Home is Where the Asado Is

I’m sure you will all be proud to hear that this week I concentrated quite a bit on my schoolwork. It was difficult getting started, though, because the way studying and exams are approached here is extremely different. For example, I haven’t been given a syllabus in any of my classes nor any information on what format my exams will be in. We aren’t even told what to be reading out of the text book. It’s a very “figure it out” approach. I have to hand it to the students here – they’ve definitely had to learn to organize themselves. It turns out it’s not impossible to just study without having any guidance; I take good notes so the ideas are easy enough to follow.

Cozy studying at Libros del Pasaje
Cozy studying at Libros del Pasaje

And, since this coming Thursday I have my first midterm followed by another next week, it was time to buckle down. Suzanne introduced me to a great café close by to our place. I’m glad to have found it because studying in a house with seven other people is a bit difficult and the wifi at school is not the best. Plus, I study best in the cozy café atmosphere. Something about it keeps me from getting bored and makes me much more productive.

But not all my homework requires a “buckle down” attitude. For Contemporary Argentinian Art I get to go to wonderful museums and analyze/compare works of art. This week, we were sent to the Xul Solar museum to discuss the work of, of course, Xul Solar. The museum itself had such an interesting architecture, and my tour guide said that it reflected Xul’s work. There were ramps and stairs all over the building, which were also very common in his paintings. He spoke much of transcendence and movement through dimensions. He was a very interesting man.

Palacio Almi - one of my favourite paintings in the museum
Palacio Almi – one of my favourite paintings in the museum
Dos Mestizos de Avion y Hombre
Dos Mestizos de Avion y Hombre

He didn’t actually make a living as an artist while he was alive, but instead as an astrologist. He was an expert at mapping the stars and signs and was a deep believer in horoscopes, despite being Catholic. To me, his paintings look like a child’s dream.

By Thursday I had gotten enough school work done, so I went to a show with my friend Izzie at Club Cultural Matienzo. It was a really cool bar/venue with murals on many of the walls and a great upstairs terrace area for escaping the noise from down below. Izzie knew about it because she takes a street art class there. They seemed to have a lot of community activities and cultural events, which makes it a very unique and interesting music venue. We were there to see Hermanos McKenzie, a cool Argentinian indie band I had never heard of before.

A lot of the performance, from the singer’s amazing silver dress and red eyeshadow to their somewhat synthy sound, reminded me of David Bowie. The singer was effortlessly cool and danced around on stage with an infectious energy. Her voice blended well with the rest of the band, not overpowering it but not getting lost either. My favourite part, though, was the saxophone. It added a jazzy sound which contrasted well with the rest. I was disappointed to find that it’s not included in their recorded stuff; I guess it’s just a live treat.

Hermanoz Mckenzie at El Club Cultural Matienzo

Hermanos Mckenzie at El Club Cultural Matienzo

 

Enjoying myself even though we weren't allowed to go inside the greenhouse
Statue in el Jardín Botanico
Statue in el Jardín Botanico

On Sunday, for a bit of a change of pace, I took a walk in el Jardín Botanico (Botanical Garden) with two of my roommates, Juan Pablo and Max. It’s strange that I hadn’t ever visited since the garden is just a few blocks away from home. We had a lovely time strolling and taking in all the plants, even though it’s fall now and there wasn’t much in bloom. I would really like to go back and spend some quality time there. I miss my sunny afternoons in Plaza San Martín and I think this is a perfect alternative.

As if to completely erase the peace I had found in the garden, that night I joined my friend Edith (from Montreal) to watch the Canadiens game at probably the only place in Buenos Aires to show hockey games – Casa Bar. I’m going to be honest, I wouldn’t really call myself a big hockey fan (or a hockey fan at all, for that matter). Still, it made me feel nostalgic to watch with her; it reminded me of home. Some of our French friends had come along for the novelty of it and it was funny listening to them make fun of the game almost as much as they make fun of Edith’s accent. I know they had fun watching their first hockey game and hoping to witness a proper fight.

Pato's perfectly prepared Asado.
Pato’s perfectly prepared asado.

