I know, I know.  I got home on Sunday and am just now getting around to posting this.  What gives?  I’m still super tired from my trip and have been alternating between doing absolutely nothing (sleeping, reading, shambling around the house in my pajamas) and trying to do EVERYTHING (unpacking, seeing friends, Christmas prep, getting things straightened out to go back to school in January).

First things first.  Here’s a few pictures from my last few days in Buenos Aires:

Now that school is officially over and done with, you can finally see my university! Better late than never, right?

Off to class...

Whoops.  It came out crooked.  You’d think I’d have this down by now…

One last visit to Chantilly, my favorite bakery

On Friday I hopped on the bus for a quick trip to Puerto Madero to walk by the river and get some sun! And, of course, to get a few pictures:

Nifty mosaic monument I ran across

Typical sight in Buenos Aires---pigeon camped out waiting to fly up into the face of an unsuspecting passerby

The Woman's Bridge (Puente de la mujer) is one of the distinctive landmarks of Puerto Madero. A pretty footbridge to stroll across on a sunny day!

Read a little more about the bridge here.

Stumbled across a tiny sculpture garden...

Typical decoration outside a parrilla (restaurant/grill) in Puerto Madero: some sort of sculpture posted next to a stand with a menu. In this case, a gaucho; the sign behind him says "Country Restaurant" (and he's holding a mate!).

Heading back to cross the bridge again on my way home

Equipment left over from when the port (puerto) was more functional. These days the neighborhood is made up mostly of swanky hotels and restaurants. The loading equipment was left standing as a very distinctive, unique decoration!

These flowering trees are everywhere in Buenos Aires!

Saturday was the big day—going home!  I filled up the day with various errands, packing up bits and pieces, and saying goodbye to people.  Casey and I got to the airport at 7:30 to give ourselves plenty of time before our flights left at 10:30.  The trip went smoothly—I slept through a good portion of my flight from Buenos Aires to Dallas and made my connection from Dallas to Des Moines on time, albeit by the skin of my teeth.  Thankfully the airport was almost empty so there were no crowds!

Leaving Dallas 🙂

Clouds over Des Moines!

I couldn’t stop myself from grinning the moment we came down through the clouds and I could see Iowa spread out below the plane—muted colors and miles of space between buildings.  I found a six-person entourage waiting for me in Des Moines: aunt, uncle, cousin, mom, dad, and sister!  Hugs all around, a quick lunch and chat, and then it was a 4-hour car ride home to Galena.  Home!  I got to hug my cat and sleep in my own bed and all was right with the world.

That was Sunday.  Today is Wednesday.  I’ve been holed up in the house for the past couple of days and the quiet time is just what I’ve needed.  Tomorrow I’m venturing out to drive for the first time in a long time (!) and get a desperately needed haircut.

As I recall, in one of my last posts I promised you more Argentine hand gestures.  Here’s one last one that’s a little trickier to master: The Hurry-up Hand Flick.  Pinch your middle finger and thumb together—then, keeping the rest of your hand loose, flick your wrist outward a couple of times so your index finger makes a slapping sound against your middle finger.  This one takes a little more practice!  Once you’ve got it down, use it to tell someone to get a move on.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, the three and a half months I spent in Buenos Aires were life-changing.  I gained invaluable insight into another culture, the experience of living in a huge city, some wonderful new friends, and of course a scary amount of grammar knowledge and practical language usage.  I still catch myself thinking to myself in Spanish and pluralizing adjectives when I don’t need to, or fumbling for the right word in English when the perfect word in Spanish is already on the tip of my tongue.  As frustrating as it gets, I hope it continues 🙂

That about wraps it up!  Thanks for following along with me!  I’m so glad I got to share this trip with all of you.




San Isidro

Today was another gorgeous day—warm enough for a tank top!  I would have worn shorts too, except that Argentines always seem to have one more layer on than what we in the U.S. might think necessary for the start of summer.  (I still see people in the streets with light scarves or cardigans on.)  And shorts aren’t really worn in the city proper; I get the feeling that they’re reserved more for trips to the gym, the pool or the beach.  So in the interest of blending in, I put on jeans with my tank top today while getting ready for my trip to San Isidro.

