The new episode of BA Cast is available, and it’s another extended edition that we think you’ll find very interesting. This is the show’s most international episode yet, with interviews with expats from Argentina, Italy, the United States, Nepal, and Mexico. The episode features an interview I conducted with a fellow classmate of mine from Nepal who has been studying in the US for five years, and I also give a short interview at the end of the episode on the differences between Ecuador and Argentina. Hope you enjoy the episode. Oh, and Happy Halloween.
I’m kind of being bad right now. I probably shouldn’t be taking time out to write a little blog post, but I figured it’s worth it to clear my head for a few minutes. I’ve just got so much work to do, and it never ends, that it almost seems pointless to try and get it all done in a one day period. Graduate school is no walk in the park when you’re also working. I’m not pulling a full time job, but the 20 hours a week I’m shouldering is enough so that I notice the difference. I head over to work in the morning, leave in the afternoon to come back and study before heading off to the university. Then I come back and study some more, but I never really seem to come close to finishing all of the assignments until they are due. There’s just too much to read.
That’s the way it is though, and I knew I was going to have challenges like this. After all, this isn’t meant for everyone, and if no one can force you to go to college, there is definitely no one who can force you to go for a Masters. Everything has been incredibly interesting so far, and from learning about the Cuban Missile Crisis to strategy on how to combat Al Qaeda, I can honestly say that I’m smarter after just a couple of weeks in the program. That is to say, I never would have just known about this material on my own. On a day like today though, I can feel weighed down by responsibility. Work, meetings, reading, class, and having to scrap together a meal with almost nothing in the fridge at the same time. I haven’t gone food shopping since moving in, but I really have limited time to get down to the store, as working with the buses is a venture in itself.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the last six months or so that I spent in Buenos Aires. Once I moved back into Palermo with my new roommate Tomás, life started to get a lot sweeter. I was on the downward slide, so knowing that I would soon go home made my job less of a chore, and nostalgia started to reign in. I made some great new friends but also solidified my long standing relationships with other Argentinians and a handful of expats. There was one week in February when I was busy every night of the week, running with the Nike team, going to a pub quiz, and other after work outings to keep me busy. I was flying by but enjoying it all, though eating poorly (pasta and pizza for four days) eventually caused me to fall ill.
The weather was beautiful as the summer edged on and eventually slid away, and from the 13th floor apartment I could see the sunsets come around faster and faster, until I was running in the dark after work and complaining about the chill. I would sit in the old green felt chair with character at night, prop my legs up on the wooden table and watch a show on my lap top. I would enjoy leisurely activities like writing and even read a few books, including a book on philosophers and their teachings from the Greeks to the 1800s. That book actually helped me in dealing with stress in some situations, and I’m still grateful to my friend for letting me pick any book I wanted from his pile.
Becoming more familiar with my neighborhood, I could drop down for a $5 ARS ice cream cone, or drop in to the bakery for some fresh bread to match my meal that night. Buenos Aires certainly has some European characteristics, and one thing that I’m missing here in Washington is being able to stop in at a corner market for fresh fruit and bread. But I’m not forgetful, and I have the archives here to show me that it wasn’t always peaches in BA. Did the last six months make up for frustration during the first year and a half? I think the answer is self-evident. Those last six months in Buenos Aires were a precious time in my life, and I think I’ll always be able to look back on them with a tragic romanticism, happily allowing a bit of water to the eyes even while I picture the scene of the old living room with a view of the Botanical Garden, bedroom with a view of the west, and kitchen with a view of the Palermo parks and Rio de la Plata. I can see it now.
Today is my last day of work in Buenos Aires, though I’ll of course still be here for a few more days and continue to write and work with the BA Cast. I haven’t talked about my job much throughout my two years here, and aside from mentioning that I’ve worked at a high end travel agency, if you look back through all of the files you’ll never even once find the company’s name mentioned. It’s not that I need secrecy, but I guess I’m just trying to keep with the theme of this whole experience—it’s not the job that has been the central aim of these two years, but rather the life down here. I came to Argentina without a job and was fortunate to find this one within about two weeks.
For a long time I didn’t know what I would do without the job because it became my sense of normality. Every morning I would wake up, come to the office, and work until quittin’ time. I made some of my best friends in Buenos Aires at the office, and while I moved around five times within a year and a half, the job was the only solid point. Like with many positions, it wasn’t all cake, and at one point I was actually offered a job to be editor of the international section of the Buenos Aires Herald. It would be more money and less hours, but in the end I chose to stay put.
