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Monday, July 25, 2011

Día del amigo

We have Mother's Day. We have Father's Day. We know, other days. But we don't have Friendship Day. Argentina has one on the United States for that. 

Día del amigo is a day dedicated to friendship. You can get together and have mate with friends, go out for coffee, or go get a few drinks. Sure, it's kind of commercialized, but it's a great opportunity to see people you haven't had great contact with in the past. Here's what I did on my first-ever Friendship Day.

Friendship Day was a Wednesday (July 20th), and mine started by getting coffee at a café near my house with some of my fourth-year friends. After that, some of us went over to Lucía (La Negra)'s house to chat and have pizza. I can't really give you a lot of details about what we did, because we really didn't do anything incredible or out of the ordinary. What was nice was that we were together and expressing how much we loved each other (Eww....that even sounds cheesy as I'm typing it). Ok, let's stop with this part.

After that, I met up with some second-year friends in a place called London. London is not really English at all. It's more like a collection of everything small-town American; I loved it. There was pool, bowling, and great drink specials. This "bowling" was a little different than bowling alleys in the States. For starters, you could wear whatever shoes you wanted to. fancy clown shoes this time. Also, there were very few lanes (something like 5 or 6), and you had to get a number to wait for your turn to play. Finally, like older bowling alleys, the pins were not set up automatically by sorting machine that puts them in the right place, but rather the pins were tied to strings (like something you would see in an arcade game). One of the most interesting cultural reflections I found, though, was that there was absolutely no hint of competition in bowling with my Argentine friends. In the US, even among friends everyone has their own name slot and gets their own score...and hey, let's be honest, at the end of a game you see how well you did compared to everyone else. Not here. There were 6 or 8 of us playing, and 4 slots for players. They didn't seem bothered by this and, rather than establish teams or anything like that, they just started throwing the ball. There were no teams. There were no designated turns. There were no personal scores. It was very communistic, but it was a little refreshing in a way. Still, though, it felt so, so weird. This method of playing is good, since most Argentineans seem to be horrible bowlers.

I should add that this day was filled with me having cocktails here and again, so at about this point (after 3 or 4 gin tonics and long islands), I'm starting to get pretty buzzed. I think that we went out after London, but we might not have. I also think that some people came over to my house, but I don't remember. Instead of blaming intoxication, I'll just chalk it up to the fact that it took me so long to write this post. Oh, tricky fiend.

Mom in Argentina

Mother Berry came to play, friends.

The same day that we were supposed to go back to the provinces after our Regional Enhancement Seminar in Uruguay, I planned to stay in Buenos Aires and wait for my mom. Due to volcanic ash in the air, all the other Fulbrighters got to stay as well. Unfortunately, the ash also cancelled my mom's flight, and she ended up getting in much later than we had planned. To make matters even worse, she ended up having to wait at the airport for a long time to get a taxi and, since she had no way to contact me, I was pacing back and forth, wondering if she was okay. Anyway, she got to Buenos Aires.

We spent Sunday in Buenos Aires; I took her to Recoleta cemetery and Palermo. I think she really enjoyed the cemetery (it's one of my favorite places too).
Mom, just walkin' in Recoleta

That evening we headed to the main attraction of our trip: Iguazú falls. We could have flown there, but that wouldn't have been a valuable cultural experience for mumsy. Instead, we took a bus. A 15-hour bus. It actually wasn't so bad. She told me she enjoyed it, and she wasn't doing that mom thing where she just pretends she's happy with everything.
Argentine buses are class
 Once we got there, we settled into our "4-star" hotel. It had seen better days, but it was a place to sleep. There was no time to waste, so we jumped on a city bus and headed to the park as soon as we could. Thanks to a little lingo on my part, I got myself the resident price for the park (it would have been impossible to get it for Mom too, but hey...we saved some cash). Then, mother Berry wanted to treat me to a late lunch. We went to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the park and Momma got her first taste of asado and Mendozan wine. Mmmm.... Then, we checked out the park. Words are useless, so here are some pictures that I took over the two days:
A Coatí, Argentina's raccoon

We're related
I don't know what these birds were, but they were beauitful.


