Destinations, South America

Short Stories

April 19, 2009 • By

The Last Supper

As it was the Thursday before Easter and historically known for the day Jesus celebrated his Last Supper, Maria and I ventured to an Argentinean steakhouse. Maria was definitely a bit more adventurous than me. She went right ahead and ordered the blood sausage (I nervously tasted this unique delicacy). I decided to go the safe route and order the stuffed chicken. It wasn’t as if I was being entirely boring I still had no idea what was inside the specialty of the house. Regardless, we both stuffed ourselves silly and despite the waiters funny looks we continued to order more sides and an ample helping of dessert. It was an appropriate ending to a great week. Maria left for New York on Good Friday, which is a deeply religious day in Argentina. She arrived home safe and sound in time for Easter.

Easter Sunday

To make my parents happy and to give Argentinean Catholicism a try, I found a Catholic Church for Easter Sunday. Finding said church proved to be more difficult than one would think with a country full of Catholics. It didn’t matter that prior to this pursuit I had walked passed no less than 20 churches. I tried googling Catholic Church and Buenos Aires and it produced a number of churches but I couldn’t locate anything in my neighborhood. I decided to ask around and see where it got me. After three hours of walking aimlessly and begging every cheese and meat owner to point me in the right direction, I settled on San Loretta.

Hearing my dad’s voice in the back of my head, I awoke early to ensure I had a proper seat for my Argentinean Easter mass. I arrived first and had plenty of seats with my name on them. A woman who seemed to be selling rosaries and holy books started speaking to me in Spanish. I got the impression she wanted me to buy something but I pretended not to understand her. I knew I was in trouble when she started picking up books and telling me the prices. Feeling obligated and it was Easter, I purchased a “holy” bracelet for 14 pesos or $5. She must have taken a liking to me (after she got my money) because the next thing I know she dragged me through the church to a basilica that I had not even noticed. I found myself praying to the Pope, bowing to some statue, which I guessed to be St. Loretta and then sitting in a pew staring up at the ceiling observing the women around me deep in prayer. Finally, the woman left and I took my seat in the main church. It was a few minutes before the mass was scheduled to begin and it was relatively empty. I noticed many people in wheel chairs; others walking with canes and then it occurred to me Argentineans don’t start moving until 10 AM. I had found the neighborhood senior mass. The priest must have been hilarious as the congregation laughed every few minutes during his opening remarks. I didn’t have a clue as to what he was saying. After Communion, I retreated to my seat only to see hundreds of people my age with families waiting to storm into the church. It’s all about figuring out the right timing here in Buenos Aires. I felt cleansed of my sins and thankful I only took $20 pesos to church. I gave $14 to the bracelet lady and $6 to the offertory.

Closed Door Restaurants

There are several places popping up in Buenos Aires known as closed-door restaurants where people open their home to strangers and prepare these amazing meals. It seems to be a great way to bring strangers together and for those hosting us to make some dinero. I went with my friend Tim and his friend Katherine to a Vietnamese closed-door dinner. The “owners” are American and have made a new life for themselves in Buenos Aires. They are entrepreneurs in the truest sense. Thuy cooks and teaches yoga and Pilates and Ben, her fiancé, manages the operations and serves as the marketing guru. They are a lovely couple and gracious hosts. Thuy prepared several vegetarian courses for us this particular evening and the food was fresh and delightful. They greeted us with glasses of wine and water, a perfect combination in my mind. It was a diverse group but all of us spoke English. Karen from Australia and I chatted consuming most of the white wine while I tried desperately to figure out the woman sitting diagonal from me. She wasn’t rude but she had an edge to her I disliked. It was an interesting evening to say the least. I left definitely full and slightly tipsy.

On the Road Again

I don’t like ants. In fact, I don’t like any bugs. It is true that I spent most of my time in Africa either sleeping with the bugs or figuring out ways to escape them so I was adamant about not living with bugs here. I did enjoy my fancy loft apartment but after driving myself mildly crazy spraying every crevice each night, I decided to move. Plus, Maria left so I didn’t need as much room. Kudos to Tim who suggested I “try out” the apartment before committing to three months. Also, thanks to Tim who bailed me out of my old apartment and moved into a new apartment so I could stay in his place. I’m finally settled–AGAIN. No more moving– I insist upon it. I even bought a nice pillow—made in the USA—a bath mat and some pretty towels. Now if I could just find a mattress pad and figure out how to keep the dust from accumulating, I would be perfect. I have a one-bedroom apartment with a queen bed. I’m a big girl now. There is a beautiful terrace with plants that will likely die under my watch. It’s centrally located in Palermo and I even joined a gym. I love it. The super chats me up daily and is helping me learn my Spanish. I even met a new neighbor. She is about 70-years-old but she knows I am here to learn Spanish and wants to help me. After listening to me speak to the super for a few minutes, she brought me her name and number and offered to help whenever I needed it. I am touched by her kindness.

