It feels like I’ve been here for much longer than two days, but I arrived on Friday and today is Sunday, so I guess that settles that. Yes, I arrived two days ago in Buenos Aires after a not-so-great trip. I’m not usually one to complain, but I must say it was one of the worst flights of my life. It has nothing to do with AirCanada, they were lovely, but I managed to get quite sick. I had been battling a cough for a couple days, but I didn’t think it was anything to worry about. Well, somewhere between Toronto and Santiago I woke up shivering and unable to speak. I had never experienced having a fever on a plane before, and that’s one new experience I’ll happily pass up next time. I was about half way to Santiago, so I stole the man in front of me’s blanket so I could have two (he wasn’t using it anyway) and huddled against the window to sleep off what I could. When we arrived I couldn’t even squeak out a “thank you” to the flight attendants as I hurried off the plane in search of anything to make me feel better. Somewhere in that airport there had to be Advil or some other brand of Ibuprofen, right? Wrong. I went from duty-free to duty-free, past Chile t-shirts and little glass penguins, asking for some sort of medicine, all the while further damaging my poor throat. No, there was no medicine; my fever would have to wait. So, I grabbed a packet of Mentos for my throat and headed to my terminal to board my plane. It wasn’t until I was already buckled in and half-watching the safety video did I realize that what I had meant to grab were Halls. For future notice, Mentos do absolutely nothing for a sore throat. I blame the mistake on the fever. Somehow, though, I managed to make it to Buenos Aires alive, and after a cup of tea from the lovely lady I am staying with, Graciela, I began to feel better.
A good night’s sleep did wonders, and although I wasn’t 100%, I was able to enjoy my first day in Buenos Aires. Graciela offered to give my a tour by car around the area, which I gratefully accepted. She drove me down the route my bus to school will take and showed me the campus. It’s much smaller than Concordia, just a row of buildings along the canal. I’m okay with this, as it will reduce my chances of getting lost freshman-year style on my way to international student orientation. She brought me home the long way so I could take in the neighbourhood, and I was taken aback by how much it reminded me of Madrid. I’m sure other neighbourhoods are different, but where I am feels a bit like home.
After my tour I decided to do some exploring by foot. I can’t survive in the city without a good park to call my own, so I decided my first stop would be la Plaza San Martín. I was not disappointed. The plaza/park is absolutely beautiful and full of trees, like the rest of the city. For now I’m sticking to the sun, but I’m sure soon I’ll be thankful for the bountiful shade. I walked around the plaza for a while and found a good spot for writing, but soon it started to drizzle and my words were drowning in droplets so I packed up and kept walking. I was struck immediately by the smell of summer rain so I continued on happily towards Avenida Santa Fe. It’s a fun street, but it’s mostly shopping centred, which is not exactly my focus at the moment. As I continued down it, though, I came across the Obelisco. It’s funny saying “I came across the Obelisco”. It’s such an icon of Buenos Aires that it’s kind of like saying “I stumbled upon the Eiffel Tower”, but that’s exactly what happened. All of a sudden I looked to my right and there it was. It looks quite a bit like the Washington Monument, but surrounded by neon billboards.
The Obelisco was built in 1936 to commemorate the fourth century of the first foundation of the city. Now, however, it seems to be an icon of the bustling nightlife that surrounds it. After I circled it once, I realized I was getting hungry so I sat down at a lovely little cafe/bar with it in view. The cafe was called El Cafe de Julio and I was lucky enough to be just on time for their nightly Tango music. As I ate I watched the musicians play and invite people off the street to join in with them. It seems that everybody here knows how to sing the classic Tango songs. I’ll have to look up a few.
I went to bed early in order to get my health back, and it’s a good thing I did because today was a day full of walking. My destination was la Recoleta, a must-see neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. I had looked up my route before leaving, but somehow I managed to get lost. I wasn’t worried; getting lost is something I’ve gotten used to, and I’ve decided that there is no better way to get to know a city than to get lost in it. Plus, it was a beautiful day and it wasn’t a situation asking for directions (a couple of times) couldn’t fix. I knew I had finally made it when I saw the trees. There are enormous rubber trees everywhere in the area, with roots so big that they seem like they’re inviting you to nestle in them.
Tired from my walk, I took a break and ate an empanada, then walked through the feria to enjoy the street vendors. It reminded me a lot of El Rastro in Madrid and the little mercadillos my family used to go to on family vacations in Murcia. The dominant commodity here, though, was Argentinian leather. Argentina is famous for everything having to do with cattle. I have yet to try a steak, but I did buy a bag with a beautiful design on its front. I’m thankful that “Argentina” is etched subtly into the back instead of plastered onto the front as if to advertise to everyone that that’s where I bought it.
Just a little ways up from the feria is the Recoleta Cemetery, which was the main purpose of my day. My travel book claimed that it is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, and I’d have to agree. It’s like a city in itself – a city of the dead. It holds the tombs of some of the city’s most important historical figures, which is clear by each towering tomb. Most of them were beautiful and artfully done, while a select few seemed to be trying to assert their superiority over me, even after death. The number one tomb of interest was Evita’s. For those of you who don’t know her story, Evita came from a very poor family in rural Argentina and ended up marrying Juan Perón, who soon became president. As first lady she was beloved, and served as a symbol of mobility and opportunity for the masses. Also, although it may not be entirely historically accurate, you should definitely watch the movie; it’s wonderful. My favourite, though, was the tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak. I eavesdropped on a guided tour and caught a bit of her story.
Liliana was on her honeymoon in Innsbruck, Austria when an avalanche completely covered the inn she and her new husband were in. As the story goes, they had left the window open, so when the snow came, they were completely buried. She was 26. When her dog, Sabú, died, the family had his statue added to hers.
When I left the cemetery, I was lucky enough to catch some street performers dancing the Tango. I must say, the music is so much more fun with the dance attached. I had never seen a live Tango before and I swear it brought tears to my eyes. The Tango is a hopelessly romantic dance for a hopelessly romantic city.