Ok, that's enough. I didn't mention that we spent most of the rest of our time in Iguazú at the hotel, since the town is pretty boring. We had a really great dinner there, though, and the first night we took a siesta that ended up as just sleeping through the night.

So, Iguazú! Yee haw! Hooray! 

From Iguazú, we had to get to Río Cuarto. Sure, we could have flown, but that...well, you get the idea. Anyway, we got on a bus again, this time for 21 hours. Oh, but that bus only went to Có we had another 4 hours on bus until we got home. Poor Mom endured, and her snoring didn't even wake me up!

Once we made it to Río Cuarto, I showed mom around the Andino (an abandoned train station which is great to wander around) and downtown. We had dinner with María Inés Valsecchi, one of my co-workers, at la Piojera (with wine, of course), and the next night I took her to have some gourmet food at Don Zoilo ('s like heaven). 

For 4 months I had tried to resist going to Wal Mart, but here comes Mom and where do we go? Wal Mart. Though it's far away, I was really excited at some of the international food they had there (international meaning USA, as well as other countries). Mommy bought me some nice new things for my apartment there and at the Super Vea, and we spent the majority of our time in Río Cuarto relaxing. She tried mate with some of my friends and enjoyed it. What I think she liked the most about Argentina, though, was the dulce de leche. Needless to say that when we left Río Cuarto to head to the airport in Buenos Aires, she had a suitcase full of Dulce de Leche, fine wines, and yerba mate. Thadda girl, mom...getcha some culture.

So, we--surprise--took a bus to Buenos Aires and had planned to spend a few days there since the ashes had limited her first exposure to the city. We stayed in a very nice hotel downtown on Esmeralda at the 700 block. I got a random Facebook message from someone I went to Spain with asking if we could meet up, so I had to find a way to plan that into our schedule. Oh, and Martín was there and my mom wanted to meet him. Mom and I spent the first day on a culinary excursion, and I took her to the Gato Negro (my favorite tea and spice shop in Bs As). That night, we saw a tango show at the Borges Cultural Center just a few blocks away. The show, which cost us each around $25 (USD), was well worth it. It may have been a little touristy and showy, but there was one scene that made the show. 

The dancers were performing a skit, and the men were complaining that the women think that the tango is all about them, when in reality it should be about the man. Something happened, and one of the dancers clearly looked like he wanted to express his disagreement. The next thing I know, he rips off his shirt to reveal another, brightly-colored, satin, pink shirt and starts act very flamboyantly. He dances with some fans for a little while (characteristic of the lady), and then he just jumps off stage. Where does he go? My lap. Yes, friends. I had a tango dancer on my lap, caressing my hair, and rubbing my arm. Oh, and he gave me a giant kiss on the cheek and continued to send me flirty looks for the rest of the show. I was horribly embarrassed, but it was great. I don't have a picture of that, though, so sorry.

Now, let's speed things up. The last day started out uneventful. We checked out of the hotel, stored our luggage, and then set off for the day. Mom and I were going to be meeting Martín for lunch, but we decided to go walk around Florida and Lavalle first. Florida and Lavalle are two pedestrian streets with lots of arts and crafts, so I thought it would be fun for her to see. It wasn't.

There we are, see, walking on the street. My mom had recently gotten out her wallet to buy a scarf that she liked, and I was helping her with it. Then, I'm about a meter in front of my mother, scouting out another neat place to go, and I hear her say "Hey!" I turn around, and then I saw it: her bag was unzipped and open. Some pickpocketing bastard had bumped her, reached into her bag--which she had guarded well up until this point--and taken out her wallet and cell phone. Surprisingly, she held herself together very, very well (that must be where I get it, because she was rock solid), and fortunately the wallet only had her driver's license and credit cards in it (I had most of the cash, since I was paying for everything). Right after this, Martín found us. Well, the plot thickens.  

