Norton Ink

Argentina 2002

01 de Agosto 2002

Back in Posadas, I sit in my room and drink a fabulous cup of coffee (the details will come later on that) and I contemplate the week I just spent in Cordoba. It turns out that the bus only took 15 hours to get to there, not the previously explained 18. Still, 15, 18, huuuuuuuuge difference. Not really.

On this bus, on the top, there is a set of two chairs together, then the aisle, then a single chair. Since Graciela was coming with us, I told Teresa it was ok with me if she wanted to sit next to Graciela and I would sit in the solo seat. I assumed then that Teresa would sit in the chair across the aisle from me, but instead G, whom I shall refer to as that Mothball-lady from here on out, sat there. The seats were reasonably comfortable and the view was nice. We left in the evening so I watched the sunset as we drove out of town, it was really beautiful.

So mothball-lady turns out to be a talkative pain in the ass. When the host-guy comes by to bring dinner and ask us what we want to drink, she says something to the tune of, “Well I don’t understand English, so I am not sure.” Even now I haven’t decided if that is a slam on me, or just her usual joke to the bus guy. But she kept saying it every time that guy came by. I was about to say, “Listen lady, that joke was only marginally funny the first time, not in the least funny the second and it isn’t getting any funnier as you re-tell it.” Sometimes it is a good thing to be hampered by a lack of vocabulary.

After dinner they put on the first movie, I can’t even remember what it was but it was something really awful but it was in English with subtitles so I ended up watching it anyway. The second movie was U-571, a WWII movie about submarines (or was it WWI? I am not actually certain, thinking about it) well I had seen bits and parts of it in the past and I slammed it before, but I have to say if you sit through the whole thing, it turns out to be pretty decent, or maybe I was just happy to have another movie in English. Then I stayed up a little to write in my journal. When I tried to go to sleep I kept smelling mothballs, probably all mental but that doesn’t really make much difference. I fell into a fitful sleep (much aided by the eye cover and earplugs supplied so long ago by my dear sister) only to wake up when evilG pulled her coat out of her bag to cover her legs. Just WHY do mothballs have to smell so horrible anyway? You would think by now they would have made something to keep moths away that wasn’t so foul. I would rather have clothes with all sorts of holes in them, then have my clothes smells like that.

The night we traveled there was a full moon and we were driving through all this scrub brush area, passing semi’s. It was indescribably beautiful, I felt like I was in a Thelma and Louise movie, except that I didn’t kill anyone, rob a convenience store, lock a policeman in the trunk of his car and I wasn’t driving to Mexico. This did make me reminisce about those college years with Christie, watching that movie 8 million times, quoting dialogue, “You, say you’re sorry, or I’ll….” I even brought that movie with me on DVD so when I get homesick I can watch it on my computer. Miss ya girlie!

On the bus I decided that since I was halfway through my trip it was time to re-define my goals. I was definitely getting better with my Spanish, what next? Well I am basically deadly afraid of answering the phone, anytime anyone asks me to answer it, I feel deep dread in the pit of my stomach. Also, I could use more vocab and pronunciation work, that likely means more classes at the dog-smelling house. Why not try to have some private English sessions with Tania, I am sure she wouldn’t mind. Need to exercise more. Fear, fear of being wrong, being misunderstood or not understanding is the biggest problem with language. It is time to get over that. Time to answer the phone without being forced, talk to people before they start conversations, during a party, don’t just sit in a corner and talk only to the people I already know.

I finally hit deep restful sleep only to have it be morning and time for breakfast. It was a foul and disgusting dry breakfast that I couldn’t even face eating. It was 9ish when we got into Cordoba and too early to check into the hotel so we went to the neighborhood where Teresa’s family lives. Her parents had a piece of property, that they split up and gave to each girl in the family (Teresa, Louisa and Lina). Now it is a set of 3 or 4 houses with Lina and the mom, then Louisa and her two daughters and their families, and a patio area that doesn’t have a house, that is actually Teresa’s property. All joined so that they families spend a lot of time with each other and are very close. We weren’t staying there because with 3 people it was a bit too much to take on, with Teresa’s mom not being well. Also, Elisa’s daughters Rosario and Sophia were coming from Posadas a few days later. There just wasn’t bed space.

Lina and Louisa were simply wonderful, and really funny, truly they just love life. I can see why Alma likes them so much. They said how much they delighted in Alma’s visit and how much they missed her when she left. They also asked Teresa if Alma had been much in touch and wondered what was going on in her life - that was a little plug to Alma. (For those of you who don’t remember, Alma was the girl who got to stay here the term before I came down.) Silvia (the niece from the waterfall incident) even popped her head in and we talked. I saw Elmice for about 20 good seconds, and even though she wasn’t the sweetest child on the block she is starting to grow on me. Of course, compared to the true evil of Graciela she looks like a perfect little angel.

