Friday, September 10, 2010

Yo te sigo a todas partes a donde vas cada vez te quiero mas

I’m sorry for the delay, as usual…

The highlight of my whole trip so far happened this past Tuesday. The year of the Bicentennial celebrating Argentina’s revolution for independence, the Spanish national football team traveled here to play against their old colony! It was stressful trying to get tickets in this impossible, unpredictable, unsystematic country, but in the end Phil (remember, the manager of South American Explorers, the NGO for which I’m volunteering to write two sections of their Buenos Aires guide) managed to get us tickets through a tour group of about 100 people. We went in two full buses, had pizza and beer before the game, and took our seats with an hour to wait. When the Spanish selection walked out to the middle of the field to be interviewed and sign autographs I nearly fainted; I couldn’t believe the boys I’ve been hero-worshipping for the past 4 years were right in front of me!

That wasn’t even the best part though. The game finally started after the national anthems were played and millions of pieces of blue-and-white and red-and-yellow confetti were shot into the air. We were in the section with a perfect view of a corner, and in the first half it was Spain’s territory. When Messi scored the first goal in the 10th minute, it was right in front of our seats; we saw every detail of his masterful fast break and how he made a fool out of the Spanish defenders. After hugging his teammates, he turned around and looked directly up at our section so I could even see the fierce joy in his eyes. Then he kissed the Argentine emblem of his jersey, hit his chest, waved his hand in a circle which I think meant “let’s do it again!” and crossed himself like a good Catholic boy!

Here’s the video of this, one of the most gratifying moments of my life:

As for the 4-1 score (Spain hadn’t let anyone score 4 goals against them in the past 10 years)…well, I knew something was up when I saw the captain’s band on Xabi Alonso. That meant that Iker Casillas was not in goal (instead they played some idiot whose big mistakes cemented the first 3 goals and made everyone laugh and chant, “Qué raro! Qué raro!”) and that Carles Puyol, the Catalan defender who got Spain to the World Cup final by scoring with a phenomenal header against Germany, wasn’t playing either. So out of the stunning starting line-up, only 6 even made it on the field, and they were never together because they were substituted for one another. I had the pleasure of seeing David Villa’s impressive shot in person, although he never scored and got taken out at halftime. The scrawniest footballer ever, David Silva, put all his wee little heart into the game but also got taken out at halftime. The legendary Xavi entered 10 minutes into the second half as Spain’s last sub, and they took out Cesc.

Still, despite not seeing the team I was hoping to see (it’s the second time I’ve gone to a game where Fernando Torres’ team played and I didn’t even get to see El Niño in action), I was pleasantly surprised at an even greater phenomenon, namely Argentina’s courage and seamless teamwork – despite not having a secure coach (Diego Maradona stepped down) and rarely playing together in their own country (they’re all superstars on wealthy European teams). Messi of course is a dream, and my boy Kun Aguero from Atlético de Madrid topped it all off with a last spectacular goal in the final minute. Not to mention, they had an awesome fireworks show prepared for Argentina’s victory! It was such an incredible experience.

If you care as much as I do, here’s the best video I could find of the highlights and goals:

What’s funny is, we were sweating in our shorts and t-shirts all day but as soon as the sun went down, we were shivering in our jackets and scarves. I used to think autumn was my favorite season, but this year I’ve had 6 months of winter and since autumn is the advent of winter, I’ve started to resent it. I hardly had a summer so I’m really impatient for spring to come to Buenos Aires. Of course traveling around Europe from May-July I had 6 weeks of mostly warm weather (except in Dublin), but my only real taste of summer as I define it – relaxing, reading, spending time with family, and playing on the beach – was the four days I spent in Mexico for my sister’s wedding. Even that was upsetting in a way, because I realized I was leaving all that behind so soon, while everyone I love in both my dear, dear continents continued on enjoying my favorite time of year, with the sun painting their skin and the smells of jasmine and the earth cooling at night and singing and walking outside under the dying leaves, still vibrant but breathing their last...

I’m stuck in my house all over again because I’m a dumb impatient little kid and I hurt the same knee playing basketball last night, except it’s even worse this time because it’s the ligaments at the front instead of the back so I can’t even bend my knee. I hope it gets better in double the recovery time, though; I cried last night to think that I wouldn't be able to play sports for another 6 weeks or even longer if it is a worse injury this time. One of the best things about living in a city is having hundreds of people close to you and ready to go play a pick-up game at any minute, and I’ve been so sick of being powerless to participate; then when I finally thought I was sufficiently healed, I just hurt myself worse. That’s one of the bad things about living in the suburbs in the USA: everyone has to work and commute and doesn’t care enough to put time aside from their day to play soccer or basketball or if they do, they won’t play with a girl who’s not even any good. I really tried hard to find a soccer club last year and I had no luck. I guess I'll just have to drive the hour it takes to get to Philadelphia once a week and play a game with students and foreigners and Couchsurfers that don’t care about winning or showing off, but just love to play and to have a good time with cool people...

