Toady was very interesting. We got to sleep in since we got to the hotel so late last night- they moved our morning meeting to a later-morning meeting. Thank God. I got up at 10 and then for a half hour walked around the area of our hotel and just looked around a bit. Buenos Aires reminds me a LOT of what I think that New York must be like. I think there are about 13 million people not in the metropolitan area but in the whole city itself! 17 million are in the metro area. Lordy. Anyway, I really like it here! I passed also about 20 leather stores, so that’s exciting- the prices are great and I still have a ton of gifts to buy.
At 11, we all met at the hotel and had a meeting with a guy from the US Commercial Service section of the US Embassy. It was very interesting, especially to see the American perspective on the Argentine economy. He talked about the possibilities for American business in the region, not for native business, which makes sense since that’s his job. The whole thing that keeps getting harped on for every business meeting I attend in both Argentina and Chile is free trade. My professor also really agrees with the idea of it, and gave me a whole talk at dinner about import-substitution economies and price-controls and why those things are actual horrible for the long term economy. Of course, free trade can be problematic since it encourages outside businesses to come in which makes things harder for the native business people. But, when Latin America was concerned about this very thing and doing import-substitution, meaning basically that no outside goods were allowed in, only native goods. However this led to a lack of innovation which meant the products couldn’t compete in a world market, so there were no exports either. And I’m not going to lie, I don’t completely understand it- economics is NOT my thing- but then Argentina pegged the dollar which was a disaster because prices rose in the country which also made them less competitive on a world scale and then in 2001 there was the crash and Argentina unpegged the dollar and defaulted on its loans and it was a disaster and everyone lost all their money. So. Anyway, according to everything I’ve heard, foreign business is actual good for a country. So, yay free trade!
The US Commerical Service guy seemed very nice, and also he talked a little bit about the perception of Americans in Argentina. It seems like they really don’t like the United States or Bush, but they’re ok with individual Americans. I imagine that it’s like this in most places in the world, no?
After that we had time to change and then go have lunch and get back to the hotel to get on the bus by 1:30. Alas, Lisa and I thought it was 2:30 so we missed the bus, which really sucked a lot. We had shopped around a bit, just looking and then had coffee in a small café down the street. When we got back to the hotel at 2:00 there was a guy there from Austral Group to tell us we missed the bus. Obviously, we panicked for a bit and then got a cab to meet up with the group at ESMA, the military school where a lot of the detentions and torture happened during the dirty war. Fortunately we didn’t miss too much, and we also got to interview the cab driver for our project. This is pretty amazing for me because he didn’t speak English, and they say that when you can talk to someone who doesn’t speak English then you can really speak the language. So go me! I really need to live in a Latin American country- I feel like I could really learn it so fast. He was very interesting and is not at ALL happy about Cristina or Nestor Kirchner- we had a bit of a discussion about the political systems and how in America the president doesn’t have to get over 50%, he just has to have more than the other guys. Evidently Kirchner won no big cities in Argentina, but won all of the country areas, because she’s strong on labor. Also, according to the Commercial Services guy, she ran basically without a platform and was out of the country for the last three months before the election so she wouldn’t have to answer any questions, which has them a bit freaked out since they don’t know what she’s going to do. Also she just hired a 35 year old Economic Minister, which is unheard of, so they’re very wary right now.
The tour of ESMA wasn’t quite as affecting as Villa Grimaldi. I think this is because our guide wasn’t herself a survivor, because she had a bit of trouble with English, and also because I was still in a little bit of a panic from missing the bus. Nonetheless it was horrifying and I still can’t believe the things that people are willing to do to each other. The really sad thing is that I understand perfectly why it happens- and in Argentina, there was more of a “reason” for it than in Chile- but that means nothing. Before the military took over, during Isabel Peron’s administration, there was basically a guerrilla war in the streets of the leftist vs. the rightest Peronistas. (And boy is Peronismo a topic- ask if you want me to tell you. :-D) So when the military had their coup, the rightests “won” and they considered what they were doing a “war” still against the leftists, in way. Of course, it wasn’t a war, and that was only the beginning because later on the kidnapped just about anyone. In Chile the reason was to get info about other subversives, as it was in Argentina, and to terrify the population, as it also was in Argentina. But in Argentina the military thought they were at war. Either way it’s disgusting and unforgivable. The main way of killing people was to give them a shot of pentethol in the infirmary to put them to sleep, and then take them to the airport and throw them out of a plane over the ocean. The building was in a huge lot in the middle of the city with trees and green spaces and everything, and the juxtaposition between the place and what happened there is very strange to me. The same is true of Villa Grimaldi. L
In Chile, the torture and killing is NEVER mentioned. Barely any schools teach it, and tons of people are still willing to deny it happened or to say “it wasn’t that bad” or “they deserved it”. The same is not true in Argentina. People still don’t like talking about it, of course- but they learn about it in school and the government paid to turn ESMA into a museum, whereas Villa Grimaldi was only paid for by donations. I have a feeling that this is largely due to the influence of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, who, in conjunction with the Malvinas War, really brought down the dictatorship.
