Friday, November 18, 2011

From New Year's to Thanksgiving: And what to do in-between

As I'm sitting here on this crisp, sunny day sipping Millstone pumpkin coffee and nibbling Andrew's homemade chocolate chip cookies, I'm thinking..."so much for my public service blog!" (That thought actually came after the one about how charmed a life I'm living, even as a broke student).

But I don't plan on giving up. I've actually had a semester rich with great stories, enlightening moments, kickbacks to reality, and trying times. I just haven't put the words to the screen. But, like any good New Year's resolution, it's never too late to start again, and it's not necessary to wait until Jan-one either.

My first instinct was to list the highlights since September, and then slowly fill in the details with flashback blogs. But then, it makes much more sense to look forward at this moment in time. There's so much to look forward to!

TOMORROW, November 19, 2011
10th annual World Toilet Day celebration!! Why should you celebrate? In most cases, clean toilets come before computers. So, if you're able to read this, then you're probably able to answer the call of nature in a well-equipped, sanitary place. Imagine- while you're reading the newspaper over your pretty porcelain, up to 2.6 billion people are defecating in conditions that are less than sanitary. I don't mean to be crude nor do I want to make light of the situation. The point of World Toilet Day is to wipe away taboos and take a stab at the real issues. Wanna get educated on toilets?
  • Ira Flatow had a great convo with Professor Toilet on Science Friday today.
  • My classmates and friends Heath Carelock and Ryan Williams worked for the World Toilet Foundation in Singapore last summer. Click on their names to visit the blogs and get inspired.
  • And finally, I'll share with you some of my favorite euphamisms for you to break the ice and spread the word tomorrow about the beauty of toilet bowls! 
Break the seal
Spill the coffee
Paper work
Hacer caca (the Spanish version)
Wee willy winkle
Cop a squat (when you are out in nature)
And my favorite:
Making the bladder gladder

Now go out, spill the beans, and squat in solidarity on Saturday in the name of sanitary conditions for all!

Friday, November 25, 2011
To most, it's BLACK FRIDAY, a day of enormous pre-holiday sales, when the masses in western consumer markets crawl over each other in their haste to grab that last knick-knack before it's not 25% off anymore. I'm not bashing joining the festivities or, in this economy, trying to save pennies while still maintaining normal standards of living. But while you are out shopping, it would also be a great opportunity to grab a gift for a stranger and make them thankful for YOU.  Here's my top 5 six suggestions.
  • School supplies! The ones that you donated in August are probably used up now. There are schools all over in need of good books, fun learning tools, or just some new pencils. Grab a few notebooks and take them to your local learning institution. Or, find me (via comment on this post) because I know a lot of teachers/schools/programs in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas that could use those supplies. 
  • Blankets. Whether you donate an old ratty one to the pups at the animal shelter, or your nice, but slightly out-of-date throw to a homeless shelter, it will surely find it's way to warm a fellow's hands and heart. 
  • Calories. Of course, food is always a great thing to give, especially when it's cold outside. Take a grocery bag to your local food bank. But think outside the box. Instead of soup, pick some peanut butter and crackers to accompany someone else's Campbell's can. Just make it healthy...the link between hunger and obesity is becoming ever stronger as the impoverished rely more on nutrition-less, high calorie foods that they can afford rather than hearty, healthful sustenance. 
  • Suit up. Donate or buy business clothes for a local employment agency or job fair. I went to a job fair in Rogers, AR, recently and they had FREE brand-new business clothes for job seekers who may be financially strained due to unemployment. Clever!
  • Make an investment. Take a mere $25 out of your holiday spending budget and put it toward someone else's business. With $25, you can buy one shirt, or you can enable someone in Peru to make hundreds of shirts! And if they do, you will shortly get your $25 back to reinvest. (Or buy that shirt, which would then be on sale for less in the post-holiday season). Try Kiva out.
  • Personalize it! If you know someone who works at one of the previously named institutions, ask them for suggestions. You never know when a school is going to need a bag of food and when a homeless shelter is going to need some books. 
 The most important thing is to stretch your creativity while you think about giving this time of year. Often, the same food banks and shelters receive a wealth of donations that are difficult to manage, while other less-known institutions are left wanting during the most difficult times of the year. Don't be afraid to ask around or make it a topic of conversation. You never know what cause you'll find that you and your family will relate to. Just follow your interests (and your heart) and find your special niche for gift-giving.

Post a thought:
What creative idea do you have for advocating, donating, or general do-gooding this holiday season?