San Isidro, like Vicente López, is part of what’s called Greater Buenos Aires—a suburb-type neighborhood that’s not technically part of the capitol (capital?) city.  It’s just a short train ride away from Belgrano, and I was itching to get out of the house.  Apparently lots of other people were thinking the same thing—there were a ton of people in shorts and sandals at the train station.  No doubt they were headed for Tigre, the river delta area a few more stops past San Isidro.  A crowded train makes for excellent people-watching, which made the time in transit fly right by.  As I ambled around the streets getting my bearings, I couldn’t help but think how eerie it was that there was absolutely nobody out and about—that ghost-town feeling is even more unsettling on a beautiful sunny day.  But when I found the central plaza, I also found where everybody was—at the open-air feria!

The upper level of the feria. That shade felt so good!

Naptime! Taking advantage of the cool cobblestones under a table.

The lower level of the feria. Beautiful plaza!

Meandered among the stalls for a while, eyeing handcrafted rings/necklaces/earrings, doll clothes, pirated DVDs, incense, and all kinds of crocheted things.  One vendor asked me if I was Italian or Brazilian—those seem like oddly specific choices that have nothing to do with each other, but there’s a huge Italian influence here in Buenos Aires, and hey, Brazil’s not that far away, right?

Some more photos from today:

Neat graffiti! Love how it spills over onto the adjoining wall.

Church right next to the plaza where the feria took place. Stunning!

Had to lean waaaay back to take this one. The stone was much pinker in real life!

Three different shades of pink in the flowers on this house! Count 'em.

Shady and serene.

In the middle of what looked like the business district.

Waiting to catch the train home!

Back to class tomorrow…finals on Wednesday!

On a completely unrelated note, the Black Keys are releasing their new album on Tuesday, which I am super excited for.  Thanks be to the far-reaching power of iTunes.

All for now!

Special Report: Argentine Hand Gestures

Special Report: Argentine Hand Gestures

It’s no secret that Argentines are very expressive when they talk.  A huge Italian influence has inspired a wide variety of hand gestures and movements that complement spoken conversation.  You can play at home!  Click on the links below to see my demonstration videos on YouTube (since WordPress doesn’t let me embed videos anymore, I guess).


Montoncitos (“little mountains”) are a favorite way of adding emphasis to what you’re saying.  Bring all the fingers of one hand together and bounce your hand up and down two or three times.  Varying the pitch of your voice adds even more emphasis.  The addition of montoncitos and a change of intonation turns the simple question “Qué querés? / What do you want?” into “Pero QUÉ querés?? / Seriously, tell me, what the hell do you want??”

Another way to add emphasis

You can also add emphasis to something by holding your hand palm-down at collarbone height and flicking it loosely outward a couple of times.  Use it for statements like “Había un montón de gente! / There were a ton of people there!”, “Qué viaje largo! / What a long trip!” or “Tengo muuuucho que hacer hoy. / I have a lot of stuff to do today.”

Asking for the check

In the U.S., servers in restaurants have no problem hinting to you that they would be very much obliged if you could wrap up your meal (and get out) by bringing you your check.  However, the only way you will ever get the check in a restaurant in Buenos Aires is if you ask for it.  Do this by catching your server’s eye (this is an art in and of itself) and making a quick writing motion with one hand.


To tell someone to be careful, use your index finger to gently tug at the skin under one eye, then peer warningly at the person in question.  This can be done silently, but can also be accompanied by a dry “Ojo, eh? / Be careful, huh?”

Get practiced up!  Part two coming soon…

Blind theatre, El Rosedal, and more

Ack!  Nine whole days since I posted last?  Increíble!  Let me bring you up to speed…

Just ten short days from now I will be back in the States…!  I keep turning this fact over and over in my mind and have yet to process it completely.  On one hand, it seems like an eternity (ten whole days?! What is this madness?!) but on the other hand, it feels like no time at all (aaahhh rushing around like crazy need to do everything ONE LAST TIME).  Of course I have mixed feelings about leaving, but one thing that is not currently in Buenos Aires’ favor is how hot and HUMID it is here right now.  (EDIT: I wrote that yesterday when it was 85 degrees and the air was heavier than a wet blanket.  Today it’s a brisk 65 with a light breeze and I couldn’t be happier.)  But I’m sure when I’m shoveling my car out of a snowdrift next month I will be singing a different tune, so it doesn’t make much of a difference 😉

On Thursday afternoon I finally made it to the Plaza de Mayo to see the Madres’ weekly march.  (Refer to my earlier post on the Plaza de Mayo if you’re just tuning in.)  Having read about it is one thing; seeing it unfold in front of me was another.  Hearing the songs and chants (Madres en la plaza…el pueblo las abraza! / Mothers in the plaza…the community embraces them!) and thinking about what those women have gone through honestly made me want to cry.  What really made me sick (and made me question my own reasons for being there) was the man who hopped out in front of the Mothers so that his wife could get a picture of him with them.  The Mothers are not a tourist attraction.  Felt a little conflicted that night and still haven’t come to a conclusion.