By the time Suz and I got home our roommate, Pato, had prepared a whole asado. My favourite thing about this house is that everyone loves to do things together. We hadn’t all shared a meal in a while and even though we were missing Joanna (excused for traveling with family) we had a lovely time. Pato’s asado could not have been better. He had included all the essentials – morcilla, chorizo, carne and even roasted peppers with eggs cooked inside (the most vegetables I’ve ever seen on an asado platter).

Today, my friend Charlotte and I headed to San Telmo to visit the MACBA (Buenos Aires Museum of Contemporary Art). Being such a fan of contemporary art these days, I was well overdue for a visit and quite excited to go. However, although it was great, I had definitely expected it to be bigger. The permanent collection was currently somewhere in the USA (so much for permanent collection) and had been replaced by an exhibit of a Chinese artist named Liu Bolin. His photographs were really interesting both conceptually and in execution.

Beijing Magazine Rack, 2011
Beijing Magazine Rack, 2011
Hiding in New York - Tiles for America
Hiding in New York – Tiles for America

If you look closely you’ll see that there’s a man standing in the middle of each of these paintings. Bolin paints the model to exactly match the background. At first I thought the camouflage was done with photoshop, but it turns out he actually paints them by hand. The series is called Hiding in the City and although I would have loved to see the rest of the museum’s collection, it was definitely worth the trip.

What I’m realizing is that it’s always worth the trip. As big as this city is, these parks and museums and bars and cafés are always worth the bus/metro/walk. Every time I see something new (which is pretty much every day) I feel like I’ve uncovered another part of the story of this wonderful city.

Celebrating Two Months with Cinema and Wine

Today is April 20th, and that means that I’ve been here in Argentina for exactly two months. It’s crazy the way the time passes by – it both feels like I’ve been here for much longer than two months, and like two months have disappeared in the blink of an eye. I still have over three months left, though; I’m not even at the halfway point yet, so there’s no need to panic.  It’s amazing how much I’ve done and seen in just two months. I’ve been to Uruguay, Iguazu, and Patagonia – pretty much a trip every other weekend. Traveling around has been wonderful and I plan on doing more of it, but I also want to make sure I enjoy this crazy city to the fullest, too. There is so much I have left to see and experience here. Luckily, the place I’ve moved into is not only in the middle of some of the best night life of the city, but it also is home to some wonderful people who are all willing to share their best Buenos Aires experiences with me. There’s always someone hanging around the kitchen or living room willing to go on an adventure in the city, and it also helps that Buenos Aires loves its cultural activities.

I always thought of Montreal as the city of festivals, but I must say that Buenos Aires gives it a run for its money. Right now, BAFICI (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente) is going on and last Thursday I went with some friends to see one of the opening shows. It was free, which is definitely a perk, but the real reason I wanted to go was the location. El Antfiteatre Eva Peron is a lovely outdoor theatre in El Parque Cenetario. I had gone once before to see a ballet, and it was really an amazing experience. I think it’s beautiful to join art and the outdoors, especially when the weather is nice. Unfortunately, that night the weather was not nice. We were a bit nervous about going to an outdoor movie with the wind blowing so hard and the air smelling unmistakably like rain. We knew there was a strong possibility we would get caught in a storm, and when it rains in Argentina, it really rains. But, of course, we decided to go anyway. The movie was a Japanese film called The Tale of Princess Kaguya and was drawn and animated beautifully using soft colours, primarily light blues and greens. The film is about an old man who finds a tiny princess inside a bamboo tree. When he brings her home to show his wife, she turns into a baby and they raise her, knowing that one day she will turn into a beautiful princess. She is happy in her life in the mountains, running and playing with the other children, but her father can’t get the idea of her as a princess out of his head. So, with the gold he finds inside of a bamboo tree the same way he found her, he moves the family to the city and buys a mansion and hires a team to make her into a real princess. I won’t spoil the rest because I really do recommend watching it for yourselves, but I should warn you, it does not have a happy ending. It does, however, have a very inspiring message. It’s a  feminist, environmentalist, and generational lesson all wrapped into one. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it, and it didn’t even rain! The wind kept on blowing, but that turned out to be really cool. My friend, Joanna, said that when the wind blew in the film it seemed to blow even stronger around us and I agree. It made it seem like we were actually inside of Princess Kaguya’s world.