Clase de Espanol

I am having an outstanding time learning Spanish. My class started last week and I attend Monday – Friday from 9 am to 1 pm. There are 3 other students in my class: Ana, a sweetheart 19-year-old girl from Germany, Ivan, a 24-year-old hottie from Holland, and William, a 31-year-old independent really Republican fellow wanderer from the US. We make an interesting group. William and I trail in the learning department as English is our only language. Ana and Ivan speak at least four other languages and make up words that sound right even if they aren’t Spanish. Ana is the proper student while William is a disaster and never comes prepared for class. The school organizes nightly activities for everyone and it’s an interesting cross section of people. It ranges from retirees to teenagers. I have met a few people from the States but there are definitely more Europeans. I attended the tortas y alfajores class on Thursday night. Let’s just say William and Ana made the dough and I ate it. I had not tasted dough in years and one taste was not enough. When the cookies finally arrived, I could barely look at them. Don’t worry I wasn’t about to waste the fruits of “their” labor and I loaded on the dulce de leche. Alfajores are basically two sugar cookies with dulce de leche in the middle. They accompany every cup of coffee and after awhile the sugary treat seems like bread and butter. Friday, we had our first test and I scored a 96.5/100. I was pretty excited as the test consisted of 4 parts vocabulary, fill in the blank, speaking and listening. As my weakness is listening—in English and Spanish, I was worried but never fear I passed and I graduated to the next level.

Immersion, Wine and More Nights out on the Town

I’m semi-obsessed with learning Spanish. I am very competitive and want to be fluent if it kills me. As a result, I am throwing myself into situations where I must speak or listen to Spanish whenever possible. I’m already taking Pilates, which produces laughs every time I go. I joined a gym and now I’m attending conversational meetings. My tutor arranged for me to have a speaking partner and I even attended a wine tasting with locals. I have to admit when I met a Canadian at the event I was a bit bothered that he spoke English but after a barrage of questions from locals I needed him to translate. I mean I realized something quickly you can either sink or swim but sometimes it’s nice to have the life preserver available. That especially holds true when the questions turned to why I wasn’t married at 35. I guess it’s not just weird in Africa. Furthermore, I nearly jumped down the Sommelier’s throat after I described my former job in Spanish and he said OHHH you are a secretary. I wasn’t about to let him think that so in my broken Spanish I told him I had a big job that I was very important and that now I’m living here to learn Spanish. After some prodding, the Canadian helped me get that point across as tuve un trabajo mas grande and muy importante didn’t seem to be doing it.

Argentineans do certainly enjoy their wine. My problem with Buenos Aires is that people don’t start drinking the fruity delight until 10 pm. Now that I am a student, it’s a bit difficult to be out until 2 am and wake up at 7:30 am for class. It’s not like I am a spring chicken. I need my beauty sleep but I’m sucking it up. Karen (my Aussie friend from the closed door dinner) and I ventured out on Wednesday. We may just may have arrived a bit early as it was 7:30 pm and the restaurant had not even opened. After we sampled a few tragos at nearby watering hole, we tried eating again this time it was 10:30 pm and the restaurant was packed. It’s insane to me that a restaurant gets started that late. I guess that explains why my gym doesn’t open until 10 am on Sunday. On Friday, Karen and I decided to meet up again this time much later. When the clock turned 11:00 pm, people had just started eating. We tried a Peruvian restaurant and after some back and forth ended up at a local bar where two locals tried like heck to make their night complete by scoring some foreigners. It didn’t take long for us to shoo them away. The bartenders were adorable so flirting with them proved to be more fun.

It Takes Two to Tango

I’ve saved the best for last. One thing I wanted to try and possibly master (no way) is the tango. Karen had found a place that provides free lessons so off I went. It was a beautiful venue with well-known performers. After a few minutes of instructions in Spanish, our lessons began only I did not have a partner. The two teachers one male and one female asked me to wait a bit and they would find me someone. Eventually the male instructor made his way to me and we started the basic steps. Please note: I was not appropriately dressed I had no idea people took the tango so serious. All the other women were wearing 4-5 inch heels (um I would die) and had their hair tied back like they were ready for their stage debut. I tried warning my instructor I had two left feet. Unfortunately, that phrase does not exist in Spanish and with much effort he finally worked out I was uncoordinated. I think his comprehension became even clearer when I couldn’t master the first few steps. He took my hands held them to his heart and said walk with me. Thankfully, he spoke some English. I must have been awful because he said you need to go over there and practice walking. For the next hour, I walked up and down the dance floor saying one, two, three together, four, five six back. The instructor came back to me one other time and said he didn’t have a partner for me. I translated that to mean you are so bad that no one else will be able to handle you. Don’t worry I convinced William in my class that I need a partner and he is it. I am not sure I offered him an out. He signed up for lessons this week so I’ll be much better prepared next time.