On Saturday during the day I bumbled around the open-air market in Recoleta, doing a little last-minute Christmas shopping and enjoying the sun.  My best purchase might have been a plastic cup of fruit salad doused in orange juice with a huge ice cube on top…delicious!  That night I went with Farrah, Suz, Iueh, and Cass to a blind theater show just off Avenida Corrientes, which is said to be the Broadway district of Buenos Aires.  It’s not an area of the city I’m typically in, and luckily I was able to take the subway directly there—it’s a lot harder to get lost on the subway!—venturing for the first time off my beloved D line, which has *knock on wood* never done me wrong, and onto the much grimier B line.  I made a point to be on time, since the show was supposed to start promptly at 10:30.  Lies!  Turns out 10:30 corresponds to about 11:15 on the Argentine timetable.  No matter—the show was totally worth the wait.  We were all blindfolded and led to our seats, with absolutely no clue what to expect.  I was thinking something along the lines of an actual play, but there were virtually no words spoken; instead, the actors used all of our other senses to create the illusion of different environments around us.  (That sounds vaguely academic and pretentious but I’m having trouble coming up with another way of saying it.)  Some examples: a rainstorm (fresh-smelling incense, fans blowing cold air every which way, thunder, tiny drops of water misting down on our heads), a classroom (wordless babble, authoritative high heels clacking on the floor), a sunrise (sudden wash of heat from a lamp passed over our heads), a neighborhood dance (we were guided up out of our seats and into the arms of another waiting audience member, whereupon we swayed to the music and enjoyed each other’s company until we were directed elsewhere), a battlefield (scurrying sounds, yells, awful crashing explosions all around us.  All of your other senses become sharper when you aren’t able to use one of them—and I found that it made a difference to me whether I had my eyes open under the blindfold or whether I closed them.  Closing them involves a certain amount of trust; the act of giving yourself over to things you can’t see can be intimidating (sipping from a mug not knowing what’s inside), but everything you feel is so much more vivid (the tart splash of lemonade on your tongue).  Such a great experience!

After the show we wandered a few blocks over to a tiny hole-in-the-wall pizza place for some conversation and food.  Our waitress warned us that there was no way a pizza and five sets of plates/silverware would fit on the tiny round table we were clustered around—pffft. Details.  Between the rickety tabletop, our laps, and the windowsill we got by just fine.  It was probably 2 or 2:30 when we decided to head for home.  The only other people on the bus home besides Iueh, Cass and me were a group of teenage boys, whose chatter filled the entire space.  I have never heard the word “boludo” (Argentine-ism meaning “jerk” or “idiot”; depending on context it can have a fond connotation, closer to “dude” or “man”) so many times in the same conversation.  From a language-student standpoint, I was (kind of) pleased to note that even if I don’t understand a hundred percent of what’s said, based on intonation alone I still know a dirty joke when I hear one.  To be a well-rounded speaker, it’s just as important to know street slang as it is to be able to phrase an irreal past condition in discussion for class.

What else happened this weekend?  On Sunday I met up with Travis, another friend from my program.  We visited El Rosedal (The Rose Garden), which is the centerpiece of the parks in Palermo.  Soaked up some sun—I have some kinda funny-looking tan lines, but hey, I’ve never had tan lines in November before!—and took a few pictures:

A little wilted, but still pretty!

Still more pretty flowers...

The perfect portrait tree

Adorable little bridge over the manmade pond/tiny lake that makes up part of El Rosedal

We also tried to go to the Planetarium, which was close, but alas, it was closed! Didn't stop us from taking goofy pictures in front of it 🙂

Sunday night I met up with Farrah, Iueh and Suz to go tour the Palacio Barolo, a building that’s modeled after Dante’s Divine Comedy, but it turns out that you’re supposed to go with a guide—the building also houses offices, so they tend to not let groups of random tourists in off the street to wander around.  Bummer.  We sprawled on a patch of grass in Plaza Congreso to chat for a while instead.  Great way to pass an afternoon 🙂

As my time in Buenos Aires winds down, I’m definitely noticing a language conflict in my brain.  It’s getting harder for me to remember names for certain things in English, and certain phrases spring to mind in Spanish automatically now—like “lo que te da la gana” or “como quieras” instead of “whatever you feel like”.  Last week in class we went over one of my favorite things in the Spanish language: spontaneous events.  In English, we say “I dropped the glass.”  In Spanish, however, we say “Se me cayó el vaso”—the glass fell (dropped itself), and I just happened to be there when it did so…not my fault!  Love it! 😀

Final exams are one week from today…eek!