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    New Place, New Face

    Blog face, that is.

    Recap: I have been blogging intermittently while seeking my higher ed degrees - mostly about the interesting stuff. I got my Spanish degree in Salamanca, Spain, as an undergrad student, which is where my blog was born. After graduation, I went on to Andalusia, Spain, to study how to live a traveler's life on a meager budget and how to speak Spanish almost entirely without consonants. Finally, this past summer I spent in Buenos Aires, Argentina, doing the required international project for my slightly more official Master of Public Service degree at the Clinton School.

    Where is she now?
    I have come full circle, my faithful friends. I was born in Northwest, Arkansas, and somehow have ended up back here after 24 years and approximately 9 cities. My education continues with the final service project for the Clinton School. If you're still there with me, I invite you to follow along through this rather hazy, unblazed trail I call Finding A Career.

    It will actually be a little more abstract and a little less boring (I hope) than it may sound. My real intention with the continuation of this blog is to define Public Service and learn how to live it. My route will follow only one of many possibilities, but I hope it intersects with others' public service projects, definitions, and values, whether of my fellow CSPS friends and colleagues or other service-oriented peers.

    So, I invite you to follow me, comment and offer feedback, and share stories on my newest adventure!

    P.S. The blog is currently undergoing construction and may take a few more face lifts before I get it just right.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011


    Exasperated, I was a little testy as the security guard in the bank was trying to understand my broken Spanish explaining my problem with the broken ATM machine. It was my own fault that the words weren't coming to me and he was just trying to help. I gave up, left in a rush, and finally found an ATM that did work...just in time for the other bank to close where I needed to make the deposit to get my visa. Ouch. Bad Karma.

    In attempt to try to be a responsible student (read: someone who has no income except loans, scholarships, etc.), I considered but never actually went on any trips outside of Buenos Aires. It wasn't in the budget. Then, my Tio Ernesto calls my family asking if by chance I'm still down south. "Yes," they say, "but she's coming home soon."

    "Not without stopping by Santa Cruz first," he replies. (Those Latinos can be quite hard-headed)

    Somehow, this conversation resulted in my Bolivian uncle and my family in the U.S. pulling it all together and making it happen for me. Good Karma? Good family.

    I think I just got real lucky with the lot I drew in life and family. I miss you all dearly, but won't be seeing you as soon as I thought. I'M GOING TO BOLIVIA! Thanks so much for all your help and support:) You are the reason that I am where I am right now.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Wrapping Up and Looking Back

    I've failed several times now to express in Spanish how glad I am to have been a part of Fundacion Cruzada Argentina this summer/winter. I already know that I'll fail in English, too, if I try. I just want to point out some of the small things that made the experience more fulfilling than simply handing over a deliverable as a volunteer grad student.

    First, it was just us four girls in the office this summer. As women, we were of course naturally motivated to carry out our responsibilities effectively and efficiently;) But we also found time for some female bonding time in between. Hearing silly stories about Ro's little girl and watching videos of Dan's sobrinitas (nieces) on her Blackberry actually made me miss the little monsters I've cared for in the past. Listening to Marian's stories of being in Washington D.C. and telling her about my own tourist adventures around Buenos Aires was a fun culture swap. The best regular cup o' joe here in BsAs was the coffee in our office. Even better...sharing our dunking cookies for a morning snack-time break and soaking them in said cup o' joe. Even BETTER...afternoon snack-time breaks that entailed a trip to the grocery store next door and ended munching on Milka chocolate bars or Tentacion cookies. You think it can't get better than that right? Wrong. The last week of work, Daniela brought mate and yerba to the office and we sipped on it all day long, passing it around like it is done traditionally - more or less. At week's end, they bought me my very own mate gourd (red, like the color of FCA) and broke it in with me.

    Lunchtime was always a fun time too, and great for practicing my Spanish. Again, just us girls - this time all  6 or 8 of us that work on the floor, depending on the day. I learned a lot about Argentine politics, the best-looking futbol players, how to cook a mean milanesa, and what sights to see around town. I joined in the complaining about public transportation and incautious drivers, and they listened as I told them stories about Arkansas, my own cooking attempts, and American culture in general. I'll miss my ladies' lunch group for sure.

    FCA got lucky, I think, with some of its board members, too. I met Tim for the first time in the beginning while I was still adjusting to the Spanish wasn't too long before I realized he was Canadian, phew! Jaime and Alejandra visited regularly to help the staff out with office business, but they often stayed to chat awhile as well. That's probably the reason why I felt so comfortable in the meeting for my final presentation today. It was nothing new...just sitting around and chatting about the day's business, except for the bigger room and the fancier table in between us all.