Since it was critical to cancel those cards, I dropped Martín and my mom off at the restaurant we were going to eat at (El Palacio de la Papa Frita), and booked it back to our hotel (where I could use internet). The connection in the hotel was good, but not great for Skype calls, so I was having a lot of trouble. I decided to call my brother, who is my polar opposite in almost every way conceivable, because my mom had told me that he knew where her photocopies of all those cards were (good thinking, Mom). I finally get a hold of him, and he sounds like he's just woken up (it's around 1:30 PM, his time). I lose signal, and he can't hear me. Since I was low on options, I text him to call my Skype number. He doesn't. Clearly, time is a factor. After 15 minutes of waiting on him, I sent him another text begging him to do something. I went in search of a better connection. Finally, in the stairwell between the first and second floors of the hotel, I get a good-enough connection to call and transmit voice. My brother, who I have never been more disappointed in, is frustrated with me for my text messages. Besides the fact that I mentioned this had nothing to do with us, and that our mother had just been robbed and she was the one that needed his help urgently, he still had an awful attitude. The icing on the cake was this: he hung up on me. Not just on me...on his own mother. At this point I actually screamed in the turns out those echo. Whoops. I was just frustrated and, like I said, unbelievably disappointed in how little he did to help. So, I go to plan B: call grandma. My grandma's a sweet lady who means well, but she isn't the most knowledgeable with technology or these types of things. I told her to cancel the credit cards that were on the photocopy by the desk. That's simple, right? Well, we get a call later and find out that she or Nick had looked through the file cabinets and found every last one of my mom's credit cards and cancelled them. Great. They did ask if we needed to have the driver's license cancelled too, which I thought was endearing (you can't cancel those).

So, that's enough about the whole theft situation. Basically, my mom was a rock star, Martín was a good babysitter, and my brother was a colossal failure. Foruntately, though, this was the day she was leaving, so she could take care of everything in the US soon. We did our best to enjoy the rest of the day, and then we got a cab to the airport and I sent her off. Naturally, she tried not to's just can't do that very well.

Well...that's the end of Momma Berry's adventure in Argentina. I'm really glad I got to see her, and I'm even happier that she got to see me actually putting my Spanish to use (lord knows she depended on it).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Regional Enhancement Seminar- Montevideo

Ok, so THIS is a little behind... I might be getting a few of the evening activities mixed up, so I'm sorry for that.

June 26-30 was our Regional Enhancement Seminar in Montevideo, Uruguay. It was a chance for all the Fulbrighters from Argentina to reunite for the last time before leaving, as well to meet the ETAs from Panamá, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. The first two days were composed of parallel presentations on ESL topics given by the different Fulbrighters (mine can be found here) and Jennifer Herrin, the Senior English Language Fellow with the Department of State. Despite the meetings taking up a major part of the day, time went by very quickly. Monday afternoon, we took a tour of the city, including the Viejo Mercado and the Teatro Solís. That night, I believe we walked down the beach to catch the sunset before heading to see a Philharmonic Concert which included some Beethoven and Gershwin. It was great.
The lovely Hannah Dalporto enjoying the sunset by our hotel
Tuesday was a wild, fun night, if I remember right. The plan was to go to the Pony Pisador (Prancing Pony) bar in viejo mercado to do some karaoke, and eventually I made it there. Beforehand, though, Alex, Katie, and I stopped by an Irish pub next door to have a little bit of relaxation. I had a yellow submarine, which was an upside-down shot of gin trapped at the bottom of a glass of beer (Mmm!). In going to the pub we were in luck...they had a beautiful lady in a red dress sing some really classic, old, jazzy tunes. We also got to try a chivito, this sausage, egg, lettuce, I don't know what else sandwich that's a popular Uruguayan dish. After our date with deliciousness, we headed to the Pony; the party was well underway. I got there just in time to here Jacqui Cornetta sing "La Tortura" by Shakira, one of my favorite songs; girl nailed it. Then, there was dancing. There's always dancing in Latin America. Real dancing. I love it.