The great thing about festivals is the variety they offer. Saturday I went with my roommate Suzanne and a couple others to see a film that could not have been less similar to Princess Kaguya. In reality, it was half film and half concert put on by the project Entre Ríos. The project experiments with adding visual elements to music, and they had created a film to go along with an entire musical set. What made it really interesting was that the film/show was put on at the planetarium.

The planetarium celebrates BAFICI film festival.
The planetarium celebrates BAFICI film festival.

We sat back in reclining chairs while the band played in the centre of the room and the images played out in the dome above and around us. Most of the images were geometric and I as in awes of how the shapes moved and changed. Sometimes they would shift so suddenly or in a way so unexpected that I would jump. One of the few non-geometric images were the set of mountains that rose and spun around the perimeter of the dome. It really felt like I was dreaming about being in Patagonia again.

The festival goes until the end of this week, so I’m hoping to see a few more films.

It seems my roommate Suzanne is quite in the know. Not only was she the one to tell me about and bring me to the BAFICI films, but she also brought me along to one of her favourite monthly activities – the Urban Wine Tour. The concept is simple; it’s exactly what it sounds like. We paid 100 pesos and then got to spend the next couple of hours going from shop to shop drinking Argentinian wine. It was fun because each stop was in a different type of place. We clinked glasses in a cigar shop, a hotel, and even a jewelry store, each offering a different type of delicious wine.

The Urban Wine Tour is held every month in Buenos Aires! (That's my kind of tradition)
The wine tour is held every month in Buenos Aires! (That’s my kind of tradition)

At my favourite stop we tasted a wine called Siete Vacas, which was good, but wasn’t why the stop was my favourite. There we were given a Jamón Serrano which was the perfect example of why I pause my vegetarianism while I’m traveling. Suzanne and I could not believe how amazing it was. It had a chewy but tender texture and a distinct flavour that lingered in your mouth just long enough to make you crave more. I’ve eaten Jamón Serrano every time I’ve gone to Spain, but I don’t remember ever having been this blown away by it. Maybe it’s just been a long time since I’ve had it, or maybe it was all the wine.

Me, thoroughly enjoying my ham and wine.
Me, thoroughly enjoying my ham and wine.
The Siete Vacas wine went perfectly with the saltiness of the jamon.
Siete Vacas wine paired  perfectly with  the jamón.

It was hard to wow us after having tasted such a gift as that jamón, but we were still very impressed by the Rosée we tasted at the next stop. I’m not usually a big fan of Rosée, but I probably had just never tasted a really good one.  This one was chilled perfectly and had a sweetness that was the perfect way to end the evening. We couldn’t help ourselves and ended up buying two bottles from them, one Rosée and one white. The white we drank as soon as we got home (it was still early!) but the Rosée is still in the fridge, waiting for a special occasion.

This coming week I think I’m actually going to have to buckle down and do some school work. I’ve finally figured out exactly what it is I need to be doing, and something in the back of my brain is telling me I have a test or two coming up. Still, I won’t let that stop me from enjoying the rest of the film festival and a book festival I saw announcements for. I know the Morse crew will be excited to hear all about that.

Me, My Thoughts, and Patagonia

To be honest, I seriously thought I wasn’t going to be able to get to Patagonia while here. It is not a cheap flight down, which means that even if I could figure out how to afford it, it would be very difficult to get friends to come with me. But, last week when thinking about what I wanted to do for Semana Santa, I decided just to go ahead and do it all by myself. So giddy with last minute inspiration, I began my planning. It turns out that Patagonia, like the rest of Argentina, is much bigger than one would think. At first, my list of things I wanted to see included the famous glacier, dinosaur fossils, and penguins – all of which, it turns out, are impossibly far from one another, at least when you only have five days. So, I had to pick and choose, and since the glacier was at the top of my list, I ended up flying in to El Calafate.