    That's not to mention my few, but very profound conversations with Eduardo, who regularly visits FCA schools to take them supplies like donated food, clothes, and computers. He's one of the founders and taught me quite a bit about the bygone ways of Argentine life and what conditions are like now in the rural provinces.

    Looking back on the last three months, I've had a very productive off-season, digamos (we'll call it), and am quite proud of the work I accomplished. The staff and board of the Foundation seemed happy with my work, too. I'm leaving the organization and, in 10 days' time, the country, but for all the reasons I stated above, I don't think I'll be able to clap the BsAs dust completely off my hands and call it a summer. I know that it will soon feel worlds away once I'm back in Arkansas embarking on my third and final public service project for the Jones Center on behalf of Clinton School and my degree. However, I certainly feel more connected to this project and this group of people than I expected after a mere 11 weeks, and I thank them for all the good times and the buena onda!

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Country Brat

    Even though I come from a state capitol, my IPSP experience is definitely in the "Small-town-girl-goes-to-big-city" category. I've always said I want to live in D.C. or New York because it's so intellectually and culturally stimulating. The truth is, though I do enjoy living big here in Buenos Aires, the transition doesn't come without it's hardships.

    That's where "brat" comes from as the crown of this post. I have had this guilty feeling sometimes because my sense of space has been wildly disrupted here - even more so than when I was living in Spain. Guilt because I feel like such a Yanki (general term for North American) needing more space than I have here. I get frazzled easily by crowds and avoid public transportation at rush hour because it's too difficult for me to navigate the sea of fellow travelers (See "6pm Subte Ride" post) . But then I realized, it's not just Buenos's NY, D.C., and Madrid, too. And it's not because I'm American, it's because I'm a country girl.

    I was reminded of that this weekend when I went to visit La Rural - the livestock fair in Buenos Aires. It reminded me so much of home - "home" being all of the places that I spent time in during my formative years. Here's a quick tour through my childhood:
    The big pavilions showcasing animals at La Rural were reminiscent of the Arkansas State Fair livestock yard (Spencer, ya with me?). When I first entered the grounds, I was met with the fantastic and familiar stench of animal urine and hay. You think I'm being sarcastic, but I say give me animal ammonia over exhaust fumes any day (too much? sorry.)

     Memory #2: Playing the moo game which entailed screaming "MOO" as loud as possible toward the cow pastures on a long car ride. You scored points based on how many cows turn to look. I've played in AR and TN, but could also be a fun game in TX.


    My fondest memories are of horseback riding at Camp Monterey. I did it every summer for eight years, and being at the barn was like being in heaven. I was happy whether I was mucking stalls or cantering along the back trails. I just wanted to be near the horses.

    And these baskets reminded me of something I'd actually long forgotten...wandering the cotton fields behind my cousins' house in England, Arkansas. Besides rice, cotton is one of the major agricultural products in our beloved state.

    Needless to say, La Rural gave me a big dose of nostalgia for my country upbringing. And it made me appreciate being able to truly have experienced both sides of the spectrum - country livin' and city slickin'. By no means, however, have I lived the extremes.

    This is where the importance of my organization, Fundacion Cruzada Argentina, comes in. I know I've thrown out this statistic before, but it surprises me every time I say it: 90% of Argentina's population lives in urban cities. La Nacion, one of the national daily readers here, put out in an article that within just a few years, that stat could rise to 95%. It's crowded in the cities, but the jovenes (younguns) keep going urban for the lack of opportunities they have out by the countryside.

    Cruzada Argentina finances what they call 'productive projects' in secondary schools, so students get the chance to move beyond the books and learn a practical skill and the business theory behind commercializing that skill. I'm just beginning to realize during my search for possible network organizations how unique the niche is that they are filling. They are not only educational, but promote smaller-scale entrepreneurship like microfinance institutions. Their project activities and community outreach come together to have an impact in the area of rural development, with an emphasis in sustainable living practices. Furthermore, their goals include motivating and transforming students' attitudes to be more proactive, work-oriented. In short, it not only gives the studetns a chance to establish a productive career without having to move to urbania, but enables them to have a positive impact on their home communities, too.

