Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Pictures from BA

I found out that my links may not be working if you are not a member of facebook. I'll try to do this a different way. Let me know if you still have troubles.


Photos of Buenos Aires: Leaving, Botanical Garden, and Japanese Garden

Here is the first group of pictures. More will be coming today.

You shouldn't have to be a member of facebook to see this photos. Let me know if you have any troubles.

Chau! Dave

I hopefully fixed the links. Let me know if you still have troubles--Dave

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Try this at home: Experimental Success

Before I left for BA, a car salesman at a local car dealer asked my mom for me to find out which way the water spins in the Southern Hemisphere. This gentleman always asked foreign exchange students this question and stumped them. After 2 weeks in Argentina, I can tell you finally the correct direction of water.

This solution wasn't easy to come by. Usually its very easy to fill a drain or a tub and leave the water out. In this case, I have had to observe water in bathrooms and sinks for two weeks to come to a definite conclusion. The reason is that the commodes here are set up different. They don't just drain, they also have this secondary tube that spurts water out preventing me from getting my answer.

So finally, this morning, I got this brainstorm. I could block the drain in the shower and gather more water with more velocity. Then I would know for sure what direction it flows. So I blocked it with my foot, and FOUND the answer.

KIDS: You can try this at home.

The water in the Southern Hemisphere spins without a doubt counterclockwise. See for yourself what it does in the Northern Hemisphere and let me know what it is with a comment :)

More posts coming soon...

¡Chau! Dave

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

First Full Day in BA (split post) Part 2 - 12 Feb 2008

---Secondo Parte---

This was my first experience with dulce de leche. It’s a famous desert/sweet here in Argentina. Dulce de leche is sweet caramelized milk. I remember when Hanna studied in Argentina with Sra. Rolón, she told me how wonderful this stuff was. It really is quite good.

Oh for my knitting friends, I found my first yarn shop in Recoleta. It probably was more of a notions shop because it had hundreds of buttons, stuff for sewing, and a bit of yarn. I can’t wait to go to the area of Palermo that has more yarn, but my wallet will hold me back.

After my lunch I was heading to explore the acclaimed Recoleta Cemetery. When two men approached me with vests that had Red Cross’s on them. The funny thing is that I usually avoid these kinds of people when I’m traveling, but they caught me because I was gauking a bit too much when I turned onto the street toward the cemetery. I took it in stride because it ended up being a good conversation. They wanted to know how long I was in BA and for what purpose. They made a bunch of different recommendation, i.e. go to Puerto Madero and La Boca. We chatted about the cemetery and church, too. They then told me their purpose. They are volunteers for a nonprofit organization in BA Asociación Civil “Si a la Vida”, or Yes to Life, Civil Organization. Their organization provides two functions: First, they provide educational resources to citizens and foreigners traveling to BA about HIV/AIDS and second they provide services to children stricken with HIV/AIDS specifically.

They asked for money, and I gave a few pesos, in return they gave me a red ribbon. After I knew all of this, I chatted to them about things I’m involved with at Gettysburg College with World Aids week. They told me where their volunteers are at and said they would permit me to interview them if I needed it for my research. They also said there are doctors I could talk to affiliated with their association! It was an exciting mistake. Wear red tomorrow, and tell someone about HIV/AIDS awareness—better yet, inform them about the risks of Heart Disease, too.

Next I went to Del Pilar Cloisters, or Our Lady of Pilar Basílica. This church and convent was built by commission in 1715 by the King of Spain Felipe V for Franciscan monks. Later Juan de Narbona from Spain commissioned a chapel, office, and 4 cells, which was ultimately dedicated to Our Lady of Pilar. The tradition goes that the Christian Apostle James crossed a bridge over the river Ebro when the Virgin appeared on a marble pillar. Accordingly James called her Virgin of the Pilar and the name stuck. In 1822 the monks were kicked out of the convent and the church was reopened as a parish of the Catholic church on 18 November 1829. Finally Pope Pio XI raised the church to the title of Basilica in 1936.