Wednesday was a special day because we went to visit an elementary school in a nearby, impoverished area. The school they took us to--a religious school (which I have an entirely different set of qualms about)-- is unique in that it is a public school that is entirely funded through private donations Though I think it was a wonderful idea to provide cultural exchange to people who may never meet a foreigner, there was one big problem: I hate children. I don't know what it is, but in general I dislike them; in fact, if I'm around too many children at once I tend to lock up and freeze. They're like tiny, incomplete adults that jump around and talk too much. Anyway...I'll tell the tale the best I can, but bear in mind that I have a very, very strong bias that has undoubtedly shaded my experience.

We started with a few icebreaker activities, all of which involved movement and forcibly acting silly; it was my hell.Then, we were introduced to everyone by the organization that was hired as an activity organizer between the children and us. We were given an assignment to do some rapid-fire cultural presentation with 20 slides on a PowerPoint, each slide for 3 seconds (or something crazy like that). If you have ADHD, it's a great idea. If you don't, it's too spastic. Another problem is that when you have 20 individuals that were selected on the basis of being very strong leaders, you run into problems with the delegation of work (I'm not the biggest fan of group work to begin with). Long story short, we ended up throwing some stuff together on the computers and internet that Movistar had donated to the school.

After that, we went to cook together. We cooked gnocchis (ñoquis in Spanish) and chocolate chip cookies as a sort of culinary exchange (although it was a really weird combination of foods). This was the one part I enjoyed, as long as I ignored the little creatures that were running and throwing flour around.
Which one of these things is a bad idea to give to children?
We tried to get creative and make our cookie (which, after baking cookies for 17 years, I knew was going wrong) into a heart, but we later found out that it was torched. The gnocchi was great, though!

After the cooking had started, we all went outside to spend more time with...the children. This included dance lessons and chatting time; I sat out on both (I promise I'm not a Scrooge; forced "fun" mixed with children is just my Achille's heel).

After that, we ate. It was pretty good. 

Then, we did our presentations. Sadly, the children did a much better job than we did. Granted, they made us do ours in Spanish, which may have intimidated some of the presenters, but we still got schooled.

Ok, enough of that. Let's talk about Thursday. That was the paradise to my Wednesday's inferno.
Thursday started with a bus trip to Maldonado, a province about 3 hours away from Montevideo. When I looked on the schedule, it mentioned we'd be spending a sizable portion of the day at the Estancia Siglo XX, which sounded to me like some boring ranch. Oh sweet lord...curse my thoughts and prejudices!

As we drove up, it looked like the entrance to any normal farm or ranch (you have your standard log poles that support a sign saying "Bill and Suzie's ranch" or whatever), except for one thing: there was a man on horseback dressed as a gaucho wielding an Uruguayan flag to guide us in. That's right. I can't make that up. As we drove our tour bus into the small ranch, we immediately noticed the herd of alpaca on our right. And we thought that was exciting...

Once we got off the bus, we noticed that there were waiters standing there with glasses of white wine for us (and Coke, but who was going to go for that?).

It's free, you say? Oh, daddy will have two...

At this point we were informed that this ranch had an open bar, museums, gaucho-style games, hammocks, Wi-Fi, alpaca, and horses that you could ride for free. Oh, and snacks would be floating around and we'd be eating lunch there. You can imagine the mental explosion that occurred within each of us upon the utterance of those words. Not to mention, it was a gorgeous day....

This was the happiest I think I have ever, ever been. Here are some pictures:
Happiness refracted.

Gauchos, wine, and horses. You guys go on ahead; I'll stay here for a little bit.

I ate this. Oh, it was so good.

I rode a horse, and it went fast. Yes, yes, yes.
I also kissed an alpaca. No, no, no.

GaGa for Mendoza

Hey all,

Mendoza was one area I really, really wanted to visit when I found out that I was awarded a Fulbright to Argentina, so I took advantage of the long weekend right before out regional seminar in Montevideo to go visit with Gillian, Carolyn, and Anna, all of whom are doing their Fulbright ETAs there. Alex Gibson also came all the way from Bahía Blanca to join in on the fun.

