A City Full of Culture and History
Well, it’s been almost two months now (54 days to be exact) down here in Buenos Aires, and the time is flying by! In the two and a half weeks or so since my last post, I have had many great culture-filled experiences, while juggling classes at my university, which are all in Spanish!
I’ve never been much of a photographer, but my family and friends made me promise to take loads of pictures that they could see online, so I’ve accepted the task and, along the way, found that photography is a great form of exploration when in a city as enormous as Buenos Aires. Because the city has so many different barrios, the architecture varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. I’ve seen the French architecture of my neighborhood (Recoleta), the upscale apartments of Palermo, the business districts of Microcentro and Retiro, and the brightly colored houses of La Boca. Also, the government buildings each have their own character, such the salmon-colored Casa Rosada (home to the Presidential duties) and the Spanish colonial-style cabildo, the city’s first town hall.
However, one place in my neighborhood that is among the most oft-visited tourist spots of the city is, ironically, perhaps its least lively: The Recoleta Cemetery.
On the north side of Recoleta, the cemetery is located right smack dab in the middle of a residential area. But this is no ordinary cemetery. It is not a common middle class gravesite with simple markers and various headstones; instead, La Recoleta Cemetery provides a real-life example of a true City of the Dead. And it is a walled city. 15-foot high brick walls surround the graves. The front entrance is an imposing set of neo-classical pillars. But once you get inside, you find the really amazing things.
The cemetery is home to, essentially, every affluent and influential family that lived in Argentina, and more accurately Buenos Aires, over the past 250-or-so years. These figures include Jose de San Martin (Argentina’s George Washington), Eva Peron, Julio Argentino Roca (another famous President), and numerous others.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, not one of these graves is a simple tomb. They are mausoleums. Some are grand and elaborate, some are more simple. Some look quite new, and some have been weathered down considerably. Some even contain monstrous statues of the figures to whom the tombs belong. The area is all laid out in city blockformation. When walking down the streets of the cemetery, you almost feel like you are in a neighborhood.
As odd as it sounds, it’s an amazing place to walk around, especially for anyone who appreciates architecture and history.
In other events, I have had some great cultural experiences as a result of one of my classes at UCA. My Friday class involves social solidarity movements in Argentina, and we take trips out to the less affluent barrios of the city. One Friday, we traveled to a women and children’s shelter that was run by the government and took care of mothers and their kids at night, as long as they had jobs during the day. Another week, we went to home for children from families with abuse problems. We got to meet the director of the program and a couple of the kids in the program, and it was a truly rewarding experience. It was very humbling to see a side of life so different from the affluent neighborhood in which my host family lives.
Also, IFSA-Butler has offered us the opportunity to volunteer work in communities of Buenos Aires. I had my interview, and I may have the chance to work with groups of indigenous people who have moved to the city, and help them with their Spanish grammar skills and teach them a little bit of English at the same time!
It’s become a goal of mine recently to get into a daily routine of sorts that can make me feel like a real porteno, and while doing so, find some great, NOT-touristy places to hang out. And I’ve been pretty successful so far. There’s a great bookstore a block and a half from my apartment called El Ateneo, which is a former theater converted into a library. Where the stage used to be is a fantastic cafe, and it’s a great place to relax away from the noisiness of the city and read a book. Also, there’s a fantastic burger-hot dog stand two blocks from my school that is dirt cheap and offers greatgrub! Finally, I’ve actually managed to join a gym and get into good shape. There’s one chain of gyms that is very expensive, but I got a membership at a good gym for only 20 dollars a month and I’m loving it!
I’ve grown very fond of this city so far. There are definitely things I miss about home, don’t get me wrong. I had never left the United States before this trip. But I’ve come to the realization very quickly that 5 months is not a lot of time to do all the things that Buenos Aires offers! It really calls for us to take advantage of every moment we can. Which means that for the next 3 months, I’m sure to have some culture-filled weekends!
In upcoming events, I bought tickets to see the ARGENTINA-SPAIN SOCCER MATCH ON SEPTEMBER 7th! As a big soccer fan, I’m super pumped. Also at the end of September, the program is taking us to Colonia, Uruguay for the weekend! It should be a great month!
That’s all for me for now! See you in two weeks. -Joe