All for today—this post has been two days in the making, between one thing and another, and I’m anxious to put it up!


Birthdays and a trip to San Telmo

What a weekend!  Thursday the 17th was my 21st birthday—a pretty calm day, all told, which was just fine with me!  Casey made me breakfast, bless her—a fried egg on toast, which is neither especially fancy nor especially healthy, but it was delicious and it reminded me of home (‘Merica!), so it was a success!  After class Leah and I wandered around the Fine Arts Museum (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) for a while.  Some things that caught my eye:

This and this, both by Francisco de Goya.  The first is from his series Desastres de la guerra (The Disasters of War), based on the absurdities and grotesqueness of the Spanish Civil War; the second is from his series Caprichos (Caprices), which is rooted in societal critique.
* A Monet work
* A Toulouse-Lautrec piece
* This piece by Charles Henri Pellegrini (a French engineer and painter, not to be confused with his son Carlos Pellegrini, who served as president of Argentina from 1890-1892)

On Saturday I met up with a group of friends for dinner in Palermo to celebrate two birthdays—mine and Farrah’s, which was earlier in the week.  Lately I’ve been having pretty good luck with transportation, so I should have known I was due for a catastrophe.  The Powers That Be chose Saturday night to remind me that it’s only by their grace that I manage to find my way around this city; I stumbled around on foot in the rain for a while before finally showing up to dinner half an hour late looking like a drowned rat.  But the food (Vietnamese—I had some sort of tasty citrus chicken with corn and rice) was delicious and the company was lovely, so it was totally worth it.  After dinner we checked out a boliche (dance club) a few blocks away that turned out to be not quite what we were expecting—a lot of Strokes-esque indie rock and a lot of hipsters standing around nodding their heads—so we didn’t stay long.  We wound up going back to someone’s homestay to watch a movie, and the sun was definitely up by the time I got home in the morning!

On Sunday I went to the famous open-air market in San Telmo to get out of the house, do a little Christmas shopping, and get some language practice in.  Market vendors are perfect for little one-off conversations—they’re always more than happy to tell you about their work, which is good listening comprehension practice, and bonus points for you if you can get a couple questions in edgewise.  One vendor told me I had an Italian accent—never heard that before—one told me all about her trip to Miami several years ago, and one tried to ask me if I wanted to go out with him for a drink later.  I scuttled away from him pretty fast.

You can never have too many accordions.

A quiet moment between sets.

So many people! The Sunday market in San Telmo takes up a small plaza and several city blocks.

Problem: hunger. Solution: 5 pesos (US $1.25) for a palm-sized strawberry-preserve-filled cakepie. YUM.

The real reason I wanted to go to San Telmo yesterday, though, came up a couple weeks ago, when I was researching the history of Danish immigration to Buenos Aires for a class project.  (We were told to research our own heritage; I’m part Danish.)  I honestly didn’t think there would be much of a history, but lo and behold, there was!  In the 18th century, economic reform (beneficial only for the upper class) coupled with a sudden population burst (less land for everyone) spurred lots of Danes to emigrate.  Argentina seems like a strange choice for a destination country, but at that time there were strong commercial and diplomatic relations between the two countries.  It’s estimated that 18,000 Danes emigrated to Argentina between 1857 and 1930, mostly workers and servants; many established themselves in rural areas, but some stayed in Buenos Aires.  In my research I found that there’s even a Danish church in the neighborhood of San Telmo; it served as a source of community and culture in those days, and still gives services in Danish and Spanish today.  Thanks to the power of the Internet, I found the church’s event calendar online and saw that there were a couple of small concerts being held there in mid-November.  It was the perfect excuse for an outing.

So pretty!

Iglesia Dinamarquesa - Danish Church

Interior---my favorite part of this is the model ship hanging from the ceiling.

I had no idea what to expect, but it wound up being a really lovely little choral recital.  Pieces were sung in Latin, French, Spanish…beautiful.  Lots of selections from operas, and one brave lady who tackled a part of Bach’s “Magnificat” even though she had a cold.  All of the performers were very talented, and I’m so glad that I went!

