Given all the fun I’ve been having the past few weeks, I almost forgot the reason I am here – to STUDY abroad. Orientation feels like so long ago and taking the bus to campus on Tuesday to begin my first week of classes felt strange. Apparently UCA wasn’t quite ready for me to begin either. I arrived Tuesday morning, bright and early, for my Argentinian History class only to find the classroom completely empty and dark. I had arrived a bit late, underestimating 8 am traffic, so there was no way the rest of the class simply hadn’t gotten there yet. I checked to make sure I had the correct classroom, and finding that I did I went and found the history department office to see what was up. Apparently, as a first year class, Argentinian History didn’t start until the next week. Either they didn’t bother to tell us this small detail during orientation or it had just gone right over my head. It wasn’t the end of the world. At least it had gotten me out of bed, and I spent the rest of the day reading and writing in the park. On Wednesday, I checked the course list to make sure my Art History class wasn’t a first year course, and seeing that it was third year, I headed to campus for 7:45 (am…). To my dismay, but for some reason not disbelief, the classroom was dark when I arrived. About a half hour later I was laughing silently to myself while an advisor told me that Art History was being given by the arts department this semester, not the history department (yes, even though I signed up for it through the history department), and in the arts department it’s a first year class, not third year. Luckily, I had another class that day so I hadn’t come to campus again for nothing, but it was in the afternoon so I still had hours to kill. I took a little walk along the canal the campus is on, then read for the rest of the time.
Take three, my Contemporary Argentinian Art class, was a success. I’ve never been happier to see a professor walk into a classroom. When the class started and we began talking about what the word “art” means, I realized how much I loved and missed school. I haven’t been in class since December and it felt good to be learning in that type of setting again. I have never taken an art history class before, and I think I’m really going to enjoy it. Art is such an interesting reflection of a culture and for that reason I find it extremely interesting. The class will also be very valuable because my Argentinian History class is about the country’s older history, so it’s great that I have the opportunity to learn about some of its more recent history through the artistic movements.
On Thursday I had Social Movements in Argentina. I have to admit, it’s much different than I had expected. When I hear the words “social movement”, I tend to think about take-to-the-streets grassroots movements, but in this class we’ll be talking about NGOs and government programs towards social mobility in Argentina. I still think I’m going to enjoy it; the professor seems really intelligent and interesting. Plus, I’m sure I’ll find it extremely enlightening since I’m considering pointing my career towards the NGO sector. It’ll be good to have a solid understanding of some of the limitations of NGO work and many of the factors that often aren’t taken into consideration. We’ll also be taking field trips to social projects in the city, and I’m excited for the chance to talk to the organizers and see the projects in action.
Since the only two classes I have on Fridays are those first year classes, I was able to spend this Friday doing some exploring. Paul, Karen, and I decided to go check out La Boca – a neighbourhood I hadn’t visited yet but is a must see. La Boca isn’t a place you want to be at night as a tourist and has a history as one of the city’s poorer neighbourhoods, but it is absolutely beautiful. The most commonly visited street in the area, El Caminito, is famous for its brightly coloured houses and fun street art. Fun fact from Contemporary Argentinian Art – The houses were originally just the dull colours of the tin they were built from until Los Pintores de La Boca, a group of artists who centred their careers around the neighbourhood, started giving the houses fun colours in their paintings in order to make them prettier. Soon, the citizens began to paint their houses in order to match the paintings and the neighbourhood became what it is today.
As much fun as we had, El Caminito itself is very touristic. It was lined with gift shops and overpriced restaurants with tango performances, and every few seconds someone pushed a menu in our direction. At the end of the line of identical restaurants was a guy with no menu, just a subtle suggestion that we try the restaurant on the corner a block away. It was far enough away from all the hustle and bustle, and as we approached it I laughed at it’s sign advertising that there wasn’t a show. A friendly waiter seated us at a perfect, shady table in the corner of the patio, and we were happy to be surrounded by just a few local couples. The prices were good, and we decided to order an Asado. I still hadn’t really experienced much good Argentinian beef and, being the national dish, an Asado was the perfect way to do it. I was blown away by how different the various cuts and sausages tasted from one another. I even loved the morcilla (blood sausage), which I never liked in Spain. By the end my stomach, which is still getting accustomed to being a carnivore again, was not happy with me. Oh but my taste buds were.
Competing with La Boca is difficult, but I have to say that the highlight of my week was probably Sunday. Before heading to Boca, I had spent Friday morning waiting in line for tickets to a free concert being given at the famous Teatro Colón. The theatre is ranked the third best opera house in the world, and is acoustically considered among the five best concert venues in the world. I had definitely been planning on going to see the theatre, but experiencing it by actually going to a concert was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. So, a few of us who didn’t have class that day waited in line and were able to get four tickets each to give to the others. Of course, being free, I wasn’t expecting the best seats. I was so wrong!
I have no clue how it happened, but when we arrived on Sunday and gave our tickets to the usher, she showed us to one of the private boxes that line the sides of the theatre. When she closed our door behind us and I sat down in my plush, velvet seat with a perfect view of the stage, I couldn’t help but feel a bit special. The amazing textures of the curtains that surrounded us and the Grand Budapest Hotel colour scheme made it seem like we were in a painting.
Of course, the concert itself was amazing too. It was a show by Camerata Bariloche, an Argentinian chamber ensemble founded in 1967. They performed Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and I was so impressed. I had never seen classical music performed live before. The lead violinist, especially, played with so much passion it was absolutely impossible not to be affected. When I left I was in the clouds, still processing the experience I had just had.
I’m at an interesting point in my trip right now. On one hand, I’m beginning to settle into the city and find some normalcy and routine. On the other hand, Buenos Aires is constantly surprising me as if it is trying to out do itself every day. That’s what I love about long term trips like this one. Somehow, comfort and excitement seem to come together perfectly in a way that can really only be compared to falling in love.