By some miracle of timing, all of us showed up at the bus station in San Martín (where Gillian is teaching) at around the same time on Friday. We went to Gillian's apartment, which was fantastic. Then, that evening she made us pizzas. Note: that girl can cook. We're talking spice racks, homemade sauces...the whole thing. It was around this point, I think, that we realized all of our initials together spelled GaGa (Gillian, Alex, Grant, Anna), so therein began the magic of the trip.

That evening, Gillian had some friends over to drink and play games. Lots of beer, and lots of good times. The best part, though, was when we went to get panchos. Now I believe you know my stance on panchos (hot dogs) as the Argentine go-to drunk food, but these redeemed all panchos everywhere. The hot dogs were wrapped in dough a-la pigs in a blanket, and then cooked that way. Then, the entire thing is split in two and the sauces go in the middle. My mouth didn't know how to react to all the flavors. That, and I was drunk, so it was especially hard. Anyway, the point is that it was fantastic.

Once sufficiently drunk and fed, we headed to a bar in San Martín called Mama Africa. Yeah, it's safari-themed. Let's just say that I wasn't nearly drunk enough to enjoy the festivities, but everyone else did have quite a nice time. 

Saturday was the start of the Mendoza Capital part of our journey. We stayed in the Monkey Hostel, which is a story in itself. To begin, we were all given bright orange wristbands like you would get at the carnival to wear. As if walking around and speaking in English wasn't enough to mark us as tourists...The wristbands had the hostel address, phone number, and our name, which, as we'll see soon, was more useful than I could have realized at the time. There were 4 of us and we had booked our reservation in a 5-person room, supposing that it would be unlikely that we'd have a roommate. Wrong. When we got to the hostel (around 2PM), there was a burly man under the covers in the center bed (the layout is two bunk beds, our beds, on either side of this bed). Later we found out that he was Danish, and his name was Michael. That last bit didn't matter. From then on, he was The Dane. 

Shortly after getting settled, we toured a winery called Clos de Chacras. I got to see a real bodega, complete with the giant wine tanks and storage cellars. Oh, and there was a $4 wine tasting with cheese and raisins. Beat that, USA. I bought a map of the wine regions of Argentina and a 2008 Malbec for my papá.

That evening was just as rewarding as the afternoon. To start, we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Though overpriced, it did give me tacos, a kickass margarita, and an exceptional mojito, so all is well.

After that, we went to a brewery where I could actually get good beer on top. The brewery was called Antares, and I later found out that it's based in Mar del Plata. I had the Stout, and it was wonderful to drink something that wasn't the yellow water that is Quilmes. By this point, alcohol and I had become very good friends.

The final chapter of the evening took place in some random boliche in Mendoza. All I remember is being pretty intoxicated and adamant about finding girls for Alex to meet. Eventually, though, I realized that my wallet had but two pesos left, so I knew it was time for me to head home. I said goodbye to some of the others (Anna, Brad, and Carolyn were still in the club with Alex), and made my way back home (it was only a block or two, and I knew how to get back). As I'm walking, I hear someone coming up behind me. I turn around, and it's Anna. I find out that she followed me after I left, and Brad and Carolyn had already headed out. Even inebriated, I knew that this meant Alex was alone in a boliche without knowing how to get home. However...I headed to get panchos with Anna. She said he would be fine, and I believed it. Besides, I wanted food. Come to think of it, I have no idea how I paid for those panchos.

Well, wrapping up, Anna and I get back to the hostel to find some random person in the bed below me (the bed which was Alex's), so I assumed he'd already made it home. Later, I found out that that person was some whiny French girl who had been crying on the stairs earlier. Apparently, Alex got tired, went outside, and then used his wristband to get a cab. When he got in everyone woke up (except me), and the French girl was...asked to leave from his bed. After that it was sleepy time and everything was great.

Sunday I went back to San Martín with Gillian, since I was catching my bus there. The day was mostly spent sleeping, playing on the computer, and listening to music.

So much fun, so much wine, and such a GaGa adventure.