I thought the Prayer to Our Lady of Pilar was quite nice (It was from their brochure, so I lay no claims to its validity):
Show us the Father each day.
Show us Christ,
Who lives in our brothers.
Teach us to live simply the fecundity of sanctity.
Show godless and embittered men
who only trust weapons and live the explosive temptation of violence that
Peace is still possible
because Love is possible.

I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary with this basilica fashioned with guidelines from the Middle Ages. The museum was interesting because it had many very old relics from the early convent that are still used for special services today. A man was there taking down an exhibition of Nacimientos from Christmas and I talked with him a bit. (Nacimientos are also known as Crèche or Nativity’s). The other great thing for a strange perspective on photos is that there are really neat windows that look onto the cemetery from the 2nd and 3rd floors. These are great places for an interesting perspective on the cemetery. In fact the windows make the cemetery look overwhelming.

My cousin Jennifer told me to visit the cemetery—without her knowing that I have a bit of a fetish for cemeteries. I guess I get it honestly; my grandma is the recording secretary for St. John’s Cemetery, Berrysburg, PA (aside St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). This cemetery was very different than cemeteries in the US or the cemetery I spent time in Cuernavaca. I’ll try to put in words some history of the cemetery and some of my reflections on why this was quite interesting.

The cemetery was started after the monastery had begun, but didn’t really come into full service until after the Basilica of Our Lady Pilar became a parish. Because this is located in a historically wealthy and aristocratic part of town, over time this became the cemetery that the elite were buried in BA. To be buried in this cemetery, you had to be part of an elite class in BA. It’s interesting because the mausoleums are quite posh; most are constructed out of stone, granite, or marble. The tombs are full structures. They usually have multiple people in the same family buried within their walls. Many of the rooms have an underground section, too. The acclaimed Evita Perón is buried here.

I’m just starting to learn about Argentine history, so I will be brief with my remarks about Perón. Evita was the wife of Juan Perón, who led Argentina in the 50’s. You might remember her when Madonna played Evita while serenading to ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ on a balcony of la Casa Rosada. Evita had humble beginnings born out of wedlock and become someone fantastic.

One of the plaques on her grave says: “Es y será la guia de los trabajadores argentinos y su legado iluminara por siempre el camino de la justicia social sindicato unico de trabajadores del estado de la ciudad de Buenos Aires,” or loosely in English, “She is and will be the guide to Argentine workers and her legacy will always iluminate the walk toward united workers in labor unions in the city of Buenos Aires.”

One thing that kind of resonates with me is that internationally we are all drawn to leaders like Perón. Her legacy will never be forgotten. After talking with my host family about this, it seems like Argentines think of Perón very highly, too. When I saw her grave, I was taken aback at the shear number of people congregating at her grave—it was an international moment. Some were Argentines, French, German, English, Americans, Japanese—it was neat. It was the first time I actually heard all of these languages at once since I arrived in BA.

The sad part of this cemetery is that it is falling into disrepair. The upkeep of these burials is incredible, since most of the graves themselves are like small houses. Accordingly this has gotten much worse since the economic recession in 2001 and the government has started to assist in its upkeep since it is a major venue for tourism.

It’s really interesting to me how much resources we put into death. In modern day, we plan for it, some of us try to put it off—while others try to quicken death’s pace—but inevitably graves seem to the last thing we are entitled to on this earth. It amazes me that Archaeologists tend to find a lot of their information about a past culture through grave yards. I guess the question I’ve been pondering is: Why do societies put so much emphasis on death? Sometimes I think we put so much emphasis on dying and planning for death as a society that each of us forget to live the days we have. I guess in some cases our religious persuasion creates this climate, since most major religions believe that the afterlife will be better than the present, earthly life. I think it’s something worth pondering. What do you think?