After that we continued on a bus tour of the city, and just drove around to see a bunch of different neighborhoods. We got out in a touristy section of La Boca, which is one of the poorest areas in the city and isn’t that safe except for the tourist section we were in. I didn’t buy anything there though maybe I will go back and buy stuff later if I can’t find presents for people elsewhere. It was a pretty cool area- I sat down with the professors and had empanadas and watched a mini-tango show and watched a guy sing, which was fun. I poked around a bit in the shops as well, and although it was touristy the stuff was nice. Now Lisa and I are about to go to dinner, and then she and I may go out- she definitely will, but it might be until 4 in the morning and we have to be up at 8 so I’m debating, especially since we have free days in the city and I want to be awake for the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo tomorrow.
Interesting facts about Buenos Aires:
-it has 101 neighborhoods
-there is a HUGE park called Parque Palermo
-there are tunnels under the city that were built by the Spanish settlers in case of an attack by Indians or other Europeans
-the government building is called the Red House, and Evita really did talk to the people from the balcony- crazy!
-Tango started in the San Telmo area.
Ok, Lisa and I just got back from dinner! It was REALLY nice. We went to a place that our guide sheet recommended, called Juana M. It’s a really unknown restaurant- only Porteños (or Buenos Aireans) know about it. It’s in the basement of a building and there’s actually no sign, so it’s very very hard to find. It’s SUPER SUPER CHEAP. We got a 15 ounce rib-eye steak for $10 American, and a bottle of nice wine for $5. The whole meal was like $25. And it was DELICIOUS. Beef is really Argentina’s thing! We had a nice conversation over dinner, and interestingly enough I deconstructed my McGill experience for Lisa. It’s still a bit hard for me to talk about. But I think this was a good chance for me to talk about it, and it really made me think. I will always wonder what kind of person I would be if I had stayed- stronger, certainly. But all the wonderful experiences at DePaul I wouldn’t have had. So, who can tell, right?
Anyway, Lisa got a tad inebriated so we didn’t stay as long as meals normally are in Argentina- an hour and a half instead of 2 and a half. She decided not to go out because of this, so I walked her back to the hotel and we got in about 10. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to do *everything* I can while here, so I got a bit nervous about probably not going out tonight, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit relieved that she wasn’t because I wouldn’t want to go without her. And I’ll definitely go out another night when I have nothing in the morning. It’s a shame that we were in so early tonight though because there’s SO much to do and SO little time… we had a fantastic day and a fantastic dinner so no complaints here. So much to do, lord… it can be hard travelling with a bunch of people because there’s TONS of stuff I want to do, but tons of stuff other people want to do also, and you’re really not supposed to go alone. But even if I do get to do everything on my list, I will definitely have to come back- and since I won’t, then I *definitely* have to come back. Muther? Caraleigh? Whenever you guys are up for it. You’ll both adore it here. And Santiago too, oh my God.
The mood in the group is an odd one. Everyone but me and Lisa and a couple other people are out ‘til 4 in the morning every night, which is no surprise, but I don’t want to do that until we have a free day the next day because otherwise I’ll miss everything during the day- but I do worry about what I’m missing at night. I want to see all sides of the city. I’ll definitely go out at least one or two nights, though, so I think that should be enough- but 4 in the morning, lord. Whatever, I’ll find a hot Argentine man.
I should write a bit more about Santiago (the person, not the city) and Lloyd. Santiago has been with us since Mendoza and will stay throughout Argentina. He’s a very soft spoken Argentine with a very adorable accent and the cutest glasses ever, and he’s hysterical in a quiet way (like Darren!) So I’m happy about that. Lloyd it hysterical is an overt way, and is a crazy British man who I also have a crush on who has been with us since the beginning. Oh, older men. He has been with us the whole time and has promised that on the last day he will attempt for us a Chicago accent. He also as I wrote last night taught us to play Dirty Slut and talked about how he played it when he was in China, doing something I forgot. Crazy British men in China, hee. Also he is helpful and knowledgeable and also he has a British accent.
