The best thing about having my family here in Buenos Aires was watching them respond to aspects of the city that I have become so accustomed to within the past 4 months. It was the little things: my brother, Sam, becoming euphorically happy every time he saw the dog walkers with 10 dogs cross the street, or having my dad be so intrigued with the recyclers who pick recyclables from the trash with their hands and then push them around in carts, or watching my family respond to being in a restaurant until past midnight (which they did quite well with!). It was all of these little observations and the chance for me to share my life here with them that made the week so incredibly special.
In Argentina the thing to do is say “OJO,” followed by a distinct, little hand/face combo gesture as a way to say “look out” or “watch out” or “be careful.” But, it’s different than just a nice, “oh honey, watch yourself…” type of remark. To me, it’s representative of the Argentine culture, and the simultaneous pointer finger/eye-pull/eye-brow raised/serious tone-of-voice package really makes it something to remember.
In any case, this was a favorite of my family’s when they came to visit. The first day when we went out to lunch and my mom put her purse on the back of her chair, I quickly told her to put it on her lap, and followed it up with an automatic, “OJO.” My whole family laughed at me, to which I proceeded to explain the history of “ojo” and had them all try for themselves. Throughout the week, they were “ojo-ed” by many Argentines and “ojo-ed” themselves in many appropriate situations. My parents were especially struck when they met my host dad, Jacobo. My real dad made a comment in his best Spanish possible about how the people of Buenos Aires are so friendly and that it is such a wonderful city. Jacobo responded, “sí, es una ciudad muy linda, pero ‘ojo’” (“yes, it is a very nice city, but “ojo!”), which made my whole family turn to me and chuckle. They understood! And they also really got a sense for what Buenos Aires is all about– it is a fabulous city full of such welcoming people, but even still you must “ojo” siempre (always).
I know already that it will be hard to write this post without sounding corny, but it is hard to put into words how special the week was with my family. It was a whirlwind. A crazy, exhausting, exciting, emotional, yet relaxing, stimulating, and wonderful week in Buenos Aires. I am sitting here now at my make-shift desk made of a small, wooden table covered in a red felt-type blanket and listening to the city right outside my window, and it is still a bit hard for me to believe that my family was just here with me a week ago. And as insane as it was to have both of my parents and my two crazy brothers in South America with me, it also really didn’t feel all that strange or uncomfortable for even a second. In fact, what I loved most about the week, is how cozy and comfortable it did feel just to have my family around. Essentially I moved into their apartment (which they truly lucked out with– it was SO great!!), and it was such a treat to feel 100% comfortable going into the kitchen, getting food when I wanted to, and hanging out in the living room, which isn’t always the case in my host family’s house.
It was such a unique “vacation” for my family, because they all came down without planning anything. Which meant I quickly became “tour guide” for the week! This was really fun for me, but sometimes a bit more stressful than I anticipated. It was a true test of my mastery of Buenos Aires. Could I successfully get us everywhere on the colectivos (busses)? Could I translate at every meal and interaction? Could I explain the reasons why certain things are just a “thing” in Buenos Aires? (my family really liked to make fun of me for the way I would describe what is culturally “Buenos Aires” and what is not– it’s either “a thing” or simply is “not a thing!”). But, all in all, I just felt so proud and excited to show them around this wonderful city, and seeing everything again from their point of view, made me realize just how much I have grown to love it here. It was nice to bring them to my favorite spots, for example one day we went to this little take out lunch spot that I go to almost every week before Castellano class, and when I walked in, the ladies working recognized me and were so excited to meet my family (as I translated between them all!). Another interesting thing was the change in my own perspective by having my family in Buenos Aires. Since day 1 here, I have had it drilled in my head that I am to blend in as much as possible, speak Spanish, try not to stick out, and essentially just attempt to be porteña… come on, not that hard, right?! Not that I can say I have mastered this yet (or ever will), but it is a mentality that has been with me. However, having my family here was a whole different story. With 5 people all above 5’9” and with loud personalities, there was simply no way we were going to “fit in.” Every time we took a bus together and spoke English a bit too obviously or went to a restaurant where I waited patiently for my brothers to struggle through ordering, I had to consciously tone down these expectations that have been so ingrained in my mind the past few months. I hadn’t realized it until my family was here, but I really appreciated the week almost as a vacation from my life in Buenos Aires, simply by living a week here with a different mentality.
As tour guide for the week, I had a long list (I’m quite into lists, as I have mentioned before) of all of the places, restaurants, and sights I wanted to take my family to, and each day I made us a little schedule, so by the end, I think they got a pretty well-rounded experience of Buenos Aires!
Here’s the family on the colectivo– fitting in so well!
A BEAUTIFUL spring day spent in Puerto Madero: Plaza de Mayo, la Casa Rosada (president’s house), Puente de la Mujer (the bridge that resembles a woman doing tango), and biking through the Ecological Reserve. Jack also found this little bicycle-cart on the side of the road to rent for $15 pesos/half hour… we stuck mom in the back seat and had a blast!
We also had a lovely night of authentic Argentine tango. There was an hour long tango lesson, a short tango show, and an absolutely incredible “typical” tango orchestra. We didn’t get home until about 2 am (which is of course early for Buenos Aires), but still, I was so impressed with the fam! All of our tango skills still need some work, but they are coming along…
We explored the famous Cemetery in Recoleta and I brought them to Evita’s grave.
A very interesting graffiti tour through the city. We learned about how the graffiti represents so much history, especially as it began as a form of expression after the military dictatorship in the late 1970s. A lot of the graffiti in the city looks messy as there are names and symbols written over many of the actual pieces of artwork, but after this tour we learned that all of those names, called “tags,” are other graffiti artists who show their support of the pieces of graffiti artwork by painting their “tags” over the graffiti on the wall. It was very interesting to learn about!
We also took a day trip to San Antonio de Areco, the small town in the province of Buenos Aires, for a day of tranquil exploring, gauchos, festivals, traditional fairs, horses, many dogs, great food, and a whole different perspective of Buenos Aires.
It was a wonderful week of adventures, great stories, daily icecreams, long city walks, and the MOST entertaining taxi rides (due to my father’s intent to make friends with every taxi driver, even with his limited ability to speak Spanish, yet surprising amount of confidence that allowed him to converse much more than I would have ever expected– Nana, you would have been proud!).
This is now my last full week in the city (unbelievable) and my last week of classes. It has been a really great and productive weekend! I went to Shabbat services Friday night at this fun new temple with a female rabbi and lots of music (I think that must be my 4th or 5th Jewish community I have seen now!). I also went out with my Argentine girlfriends Friday night, then to a Jewish luncheon on Saturday at Menora up on a roof-top deck (it was magical and relaxing and delicious!), and spent Saturday night at a parrilla (Argentina BBQ) restaurant and an awesome funk show for my friend’s birthday. Even with all the fun to be had, I successfully wrote 16 pages in Spanish for one of my research papers due this week as well! This week’s plan is to survive finals (shooting for that PASS in the pass/fail option), and Sunday I leave for 2 weeks of traveling: El Calafate, Patagonia, followed by Uruguay, and will wrap it up with a trip to northwest Argentina to explore Salta and Jujuy. Often I just stop and am so overwhelmed by these incredible experiences.
More adventuras argentinas to come…