It was an extremely difficult decision, because on the one hand I could have been giving my writing career a major leg up, working for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country, and one of the most prestigious on the continent. Yet I remained with my job at the travel agency because 1. I didn’t want to have to pay my dues again, knowing that I was going home in just a few months, and 2. My goal in Argentina was learn about the culture, learn more Spanish, and make friends. I had accomplished that, and I knew by leaving the friends at work I might not see them so frequently. If I wanted more money, a couple hundred extra pesos a month or whatever it was wouldn’t make me a millionaire. Sure, it would make my life here easier, but I reasoned that I have years ahead to pursue financial trumps. This journey was about something else.
I’ll miss certain things about my job, though in reality the main things I’ll miss will be the people who made it worthwhile. Whenever the weather was nice (essentially anytime outside of winter) I would take a stroll during the lunch break. I’d most likely end up by Plaza San Martín, the only refuge of green space in the Microcentro, which was fortunately just a few blocks away. There I would sit and get some sun or take a quick nap. I read books and had lunch, or studied for the GRE and peopled watched. In the plaza there are men with green vests who go up to tourists and ask for donations. At first the same guy kept coming up to me until one day he started saying hi and would continue walking. Eventually we had a long talk and he asked me how long I was going to be here, and we shook hands as he moved on. Every time after we gave a little nod of understanding, and I’ll miss that.
My first professional office job is behind me now, and it was an international one at that. I was the only foreigner there, surrounded by Spanish every day, sometimes hailed as a nice person and other times on trial for being the only American present. It was an incredible experience and good or bad, I’m better for having gone through it and survived it. Now it’s time to move on, but without forgetting what I’ve learned.
Last week I wrote a post on my 5 least favorite phrases in Spanish, and since I like to give a fair look at both sides, I’m now going to list 5 of my favorite words or phrases in lunfardo, which is the slang used in Buenos Aires. Be aware—the majority of these are dirty words, so excuse me if this offends you. Maybe you shouldn’t read on. Like with the last post, these are in no particular order.
1. “Un boludo importante”. Translation: literally, an important asshole; a real asshole; a fucking idiot.
- I only recently started to hear this more and more but from the first time I noticed it I loved it. It’s like saying that the guy in question in the king of the idiots.
2. “La puta que te/lo parió”. Translation: literally, the bitch that gave birth to you; fuck your mother.
- I’ve discovered that certain phrases and words just sound better in other languages, or really hit what you’re trying to say in ways that English doesn’t, and this is a perfect example. For some reason this is very offensive, which is odd because it’s really just a sentence fragment. We never hear what the big deal is about the bitch that gave birth to you. Maybe she makes good cookies. Who knows? On the other hand, in Spain a similar greeting is given to women when walking by a construction site. “¡Viva la madre que te parió!” though not exactly a compliment, it’s like saying, “Long live the mother who gave birth to you!”
*A similar insult could be “La concha de tu madre” or “La concha tuya.” Translation: your mom’s pussy, or your pussy, respectively. These are fightin’ words, so be careful how you use them.
3. “Estar al pedo/en pedo.” Translation: literally, to be at farts/to be in farts; to be wasting your time, doing nothing/to be drunk.
- These are used every other minute. If you’re sitting around not doing work, waiting in line, or ultimately doing a task which will go unnoticed, you are al pedo. If you’ve had a few too many drinks then you are now en pedo. And there are many other variations of pedo as well.
4. “Quilombo.” Translation: a mess; a fucking mess.
- Where would I be without my little quilombo? Most often used as “¡Qué quilombo!” or “Es un quilombo”. Used to describe any and everything in Buenos Aires. No matter what time of day or season of the year, you can count on there being a quilombo in some part of Buenos Aires. It’s just a fucking mess. Nothing works right, the Subte’s on strike, they’ve set up a road block, you still haven’t gotten paid. Un quilombo.
5. “En la loma del orto.” Translation: literally, in the back of the ass; far away.
- Pretty gross, right? Used to describe when something is very far away and probably a pain in the ass to get to. Where’s the party tonight? In the back of the ass, it’s so far away. You need to take two buses and then walk 10 blocks.
These are just five examples of some of the things I’ve grown to enjoy saying here. Of course, there are so many others like boludo, pelotudo, etc. Don’t judge me if you think I only use bad words, but hey, monkey see monkey do.
In the wake of yesterday’s River Plate soccer riot, it seems like the city has gotten some international attention. Once again, it looks like Argentine hooligans have taken control of the streets and mocked the sport, but though many were hurt and injured (68 hurt and 50 arrested), it’s probably not the worst riot that this city has ever seen because of soccer. Damage was certainly caused, but I think what hurts everyone more is the shock of River Plate getting relegated to the B League. As my friend Fer said he read on Twitter, you can expect the death of a parent, sibling, etc, but you do NOT expect River to get relegated. It’s the unthinkable.