So the day got more entertaining as time marched on. After the cemetery, I got this amazing idea to walk through Recoleta on the way to Alto Palermo and then back to my home in Lafinur. In theory it was great—if I only would have been paying attention to the map. I went through Recoleta and went to Avenida Santa Fe which runs parallel to Alto Palermo. I just went the wrong way—not realizing it at the time—and ended up on Avenida 9 Julio de Septiembre towards town center. I saw a Subte (metro) station close by and realized what I had done at that point. (I know my mother will be rolling her eyes at this point when she reads this…) So I decided to use the Subte to go to estación Bulnes, near Alto Palermo. It was a silly mistake in hindsight, but I got to walk down one of the prettiest avenidas in BA, so it all turned out quite good!

At Alto Palermo I shopped around and got the cheapest cell phone I could find at the many kiosks. It will be adequate for my time here. The guy that sold it to me talked fast, but I understood him. I headed back to the apartment for dinner around 8, and that completed my first full day in BA.

I had problems getting the cell phone to work—even Mateo tried to help me. But we are going to return to Alto Palermo tomorrow to talk to the people at the kiosk again. We’ll see what happens.

I think I am supposed to study here.

On a language note, generally I don’t have a lot of problems getting around. Strangers on the street are hard for me to understand because of their thick Argentine accent, but its improving a little at a time. It is taking me quite a bit of time to think with the right past tense forms again. Preterite tense is kicking my butt once again. I always confuse the ‘I’ and ‘he/she/it’ forms. Though, I know it will improve since it is a recurring problem I have had since my second year of Spanish in high school.

Para ahora, ¡Chau!

Address for Asociatión Civil “Si a la Vida”:
Mar Dulce 385
Ciudad de Buenos Aires
Phone: 4268-1350
Ministry of Health Argentina

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

First Full Day in BA (split post) Part 1 - 12 Feb 2008


Today was an exciting day: I went to many gardens, walked around BA, and got a bit lost all in one day. What more can you ask for? I can say that all is good when it ends well!

I started my day by going to Jardín Botánico very close to where I live. Its really a gorgeous garden, reminding me of Jardín Borda in Cuernavaca and Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. This garden has many statues and tons of interesting and diverse plantings. It is free, so I intend on spending time studying and reading there in the future. The cats in this garden are hysterical. I must have counted at least 50 of them while I was there, and people love petting them and feeding them. No wonder there is so many of them. I’d hate to see what they would do with my grandfather’s cat concoction because the people here feed them top of the line food: bread, meat, etc. It’s funny.

Attached to the botanical garden is a school that people can take courses about plants. Depending on the time of year, the classes are different. I find it interesting that most of the annual plantings here are the same that we would use in America: impatiens, petunias, portulacas, et al. Also they plant a huge variety of hydrangea’s that are all in bloom right now. Another interesting thing is that a lot of trees are in full bloom now yielding gorgeous pink, blue, and lavender flowers all over the city.

After Jardín Botánico, I walked down Avenida Sarmiento and saw the Sociedad Rural Agricultura. It seems to be a complex very similar to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, PA. I found out that they have a Farm Show-like exposition in June and July. And I will be able to go to it! I decided to save the zoo for another time and then headed toward the Jardín Japones or Japanese garden.

It’s hard to explain the vast number of parks that exist in this part of Buenos Aires. I assume there must have been some urban planning involved because it would be highly contended land, I would assume. There are vast pristine parks on every side of the streets. Many Argentines stroll with their children or are reading at the many park benches.

Everywhere I go I see Argentines reading. They seem to be reading novels more than newspapers, too. If the number of bookstores, or librarías, are evidence to how much they read, I’d say they read more than Americans! For book lovers, this is the place to be because there are definitely more bookstores here than in New York City. In fact probably in Palermo there are 4 times the number of bookstores than in Harrisburg area. The cool thing is that each bookstore seems to have a specialty: literature, magazines, tourism, children’s literature, gently used, etc. It’s very different than México in this respect.

At a store similar to Borders, I bought a book to read that I was familiar with since it would probably be easier to read in Spanish. Comer en Italia, Rezar en India, Amar en Indonesia, or Eat, Pray, and Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was featured on Oprah several months back and I was going borrow Karel’s copy when I got back, but I decided to read it now. So far the book is going well. I think it will be a good book for my while traveling abroad since Elizabeth did traveling after her traumatic divorce. The reading seems to be getting easier, thankfully…poco a poco…

Ok…sorry about that rant, but those that know me understand my constant ranting J. Next I went to Avenida Adolfo Berra (close to Avenida Presidente Figueroa Alcorta) to visit the acclaimed Japanese Garden, or Jardín Japones. This is an incredible place. It is founded by la Fundación Cultural Argentino Japonesa, or the Argentine-Japanese Cultural Foundation and by a small entrance fee into the garden (about $1.50 dollars). There is a pretty large lake with hundreds of koi fish in the garden. The garden itself was very relaxing to sit or walk around. You could buy bread in the garden to feed to the ducks and fish. A girl was feeding the fish, which was when I actually realized just how many fish were in the pond. I took several pictures here of the fish, gardens, and the many bonsai for my Asian Studies friends, aka Beth, Cat and Aubrey. There also was a sushi bar, library, and museum in the garden. (Sushi is all the rage here right now; maybe I’ll muster some courage to try some different varieties).

After the botanical gardens, I decided to walk down Avenida Presidente Figueroa Alcorta toward el Museo del Arte Latinoamericana. I knew I wasn’t going to go into the museum because the guides tell me that it’s free on Wednesday’s. So I’m going to this museum on a Wednesday in the future.

By this time I was getting hungry, and I knew I wanted to go to the famous Cemetery in Recoleta, so I figured I would get something close to there. I ended up eating at a fantastic restaurant called Monaco in Recoleta. They have lunch specials and I got chicken in a leek cream sauce with mashed squashe, red wine (a Malbec), dessert, and coffee for well under $10. This restaurant was a rotiserrie, so the chicken had a great smoky flavor. The desert I chose was a pastry, similar to a cream puff that was filled with ice cream—I chose mixed fruit and lemon ice cream—and it was drizzled with dulce de leche and chocolate. ¡Buenismo! After I left the restaurant, I read in the guidebook that this is one of the best restaurants in BA.

There will be a second part to this post. I will write it at home and then upload it at a cibercafé later.

¡Hasta luego!

In BA for a day -- 10 Feb. 2008

¡Estoy en Calle Lafinur en Buenos Aires!

View Larger Map

For the non Spanish speakers among us, I just announced that I’m in Lafinur Street in Buenos Aires! I had a rather uneventful flight into Buenos Aires from Atlanta. I definitely will travel again, especially when you arrive and realize where you’re at.

While I was in Atlanta I was able to catch up with Stacy, my mom, Anya, and Aunt Karel. It was a good time to talk to them since I had about a 3.5 hour layover. Atlanta’s airport is super easy to navigate thanks to the wonderful metro-like transports. It’s definitely an airport that’s handicapped accessible. I was prepared for these metro cars thanks to my cousin Anya and Stacy. (P.S.—they were neat, Anya)

According to my seating preference, I had an end seat. I sat with a gentlemen from Boston who was coming to Argentina to go on a dove hunt in Córdoba. (…after speaking with him, if I could just convince my dad to take a flight to the airport, he’d have the vacation of the lifetime…pssst…if you see him, remind him that passports can be expressed). In the seats behind me I was able to talk to two students, one from Washington, D.C., and the other from Holland. The girl from Washington, D.C., will be staying in Buenos Aires for a year working on her Master’s Degree, and the other guy from Holland is staying for two weeks to work on his language skills. The girl who is getting her Master´s her in BA received a scholarship from the Rotary Clubs. I think it would be a great program to apply for in the future.

The plane didn’t have much turbulence; we had some from time to time when we crossed the equator and again when we were over Columbia. The plane took a different trajectory than I has assumed. We left Atlanta and flew over Cuba and started to curve over to Columbia, through Bolivia, and then into Argentina until we got to BA the flight ran 30 minutes ahead of time and landed around 9:15AM in BA; however, we were tied up in customs for quite awhile. I have a visitors pass, but I will need to upgrade it to a student visa at the embassy.

