September 2 – September 7
What Happened When We Arrived
My fellow students and I basically all died of fatigue. After being told we would come back to our study abroad headquarters we all dispersed and met up with our host family. I had the pleasure of meeting not only Martha Rio, but her daughter as well. After unpacking and, determined to try and be on Argentine time, staying awake, I met another of Martha’s children and two of her grandchildren. I also met Juan (John). Juan is with another group within my program, and he speaks Spanish fluently as far as I can tell. He also takes tango classes. The five of them (well, the grandchildren, like most teenagers, didn’t talk much) talked about the exchange rate and Florida…maybe Florida street. They spoke about plenty of other things, but after 24 hours of travel and no sleep except on planes, I couldn’t follow most of what was said, and I was just glad to be eating. I know I went to my study abroad building later and was told some stuff, but I can’t remember much of it, except desperately trying to remember names and be friendly. About half my group is from California and already knows each other, while the rest of us no one or only one other person.
Finally, I came home, at a delicious light dinner, and went to sleep.
Day Two: The Tour
The tour took me to several places where I could be robbed. Thankfully, I still have all my stuff. There were open air markets everywhere with really cool merchandise that was pretty inexpensive – but I held out on the souvenir buying. Our guide, Claudio, was really friendly and willing to answer any questions we asked him. He told us this great story about a condom being put over the Obelisk for World’s AIDS day. We also saw the Plaza de Mayo and La Boca. In La Boca there was this great picture of porteños hauling on this thick boat rope and it was a perfect tango lean they had going. It finally made me understand my story about tango coming from the ports of Buenos Aires a little more than I actually did. There were also the brightly painted buildings that everyone thinks of when they think of BA, but are mainly located in La Boca. When we would hop off the bus and walk around, I would split off and see if people would look at me like a foreigner. Every time someone snatched their purse away from me, I think it meant they thought I could be a native. Or maybe I just smelled bad.
My Host Grandmother
Martha reminds me of my own grandmother in some ways. She cooks, won’t let me into the kitchen, and fusses over me when I leave and come home. The first few days I got several bloody noses and she kept telling me I should go get it cauterized. Thankfully the bleeding stopped, but it seems like me and half of BA has all decided to get sick, so that was worrying her a bit too. I’m doing much better while typing this though. Also, she’s taken to calling me Harry, almost like I look like Harry Potter. She also doesn’t mind when I can’t finish her food; it is tasty though, if a little different. Some mornings though where I can’t all my toast, so I wrap some up in a napkin and hide it in my pants. I put in my backpack and eat it during my class break. My class might think I’m crazy for eating dry toast.
The end of the week
I think I’ve found my first hangout. It’s called café Martinez, they serve medialunas and café de leche for $23, or $6 U.S. (most things will be in pesos when I mention them). It’s not quite a full lunch, but it’s a nice snack, and they don’t seem to mind breaking the hundreds that the base insists on giving me. I still need to find a place for empanadas though, which you would think would be easy in Argentina! However, I’m picky, and want cheap ones so I can eat there every day if I need to, since I’m not quite sure what to get at the supermarket yet though, but I’ll figure it out soon. Since I came into Martinez’s today they have played Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend, Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi and I’ll be Watching You by The Police. Oh, and of course LMAFO made an appearance with Sexy and I Know It. Something about finally having a place where I recognize one of the waiters, and complaining to many of my friends back home about the noise and air pollution, is helping me get over the culture shock of getting here.
Yeah, I had a vision of BA as a magical city where all my dreams will come true, but it’s just a place. I still have to work to actually make shit happen – go figure.
What BA’s Been Like
It’s been cold. I can’t tell you how great that’s been. This Friday it’s been raining all day and I love it. It’s hard not to stare at all the people with umbrellas, since apparently here it’s not too windy to use them. Still, it’s just a little rain. I got a combination bus/train/subway card, which has been really helpful for getting around the city. So far I haven’t gone too far out of walking distance except to go to La Viruta, but more on tango later. The people in the streets aren’t much for making eye contact and smiling, so I’ve stopped trying that, except the doormen in my building who already know me well enough to buzz me in; I like them.
Apparently, there are robbers everywhere. I have not seen any yet though. Still, on buses and the subway I wear my backpack on my chest where I can watch it and try to look alert. The buses, like pedestrians, ignore traffic lights as long as it’s sort of safe and not on a super busy street. The buses don’t always stop all the way for you to get on or off, so you learn to be quick on your feet or you don’t get to ride the bus. Thankfully, Juan, my infinitely patient housemate, took the time to show me a couple things about getting around and fearlessly asking for direction. He even took me to my first tango class. Speaking of which…
I tried not to have high expectations for my first tango class. Juan and I showed up, and I immediately noticed two things before paying the $35 entrada. The floor was tiled, and the people were dancing, to the best of my knowledge, East Coast swing. After we got a locker for our things, all tables being reserved, Juan and I brought four promotional entradas for $60. Before tango started, a woman from Oklahoma found us and rejoiced that there were other people who spoke English there. Finally, the tango class started.
Unsure of my level, and wanting to get a feel for the local styles, I opted for the intermediate class instead of the advanced. We learned a basic cross step out of the backwards ochos, which I’ve taught a few times before. Still, the embrace there was different; the follows didn’t lean as much as I was used to, and I discovered later they wanted my left hand to be in a more middling section between us, even if it didn’t seem to feel as comfortable for the follow. I did manage the sequence just fine though. After the lesson, Juan introduced me to three of his friends, and began making friends with a Brazilian woman in addition to Hannah, who we met earlier. Did I mention that everyone likes Juan? He’s a salt of the earth sort of guy. All of folks I met were from the U.S. and new to tango. One is a Whovian. There were no tandas. I remember hearing tandas were longer in Argentina, but after dancing nearly ten songs in a row, and the music then switching back to something that was like swing, I’m pretty sure they do not do tandas on lesson night. None of my newfound friends had even heard of tandas, so it’s probably only on milonga nights…maybe.
As luck would have it, my study abroad program scheduled my group for a tango lesson the next day – at La Viruta! Before the class I even got a nod from one of the instructors from the night before who recognized me! This time, while my peers went to try the beginner class on for size, I went to the advanced class that was a little short on leads. We learned a neat move in cross sequence, but I had trouble learning linear ochos in parallel without doing the duck-walk. Overall though, it was awesome. One woman said I was the most porteño man in the group, and I was the only lead who tried to dance with everyone, not just the pretty young women, except the profesor of course. Having abandoned all my study abroad fellows for the advanced class, I danced with them mostly during the break.
Before the salsa class started, there was a warm-up line dance that was a ton of fun. I even got some compliments on my booty shaking. After that, I made friends with an older man named Rodolfo, who asked if I was from Italy, and we chatted until the salsa class began. The salsa class was fun, but people from my group kept leaving, and I didn’t want to be one of the last ones to go and not have someone to go home with, so I started getting ready to leave with some friends. However, there was a three-year-old little girl who I got to dance with a little bit before I left. She kept sneaking looks at me around the shoulder of one of my friends, which I thought was a pretty good cabaceo for her. She was absolutely adorable, I asked her to dance in Spanish, and once we finished I told her she was the queen of salsa.
That night I bused home, and only had to ask for directions once.