Now the higher ups are saying that this was about 300 hooligans who caused the damage and they’re looking for arrests. Still, more preventative measures are being considered for the future, especially concerning the Copa América tournament which Argentina hosts this year.
In other news, Argentina is now facing a polar cold front, with temperatures this morning below 0º Celsius in some parts. This cold is expected to last all week, though it will hardly end. Experts say this will be one of the coldest winters on record for Buenos Aires and the possibility of snowfall for the first time in 2007 is high. Seeing as how I hate the cold and am always complaining about it (despite being from Boston), my trip to Rio de Janeiro couldn’t come at a better time.
On Saturday night I’ll be leaving for Brazil for the first time, and though I’ll only be there four nights, I’m sure it will just be a taste for a future trip (or trips). The only part where it gets complicated is that tomorrow I need to go to the Brazilian Embassy to apply for an expensive visa, which I was hoping to avoid with the arrival of my DNI. However, the DNI hasn’t been delivered yet, so I’m left with no choice but the pay the $617 (U$140) visa fee that we likewise charge Brazilians who want to enter the U.S. It’s only fair.
My last day of work is Thursday, and then it’s just a short leg until it’s back to the United States.
I’ve broken down the numbers on how long I’ve been here for. Within the three year period of living abroad, since my arrival to Buenos Aires on August 22, 2009* to my eventual departure date of July 11, 2011, I will have spent 689 days in Argentina (not counting vacation outside of the country). I put an asterisk because initially I left home on August 20, 2009, but because I missed my connection I had to spend 24 hours in Washington D.C.
Going even further back, from August 30, 2008*, which was the day I landed in Quito, Ecuador, to July 11, 2011, I will have spent 1,046 days in Latin America since leaving home. This doesn’t take into account the three weeks of vacation I had between Argentina and Ecuador, and in reality I left home on August 29, 2008, but spent the night in Miami before waking up early to go to Quito.
It’s been a long time. And no, I had nothing better to do today.
In keeping with the reminiscence of what I’ll miss when I leave Argentina next month, it’s only fitting that I include a short list of the things that I won’t miss about this country. After all, if you’ve read along you’ll know that this hasn’t been the easiest experience I’ve had. Excuse me if this list is longer than the good stuff, but it is what it is. Again, it’s in no particular order:
-A lack of respect for other people’s time. Showing up late is common and expected. If you want people to arrive by 10 pm you have to say 9:30 pm, and even then they’ll be late. It’s sort of rubbed off on me as well, and I need to plan on showing up late to places even though I’m planning it that way.
-No responses from text messages. This would be just plain rude back home. If someone takes the time to send you a message and ask a question, the polite thing is to at least respond with something. But here, maybe because texts cost money which no one wants to spend, you often times just don’t get responses. Later when confronted they’ll say something like, “Yeah I got the text, but I just didn’t feel like answering.” And to them that’s perfectly acceptable.
-Traffic disasters. Whether it’s a road block, bus that doesn’t stop for any reason, or the Subte breaking down, Buenos Aires is a giant headache for public transportation. It’s a shock when you get somewhere in decent time.
-Inflation. I’ve seen prices rise steadily and sometimes sharply overnight on everything, from rent to milk and sugar. It screws everyone over and the salaries don’t increase to match this inflation, hurting those who need a few extra pesos the most.
-Racism. Say what you will about racism throughout the world, but it’s clearly prevalent in Buenos Aires. It’s normal to hear someone say something like “negro de cabeza” (head of a black person) or “negro de mierda” (black piece of shit). They aren’t necessarily referring to racially black people, but to darker skinned mestizos who most likely live in a villa, or ghetto. I’ve had arguments with people about this who claim that their translation of it isn’t the same as it would be in the United States, for example, but it’s very clear that there is a classicist and racial viewpoint of many porteños.
-Incomplete plans. I can’t count the number of times friends and I have had either tentative plans or definite plans which have fallen through at the last minute. For whatever reason, something always comes up and we have to leave it for another time, which of course never comes.
-A lack of food variety. Yes, Argentina has amazing steaks, empanadas, pizza and pasta, etc. Yet after a while you want something different and it’s not exactly easy to find something international of decent quality. That is, of course, unless you want to pay an arm and a leg.
-Random strikes which cripple the city and/or country. You wake up one morning and all of the air crews at the airport decide to strike for higher wages, or Congress is surrounded by truck drivers, or whatever, etc etc.
-Mosquitoes in the summer. There must be a special species of Buenos Aires Blood Suckers which have pincers long and sharp enough to pierce through jeans. They are relentless.
Again, this is just a short list, and maybe I can’t think of more at the moment because I’m not in a bad mood, or simply because my situation has improved since I got here. But then again, every day is a new surprise of trouble here. You never really know which thing will tick you off more.