Monthly Archives: December 2009

Helping Out a Sweltering Soldier at Jose de San Martin’s Mausoleum

It was another Buenos Aires day of predictably erratic weather trends — a humid morning of dark and heavy cloud cover burning off to unveil the fierce, sweltering revenge of the sun gods. I, of course, was wearing a sweater. At least I know how animals with fur coats and men with excessive body hair feel during the summer. Luckily, I had slipped a precautionary tank top underneath the abrasive, clingy pullover. Even the scarcest of clothes, however, does nothing to ease the claustrophobic sensation of riding the crowded subway, which, like a major league locker room during shower time, smells like athlete’s foot.

I was already totting the sweater in my satchel by the time I had reached Plaza de Mayo via subte line D. When I arrived, I needed a break from the intensity of the sun, so I sat on the cool marble steps outside of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, the main Catholic church of the city. Looking down to blot my face, I heard the marching boots before I even saw them coming. These soles belonged to the guards of General Jose de San Martin’s Tomb. On one of the hottest days in Buenos Aires I have experienced so far, the soldiers were wearing spotless, well-pressed, full-dress tunics reminiscent of the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. I am supposing that the fabric was wool, or at least made of a similar, unbreathable material. Fascinated by their charm — and their ability to outlast the heat in such insulating attire — I chased them all the way inside of the church where the tomb stands.

In front of the tomb, I watched as two of the soldiers took stance in the entryway, and I ran up close to snap their photo.

I was adjusting my f-stop and aperture when I heard, “Psssttttt…..” I look around, but I was standing alone. So, I shrugged it off and continued capturing images of the tomb. “Pssssssssssssssttttttttttt  …..  ehhh!” I heard. I nearly dropped my camera. Was the dead general’s ghost speaking to me from the afterlife? I looked at the guards and noticed that one of them was discretely nodding his head at me, trying to wave me in his direction. I pointed at myself and looked around incredulously. “Me,” I whispered, and he nodded his head yes. I was shocked. First of all, I thought the guards were not suppose to speak. Second of all, what on earth would a guard of Jose de San Martin’s tomb want with me?

I approached him not knowing what to say. An enthusiastic “Hola,” was the first, and only, thing to escape through my bashful smile. “El ventilador,” he said gesticulating his head to the left and quickly resuming a rigid, expressionless face. “El qué (the what)?” I asked him. I hadn’t yet learned that word. “El ventilador,” he wheezed now even more madly shaking his head. Instinctively, I turned in the direction to which he was nodding and saw a fan. Right. I picked up the cord, looked at him, and then pointed at it. “Si,” he whispered and nodded. I searched everywhere along the ancient marble walls to find a plug outlet, which I wasn’t even sure would exist being as the church was constructed in the 1800s.

“Psssssstttttt ……. arriba (up),” he called desperately. I turned to him, and he looked like a statue. Odd. So, I tilted my head up, and there was the outlet. I plugged in the fan, and afterward, thought I saw the soldiers’ shoulders drop a little in relief. I resumed taking photos in front of the Mausoleum when I heard a very quiet, “Gracias” from behind me. I turned around, and the soldiers were not moving.

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The Unfortunate News: Argentina to Charge a Reciprocity Fee

If you’re planning on visiting Argentina after December 20, be sure to ask Santa for the extra $131 it will take to cover the new “reciprocity fee” upon entry into the country. That’s right, just before Christmas, and into the future, Americans, Canadians, and Australians will be charged a fee reciprocal to what Argentines have to pay upon entry into, yup, America, Canada, and Australia. Cheers to getting even I suppose. Lucky for Americans and Australians, the $131 charge lasts for the lifetime of the passport at hand. Canadians, unfortunately, will be asked to pay the fee upon each entry.

Read the full details at The Matador Network by clicking here.

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Rule of Thumb

There it was, twirling in circles, staring at me with indignant recalcitrance: the longest thumbnail I have ever seen. It was the lead of its own hand — the sly jester to nine noblemen who rested within the confines of their own restricted, yet, comfortably interwoven court — indubitably undermining the whole appendage with its solitary, nonsensical presentation. Someone had let it get out of hand, permitting it to grow beyond the control of even the most nimble of nail clippers. And there it was, keeping the other digits under its thumb as it cruised down Buenos Aires’ subway line D folded up in the lap of the man to which it belonged. Boastful, flaxen, indestructible.

Who would ever guess that negligence would construct such an inverted empire led by a merrymaking jokester. One morning between brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and tying your shoes laces, you forget to clip the one fingernail, perhaps because its intimidating solidity requires more effort. Henceforth, it grew out of carelessness: everyday forgetting to clip it until the one day you decide just to let it grow out of amusement. Then, trimming it becomes one of those things that should be done, but can wait until there is more time. We are always looking for more time for those sorts of things. We put them off as if they were unimportant until we, per se, catch a stranger on a subway line staring at our two-inch-long thumbnail. And even then, when we become aware of our prolonged indolence, do we chose to act? Or do we thumb our nose and continue as it was before we had forgotten and before the nail had even begun to grow?

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A Tour of My Buenos Aires Apartment

So, after a month-long hunt around Buenos Aires, I finally found a place to hang my … tango shoes. I looked at many different options around the city, and finally settled in Recolecta. I pay 1,200 pesos (or about 315 dollars) per month for my own room and bathroom overlooking the city. The apartment is shared with three amazing girls each my age: one from Argentina, one from Italy, and one from the Dominican Republic.

The following is a list of online resources I used to find my Buenos Aires apartment:

1. www.compartodepto.com: This is a great resource because most of the prices are expressed in pesos, so you can find some better deals that are most often shared with locals. Make sure to select Capital Federal when you create your profile, which is the central district of the city (it’s like Manhattan in relation to New York City).

2. www.olx.com.ar: This is a general classifieds website, but they have a large section that lists “compartir departamento” or shared apartments.

3. http://www.adoos.com.ar/l/roo: This site works similar to olx.com, but just offers another variety of options.

4. Word of mouth: I found a lot of my options just by telling people that I was looking. Someone always knows someone who is renting in this city.

5. I also visited many of the student message boards in the universities. When you enter the campuses, ask where the “cartalera de estudiantes” or the “centro de estudiantes” is and check the postings.

6. Beware of Craigslist as most of the postings are aimed toward foreigners, so the prices are a lot higher!!! But I still found some viable options that I went to see.

7. Join www.couchsurfing.com and become a member of the Buenos Aires Community. They have subsections dedicated to life in the city, including one about housing where a lot of people list vacancies.

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