After a nice lunch and nice dessert (there is almost always a dessert around here, I think they would try to fit one in after breakfast if it was possible) we headed to the hotel. Since it was a “triple” I assumed it would be a larger room with 3 beds in a row and lots of drawer space. Instead it was the same size room you would get with a single, with 3 twin beds two in a row and the other basically laid the other direction near the foot of the others, making a U shape. The 3rd bed was near the door and along a large mirror. Not the best bed in the world but I seized the opportunity to be as far away from Graciela as possible and put my luggage on it. Then I thought we might get a nice chance to get some rest but I was told the tour guide was going to be there soon, so I washed my face, changed my clothes but some makeup on and was ready to go. We were standing there and evilG was urging me to go downstairs with her. Teresa was taking a shower so I told her I was just waiting, well it turns out that Teresa decided NOT to go on this tour so it would just be Stinky and me. Joy.

It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be, the city was nice, the tour guide was really sweet and the 2 other people on the little mini-tour bus were also very nice. Graciela, for the most part didn’t make any “I don’t understand English” type jokes. She did seem a tad grumpy but I chalked it up to lack of sleep and travel. I didn’t understand very much of what the tour guide said, but it really was a nice day and I got some nice pictures. I was starting to feel as if I had judged the evilG a little prematurely and had some hopes for the following days. She even fell asleep for a bit on the tour. We got to the hotel about 530 and I was ready to drop, I was so tired and my head was killing me. When we got in, we both said we were going to sleep for a bit, Teresa had already been resting so she went to her family’s place while we slept. When I woke up from my nap around 8pm, I felt so much better!

Teresa came back around that time and we decided to go see some classical music that Teresa had read about in the paper. We got dressed again and started to go out. Well I couldn’t find the money I had left over from the tour earlier, so I looked and looked. It was only 20 some pesos, about $6, so I said “never mind.” Dear me. Graciela went into some sort of tizzy. She looked through all my stuff, including a coat I didn’t even take along on the tour. Then she asked permission to stick her hands in my pockets, bleah. She finally found it tucked into a side pocket of my luggage. I know I would have found it later, I didn’t understand all the uproar. It was nice that she sent to so much trouble to look for me, but, I don’t know, it was freaky.

Well, we get to the place, and no classical music, the paper was wrong, so we went to this upscale shopping mall instead. G was tired so she went back to the hotel and Teresa and I had a really nice dinner alone. The next day was a 10-hour tour of the area surrounding Cordoba, called the Triangulo de Jesuitico, or basically a tour of all the areas where the Jesuits were, way back when. EvilG is some sort of muckity-muck in the ministry of her church in Santiago and when she heard I was going to see Jesuit stuff she showed an interest in going along. Oh dear me NO. However since lunch wasn’t included in the price and it was 48 pesos for the day, she decided to just wait (also it turns out that on the next tour the ladies were both joining me).

Background info on Graciela. She turns out to be the niece of an infamous ex-dictator of Chile (by marriage? Not certain) Every time she says her last name, people look a little more attentive and say, “Pinochet?” with a kind of bemused, poor-you look on their face. That must get a little old. Also, she seems to have decent clothes, she keeps saying how she is a “Lady” and her family is moneyed, why then does she act like she has about two cents to rub together wherever we go, and she always has a death-grip on her purse. I understand being cautious but this seems excessive. Anytime the topic of money comes up, you can bet that EvilG is trying to figure out a way of spending less than anyone else. I bet you are wondering just why I seem so bitter about this woman, well that is coming up in my next installment. While I went to see the Triangulo de Jesuitico, the ladies went to see the Aunt of Celso who lives near Cordoba. Teresa asked me if I was alright traveling on my own, and while I was a little tentative, I decided anything was better than hanging out with Stinky.

Well I couldn’t have had a better time on the tour. Gustavo was our tour guide and after collecting everyone we started on our way. First we went to this little pueblo Caroya, where they have this really long main street lined with these 300 year-old enormous trees. The day is sunny and gorgeous. First stop? A Bodega, or winery to you. Could this tour be MORE designed for me? Not certain. When we get to the bodega, Gustavo pulls me aside and checks to see if I am understanding everything (and for the most part, yes, I know I am missing details, like the name of the tree, but I get the gist. On the tour before I was so tired I just kept spacing out and forgetting to listen. But with a full night’s rest and some breakfast, I felt ready to conquer the world). I told him I worked at a winery in Seattle and this is the first thing he tells the lady who gives us the tour! He made her so nervous! Well, I didn’t understand some of what she said, but the wine knowledge I have, gave me the ability to know what she was talking about it.

