Great roommates make for great times

Trip Start Jan 26, 2007
Trip End Feb 06, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Saturday, February 17, 2007

This is a very long post... I need to work on brevity. Apologies in advance.

I have been in BsAs now for a few days. It is truly a beautiful city, but as anyone should expect in the world, there are darker and more interesting sides to the facade. Gorgeous european buildings about 6-10 stories high stretch for blocks in Palermo and Recoleta, the ritzier areas in to the north of the microcentro (city center). The Recoleta Cemetery is the final resting place of the richest and most powerful Argentinians and their families - Evita rests here. The cemetery is not a field with gravestones but literally a city of mausoleums, ranging from 10 to 30 feet high. They are ordained with elaborate sculptures or grave religious symbols. Polished Granite and marble glistens. But, the cemetery is private. Families must pay to maintain their mausoleum, and if they are unable to do so, the edifices that were built to preserve the family for eternity literally crumble to the ground. There are some extremely moving contrasts between pristine monuments to life and death right next to brick-and-mortar hack repair jobs to a failing wall, or a pile of crumbled marble rubble. Also, therea are a lot of grungy looking stray cats who themselves appear to be either death itself, or what death would look like if it came back to life for a quick vacation. They pose very well for photos on top of prone marble bodies and in puddles of rain.

There are two main avenues just south of the city center that form a large cross - one is the massive Avenida 9 de Julio, a 9 or so lane road running N-S. Crossing it is Av 15 (?) de Mayo, which is a tree-lined shady stretch of ´cute´ little cafes (very nice), pubs, bookstores, and officey buildings. As previously mentioned, in this area of BsAs people dress very well, running to and fro from work and wherever else they are going. At night, children and teenagers rummage through the bags of trash left for late night trucks, searching for bottles and cans and other treasures for doing something with (I suppose turning in to the recyclers, although I also saw a kid find a half eaten burger). Argentina was the 7th wealthiest nation in the world in the early 1900s, and still maintains its pride in its outward appearance, but the night time belies some deeper problems with the management of the nation´s unmatched national resources. The night time also belies the social culture of Argentina. Rob (Great roommate from Southampton, England) and I went to the Plaza de Mayo to see a Pink Floyd cover band that played from 7 to 9. I only laughed at the accents once - otherwise they were simply amazing musicians. Every Wednesday all summer, there are free concerts in the Plaza, while in the background the Casa Rosada (I think similar to the White House) undergoes a massive renovation.

This event ties nicely into the theme of this update. My roommates are great here in BsAs. As mentioned previously, the main roomies are Carlos de Concepcion, Chile and Rob from UK. There is also Alejandro from Brazil, who is 38 but looks 30, Rodrigo from Chile who speaks so ridiculously fast in spanish that I can barely keep up and is a CS major specializing in (?) databases and data mining, and some other brits that keep to themselves (couple).

We do a lot of spontaneous things. Carlos and I went to the zoo in Palermo, which was a kind of depressing place, but it was good to see the animals and use the Subte (subway). We had a lot of fun walking around. Later Rob, Carlos, and I went down our street a few blocks to San Telmo, a ´run down´but actually OK area with a few streets lined with wonderful restaurants, etc. Ate delicious sandwiches. The next day, on a whim, the three of us went to River Stadium, where the River Plate football club plays. The club will play 5 games behind closed doors due to two shootings after a game a few weeks ago (outside the stadium). There were no games - we just went to see the stadium, and then Carlos and I ambled around Recoleta and Palermo again (to the museum, the Law School, which Carlos loves since he is studying Law in Chile, the cemetery again in the rain, and some nice cafes).

After going too far on the Bus again, Carlos and I stopped at a kiosk to ask for directions. Before we knew it, and certainly before I had any idea what was going on, Carlos was having an intense discussion with the 5 boisterous 75yr old men and women who were hanging out there. From what I gather, they talked about politics, religion, government, organization, countries and cultures, racism, history, and some other stuff. Every once in a while they would turn to me and say, entiendes? to which I would reply, si, entiendo un poquito, and summarize in broken spanish what I thought they were talking about. This went on for an hour and a half - it was very fun to watch, but I was constantly nervous I would be brought into the conversation. I am not good at speaking spanish conversationally. I have no idea what people are saying - the speed is insane. I can get by functionally, but it is still a bit embarrassing how poor my spanish is. Hope it improves. The loudest, most hilarious man invited us to his Asada (trad. family barbecue) and told Carlos he would introduce him to his future wife. Carlos was happy. Carlos Matthei Neumann, who by the way is a German Chilean, so he looks extremely German, also wants to go to Uruguay to see all the beautiful Argentinian women who go there for their summer break and dance around in bikinis in Punta del Este (according to Carlos).  He has been pushing me very hard. I am tempted to go for 4 days before heading to the west of Argentina, because I hear that Uruguay is gorgeous. Rob is enrolling in a Spanish school, a week-long immersion program.

Later last night we went for true Parrillas (barbecue, basically) in San Telmo and then out to a square in ritzy Palermo for the evening. There are about 8 bars that ring the square, each of which has aroudn 15 tables outside filled with Argentinians and visiting foreigners. Very social atmosphere all night long - we left at 6am after a 3 hour conversation (very similar to the earlier one except the other people were 3 19 year old argentinian girls, Carlos liked one of them). I think I listened to Carlos talk for about 5 hours yesterday. He is very good to me though - when I seem like an idiot, he defends me and tells everyone that I speak good Castellano and can understand a bit but I just can´t respond quickly and the speed is too much. 

Today I am relaxing after sleeping in till 130. Carlos will no doubt push me to go to Uruguay with him tomorrow. We will see what I decide. My constraints are cash and getting to Chile to meet the clan of cyclers, who right now are somewhere near Puerto Montt.
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