El Calafate is a very cute town, regardless (or perhaps because) of the fact that it is completely tourist centred. I stayed in a great hostel called El Ovejero that definitely gave me the outdoorsy feel I was hoping for. My bunk was in a cabin on the compound, and there were sections for people to pitch their tent if they were camping, too. The whole place smelled like bonfires and dirt and I was instantly at home. My first day there, I went to Laguna Nimez, a beautiful lagoon and bird sanctuary right on the edge of town. I decided to rent the binoculars they had available, and man was it worth it. It was a bit difficult to see the birds up close, but with the binoculars I was able to see swans, geese, ducks, hawks, and my favourite – flamingos! I had always considered flamingos a tropical bird; I pictured them in warm, beachy places. So, it was a bit strange and surprising to watch them while bundled up in my Patagonia sweatshirt and windbreaker. I couldn’t get enough of their fluffy pink butts sticking up out of the water while they were eating, and I actually started laughing out loud. I especially loved watching them fly, though. When they soar their necks stretch out as long as their legs, which makes them look a bit like dragon flies. Their wings are much darker than the rest of their bodies and have a black stripe at the bottom which matches their beaks.

My first look at Lago Argentino.
My first look at Lago Argentino.

The birds were super cool, but half of what I loved about this place was the beauty. The lagoon was surrounded by mountains, some with snow on the tops and others a rich, chocolate brown. There was a little hill separating the lagoon from Lago Argentino and the view from there was amazing with both bodies of water stretching out to each side. That was my first time seeing that hypnotizing turquoise water that would end up defining my time in Patagonia.

My second day was glacier day – my whole reason for choosing this part of Patagonia to visit. Honestly, I knew it would be cool, but I had no idea what I was in for. Nothing could really have prepared me for it. When the bus I took to get there entered the natural park the glacier looked long, low, and flat. It wasn’t until we got close that I realized how utterly wrong that had been. We had two hours to walk around and take it in from different angles, and I was amazed by the spikes that rose out of the water and towered over me. It looked like a bright blue mountain and the contrast between the three different shades of blue in the sky, the water, and the glacier was breathtaking.

View of Perito Moreno by boat.
View of Perito Moreno by boat.
The beautiful Perito Moreno Glacier
The beautiful Perito Moreno Glacier

It felt like an honour to be in its presence and I walked around quietly out of respect. Most people seemed to feel the same way I did so the whole place was pretty quiet. The only one making noise was the glacier itself. As I watched, chunks of ice would occasionally fall off the face and make a sound like thunder. First it would crack as the ice broke, then rumble deeply as it fell. At one point I heard this strange gurgling and I turned to see an enormous chunk of ice that had broken off the bottom of the glacier (100 metres deep) rise to the surface like a sea monster. I was never quick enough to catch any of these happenings on camera, and eventually I just stopped trying.

After our two hours of observation were up, we took a 20 minute boat ride to the glacier and there the guide explained to us a bit about the science. When snow falls way up in the mountains it eventually compacts into ice. Then, as one mass, it slides down the mountain at an average of two metres a day. Since it’s pretty much like a solid river, it presses itself into the different valleys so the glacier I was currently seeing was just a part of the enormous original. After a 400 year long journey it ended up in that spot and began to melt back into the lake.

Beautiful mountains surrounding the glacier.
Beautiful mountains surrounding the glacier.

After being outfitted with special ice shoes, it was time to begin our trek on the glacier. It’s really hard to say whether it’s more beautiful from far away or up close. From far away you are able to take in how massive and impressive it is, but from up close you get to see the details. It was really amazing seeing the spots the wind had blown holes through or where the sun had begun to melt the ice into the bluest water imaginable. We were actually able to eat ice off the top of one puddle and we filled our bottles up with water that streamed out of holes in the ice. I couldn’t get over how cool it was to be drinking water that had been frozen in that same place for 400 years! It was also amazing to hear the water gushing around somewhere deep in the glacier below us.

The view from on top of the glacier
The view from on top of the glacier
Whisky on glacier ice.
Whisky on glacier ice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I never wanted the adventure to end, but of course it had to. To soften the blow, we were each given a glass of whisky on ice scooped up from the glacier. Not a bad way to end an amazing day.

