My love affair with Argentina began in 2007. I was finishing up my Master’s in Latin American Studies at American University in Washington, DC, and I was taking a course on icons of the Sothern Cone. I remember how impressed I was by my professor, who spoke Spanish fluently, flawlessly, and with an Argentine accent. I remember how surprised we all were when she first told us that she was not in fact from Argentina, but from the United States. She gave me the hope that one day I could lose my gringa accent and truly become bilingual. My professor had lived in Buenos Aires for years, and she expressed her love for Argentina and strong appreciation for its culture in all facets of her teaching. We read novels about Eva and Juan Perón by authors like as Tómas Eloy Martinez, listened to haunting Tangos by Carlos Gardel, studied icons such as Che Guevara and Borges, and learned about Argentina’s controversial and powerful history. By the end of the course, I was convinced; I needed to experience Argentina for myself.
The following semester I decided to go to Buenos Aires to complete an independent study project entitled “Buenos Aires: Icons and Identity”, in which I focused primarily on Argentine icons, Eva and Juan Perón. The study involved research, interviews, and analysis focused on the reality and the myth of these icons, and how they are portrayed in Argentine society. I also discovered through my research that Eva Perón apparently is not even buried in Recoleta Cementary as everyone thinks. She was for a time, but was later moved (and rightfully so in my opinion) to be reunited with Juan perón at another burial site outside of Buenos Aires.
My first month in Buenos Aires, I chose to do a homestay and lived in the neighborhood of Almagro, near the Loria subte stop. I lived in an apartment with an Argentine woman, Rosa, who was a psychologist and vegetarian cook. Rosa hosted workshops in which she combined psychology with cooking. They were very interesting, and I had never experienced anything quite like it. At the time, I didn’t know what a rare find an Argentine vegetarian was because everyone knows how much Argentines love their meat. Over the next 7 years of my back and forth trips to Argentina, she was the only vegetarian in Argentina that I ever came across.
In attempts to make new friends and continue to improve my Spanish, I took a Spanish language course at El Centro Universitatio de Idiomas (CUI), a sector of the University of Buenos Aires. It was a good introduction into my stay, as I made a lot of good friends, many of which I am still close with today.
After a month of living in Almagro in the homestay, I decided to venture out on my own and rent a studio apartment in the Palermo neighborhood, a few blocks away from the Alto Palermo shopping mall. Palermo is known for it’s nice parks, restaurants and shops, and I enjoyed living there. I even joined a running team. After a few months though, living alone began to get a bit lonely.. and expensive, so I decided it was time for a change. I wanted to be able to practice my Spanish at home too so I looked on Craigslist Buenos Aires and began my apartment search. I went out and looked at several rooms in various neighborhoods, but ended up choosing to live with a family in Belgrano. The mother, Monika, was originally from Switzerland but had been living in Buenos Aires for over 20 years so she was basically Argentine. She had a colorful and crazy personality that I liked, and found that we got along very well. She had two teenagers that also lived in the house. Monika was a great cook, and gave me three meals a day, which was a nice change after living on my own.
When I wasn’t working on my research, I traveled. I traveled all around Argentina. The geographical beauty and diversity of Argentina never ceased to amaze me. I took busses all over the country, to Salta in the north, Mar del Plata, Cordoba, Iguazú, and Puerto Madryn, in Patagonia. Some of the bus trips were as long as 30 hours, but the busses were very comfortable and many had the option of “coche cama” seats in which your seat folds down into a bed.
My first trip to Argentina lasted 6 months. I finished my independent study within the first few months of my trip, and got so into the study that it ended up being over 40 pages (in Spanish), double the required amount. I had made many friends and memories during my stay, but it was just the beginning of my relationship with Argentina.