Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pampas Grass on the Steeple

It never occured to me that the weedy pampas grass which dots the highways along the central coast might have been an unwelcome import from Argentina. Surely, though, the name is a dead giveaway. But yesterday, walking down Defensa toward San Telmo from the central Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, I spotted a patch of pampas grass sprouting from the top of the steeple on the Iglesia Santa Domingo, the ancient Dominican church which is currently undergoing renovations. I took a photo of the odd growth but haven´t figured out how to important them yet into my blog.

After two full days in BsAs (as they write it in shorthand), I am beginning to feel at home among the porteños. Yesterday Lorraine, Toni and I headed south on the subte (subway) to sightsee. In the Plaza de Mayo, not far from Casa Rosada where Juan and Evita waved to the adoring crowds, Lorraine bought a mate bowl made out of the hoof of a cow. I´m not sure I´d like to drink mate out of it, but she said it would please one of her sons. We walked south on Defensa into the San Telmo district full of antique stores. This is where the citizens of the town successfully defended against the invading British in 1806 and 1807. Unfortunately, these successes gave them unwarranted confidence against the British during the Falklands War in the 1980s. Now, artisans sell their wares around the picturesque Plaza Dorrego. From there we walked into the large Parque Lezama which, we were told later by a taxi driver, was not safe. The only danger we saw was from frequent piles of dog poop. My sense of direction failed, however, and we ended up hopelessly lost. Finding a cab, we went in search of a restaurant in La Boca, the slum area recently gentrified, that was reportedly frequented by Robert Duvall. The driver, however, got lost himself, giving us a tour of La Boca and it´s colorful houses and appalling poverty in the process, and we settled for a small restaurant back near the Plaza Dorrego where I had mystery meat and "freedom fries" for lunch.

Our language classes begin at 3 and we headed uptown to Belgrano by yet another taxi. This one took us, via the wide thoroughfare Avenida Libertador, between the harbor and the more upscale areas of the city: Microcenter, Retiro, Recoleta and Barrio Norte, and Palermo. I saw tall glasss-skinned skyscrapers, modern office buildings and luxury hotels, the Hipodromo Argentina where horses run, as well as numerous leafy parks and ostentatious statuary. In short, a city of wealth and prosperity. The undeniable poverty must be hidden, in rural areas and in slums where the cartoneros, who harvest recyclables from city streets at night, live in their humble homes.

On Monday I failed my entrance exam and was put back into Spanish 2, the same level I took in Oaxaca a year and a half ago. As a long time student, I should have known better than to not study, and review the Spanish I thought I knew. I wasn´t unhappy however; the Spanish 3 folks were clearly fluent and their grasp of the idioma was far superior to mine. I´m not here to excel anyway. I want to improve my vocabulary and grammar and to be able to hear and speak the language of the street. So I joined eight others in a lecture room with a beautiful view of Belglrano to meet our maestra, Eugenia, a young and enthusiastic porteño. The three hour conversation was intense yet filled with jokes and humor that some of us occasionally understood. By the end my brain was fried.

Today, as if to celebrate my 67th birthday, the sun is shining brightly. Vive el sol! (Yesterday I saw my frist "Vive Evita" graffiti on a La Boca wall.) I am headed off to Plaza San Martin and the Recoleta Cemetary to commune with St. Evita. Tonight is our first tango lesson at an academy in Carlos Gardel´s old neighbor, Abastos.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, weary traveller...sounds like you're having fun down under...see you in a month.-- CY