(Sadly, I couldn’t find a whole lot in English about Danish-Argentine ties, except for a tiny mention in this Wikipedia article.  If you do read Spanish, you can check out this article and this one too, as well as the church’s website.)

That brings me up to today!  Can’t believe I have just under three weeks until I’m back in the States.

Moving in

We all made it to our new homes safe and sound last night.  I can’t believe that Casey, Leah, and I, plus our 5 suitcases + some odd bags AND Carlos and Cristina, all fit in one little hatchback!  Incredible.  Casey and I are now living in an apartment about 8 blocks from the university.  Our host mom’s name is Beatriz and she’s very sweet!  We’re so lucky she was able to take us in on such short notice—she was traveling in Italy during the first part of the semester.  I haven’t unpacked yet—I will after I close this—but here are some pictures:

My new room! More floor space when I unpack...

I believe that everything is cuter in miniature form—candy, makeup, office supplies, you name it.  My new room may not be very big, but that makes me love it even more.  I have a tiny closet, a perfect-sized bed, a desk just big enough for my laptop and a lamp, a little window (check out those adorable curtains)…what more do I need?  Nothing, that’s what!

The living room


The view from my bedroom window 😀

All for now…my laptop battery is almost gone and I have homework and some serious unpacking to do.


Chatting with children

Wow.  Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything.  Truth is, I haven’t done much worth posting about!

Class is going swimmingly.  The last thing we learned was how to structure concessive sentences, another use of our good friend the subjunctive tense.  Concessive sentences are ones that “introduce a phrase or clause denoting a circumstance which might be expected to preclude the action of the main clause, but does not” (thanks,!); any sentence that uses even though/although/despite/in spite of, etc. is concessive.  The subjunctive comes in when you’re not sure whether the circumstance you introduce will happen:

Aunque me lo pidió de rodillas, no lo perdoné. / Even though he begged on his knees, I didn’t forgive him.  (Here I use indicative because I know for a fact that he begged.)
Aunque me lo pida de rodillas, no lo voy a perdonar. / Even if he begs on his knees, I won’t forgive him.  (Here I use subjunctive because I don’t know if he will beg or not.)

It’s been a while since I’ve given a grammar lesson here. 😉

In other news…this weekend two of the grandkids came to stay while their parents were away on a trip.  Cata is 5 or 6, and Ramiro is 2.  Talking to little kids in your own language can be hard enough; they mumble, they screech, they don’t always form their words fully, and they get frustrated when you don’t understand the special slang that only their parents can decipher.  Talking with a small child in a language that’s not your own is even harder.  It’s interesting because little kids haven’t always developed the social niceties that adolescents and adults have.  Whereas most adults are very patient with non-native speakers, little kids can be tougher—they talk extremely fast, and they will very bluntly correct you, poke fun at you, or just simply ignore you, all of which can be embarrassing and discouraging.  I had a very basic, kind of one-sided conversation with Cata yesterday in which she listed all the uses for a deflated* balloon (and believe me, there are way more than you or I could ever imagine) and I nodded and threw in the occasional comment about how practical (or silly) something was.  Naturally I fumbled a couple things but she was good about overlooking that. 🙂

*It took me the longest time to remember how to say “deflated” just now.  Desinflado –> desinflated –> deinflated –> deflated.  This is what language immersion does to you!  I’ve also offered Leah “grapes” numerous times when I was clearly holding a packet of raisins (grapes = uvas, raisins = pasas de uva, I don’t know why that’s so hard for me) and very matter-of-factly translated “nobleza” as “noblety” (rather than “nobility”) at dinner one night, which got some laughs.

One last news item: on Monday I’m being moved to another homestay.  One of Carlos and Cristina’s daughters was supposed to move in here (along with her husband and their two kids) in December after all of us girls had left, because she and her family are in the process of buying a house and need a place to stay while the details are being worked out.  As it turns out, they sold their old house quicker than expected and are being asked to leave it sooner than expected, and as nice as this house is there’s just not room for all of us in it.  Luckily our program was able to find spots for Casey and I with a lady in Belgrano (which is closer to school), and there was a place for Leah at the residencia in Palermo where lots of other CEA kids are living.  I’m sad to be leaving Carlos and Cristina, but I know that these things happen and there’s just no way around it—and I’m so, so grateful to them for all that they’ve done for me!

All for today!  Expect pictures with my next post. 😉