I didn’t think anything could even begin to compete with my experience in El Calafate, but then I went to El Chalten. This small town surrounded by big mountains is the hiking capital of Argentina and a wonderful breath of fresh air. I was very excited to do some hiking, but since I was alone I decided to just do a short one my first day and made my way to Laguna Capri. I couldn’t believe the views even from the very beginning of my walk. The mountains rose up all around me into snow covered peaks and a turquoise river wound lazily between them. It took me a few hours to arrive at the lagoon, and I spent quite a bit of time there taking it all in. It was unbelievably still and the mountains were reflected perfectly in it, including the Fitz Roy peak which rose up in the distance. I was happy to be alone. It gave me time to really think and reflect on what it was I was doing and experiencing. Plus, I rarely find people willing to sit in one spot and stare at a lagoon as long as I do.

Fitz Roy peak over the Laguna Capri.
Fitz Roy peak over the Laguna Capri.
Rio de las Vueltas winding its way through the valley.
Rio de las Vueltas winding its way through the valley.

That being said, I was very happy when I made friends with the others in my hostel, Aylen Aikee, that night. One of the other guests actually cooked an entire asado which we shared until we were absolutely stuffed. Then, tummies filled with red meat, we decided it would be a good idea to head to the town’s wine bar. We had so much fun and talked and laughed for hours, drinking cheap but delicious Argentinian reds. The next day, I decided to tag along with some of them for the long hike up to Fitz Roy, which I had seen from a distance the day before. This hike is 20K, so needless to say the wine bar no longer seemed like such a good idea during our initial ascent. Still, after about a kilometre I had sweat out my hangover and was feeling great. The trek started off hard, but it soon flattened out a bit and we were able to really enjoy the amazing scenery around us. We wandered through woods that had never been forested and I was amazed at how well preserved the land was. Even the trails were minimally invasive.

Our group at the steepest point of the climb
Our group at the steepest point of the climb
Spectacular views are a good excuse to rest.
Spectacular views are a good excuse to rest.

The last kilometre was extremely difficult and definitely the steepest climb I’ve ever done. I did well, though, and felt very proud of myself. I loved making my way through the rocks and using my entire body to move myself upwards. I was so thankful for my muscles and my body’s amazing ability to bring me to such wonderful places. Eventually we got so high that there was snow and things got a bit slippery, but we made it. The view that was waiting for us was like something out of a fairy tale. Fitz Roy stood proudly behind a bright blue lagoon on one side, and it seemed like all of Patagonia stretched out before us on the other. I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to experience such a magical place, but I also knew that I had earned it.

The last kilometre was extremely difficult and definitely the steepest climb I’ve ever done. I did well, though, and felt very proud of myself. I loved making my way through the rocks and using my entire body to move myself upwards. I was so thankful for my muscles and my body’s amazing ability to bring me to such wonderful places. Eventually we got so high that there was snow and things got a bit slippery, but we made it. The view that was waiting for us was like something out of a fairy tale. Fitz Roy stood proudly behind a bright blue lagoon on one side, and it seemed like all of Patagonia stretched out before us on the other. I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to experience such a magical place, but I also knew that I had earned it.

A well earned closer look at Fitz Roy.
A well earned closer look at Fitz Roy.

Millions of words would never be able to explain how beautiful Patagonia is, but if I had to describe it in one, it would have to be pure. Patagonia gave me truly pure silence, pure air, and pure water. Spending even just five days there seemed to wash me out and now, back in Buenos Aires, I feel completely renewed.

For Art’s Sake

Once again, this weekend is taking me on a great adventure out of the city. Because of this I’ll be unable to post this Monday, I thought I’d do a short overview of my week so far, then post again when I get back to recount my latest journey.

