Beyond the Backyard #3: Mi Querido Buenos Aires, Part II – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Mi Querido Buenos Aires, Part II
Things I learned this week:

  1. Always take your ISIC card with you. Because the only time you’re going to need it (and get discounts) is when it’s not with you.
  2. Maps and local tourist booklets are really important. Always take a map and a local guide book in case it happens that the flea market you really wanted to go to isn’t open on Saturdays, even though Lonely Planet says so.
  3. Never believe when someone tells you that it’s only a half hour walk away. It’s never true (especially in the rain).

  4. Any place that advertises itself as a Portuguese school for locals can’t possibly be that good for teaching Spanish to foreigners.

Three guesses how I learned this.

Entonces, en castellano…
By the end of the week, I’d had enough of the Spanish maestro, his verb drills, and his insistence that I mimic his (non-existent) Argentine accent. He came late every day and never prepared anything, preferring to ask me what I wanted to do. That was fine for the first hour, but quickly got tiring for the next four. Plus he kept trying to correct my English, although his grasp of the language was tenuous as best and unintelligible burps at worst.

Him: English is a estranger language having words for the same things. It is a primitive language.


Then he interrupted himself to talk about my dog. I don’t have a dog.

Needless to say, I found another Spanish school for this week. So far, so good (aside from the German student who has this endless fascination with everyone else’s nationality, including why I have a French first name and a Polish last name but I’m neither French nor Polish).

There’s nothing like learning a new language to make you feel like a walking imbecile. Like today, when I tried to buy shoes without remembering the Spanish word for shoes. As a journalism student, I’m accustomed to having a steel grasp on language and saying exactly what I mean. In Spanish, I’m grasping at straws; I’ll take just about any word I can get. It’s a very Orwellian experience, and intensely frustrating.

The City Sights
Saturday dawned grey and ugly, un dia muy feo. My boyfriend Jacob was my personal tour guide for La Boca, the old port area of the city. The houses along the Caminito, or walkway, were painted in bright reds, yellows, and blues; in days of yore, sailors painted their houses with the leftover colours from their boats. Today, the area is more of a tourist trap than anything else. The Caminito is lined with vendors selling paintings, sculptures, and overpriced postcards and keychains of the famed area.

Then, following Lonely Planet’s advice, we headed to the San Telmo flea market on a rickety bus, up a steep hill (with three locals staring at us suspiciously, intrigued by our foreign accents), along a cobbled street with barred shops, and into an empty square, save for a few tourists and dirty patio furniture.

We consulted our map. This was it. The flea market.

Turned out the market was only there on Sundays.

That’s when we decided to take a peek at some of the city’s famed art museums, and Jacob discovered that I’d forgotten to pack the city guide. Whoops.

And when we finally made our way to the right museum, I found out that I’d forgotten my ISIC card as well. Jacob had his card and got in for free; I had to pay the $4P entrance fee. Good thing the art was worth it.

The next day, we bussed ourselves back to the San Telmo flea market, where I discovered my boyfriend’s passion for antique furniture (especially those hideous rotary phones). The market itself was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Some of the things there were unbelievable, from the gorgeous to the grotesque: toy train sets, tarnished but charming silver jewelry, dolls that looked like they’d been chewed by moths for months, black helmets from the Third Reich, and more tarnished cutlery than anyone could humanly want. Overall, it was a very interesting affair.

Las Comidas Deliciosas…
The food here is delicious beyond belief, and by the time the conversion rate is taken into consideration, the prices are beyond belief too. Sushi for two at a fancy Japanese restaurant on a Saturday night…and the tab came to about $17 Canadian (which is oh, about half or so of what the meal would have cost at home). Fancy dinners with a bottle of wine? Suddenly affordable. (Dad, you didn’t see that, okay?) But better than anything else is the ice cream here. They make Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavours look like convenience store slushies. It’s rich, it’s tasty, and comes in flavours like banana split, lemon champagne, and chocolate souffl�. And it’s being gobbled down (by yours truly) whenever I can get my hands on it, along with…

Dulce de leche, or a caramel-y milky concoction that flavours absolutely everything, is some sort of national obsession here. It comes in yogurt, McDonald’s ice cream cone dips, specialty ice cream in a variety of combinations, hard candies, soft candies, with bread, on its own as desserts in fine restaurants, in coffee…and it’s downright delicious. Already I’m wondering how I’m going to get my hands on some when I get home.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been wined and dined on home-cooked meals either…

Leon Nahman, zichrono livracha (may his memory be blessed)
My grandfather’s funeral was on Thursday, and I couldn’t make it back to Toronto. And since I couldn’t be at home, I did whatever was possible from here. That night, I made my way to the largest synagogue in Buenos Aires to say Mourner’s Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead in memory of my grandfather.

The congregation was made up of mostly elderly gentlemen (I must have been the youngest there by a good fifty years). None of them spoke English, and when my broken Spanish failed to convey anything meaningful, I switched to Hebrew and saw the old men’s faces light up when they realized that a youngster like myself from a foreign country could speak with them in a common language.

And that night, with the help of one of the kindly Spanish men, I said kaddish for my grandfather.

The first month of mourning will finish while I’m on the road, and when it does, I’ll light a yartzheit (memorial) candle in my grandfather’s memory, wherever I am.

The Plans
At the end of this week, it’s on the road to Salta, a city in the interior of Argentina, and then beyond, including a week in Chile and some whale watching…

Word from the road.