    In reflecting on my country "spoiledness," I've come to think a lot about what it would mean for a true rural dweller to leave the peace and beauty of the Argentine countryside behind and try to adjust to the bustling city. Some have the dream to do so (like me!), and for them I don't discount that it may be a good choice. But that's the key - it should be a choice and not a necessity.

    I can't explain to you the vast difference in sense of space and time between large cities like Buenos Aires and more rural areas. It's as easy for a country dweller to feel lost in a sea of people as it would be a city-slicker who couldn't find his way out of the corn fields. The crowds and exhaust fumes can be just as choking as the smell of cow dung and hay dust. And the milky way and stardust against the jet-black sky at night can be just as breathtaking as the sunset reflected in the skycrapers at dusk in Puerto Madero. Each has its charm, each has its animosity, but both can induce a great amount of culture shock to a stranger.

    Call it an epiphany, but I've just recently realized that working for a rural development organization in one of the world's biggest cities is the apex of my life's experience in so many ways. Now I feel like I can empathize (even if only minutely), which even further heightens my sense of solidarity with FCAs mission and work. I am so glad that they've hosted me this summer and can only hope that the project I'm about to present to them will be half as valuable as this experience has been for me. I may be corny, and I may be country, but at least I know the difference between chic, in-style footwear and field shoes...and wear both quite proudly!!

    Monday, July 25, 2011


    Maybe it's because it's my last name. Or maybe it's because I'm an Arkansan and the wellbeing of our state depends on it's production. Or maybe it was simply a spectacularly ingenious exhibition in itself, but I was moved by what I found in the Palais de Glace building the other day.

    The idea is this: one person = one grain of rice. I hope the photos speak for themselves.

    Behind every grain of rice, there is a story to tell.

    Illiterate adults in Argentina

    Argentina 2 England 1- Aztec Stadium, Mexico 6/22/1986

    People who follow Justin Beiber in Twitter
    L: Population of Cancun, Mexico, 2011. R: Pop. of Cancun, 1970

    Americans that vacation in Cancun every year

    People living with HIV in South America

    People living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa
    People that have applied for permanent resident status in Argentina since the year 2000. TL: Americans. TR: Chileans. BL: Koreans. BR: Ukranians (for Anatoliy;)

     TL: Senators that voted in favor of gay marriage (Argentina), 7/15/2010
     TC: Senators that voted against gay marriage, 7/15/2010
     TR: Senators that abstained from voting regarding the gay marriage law
     BL: Alejandro Freire and Jose Marie di Bello, first gay couple to marry
     BR: Angela and Vanesa, first gay couple to divorce

    Children from age 5 to 17 that work in Latin America

    L: People that live in extreme poverty in Argentina, according to Catholic University of Argentina statistics
    R: People that live in extreme poverty in Argentina, according to government statistics
    The biggest of all: People in Latin America that live on less than $2 per day.

    Credit for this insightful, creative, and poignant exhibit:

    Gallo (Spanish brand of grains)
    in collaboration with
    "Of all the people in all the world" is a creation of the collection of the English theater Stan's Cafe, originating in Birmingham. Since 2003, [the exhibitionists] have been traveling the world and have already visited more than 48 cities in Europe and North America, surprising everyone with their particular way of presenting statistics.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Election Campaigns

    What first struck me about election season here were the inquiries people made leading up to voting time. It was never Who are you voting for? or What's you're stand? rather, it was Where are you going to vote? In order to strike up a conversation about the campaigns and elections, there's no reason to directly go for the kill with a question like "Do you prefer Filmus or Macri?" because whether you are stationed at the Guido Spano primary school in Palermo or the secondary school on the corner of Av. Las Heras and Alvear, you have to go somewhere. Voting is obligatory in Argentina.

    Once I figured that out, I started asking my co-workers what they thought about the vote being mandatory and started to get an idea of the advantages and disadvantages of such laws. One of the main disadvantages that I've heard is the extent to which politicians buy votes from the poorer, uneducated citizens. Whether or not a person is able to follow the campaigns (which depends on access to media and a secondary education, which only 25% of students in rural areas complete), they have to vote for someone. Sometimes, the most desirable candidates are the ones who offer the plata (moulah) first, rather than the ones who will work to change access to education and health care in dispersed rural areas (which is desperately needed). This happens less in the urban cities, though, where 90% of Argentina's population lives.