This week was a very art-centred one, thanks to my Contemporary Argentinian Art class. This class is by far my favourite. The professor is very interesting and is actually an artist himself. I like knowing that when we discuss pieces we’re hearing the opinion of an artist and not an art critic. But besides the art we talk about in class, he also keeps us up to date on what’s going on in the Buenos Aires art scene every week. This week, he recommended we check out a new piece by the collective Xil Buffone at la Fundación Osde. It was a site specific piece, designed specifically for the room it was shown in. The room, beautiful by itself, was trimmed with fairy lights, both coloured and white. Mirrors lined the walls and a sort of eerie music played.

Palacio almi (2015) by collective Xil Buffone
Palacio almi (2015) by collective Xil Buffone

In general, I like art pieces that work with mirrors; they make you reflect. They allow you to see yourself inside of the work and the art becomes your world. They worked very well in this piece, and the multiple reflections actually reminded me a bit of something I did in my ArtX class first year, thought better produced. That being said, I think I would have liked it better with just the white lights and not the coloured ones. To me, the white ones went better with the music. I believe the piece was an homage to Xul Solar, though, whose work tended to have a very innocent, child-like quality. So, the coloured lights may have been there specifically in reference to him.

The other work in the gallery was really interesting, too. There was one in particular by Delfina Bourse that I really liked. I suppose technically they’re two separate paintings, but they were placed right next to each other and used exactly the same colours, so I couldn’t help but see them as one.

Piece without title (2015) by Delfina Bourse
Piece without title (2015) by Delfina Bourse

To me, it seemed as if the painting on the left is what is behind the painting on the right. In the right hand one it seems as if all the colours are being sucked into the middle and on the left it looks like that’s them coming out the other side. I really can’t wait until we start talking about the reallycontemporary stuff in class. Maybe then I’ll be able to do a little bit more than guess at what I’m looking at… but then again maybe not.

Piece without title (2015) by Paola Vega
Piece without title (2015) by Paola Vega

I also had homework to do before leaving, so Thursday I headed to la Colección Fortabat. The assignment was to pick two Argentinian paintings from between 1905 and 1920 (roughly) and discuss then compare them. This isn’t my favourite period, but I’m certainly finding it more interesting  now that I know more about what I’m looking at. I decided to write about Entre duraznos floridos by Fernando Feder and Acción de arte by Ramon Gómez Cornet. Feder was part of the Nexus group – a group of artists which pretty much defined not only Argentinian art, but quite a bit of Argentinian culture. It was really amazing seeing pieces this important in person, especially Feder because his paintings are so big. It’s so different than seeing them on the projector in class. We hadn’t talked about Cornet in class, but I found the painting pretty interesting. For 1921 in Argentina, where the Vanguard  was being purposefully ignored, it seemed very modern. Still, it had elements of Feder, especially the way the whites were approached. There were no pictures allowed in this museum, so unfortunately I can’t put any up to show you.

This week was also big for me because I moved! My other place was nice; it was pretty close to UCA and Graciela was very helpful. Still, after living on my own terms for three years in Montreal, it was a bit annoying to have to abide by someone’s (quite extensive) rules again. So, I decided to find a place more conducive to the type of experience I’m looking for here. A friend of mine had a free room in her place, so that’s where I am now! I’m living there with six others. I know that sounds like a lot, but the house is huge. It’s actually more like two houses, connected by a yard in the middle. There are two kitchens and a washing machine I’m actually allowed to use! My room is on the third floor and although not exactly beautiful (it’s the cheapest in the house) I’m really happy with the way I’ve decorated it and it feels a bit like my own little fox den. The best part about the place is the location. I’m in Palermo, which is definitely the trendiest neighbourhood in the city. I’ve taken very expensive cab rides back from Palermo my entire first month here, so I’ll definitely be saving money when it comes to that. So Wednesday night, to celebrate my move, my friend Paul and I went out to la Plaza Serrano, which is three blocks from my house. We ended up seeing a comedy show, then sitting down out on a terrace for some drinks. The whole plaza is just covered with chairs and tables outside; the different places bleed into one another. I’m so happy to be living in this neighbourhood. I feel like I’m going to understand the beat of Buenos Aires night life much better.

Now for a mini-trip to Patagonia! I’m starting off in El Calafate and then heading to El Chalten. I should have a post about my little adventure up by Thursday.