Monday, July 17, 2006

Turned Upside Down

Now that I´m at the bottom of the world in Argentina, I feel turned upside down. If I could dig down into the earth I might turn up in Kansas somewhere. Help me Dorothy!

Buenos Aires is four or five hours ahead of California, so there is no great jet lag problem. Our group of 22 Cabrillo studies, along with Nancy our teacher, arrived here Sunday morning to be greeted by fog and rain. It wasn{t my welcoming picture. But then the best travel can promise is surprise.

After all, it´s winter. I looked for the sun this morning at 7:30 and it hadn´t gotten around to rising yet. When I suggested to Ofelia Gonzalez, my hostess, that 7 might be a good time for desayuno, she shook her head and said "temprano," too early. And she was right.

After gathering our bags yesterday, we drove in the rain to our host families. Mine resides on Santa Fe, a major avenida in the district of Palermo. Ofelia lives in a tiny 3rd floor apartment with her friend Sylvia. They warmly welcomed me with rapid fire Spanish that went right through my addled brain. So we struggled for dialogue with smiles and courtesy. It being Sunday morning, I asked about the nearest church and was directed to Nuestra Señora de Lujan several blocks away where the mid-day mass was in session when I arrived. The church was packed with people who looked European. I don´t expect to see too many indigenous or blacks here where most of the immigrants over the last century have been from Europe, and Italy in particular. Since there was a large Franciscan cross over the altar, I expect the priests are from that order. Ofelia told me that the Our Lady is the patron saint of Argentina.

After mass, Ofelia and Sylvia treated me to a late lunch of cheese, what looked to be baloney, and ravioli. They were surprised I didn´t join them in a glass of vino. But all I could think of was a nap. After a delicious sleep, I ventured out into the city, taking a subte (subway) to the Plaza de Mayo, ground zero of the Microcentro district. Although the sun had set, lights lit up the Casa Rosada across the plaza which I instantly recognized from "Evita" and all of the photos I had seen of Evita and Juan Peron waving to the crowds from that very building. I ventured into the Catedral Metropolitana across the square where evening mass was in progress, and the young priest was delivering a very earnest homily. I wandered along the side chapels and found the tomb of San Martin, the "saint" of the South American liberation from Spain in the early 19th century. It was guarded by two very tall soldiers in elaborate uniforms and the tomb itself was drapped with a very large Argentinian flag.

Before joining the other students for dinner, I strolled through the damp, dark streets where, it being Sunday, most of the stores were closed. There was a long line, however, in front of the Cafe Tortoni, the oldest and most famous cafe, and the pedestrianized Florida was filled with evening shoppers in a tourist area that rarely closes, as well as diners at the numerous McDonald's and Burger King restaurants. The only cappuchino I could find was served in an espresso bar at one of the McDonald´s. May the ecological gods forgive me.

Our inaugural dinner was held at Siga la Vaca (follow the cow), a large dining emporium in Puerto Madero, a classy new area of shops and restaurants bordering on the harbor. There the folks began to get to know each other, in a mixture of English and Spanish. The table seemed to divide into los joven at one end and the los viejos like myself on the other, although there was frequent cross over. It´s an interesting and adventurous group and I look forward to getting to know many of them better.

The news today is that classes begin at 2:30 and we are to meet Marcos and Margarita, our native guides, on the steps of the Universidad de Belgrano, in a district not far north of here. In the meantime, I intend to explore the neighborhood as far as possible.

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