Wednesday, May 27, 2009

La primer dia - My First Day in Argentina

Dear Chicago,

I am finally here in Argentina. The flight was great and I slept almost the entire flight, awoken only by turbulence over Peru. I had a great seatmate in an Argentinian woman who was flying back to visit her family. In my mother’s fashion I gave her a magazine I was finished with. She was grateful and opened to chat immediate. In the bold Argentine manner I am getting to know, she was quick to give detailed advice about the darker parts of the city but it came from a place of love and concern.

As we the plane descended we were informed of new health ministry policy requiring facemasks and a disinfectant spray of the plane. We were also informed of an inspection of all passengers by ministers of health themselves. (I’ve had a head cold for about a week that won’t go away. My symptoms may seem eerily similar to those of swine flu…) Before got off the plane I refilled my water bottle to aid the first adventure – no coughing, sneezing or sniffling until I cleared customs. I did well and the ‘inspection’ turned out to be a bizarre handheld camcorder hooked up to a video screen displaying heat readings. (I think it might have just been a color setting on the camcorder). The process was fine. Clearing customs I couldn’t help but notice all of the signs warning about Dengue fever – the mosquito born jungle virus causing severe blood thinning. My Spanish isn’t that great, but I found it funny that the sign said “If you are bleeding from your nose or ears, please step of line and see a health minister”. Yikes!

Luggage was prompt and I headed to the taxi service. This was the only headache of the day. The program I am with had not told the service that I will be spending this first week with a family in the suburbs. An hour wait and some phone calls to ensure I was not speaking under duress of someone forcing me to a second location (no joke) and I was on my way. The drive was beautiful. They are having an ‘Indian summer’ here – no easy translation – so the trees are still green and the air is warm.

I was greeted at the address I was given by a woman who did not look anything like the description my dad gave of La Doctora, but she nodded at me and we confirmed who we were. I was ushered behind big wooden doors into a beautiful home. We got it figured out that La Doctora was working late and I was now in the care of their housekeeper/chef Ani (annie) who was so kind to me. She knows not a word of English and was very patient with my Spanish. A tour of the house laid out a guest bedroom, a gorgeous kitchen with a big solar window, a formal dining room and living room. Original art is everywhere, as are giant photos of their daughter riding her horses (this is just the beginning of this family!). A spiral staircase leads to a big shared room and the two upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms.

Ani and I were soon joined by Carla, Nik and Nik. Carla is the daughter of my host and she is awesome. Her English is perfect. She is completing her graduate degree. Nik is her boyfriend, and he is hilarious. He bought a water cooler rental business and employed a saleman to do all of the work, so he just makes money and hangs out (his words). Nik – the other Nik – is a dog. His name is pronounced like Nike with no ‘e’. They had obviously been out all night (it was noon) and still looked great. She started an espresso right away and we all caught up. Shortly thereafter Carla had a session with her personal trainer. Nik, Nike and I hung out and had espresso, talking about sports, futbol, the nightlife here etc. I told them I like running, so when the personal trainer returned she let me know about the run club she runs every Wednesday. There is a 10K in July she will help my register for! Carla and Nik were then hungry so I joined them for lunch, which meant they hung out while Ani made fried steak Milanesa. Flank steak pounded very thin and breaded then fried, with a side of deep fried potatoes. I loved it and when I finished my first piece was quickly served another, this time with a fried egg on top. I should have taken my cholesterol levels before this trip to compare them in 2 months. Needless to say it was delicious. Espresso followed the meal – heaven.

There isn’t a siesta culture in Argentina ( I believe they’ve replaced it with coffee breaks) but I was wiped out and read a book while Carla did a few hours of homework. She is seriously a bad ass – in between smoking Marlboro Red cigarettes, she was running molecule comparison software on her computer. And she had just stayed out all night. I also found that wireless worked with no problem contacted everyone back home to let them know I made it. After a lazy afternoon I was invited upstairs to watch TV with Nik and Carla. We watched the news and talked – I feel like I’ve already learned a great deal about current events. La presidente de Argentina is Cristina Kirchner. She was all over the news responding to a potential nationalization of Argentinian industries by Hugo Chavez. LOTS to talk about there. Kirchner is sitting president married to former sitting president and is great fodder for political humor. Her lip-liner gets the same attention that Sarah Palin’s hair did. We later watched a very funny comedy that makes a spoof on the show ‘Big Brother’ but has actors playing politicians in the house for a quasi-reality TV. Cristina is played by a transvestite – it was pretty funny even if I only understood a third of it. Before dinner they also showed me a bit of a TV show that Carla’s cousin starred in. It’s called “Champs 12” and is a sort of local ‘gossip girl’ (Julia, you know). Carla phoned down to Ani in the kitchen for some espresso before dinner. It arrived moments later on a silver tray. This family lives very well!

La Doctora and her husband returned home from work at 10. We had an unbelievable meal that began with fresh cheeses, suasages and some sort of ham-roll-up that was filled with eggs and other meat (don’t want to know) followed by home-made gnocchi with homemade pesto. It was delicious and tasted so fresh. Lots of Argentinaian cabernet sauvignon with the meal, which was not as oakey as I expected. I really enjoyed myself. My hostess was so warm and laid back fro being a high-powered female cardiologist. She was very funny and yells louder than the other five people who were yelling for all of dinner. She decreed that no more English be spoken in my presence and I did just fine. We had a heated debate about global warming over dinner. I was a little lost but my vocabulary grew.

After dinner the family watched the Big Brother show and I spoke with Ani in the kitchen. The afternoon had loosened up my Spanish and I was talking much more freely. I learned all about her family and her life in Paraguay before she came here for work. I keep offering Ani help in the kitchen and cleared my own plate after both meals, which I think is rare for her to see. I cannot get used to a housekeeper! Ani also cannot get used to my name, which I knew ahead of time would be a problem. It is just a strange name and hard to pronounce in castellano – ahora, soy Teresita.
After 40 hours without, I finally slept in a bed. It was heavenly.
I miss you, Chicago!

Te amo -

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