I was easily able to navigate the airport, got money out of an ATM (cajero automático), and paid for a remiso, or paid taxi car to take me to my family. I know I have a lot to learn about Spanish, but I definitely know enough about the language to mitigate through any travel related circumstances without thinking—way cool.

The taxista took me to my semester-home in Palermo in about 30 minutes. I got to look at the streets first hand when we got off of the autopista (highway). The city is very pretty. I think it has a certain enchantment because there are little parks hiding every few blocks, and the porteños walk there dogs everywhere. When I got to my house, I rang María Inés’ apartment and she came down to greet me. I live on the second story of a multiple story apartment complex. It’s very secure since you need a key to get into the foyer and the elevator and it appears that we live on a nice street, too.

María probably is in her 50’s or 60’s and is full of pep. She lives here with her son Matias. Matias is 36 years old. It’s quite common for children to live with their parents until they’re married like many other parts of the world. She welcomed me with “los brazos abiertos” or with open arms. The apartment is functional with a kitchen, 3 bedrooms and a living room. She has several little patio areas that are covered with plants, reminding me of both of my grandmas. Both Matias and her are very eager to talk with me. Matias took me to a store to get a phone card so I could call my mom, and I got a mini-tour of the area.

My first meal in Argentina consisted of one of my cousin’s favorite regular foods. She heated up a rotisserie chicken from a supermarket and made salad. Anya: you would have loved the chicken. We had small talk and discussed briefly about my home, Buenos Aires, arriving early, etc. They were very patient with my delusional state, since I didn’t sleep more than 2 hours on the plane. It made my Spanish very interesting. After that, I slept for 3.5 hours. After I woke up and went for a walk.

I figured that it was good to get my bearings. Since its daylight savings time, there was light until around 9PM. I live so close to many things! The Botanical Garden is literally across the street and the zoo is about 2 blocks down. I didn’t go in them because it was too late and they had shut down for the Sunday. However it was comical to see the great number of feral cats in the Botanical Garden, which it is known. There probably were probably 75-80 cats there. It reminds me of my uncle’s place…

I then continued to walk and stumbled upon Alto Palermo, which is a 4 story mall complex. I found a wonderful bookstore, Yenny, and bought a book in Spanish to start reading. I also browsed the mall a little bit. Since I wasn’t really ready to shop hard core, it was good to get a sense of what was there. I might go back today to get a cell phone. They had a great mixture of stores with some American fashion labels (Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, McDonalds) and some Argentine-specific stores, too. Oh, and there were 2 McDonalds that have slightly different product lines than our McD’s—one even had a McCafe that served pastries that looked good, but nothing as good as the pandelerías in the streets.

The streets around my house have many café’s, parrillas (Argentine steak houses), heladerías (ice cream shops), and tiendas (stores). There is also several supermarkets within a few blocks of the house.

For dinner around 9:30 María made empanadas, an Argentine staple. Empanadas are made with dough shaped similar to a turnover. They are often filled with cheese, beef, vegetables, or fruit. She had beef and hard boiled egg in them. Mateo made a pizza, too. The water here tastes very good; it has a similar taste to the water at my paternal grandparents. María paid me a great complement. She said that my Spanish is far better than the other 6 students she has had in the past. She told me that she had one student that didn’t talk as good as I do after 6 months in Argentina. Maybe there’s hope fluency while I’m here!

If I understand my María correctly, I will be able to have the internet around March 1. It’s expensive for her to have it all of the time, but for 40 pesos (about $11) it’s possible for me to pay for it. Once I get the internet, it will be easier to communicate with everyone outside the country. She already has a wireless router, so I just will pay her for the service.