Next stop? Artisanal Salami, yup, hand-crafted salami, apparently this area is best known for its wine and its salami. Since Gustavo used my name, loudly, in front of everyone at the winery, it is like I am the new guest-star, Carmen this and Carmen that. It is really cool, everyone is SOOOOOOOOOO nice!!!! On this tour there was a couple from Mexico, a couple with their baby from Buenos Aires and two people who live in the area around Buenos Aires (I can’t remember the exact name of it, but I was assured that it is the “most beautiful area in Argentina”) and me. I thought those people were a “couple” but they didn’t have wedding rings (I looked because I was considering asking them if they had kids, since everyone asks me that) so I asked the girl her name, “Juanita” and then I asked her what her boyfriend’s name was and OOOOPS, just cousins! I was so embarrassed. His name was Ricardo, btw.

Then we finally got around to stopping at a few old missions and churches. EvilG would really have hated this trip, it was the most expensive trip this company does, and at every church we all had to pay a peso or two to get in. This is where people started talking to me, Ricardo has visited the U.S. a couple times so we talked about that. The people with the baby (totally adorable little girl who smiled a whole lot) asked me why I was in Argentina. Then we go to this great restaurant for lunch. It is an asado style restaurant, which means bar-b-que but completely different than in the states! On the table there are wooden cutting boards, basically for chairs facing each other, one per-2 people. They bring you a whole lots of different salads, French fries with scrambled eggs on them, beverage of choice, and then the cook starts bring out different kinds of meat. First a steak, and you split it with the person across from you. No plates, eat off of the cutting board, just use your fork for the salad. Then we had pork chops, then just a huge assortment, chorizo, blood sausage (tastes like pâté in a casing) everything was wonderful tasting. One of the things the cook brought out (I can’t even remember the name) were these rings of something, that looked kind of like calamari, but a bit larger, and everyone looked at me, with that, “oh I wonder how she is going to take THIS” look on their faces. I asked what it was, and no one would tell me. All they would say is that it was really rich. Well you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this was most likely intestine. So I took a little bite, it was gamey and dry and I decided trying it was one thing, but eating it was another. So I didn’t finish it, to my credit I did eat the blood sausage which I had sworn before I would never try.

Then we all start a discussion about finances, and how Argentina’s downfall was basically the start of a domino-style crashing of the other economies of the countries in South America. So I chimed in that the US was in a down period, blah, blah, blah. The guy from Mexico said it was simply due to September 11. So I had to go into how it likely didn’t help any, but that things had been going poorly with our economy well before that. Then the lady with the baby asked me if Carmen was my real name. So I got to tell them how my Spanish professor had chosen to call me that, how I liked it and since my real name was difficult for everyone in South America to pronounce, it seemed easier to go with Carmen. This was a lot like throwing down the gauntlet. So, I told them my real name and they all said things like, “Oh, Karen? Oh we know that name!” Then I spelled it, “Ohhhhh, Carrie” and they all thought they had it right, it was really funny though, because they didn’t. We all laughed a lot about that. Then the lady who asked originally said, “Like that movie, Carrie?” Maybe because my parents spelled my name so much differently than other Carries, I have learned to really dislike that spelling, and I don’t really want to be compared to a lady who gets pg blood dumped on her at the prom.

“No, no, no, no, no,” I said, “well yes it is the same, but completely different!” at this point the man from Mexico, claimed that I had a great grasp on the language and gave me a high five! This is where I let go of my fear and realized that I can speak, more than just a little, and that the concept of being “fluent” is maybe slightly overstating the ability I will have gained when I leave, it isn’t far from the truth either. I really am getting somewhere with my goals. This isn’t just some fun vacation, I really CAN speak Spanish, or Castellano as they call it here. Taking this tour all by myself was one of the best things that could have happened. I even got the email of the cousins and hopefully we will hook up for at least one night, when I am in Buenos Aires with my sister.

We then saw a whole lot more and didn’t get back to town until 8:30, a full 11 hours on the road. Since I was gone a whole week and so many things happened, this has already gone on for quite a bit. I will write another one of these completing the journey in Cordoba, telling the final chapter on EvilG, or stinky or mothball lady, however you prefer to think of her. But for now, I give you a Karri/Carmen break.

Chau todos, likely more later today or tomorrow.

Also, all of my previous journal entries are posted on my website and you can find them at (also included are the rules to this silly card game I learned to play here called Chancho).

"It is important to our friends to believe that we are unreservedly frank with them, and important to friendship that we are not."-Mignon McLaughlin