Oooh, he told me that Austral arranges groups of past students to do other shorter fun tours, and that they’re going to do one to Macchu Picchu. Anyone????
Today has been fine so far. Lisa and I woke up at 7 and got down to the lobby by 8, which is when we were supposed to be there so that we could go see the Southern Cone headquarters for Kraft Foods. Unfortunately, a lot of people were out until 6 last night and they didn’t show up downstairs until nearly 9, and we didn’t leave them because our professor’s went up to get them so that they would suffer. Hah. The ride to Kraft was about an hour, and then we had a short presentation by the director. It was interesting but I’m sort of sick of business stuff. After that, though, we got a tour of the factory which was fascinating. We got to see everything, from how they made the dough to how they baked in to how they packaged it. It was super hot everywhere and I felt so bad for the workers, ugh. The plant we were at did biscuits and chocolate and pasta. There were conveyor belts and huge machines everywhere. It was weird; I academically know, of course, that my food isn’t cooked in some sort of at-home oven, but it’s weird to see it being made that way. One interesting thing our guide said is that different factories can know exactly how to make the cookies, and even use the exact same machinery, but they never taste the same from different factories. For oreos, for example, they have a panel whose job it to rank the taste from the factories around the world against the taste of American oreos. Weird! When we left, they gave us each a really large business book about foreign investment, and a HUGE bag of food. OMG I love Kraft.
We got to wear hair nets and ear plugs and weird doctor-jackety things. I will have a picture. This trip has been a lot of dress up- I wore a miner’s outfit at the mines, and a hardhat at IMPSA. Fun times!
In a bit we’re going to see the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, so that’s super exciting, but it will probably be sad. We’re going to the Plaza de Mayo where there will also be teachers protesting their low pay, and people there regarding Cristiana Kirchner’s swearing in on Monday.
Some things to mention about Argentina:
-People here LOVE CARAMEL. Love it. They call is “dulce de leche”, and it’s in every dessert ever. It’s not exactly *hard* to find chocolate, but to find chocolate without caramel is a huge challenge. The main sweet here is called alfajon, or alfajones, and it’s this concoction that has three chocolate crackery things, and between them there’s a layer of chocolate mousse and a layer of caramel. It’s pretty good.
-The Argentines also have the Latin American way of life! Out until 5 AM very often, and then waking up late, etc. Good times. On our first night here, a bunch of guys stumbles first onto a gay club and then onto a brothel. Whataya gonna do.
ETA:L Ok, I am back for a bit. I had a very fun afternoon- we all went walking down to eat at a small restaurant. I ordered some beef, since that is what you do in Argentina, but they gave me this monstrous plate of at least 16 ounces of meat, I am not kidding. So I ate like a fourth of it. Lord. Anyway, dinner was very nice and we all hung out and it was grand. Santiago sat at our table, and he is the funniest man ever. He lectured us on how women peak at about 25, and by 30 we’re sagging, but men just keep getting better and better looking and thus his girlfriend shouldn’t lecture him about his tummy. Honestly, I am in love.
Then we continued walking until we reached the Plaza de Mayo, where the Mothers of the Disappeared have been holding protests every Thursday for 30 years. This was very affecting. Today was the last protest of the year, so they are going for 24 hours- so there weren’t a ton of mother still there, though of course there are now less than there used to be. I got a ton of pictures and some video as well. After we watched them walk, we spoke to one of the mothers and she told us her story about how her son was abducted and how she thought he would come back for 5 years until the government of Alfonsín took power. It was really sad. She said that he had been abducted because he was political, and fighting for democracy, but also because one of the women he knew had been taking and tortured and pointed out all of her friends. She must have been about 80 and she’s out there every Thursday talking to people and making sure that people will remember. Everyone seems to have given up hope of ever finding out what exactly happened and why or getting justice, and so now they really just want people to remember.
After the Madres, we went quickly to a large cathedral that houses the grave of José San Martín, the man who helped liberated Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador from the Spanish. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t know a ton about him, but the grave was huge and magnificent. Unfortunately, no pictures. He is embalmed and buried in four caskets, and so his coffin had to be put sideways into the grave because it was too large. We talked a bit to a nice old man who was ones of the “Caballeros of San Martín”, basically a keeper of the grave. When I get back, I am going to buy a book on San Martín and learn about him.