    I was talking to Gabi about all of this on the way to visit the Casa Rosada because the campaigns were in full swing that day. He made the best argument I've heard so far in favor of the obligatory vote. He said that what starts out as a law eventually becomes part of the cultural consciousness. Like obeying traffic laws in U.S. Obviously, we have our traffic problems and bad drivers, but for the most part, people stick to their own lane and stop when the light is red. In Argentina, lanes merely serve to make the highway look prettier, and red lights, well...
    The reason for that, we both agreed, was that traffic laws are actually enforced in most American cities, whereas Argentines can get away with just about anything on the road short of causing a major accident. (This was his example, not mine. You may not agree about traffic in the U.S., but I can verify that the rhythm on the road is more aggressive here than, at least, in Little Rock).

    Likewise, voting is part of the daily (or quadrennial) grind - something you do because it's something you do, like looking both ways before you cross the street. You don't question why, but deep down you know it's for your own good. So, even if it isn't something that interests an Argentine, he is still conscious on some fundamental level of the issues and agendas and has a motive to fulfill his civic duty. Unless, of course, he gets paid to vote for the third person down on the ballot.

    Here are some of the more interesting campaign posters I saw around town:

    "I have a dream between the eyebrows and I'm not going to stop until it comes true"

    "They call us crazy because we want to govern without corruption. Ok, we're crazy."

    And here's a campaign bus:

    There's definitely a different tone to the campaigns here in Buenos Aires. They appeal to a wider public in some ways, using marketing techniques instead of stump speeches. Unfortunately, I don't have a tv, so I didn't get to watch the debates. But I do have a handful of political fliers that I had been collecting the week before the elections.

    I'm posting this a little late because the elections took place last Sunday. The Saturday before is the only day in Argentina when you can't serve alcohol (apparently), so that there's nothing to keep the populace from waking up and making clear-headed decisions at the polls!

    More on results and candidates coming soon...

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Mate gives you wings

    Pronounced "mah-tay," it is a tea-like drink that is typical here in Argentina and southern South America (is that how you say that?!). It's a symbol of tradition and community, and is often the center of a circle of friends, passing one gourd around to share among all.

    I first encountered mate in Spain at the eclectic tea place that my friends and I frequented. Veronica had studied abroad in Buenos Aires and jumped at the chance to have a mate when she found it on their menu. I'd never heard of it (and to be honest, it didn't look that appetizing), so I passed on the mate in favor of my favorite Pakistani flavor. (Pakistani - name of the flavor, not the origin of the tea).

    So, when I arrived in Argentina, I knew what to expect. In fact, I tried to seek out this mysterious herbal concoction pretty early on, but it kept eluding me. I would see people with their mate gourd and thermos in the street, but it's really hard to find a public place like a cafe or restaurant where it can be ordered. I even passed a cafe one time and saw it on the menu displayed in the window, but the cafe was closed. And then I never found it again.

    Finally, in Plaza Serrano, one of the more touristy but fun areas with restaurants, bars, and open-air shopping, I found it! A cafe that would serve me mate - the authentic way, not "mate cocido" which comes in a tea bag. No, this unique Argentine tradition is more than a cup of tea. It requires a lot of special equipment and a meticulous hand in preparation. Here's a glimpse of my first mate experience:

    The green tin holds the yerba, which is akin to tea leaves. Sometimes yerba mate is flavored with lemon or orange fragrance, but it's good a la natural as well. The blue tea kettle, of course, holds the water, which should be hot, but never have actually reached boiling point. The silver cup in the middle is the mate. Traditionally, mates are made of squash gourds, but this is a more modern set up with all the metallic. Now you can find mates in almost any material you want...aluminum, ceramic, wood, leather, the classic gourd, or even horse's hoof (which is touristy. I don't know if the ones I've seen are real horse's hooves, but I hope not.) The straw is called a bombilla and is usually made of silver. The submerged end is not an open hole, but rather a bulb with small holes or a coil so that the yerba doesn't come through when you drink. Genial! (Genius!)

    To give you an idea of the variety of mates there are available, here's a picture from just one of the many stands at an outside market selling them.
    And this is the one I finally chose to be mine! I found it last weekend on our trip to the big market in El Tigre, one of the last suburban areas before you get out of greater BsAs.
    It's a wooden one and has a unique design in comparison to the millions I've seen around souvenir shops and street vendors. After some research and a trip to the grocery store to pick out some yerba, I made my first mate today and sat sipping it while working on my project from home. It's magical! (Not magical like Shenan's grog, but magical all the same). It's got a lot of caffeine for one, but doesn't make you sick after a while like coffee does. You can keep refilling the gourd with your thermos of hot water for hours upon hours without breaking into a sweat or feeling like the acid's eating your insides (which happens to me after a fourth cup o' java). Che, I wish I had known about this stuff during college finals!

    Anywho, I was more productive from my desk at home than I have been on any other day off! Usually, I get tired or claustrophobic sitting in my room for too long, but today I was comfortable crouching over my evaluation notes and best-practice resources. It must be the mate!

    The trade-off is that it's 1:22am and I'm still wide awake with no sign of fatigue to help me get a good night's sleep before work tomorrow. Now, I know the secret to the Argentine's unusual circadian rhythm, which seems to entail very little shut-eye. HA! I may just have to pack up my roommate's thermos and my new mate and fly through another day of evaluation design tomorrow! No sleep, no worries. Hakuna Matata.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Happy Independence Day...again

    This is the second time this week and the third time this summer/winter that I get to celebrate some country's independence.

    Believe it or not, I didn't steal this pic from the internet.

    I took it myself!
    This one too, but you've already seen it in the "Flashback" post.

    Of course, July 4 was a normal working day for me here in Buenos Aires. I did, however, manage to have chili in the company of some American expats the Sunday before, and had a celebratory drink with a mix of my American and Argentine friends after work on Monday.

    The other two are Argentine independence days.

    May 25 - marks the end of the Revolucion de Mayo (1810), when the Argentines ousted the Spanish Viceroy Cisneros and swapped him for a more local governing body, la Primera Junta. Just to be clear, this day is officially called Dia Nacional, which translates to what you would expect it to.

    But the Spanish persevered and gained some sense of control back in 1814. Hence, Argentina's second day of independence:

    July 9 - when they finally kicked out the Spanish for good and signed an official Declaration of Independence (1816).

    To this day, as far as I know, Argentina is still an independent state. But we shall, someday, add another independence day in celebration of the liberation of the city streets from the dog poop mines that litter them...ugh!

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    La Casa Rosada

    If you think John Mellancamp's little pink houses are unique to America, you'd be wrong. Behold - the Argentine Casa Rosada! (Well, technically it's American too, but using "America" exclusively to describe the U.S. is a topic for another post).

    I want to say this is the equivalent of the White House, except for the choice of color, but in reality it's not. La Presidenta, Cristina Fernández de Kirshner, works there when she's in the Capital Federal (Buenos Aires city); however, she doesn't make her bed there, like the Obamas do in the Casa Blanca. She has a 10x2 block, walled compound backing up to the Rio del Plata (the river) called La Quinta de Olivos where she resides. It must be nice not having to work from home, huh, Mr. President?

    Flat Porteña accompanied my friend Gabi and I on the one-hour free tour last Saturday. Here are some of the *highlights*

     *It was free!* During the 20-minute wait for the start of the tour, Gabi gave me some Argentine/Latin American history tidbits which were provoked by the pictures of Latin American somebodies hung in the Gallery of the Bicenntenial Patriots. Featured faces that I knew a little bit about already included Che Guevara, Evita, and Pancho Villa. There were many more that I learned about who had given their time and sometimes their lives for the progress of their country or continent.

    *There was a whole room dedicated to the women of Argentina* called, appropriately, Becentennial Argentine Women's Room, which highlighted the important females of the past 200 years. (Well, past 201 years. The bicentennial passed last year but is still a fashionable word, as you can tell by the names of all the rooms). Women have indeed played an important role since Argentina's independence. Eva Peron, or Evita, passed women's suffrage and increased worker's civil rights during her time as president in the later 1940s and early 1950s. Besides Evita, the Madres are probably the most recognized female presence of the nation, known for marching on a weekly basis in the Plaza de Mayo in remembrance of their children and grandchildren who were victims of the disappearances during The Dirty War three decades ago. The Madres are still a significant influence in Argentina, though the theme of their demonstrations has moved beyond protesting the Dirty War and encompasses a wide political agenda.

    *Standing on the Balcony where past dignitaries have stood before to address the Argentine people,*
    including both Perons (Juan Domingo and wife Eva), Pope John Paul II, and President Raul Alfonsin.

    Flat Porteña was especially illusioned at *being in the president's office!* You can (kind of) see of photo of her (Presidenta Kirschner) in the background. Flat Porteña hasn't been to the oval office replica yet at the Clinton Library, but I promised I'd take her just as soon as we get home. Unfortunately, I didn't really get any good pictures of the whole office, but the desk that Cristina sits at during the day is to the right of Flat P and Gabi's arm.

    Of course, any *mention of Spain* calls my attention. So even though this was one of the less spectacular spaces in the Casa, I'm going to highlight it anyway. This is the Presidential Elevator that was gifted to Argentina by La Infanta (infant) Isabel, of the Bourbon family, that ruled Spain for over two centuries. How do you gift an elevator, you ask? That was not among the many silly questions I put to the tour guide, unfortunately. 

    Finally, *our tour guide* was spectacular! She spoke loudly and clearly (and slowly), which was great for my foreign ears. She also entertained those aforementioned silly questions that I had. She was really knowledgeable and obviously was passionate about Argentina's history and government. It made learning about the complicated and occasionally not-so-pleasant facts all the more interesting.

    After the tour, we happened upon a marching band out in the plaza - the Regimiento de Granaderos - that played a little modern music for our enjoyment (and for some official reason still unbeknown to me). And that concluded last Saturday's tourist trip.

    Agenda for this Saturday: Lunch and a self-guided tour at Museo Evita.

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    Christmas in July

    I'm sure the people I work with are getting tired of hearing me say, "Me siente Navidad" ("It feels like Christmas to me"), but I can't help it. Imagine my surprise when I got off the Subte yesterday morning to find Christmas trees displayed in a store window!  Don't worry, it's just a fluke. The Argentine's celebrate Christmas in December like we do, they just do it in shorts instead of sweaters.

    Besides this picture and the lights adorning the potted evergreens at Regina & Torcuato cafe (where I go to read and have a cup of hot tea sometimes), there are no signs of yuletide merriment in the typical sense. No signs of Papa Noel, nor colorfully wrapped parcels, nor jingle bell tunes. But now that the real cold has set in (55high/35low), I'm discovering the more subtle archetypes that I have of the winter holiday season. The smell in the air is a little smokey, presumably from the famous Argentine parrilla, mixed with the acute sweetness of roasting almonds and peanuts in the street-side food carts. This is a Christmas imprint I picked up spending two winters in Spain. The city sidewalks are indeed busy sidewalks, and the shoppers rush home with their treasures...though not because it's gift time, rather seasonal sale time. And of course, there's the hot tea and coffee (though not much hot chocolate). It all makes me want to curl up with some of my Dad's famous chili and Love Actually, one of my Christmastime favorites (though really you can watch it year-round).

    It occurred to me while I was taking all this in that I'm right on par with my family Christmas tradition as well. For many years, instead of waking up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning, my parents, brother, and I would unwrap gifts on Christmas Eve and then head to Grandma's house. We spent Christmas morning cooking and delivering food to shut-ins in and around Ashdown, AR, an initiative led by my grannie from a little historical house- one of Ashdown's treasures- for years. In other words, I volunteered. And here I am again...sipping soup, singing Christmas songs in my head, and doing a volunteer project. It's all very surreal.

    So, in the spirit of Noel (and because I know all of you back home are smoldering and need a Christmas vacation right about now), I wish you good tidings and a little Christmas cheer.

    To my parents - both my Mom and Dad, and Bobby and Paige (who right now are singing Christmas carols around the piano in my honor, like the old days except for the swimsuits and smoked ribs) - I love you and miss you! It was great to be able to visit today.

    And to my CSPS friends in the southern hemisphere - stay warm! Hope you are enjoying the winter weather as much as I am!

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Life, according to a napkin

    I dedicate this one to Nicky, who's been telling me this all semester!

    "Eat, drink, love, slowly, very slowly. Make your life last longer!"
    -Cafe Martinez

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    Un Cumpleaños Muy Feliz

    It was a very happy birthday indeed!

    Remember the logic model pic in the last food post? It had a little chocolate covered, dulce de leche topped cookie? Well, this here tarta is its BIG sister. And also my birthday cake:) WOW!

     I have a lot of THANK YOUs to go around. First, thanks to Daniela and Rosario for this decadent tarta! And thanks to all of those who helped me eat it. I've never had a school or office party because I'm always on vacation during my birthday (que pena, no?), and they did this one up fancy! (And then let me off early to enjoy the afternoon).

    Thanks to who told me about La Galeria Pacifico. I felt like such a posh Porteña wandering around this beautiful gallery mall all afternoon:

    Despite the alluring elegance of the art and high fashion, it's only for looking and not for buying (at least for a broke student like me).

    Thank you to the girls for taking me out to Tango...and to Allyson for making sure I got that glass of Malbec I had been craving all day.