But anyway, besides recovering, I’m reading a lot, which is the bulk of my homework as a literature/history student. It’s a blessing and a pleasure to go to school here, all of my professors are brilliant, and I’m learning so much!...except for this week, because we haven’t had class: the university is being held hostage by dozens of students who think the government should provide them with their own building with a library and a cafeteria. In the past, other students have held strikes to try to get similar things as well, because as prestigious as the university is, a lot of the property is old and decrepit. It’s not falling apart, although the students are trying to rally support by saying a window fell and broke all on its own but no one got hurt; last week our professor told us this wasn't true, that it was a set-up and that he’s been working in the political field for 40 years and he’s never had to lie... in Argentina, you never know who to believe, really.

There’s a whole debate going on below my facebook status about this. I wrote: You know you’re in Buenos Aires when you go to class (at the free public university where the professors are volunteers) but chairs and posters block all the doors; you try the stairs and get yelled at by the hostiles holding the university hostage; and you want to say “I’m a foreigner trying to learn your history, but you bunch of stupid French posers are too lazy to go to class…”

Then Heather said: Que fuerte... ellos no, pero nosotras si pagamos.
To roughly translate: How shocking…they don’t, but we do pay.

To which I responded: claro! que verguenza...son todos tontos
Again: Of course! It’s shameful…they’re all idiots

Then some support from the Ferraros, and then an Argentine girl I know through Couchsurfing said: Welcome to our world =) Feel special. They are demanding rights. Here if we don´t do a strike, nothing happens. That´s the way this country works, and about this matter that you pay, and we don´t, has nothing to do about anything.
Third world ladies, if not, u should take your money to a first world country.

And Heather deleted her subsequent comment which remarked on the stereotype that everyone from the United States has so much money, which we get a lot.

Then I said: well i would LOVE IT if what they were striking about was a substantial human justice issue, like getting abortion legalized for example. unfortunately they are not demanding rights - they are vying for their own building with their own library and their own cafeteria. it is not your 'right' to have these commodities if you're not paying a single centavo. it would just raise every Argentine citizen's taxes and for what? up until now it looks like UBA's hundreds of thousands of students have managed to get their free & prestigious first-class education well enough by - shockingly - sharing the space available and being flexible, resourceful, open-minded and appreciative. these are the traits i admire, not protesting and selfishly denying everyone else's right to go to class because of some misguided sense of entitlement (which i hardly blame them for, it gives me the creeps to see how rampant the media is here, and how much the fashionistas deck themselves out like they think they're in Paris, London or New's sick how obsessed they are with self-image, how desperately they want to feel powerful, how much importance they give to superficialities)...i expected better from the students of one of the most prestigious universities in Latin America...

And Heather’s final note: the money isn't what my point was, my point was that it's bad timing considering we're here to study and well, can't study. I wasn't clear.

As you can see, even education here is cause for a protest. I complained to Darío (my advisor/Spanish professor here) about how they’re taking away my right to go to class and he said that some of these people are militants: they don’t graduate and just stay in school, using their student status and the university as a forum to make themselves and their ambitions known in the political world, where they eventually end up.

It’s all very interesting…as a city though, Buenos Aires is not for me. It’s quirky and different and exciting but I don’t belong here. My spirit longs for nature, and the intricate close connection that the cities I've fallen in love with have to nature, like Amsterdam and Barcelona and Granada and Cascais and Charleston and Miami and Salt Lake City; plus I like smaller cities where people are kind and respectful and want to be close rather than strongly alienated, like in Alcalá de Henares and Galway and Belfast and Toledo and Segovia and, of course, Philadelphia. I miss bonding, and no one here wants to make me their best friend only to see me leave in 3 months. I can't blame them. But still, to tell the truth, I can’t wait to move on.

In my Contemporary Argentine Literature and Culture class we’re reading Jorge Luis Borges. He’s a genius. Even he saw the hypocrisy of the two extremes of his country's culture: the ignorant gauchos and the literary elite that tried to be French...I still don't have as much patience and affection as he does for his home, unfortunately.

Although it’s true, I do feel better about the country as a whole now. I exorcised my resentment by getting out of the hellishness of the city and escaping to Patagonia, to Puerto Madryn to see the whales and a grey fox and an armadillo and loads of guanacos and sea lions and dolphins and lots of tuffs of grass and a big huge sky and flat space as far as the eye can that I've returned and I'm no longer sick (just seeing real untainted land and the waves made by the whales jumping in the sea healed me, I think), I've started to enjoy my life here and I've made some German, Australian, British, Kiwi and, yes, even Argentine acquaintances. All that I'm waiting for now is for my knee to get better so I can run and play again, and for spring to come.

(Photos of the game are pending, and Heather’s amazing photos of the trip to Patagonia can be found here: