One of the key elements of my program in La Universidad de Belgrano, called Argentine and Latin American Studies, is that we only have classes four days a week. Every week. This means that my “Friday” nights are really on Thursday, and I have three free days to enjoy the city of Buenos Aires instead of just two. It’s not a bad deal, and I certainly made this most of it during our first school weekend.
It started on Fri- excuse me, Thursday, when after class about 7 kids from our program went to Geru Cafe for “tea time” after our final class of the week. Geru is only a block away from Belgrano, and is a perfect mix of friendly people, good prices, strong coffee, and buttery croissants. We passed an easy 2 hours joking and dreaming up plans for the next four months before heading back toward our homes in the Recoleta neighborhood of BA. After a late dinner, the majority of us met at Sugar Bar to pick up the conversation where we left off in Geru. A comforting stream of 90’s hits coming from above was punctuated by laughs and happy shouts until about 3:30.
I enjoyed a leisurely Friday morning of breakfast, homework, and errands before meeting our entire API group at the Colón Theater for a tour. Now, if like me, you had never heard of the Colón Theater, you probably don’t understand what a treat this was. The Cólon is a world-class performance area that boasts near-perfect acoustics as well as absolutely stunning architecture. I’m talking three different kind of marbe, gilded columns, statues, red carpets, cathedral ceilings…the works. Our tour was entirely in Spanish, so I’m sure I missed a lot of the interesting facts that were presented, but I do remember one that gives a good perspective of the place: In the theater, there is a section for musicians that is installed in the ceiling, about 95 feet about the spectators. They are called upon to play when a show requires some sort of sound from “above,”…such as a message from God or call from the heavens. Pretty spectacular.
After the tour I pointed my feet towards the apartment to get prepped for my first evening of Running Club, one of 4 sports clubs that Belgrano offers to students. Knowing that the majority of 10 year-olds here could best me in soccer, I decided to forgo the fútbol club in favor of one that would be a little easier on my pride. It turned out to be a great decision. The club consisted of 6 other international students and an Argentine coach. I was able to practice some Spanish with him, as well as a girl from France, before spending an hour running with a kid named Kevin. Everybody there was my kind of person: happy, healthy, and doing their best to stay fit in a world of empanadas and alfajores.
After dinner at the apartment our group met at the designated bar for the night, a place called “El Alamo.” It is an ex-patriot bar that reminiscent of a frat party, choc full of college-age kids, beer, smoke, and music. Not exactly my scene, but I ended up having a great night through a fortunate case of serendipity. I lost my group in the shuffle and found myself seated next to 5 other Argentine guys, all right around my age. I spent an easy 1.5 hours using my limited Spanish to talk with them about some of the most “stereotypical” guy subjects: ranging from tattoos and girls to musical tastes and pick up lines. Later on, our group hooked up with another group of friendly Porteños. It felt great to finally be using my Spanish to connect with some locals, as that was one of my main goals for this entire trip.
Saturday I set off from the apartment an absolutely beautiful fall-esque day to enjoy a leisurely walk towards El Museo del Bicentenario, constructed in 2010 to celebrate Argentina’s 200th birthday. This museum is especially impressive because it is built on the foundation of Fuerte Buenos Aires, the original fort of the city, which stood on the banks of the Río de la Plata. The architects incorporated many elements from the original fort, such as walls, arches, and a cannon, into the modern museum, which is partially underground. These living monuments were combined with artifact displays, multimedia presentations, and paintings to make a hotspot for tourists and locals alike. I emerged into the fading afternoon sunlight with my head heavy with an influx of new information. The heavy head later gave way to a heavy stomach; a group of 10 met for dinner in Palermo. After 10 minutes of menu indecision, I settled on a burger special that came with lettuce, tomato, onion, ham, egg, cheese, and greasy goodness. Living large, to say the least. Dinner ended at 12:00, but that was just the beginning of the adventure. We met another set of Argentine locals at a bar called Liverpool that was featuring especially unique entertainment for the night: a Beatles imitation band. That’s right, we danced to a group of 4 Spanish-speakers, sporting shaggy brown wigs, sing Beatles classics with only the barest hint of an accent. It was groovy, mate.
Finally, Sunday arrived with another batch of 60-degree sunlight. A group of us met in Plaza de Mayo to check out the weekly Fería. Artisan booths stretch down both sides of a cobblestone street for at least 3 miles, proudly displaying souvenirs, jewelry, maté equipment, musical talent, artwork, and delicious food. Hours of walking worked up quite an appetite, and we decided to try the traditional Argentine street food choripan. It is a fat, red, sausage, split down the middle and grilled over charcoal before being served on a soft sub roll with a selection of sauces. It is every bit as good as it sounds. Add a chocolate-covered, dulce de leche-stuffed churro to the mix, and I had plenty of fuel for the walk back home under a purple and blue evening sky. As this overly-long post has made obvious, it was a good, full weekend in the Southern Hemisphere.
**For pictures of the Colón Theater, Museo, fair, and other adventures, check out my Facebook page!**