    We danced the night away...well, we tried anyway. It being the first lesson, I was doing more stumbling than dancing, but that brings me to my next declaration of gratitude. To my dance partners, especially Santo, I really appreciate the patience and time you spent trying to teach my two uncoordinated feet to move like a Tango dancer's. And I'm really sorry if you're own feet were a little sore the next day. It must have taken 10 tries for me to stop stepping on toes and to master just the first sequence of steps!

    Not such good form.
    That's better...concentrate.
    Okay, it's better that we forget the technicalities and just dance!
    And finally, many thanks and Argentine besos (kisses) to those who wished me happy birthday from afar via facebook, phone, and email. I miss you all so much and it meant a lot to hear from you!! (Seriously, more than you know).

    To my fellow classmates...lots of CSPS love! Keep writing - I enjoy hearing about all your adventures on blog and facebook. I read it all! Best of luck in this last half of IPSP...may it be filled with many more kumbaya moments and flat Stanley-worthy photo ops!

    And of course, to my family and friends...I miss you! See you in five short weeks, but until then...stay cool!

    Finally, to MADDIE - I hope you're French birthday was every bit as good as my Argentine one!! I miss you and can't wait to hear all about it. Here's to 13 years of friendship and twin-sisterhood. Love you!!!

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Culinary Treasures

    I can't really pin down where I developed my insatiable appetite for all things cuisine, but food has developed into a hobby of mine over the past few years. I threw my first fancy dinner party freshman year of college, which felt like a part of the right of passage into adulthood. Then, senior year, the craigslist search to fill the empty room in our apartment turned out a roommate that could teach me a thing or two in the kitchen (Melissa has her own food blog and dreams to own a bakery one day!). Or maybe it was in Spain, when my travel entourage got into the habit of checking out markets rather than souvenir stands in foreign countries. We always grocery shopped and Parc Guell...on the steps of Versailles...before a Spanish botellon. So, in addition to all of my tourist-y ventures around the city, I've also been frequenting a few markets and cafes in search for whatever culinary treasure there is to find in Argentina. Here's the loot so far:
    After a few days of living in the hostel and surviving off BA's abundance of meat and potato type dishes, I went in search of something fresh for breakfast. I ordered a fruit plate and ended up with this spread of fresh-squeezed oj, yogurt, and fruit salad with a cherry (and of course the standard flag) on top.

    This is actually the typical breakfast in Buenos Aires- coffee with two medialunas or sweet croissants (along with some dulce de leche, if you're feeling decadent)

     However, in order to maintain somewhat of a healthy balance, I usually eat cereal with yogurt and fresh fruit from the fruteria (but I'm not skimping on the dulce de leche)
    Most days, I make my lunch and take it to the office with me. Occasionally when I'm out and about, though, I'll splurge on some of the great mediterranean food this city has to offer. Like cannelloni ...

    ...Or tarta de jamon, queso, y tomate (ham, cheese, and tomato quiche)

    And when I'm hungry for a snack, Flat Porteña usually accompanies me for an afternoon coffee and alfajor (dulce de leche sandwich- an Argentine staple) to get some work done.

     Yes, friends, that is indeed a logic model in the background! And that giant hershey kiss looking dessert is a cookie topped with dulce de leche and covered in dark chocolate. I can't get enough!

    I've also been trying my own hand at Argentine cooking. It's a lot of pizza, pasta, and empanadas, so I started out with the easy stuff first.
    Milanesa (thin, breaded beef filet) sandwich and baked steak fries! Another typical dish. Thanks to the ladies at work for telling me how make it right (mine still aren't as good as theirs are. Whenever we eat lunch together, we pass around and taste each other's meal. I don't know if they were just trying to be welcoming to me in the beginning, or if it's a common courtesy, but either way I like it!)

    Aaaaaand....I even tried my hand at empandas!

    These are the typical- ground beef with onions, olives, and golden raisins (with a few other veggies thrown in for color).

    A peek at the filling...mmmmmm!
    The final product accompanied by the strawberry-banana-kiwi fruit salad from my childhood. I like to throw some American stuff in there occasionally too...

    Like homemade brownies! With - whadya know!- dulce de leche on top:)

    And with this, I'm just getting started, folks. After sampling some of the more exotic pastas (like gnocchi and red pepper angel hair), I'm going to move on to some of the more complicated and antiquated dishes like humita (a tamale-like dish with origins in the northern Salta province). Until next time, friends, Buen proveche!!