After that, Lisa and I went shopping on La Avenida Florida. It is a HUGE shopping street and it was very very crowded. Buenos Aires is definitely how I picture that New York must be, down to the tiny sidewalks and the trash bags on the street. I don’t *super* love the center of the city, just because it’s way too crowded, but I still love the city. :-D I still didn’t buy anything. I’m feeling a LOT overwhelmed by just how much there is. But I am starting to panic a bit because I have a lot of presents to buy!
ETA: This is a very disjointed blog because I just got home again from going out to dinner.
After my last entry, Lisa and I went down to the bar in the hotel to have drinks in celebration of Prof. Felix’s and Julie’s birthday (randomly, Julie knows Rachel!! Btw!) So that was really nice, except we were supposed to be there at 7:30 and most people didn’t show up until 8. Of course, Felix didn’t either so that was ok. Prof. Larrea bought him a *super* nice watch, and everyone from the group chipped in a little, and Felix was really happy with it and it fit him perfectly. So that was great! Nancy got a pair of earrings and a liter of beer (which, I should mention, is the standard size here. I am not joking.)
At about 9:15 or so, Lisa and I left for dinner, deciding again not to stick with the huge group. The Austral Group gave us a form of fun things to do in Buenos Aires, and I read through it, and there was this one restaurant called “Clásica y Moderna” that I really wanted to go to. It used to be a bookstore but it was going to be closed and torn down, so they decided to turn it into a half bookstore/half restaurant. Every Wednesday to Sunday they have performances with people singing or dancing, etc. Recently Clásica y Moderna was named a “significant cultural site in the city”! So, I really wanted to go there and it was a bit of a walk but we decided it was better to do that than take a cab. We were so fortunate because even though there was a performance tonight, we got literally the last unreserved table. SO LUCKY.
Before we ate, I wandered into the bookstore half and there was a guy working there whose name is Gastón. Oh, Gastón. He talked to me a bit about history (he used to be a history major, but now he’s starting psychology) and I asked him about some good books- I ended up buying a history of Argentina book. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to talk to him because I had to sit down and join Lisa, but he checked me out and asked me where I was from. I told him, and he told me that he has friends in Pittsburgh and Denver. Then he gave me his card, e-mail, and number and told him to call him if I have any questions or problems while in the city. Oh, Gastón! (He was really cute. Maybe I should e-mail him. Alas, our loved is doomed, since I live like 6000 miles away. Seriously, farther away than Russia is from the US.)
Dinner was great. Neither Lisa or I was super hungry so we shared a big sandwich (Seriously. Argentina portions are HUGE.) and the show started about 15 minutes after we sat down. It was AMAZING. It was a little band and two singers, a man and a woman, doing famous French songs and one or two Spanish songs. They both had such amazing voices that I can’t stand it. I didn’t understand all of the Spanish, and I understood none of the French, but what a fantastic place and night. And it was cheap, even for Buenos Aires! We had to pay $50 pesos for the show, or about $17 American, and about $15 American for the food and drinks. Man. :-D
We got there about 9:30 and got home about 12:15. Overall, a very successful night.
Tomorrow I may go to a club! We shall see!
Things of note:
-It is summer in Argentina thus schools are getting out! The lads stumbled upon a high school graduation party last night.
-I am a bit in love with Santiago after lunch today. I didn’t mention before but he’s lawyer and has 4 jobs (this and 3 freelance ones). He does this job because he really loves to network and it’s a perfect opportunity, but he really wants to do, like, finance stuff. Weirdo. :-p
-LLOYD IS ONLY 24. I AM NOW VERY IN LOVE WITH HIM. Seriously, he is wrangling us all, and is super mature (although he does like to go out drinking with the boys) but two of the guys on our trip are older than him and SIGNIFICANTLY less mature. Tonight at the bar I got him to say “dearie me” again. He is coming to Chicago next October and we all promised to make him an itinerary and show him around. :-p Alas, he has a serious girlfriend, with whom he lives in Santiago. Dang, man.
-Traffic. Traffic SUCKS in Buenos Aires. You think it sucks in Chicago? It SUCKS in Buenos Aires. And people are perfectly happy to run you over whenever they want.
-Spanish words! I’m not yet positive but it seems that they *may* still use the vos. form in Argentina. I need to check this out, as well as to find out *exactly* what ?Qué tal? means and the appropriate response to it.
-Things I can now say I’ve done:
-rode a horse in a plateau of the Andes Mountains
-crossed the widest boulevard in the world (9th de Julio)
-To buy at some point: Edith Piaf’s La Vie in Rose
Con cariñosa y amor,