Interesting aside particularly for my dad: The electrical outlets here are very strange. Most outlets run 220V power (in the US we use 110V). On most plugs it says what kind of power the thing accepts. For example, my computer accepts 105-240V, so I can just plug in my laptop directly (and same for my cell phone). But if I have something requires 110V power only, I need a charge converter for that.

So for now, I’m going to figure out my plans for tomorrow. I want to head to the downtown district, which surely will be another adventure, and maybe try the buses—I’ll see how brave I am.


At the Airport -- 9 Feb 2008

Now finally its setting in that I'll soon be in Buenos Aires. The past week I've been going through the motions of gathering my things, but it didn't "hit" me until yesterday morning.

My parents took me to my Aunt Karel's this morning, who then took me to the airport. I am departing from Washington-Dulles International Airport at 3:26PM and have 1 layover in Atlanta. I arrive in Atlanta at 5:26PM. I will then head on another flight to Buenos Aires International Airport (EZE) at 8:40 PM. The flight then will arrive in BA the following morning at 10:45AM. I'll take a taxi from the airport to my semester home Palermo.

How exciting!

Reflection about México -- 8 Feb 2008

Before leaving the states, I thought it would be important to contextualize my experiences with traveling and studying abroad.

Last year was the first time I was out of the country, and it was exciting! I studied in Cuernavaca, México with Universal for 3.5 weeks and then travelled to México City for a week before returning home.

The experience was quite good for several reasons. After studying Spanish for several years, I feel it really helped me develop a different linguistic and cultural understanding of the people behind the language. You can learn how to translate every word of another language, in fact computers can do this; what separates a fluent person from a computer is that we can go beyond the literal translation and make sense of the cultural metaphor, which is in essence how we communicate.

Take for example two particular events from the trip. First La día de la Virgen Guadalupe, or Day of the (Patron saint) Virgin Guadelupe. Virgin Guadalupe became the patron saint after a miracle was formed. This is perhaps one of the most spiritual holy days for Mexicans. Most Mexicans go to mass on this day, prepare special foods, and put rose petals on the graves of loved ones.

Another example is the tradition of Las Posadas. Posadas is a great tradition I also learned about in High School Spanish. The weeks before Christmas each local parish and/or street (depending on the town/city) reinacts Mary and Joseph's sojourn to Bethlehem. In many parishes, its a special honor for a the girl in the town to be chosen as Mary. This celebration becomes a social celebration for the town block. The young and old come out together and join the Posadas parade, followed by the ceremonial breaking of the piñata and drinking poncho. (Poncho is a hot cider-like drink with spices, fruit and sugar cane in it.) This is another example of how the Mexican community comes together as a group or family for celebrations.

For both of these examples, I recall learning about this holiday when I was in my High School spanish class (taught by on of my favorite HS teachers Sra. Shuey). She always included culture in the study of language. Even though I was aware of the holidays and could tell you a lot about them, I never was able to "understand" their full purposes before I experienced them.

I think this gets at the heart to why it is good to study abroad: Books can only teach you so much about a given topic, what we each need to learn something fully is to experience the world. This changed my perspective on the world, I process the world through a different lense.

I think it also taught me another valuable lesson about respecting other people's lives. I think all cultures to some extent are centered on our lives and our way of life. While this can be helpful, I think we need to push beyond our culture and push towards a cultural understanding of acceptance of difference. We may be have different cultural identities such as American, Mexican, Argentine, or Nepalese, or different religions, but at the end of the day we're all humans. We're all on this planet together. At the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart (which I probably am), we need learn about each other, understand our differences and similarities, and accept every person for their own unique characteristics we each bring to the world. If we could do this, the world would look very different.

As I challenge myself to engage in another cultures social quirks head-on, I challenge us all to acknowledge the differences between us and celebrate them. After all, if we were all the same, this nation--and world--would be boring.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Address in BA

Address for mailing me will be the following:

c/o COPA Argentina
Institute for Study Abroad
San Martin 948, 1°
C1004AAS, Buenos Aires

Limit clothing and electronic items because I will have to pay HUGE customs fees. Send me some letters, they're fun!