20 September 2013

ghost city

we stayed in town again this weekend to spend time with friends, relax a bit, sleep in, and, we hoped, visit a couple places in the sierras mountains of córdoba province.

that last plan was almost derailed as town after town was evacuated last week due to troublingly serious and in some cases devastating wildfires all around the region. the fires consumed houses and forests. after several organized trips were cancelled, we didn't think we'd make it out of the city at all.

luckily, the weather finally got a bit less dry and the fires were under control, so we were able to spend sunday in the city of alta gracia with our friend malin. the bus was super easy (and cheap) from córdoba - less than an hour's trip - but once we got there the city seemed deserted. even getting a cab took time and a little luck. when we finally did find a taxi, the driver told us the fires had approached within three km of where we were, just days earlier. i don't know if the lack of activity in the city had to do with the fire evacuations or the low-tourist time of year, or whether it's just normal in a city of commuters to córdoba capital.

is this argentina or is this a series of unfortunate events?


just getting out of córdoba was nice, though our destination city was eerily empty. we went to its two main tourist attractions, che guevara's childhood home and a 17th-century jesuit estancia. there wasn't much else to see, so we were home well before (argentinian) dinnertime, which worked out perfectly.

the public clock tower.

wandering the city, we also saw some interesting architecture and adorable houses and charming antiquities. some things were falling apart; others were just old.

i love how popcorn in argentina is "pochoclo" - choclo is a uniquely south american type of large-grain corn.

a manmade lake near the estancia, surrounded by a popular park (well, popular is a relative term).

outside che's house.

el museo de la casa de ernesto che guevara is a tribute to the argentinian revolutionary known for his role in the cuban revolution. the modest home where he spent his adolescence now houses artifacts and photos from his life, as well as information about him and samples of his writing.

i loved the maps of che's extensive trips around south america (by bike, motorcycle, and hitchiking) and the photos of his worldwide travels as a cuban diplomat.

visiting the museum from a u.s. perspective was interesting because he was such an antagonist to american diplomacy of the time. especially disconcerting was the outbuilding entirely dedicated to memorializing fidel castro and hugo chavez's 2006 visit to the museum. to us, they're enemies; to che, they were comrades. and argentinians idolize che, if their favorite graffiti and tattoo art is any indication.

letters by castro and chavez at the end of their visit.

the gift shop.

the jesuit estancia was a monastery and ranch, one of six in córdoba province that funded the main university in the city, which was run by the jesuits at the time. it's now the universidad nacional de córdoba, the second-largest uni in the country. the city of alta gracia was founded around the estancia, which was in a rural area when it was built in the 1600s. the estancias are now a unesco world heritage site.


outside in the garden/patio.

the museum inside was interesting, showcasing the life of the monks and of the viceroy who lived there. but the site never gave us a macro view of the history of the place: we lacked a big-picture view of what it was or what it did.

in general, life in córdoba can be stressful at times but is also incredibly fun.

my work at the prison is okay. sometimes i feel like i'm getting along well with the girls; other times they're incredibly frustrating. i'm so grateful my partner is a young woman who's taught at a troubled high school a couple years already; she really understands how to work with teenagers from difficult backgrounds. our last couple visits, we haven't been able to accomplish much because our timing coincided with the girls' favorite telenovela, so even nail-painting or watching slumdog millionaire can't compete. yesterday was better; it was one girl's 17th birthday and we (after searching nearly every bakery in the city) found her favorite type of cake to bring. when we arrived, it turned out it was a party that had been going on all day, and we joined some argentinian volunteers, the birthday girl's family, and even the guards of the prison in celebrating. luckily, we did contribute something valuable - none of the three other cakes had been torta de selva negra.

while some days there can be really tough, my partner and i are doing all we can. sometimes the most we can contribute is just time with them, bonding and chatting. i hope by the end, they'll begin to appreciate this, and maybe we can help them understand their human rights just a little bit more, too.

times at the correctional really test my spanish ability, since i have to understand fast, slurred spanish with slang and pronunciations that are characteristic of lower-class pockets of argentinian society. the girls aren't always patient or understanding when i don't get it, so i do my best to keep up.

but i do need the spanish practice. i love the other volunteers, but because i spend most of my time with them, i speak a lot of english. actually, my accent in english has gotten messed up from speaking simultaneously to people with british, german, french, and other accents, interspersed with spanglish or italian-accented spanish to the italians.

unclear why this church has only one spire.

we've also tried to socialize more with argentinians. there are great events two nights a week that bring together foreign and local young people to speak english for an hour and a half, and then spanish for the next hour and a half. that's been a great way to meet american study-abroaders and estudiantes cordobeses alike - though we have to make a point to speak spanish, since the argentinians are so intent on practicing their english. not that they're hesitant to correct when i switch el and la or use the wrong form in the conditional tense.

buen pastor church/cultural center in córdoba.

last week we needed something to do, so we went to the museo de bellas artes, córdoba's most famous art museum, in a historic mansion. it was one of the strangest art museums i've ever seen: mostly colonial-era córdoban art, interspersed with modern photographs and pop art and other unrelated styles seemingly randomly. and some of the rooms were left in their original french-colonial style, while others were painted a modern orange or had wall-to-wall patterns. i have no idea if the nonsensical nature of the organization was intentional or not.

this has been a successful week in the little ways. we finally found dark chocolate after scouring every supermarket. we joined a gym, and promptly learned that "localizada" is a high-intensity half-dance, half-aerobics class that makes us look like total gringas because we're too uncoordinated to follow all the movements to the fast reggaetón beat, let alone text our boyfriends while doing so (argentinians are talented, man). we planned a trip to buenos aires for this weekend, though the bus tickets cost so much that we ran out of money for the cab and had to walk 20 blocks home (next time, we'll plan ahead?!) we're looking forward to buenos aires, and a lot of it has to do with the availability of real asian food (is that bad? there's literally not a single block of tofu in the city of córdoba, even though soy is argentina's largest export).

my bus got stuck behind a horse cart the other day.

it's crazy how it seems like we've been in argentina forever, yet the trip also feels impossibly short. talking to my entire family on the phone yesterday was a blast, and i know it'll seem like no time before i see them again. so i'm just enjoying this unusual, crazy, incredible experience while i can.


chau for now! i'll update again soon.


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