve met so many wonderful people on my program and seen some truly beautiful and fascinating things. Of course, these two weeks have had more difficult moments. Registering for classes has been an adventure on its own (no, I do not yet have a fixed schedule). Getting used to speaking Castellano and using vos in place of is something I’m still getting used to doing. Navigating public transportation while trying not to get too lost has, at times, been quite the challenge (although nothing compares with trying to find room on the subte during rush hour). There are plenty of times when I have been overwhelmed at the sheer fact that I’m somewhere completely new.

At the same time, the newness of being in Buenos Aires has been what has made these first two weeks so great. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting a glimpse into the more touristy side of the city and a preview of what the next four and a half months hold.

One of the highlights was watching las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (left) march in front of la Casa Rosada (home of the executive branch). It was so powerful to see in person what I had learned about in class.

The Cementerio de la Recoleta was also incredible. The maze of tombs houses hundreds of years of Argentine history. The Feria (the large craft market) in Recoleta was also a fantastic way to spend my Saturday.

Submarino

The food has been absolutely delicious. Submarinos (above) are bars of chocolate that dive into a cup of hot milk to make the best hot chocolate. As expected, the empanadas are delicious, and the alfajores have been dangerously good.

El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a fantastic museum complete with works by Degas, Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Diego Rivera, Chagall, and so many more. This past weekend was the Buenos Aires food festival and also a gluten free festival, both of which were wonderful.

More than anything, some of the best moments have come from the people. My host mom (and her adorable dog) are amazing. I got to see Andrea, her mom, and Santi last week which was very fun. And after far too many years, I got to see the Abadia Family who have been so welcoming and helpful with everything. I saw the play El avaló (by Moliere) which, from what I could understand and what Inés helped me to understand, was very entertaining and funny.  Last week, I was with a group, and we got lost trying to find the Botanical Gardens. We asked woman where to go, and she proceeded to talk to us for twenty minutes about what we needed to do in Buenos Aires. There have been so many people who have told me that if I ever need anything at all, I can let them know. I’ve felt so welcomed in a city I barely know. The people on my program are also incredible and eager to explore the city.

Overall, these past two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions and adventure. I’m, of course, nervous for what the next four and a half months have in store, but I’m also excited to see so much more of Buenos Aires and Argentina.

 

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